Magazine article The Christian Century

Cruel Squeeze on Cuba

Magazine article The Christian Century

Cruel Squeeze on Cuba

Article excerpt

It is hard to think of any single foreign policy act by the United States that is meaner, more demeaning and altogether less defensible than the American embargo on medicine, medical supplies and food to Cuba." That stinging rebuke was delivered by Stephen S. Rosenfeld in the Washington Post. The embargo, first put in place in 1961 in an effort to topple Fidel Castro, is not only mean and demeaning; it is also a complete failure. Castro is still in power. In addition, by including medicine and food in the embargo, the U.S. is violating international human rights conventions which call for the free movement of food and medicine, even in wartime, to civilian populations.

Seventeen years ago I spoke to a small Southern Baptist congregation in Havana. During the social hour a woman told me of her daughter's need for a medication. At that time she could get drugs from Eastern Europe, but the particular drug she needed was available only from a U.S. company. Did I think, she asked, that after the upcoming presidential election her fellow Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter, would lift the embargo on food and medicine? I told her that I had good reason to believe that Carter, if re-elected, would indeed lift that part of the ban. Three weeks later, Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan.

The embargo is not only still in place; it has been tightened. In 1992 George Bush signed the Cuban Democracy Act during a campaign stop in Florida, and in 1996 President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act during his re-election campaign.

It is the Helms-Burton Act which is so stringent that it prevents foreign companies from doing business in the U.S. if they "traffic" with Cuban companies that hold properties that Castro nationalized in 1960. The U.S., which in recent years has turned to the United Nations to sanction its military actions in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia, has ignored UN resolutions that condemn the Cuba embargo and which call for the U.S. to rescind provisions of the embargo that violate both the UN Charter and international law.

The damage inflicted on the Cuban people by the ban on food and medicine has been documented in a recent year long study conducted by the American Association for World Health. The medical investigators, directed by physician Peter Bourne, chair of the AAWH board and a former official in the Carter Administration, interviewed medical professionals and government officials, surveyed 12 American medical and pharmaceutical companies, and documented the experience of Cuban import firms.

AAWH concluded that the U.S. embargo is "taking a tragic human toll" on the Cuban people. Indeed "the embargo has closed so many windows that in some instances Cuban physicians have found it impossible to obtain lifesaving machines from any source, under any circumstances. Patients have died."

According to the report, until 1990 all Cuban women over the age of 35 received mammograms on a regular basis at no cost. Today, without adequate equipment, mammograms are no longer employed as a routine preventive procedure; they are used only for high-risk patients. In 1994 and 1995, the lack of X-ray film halted all mammograms in Havana institutions and in 15 mobile units.

The AAWH found that "the embargo prevents the Eastman Kodak company or any subsidiary from selling the U.S.-produced Kodak Mini-R film--a product specifically recommended by the World Health Organization because it exposes women to less radiation. …

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