Cuba in the eye of Washington’s hurricane

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Hurricane Ian lashed at western Cuba on September 27, 2022. I waited desperately for a phone call from my friends in Puerto Esperanza, a small fishing village on the northern coast of Pinar del Río. Over a crackling phone line, my friends told me that the hurricane had ripped off the roofs of their houses and had cut their electricity supply. But they were safe. What comes next for them and their recovery from the loss and devastation caused by the hurricane is uncertain under the weight of a U.S. blockade that is now being overseen by U.S. President Joe Biden.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Since the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, the United States has been at odds with the island’s independent path. This led to the start of a blockade on all trading activities between Cuba and the United States in February 1962, and the continued imposition of the blockade has put maximum pressure on the 11 million people who live on the island. Cubans have been resilient while dealing with these sanctions, which is “the longest embargo in modern history.” However, over the past five years, the United States has tightened its blockade by putting in place 243 new sanctions, reversing the process of normalization that began under former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 (and culminated in Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016). Despite Biden’s campaign promise to ensure a more balanced foreign policy toward Cuba, compared to the approach followed by former President Donald Trump, Biden has increased pressure on the country.

Maximum Pressure

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Cuba was fortunate to have a robust public health care system and an innovative biotechnological industry. However, under Trump—and later Biden—sanctions put enormous pressure on Cuba’s ability to respond to the pandemic. As the number of Delta variant cases grew in Cuba, its only oxygen plant was rendered nonoperational due to the inability of the plant’s technicians to import spare parts because of the U.S. blockade. As thousands of Cuban patients gasped for air, oxygen had to be rationed. Washington refused to make an exception. Cuban scientists created five vaccine candidates; only after most Cubans were vaccinated with these vaccines did Washington make an offer of donating U.S.-made vaccines to Cuba.

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