Hollow Cuban Support | Opinion

For years, U.S. foreign policy has impacted the world's poorest. Cuba is no exception. After nearly six decades of a U.S. embargo on the Caribbean island, empty rhetoric from U.S. politicians in support of the Cuban people runs nothing short of hypocrisy.

Over the past week, Cuba has witnessed its largest public protests in decades as Cubans take to the streets demonstrating against food shortages, high prices and the country's coronavirus response. Jumping to support the protests, U.S. President Joe Biden called the public dissent a "clarion call for freedom" before citing what he referred to as, "decades of repression and economic suffering to which [Cubans] have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime," neglecting the significant impact of U.S. foreign policy on the nation's economic crisis.

Failing to mention the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is akin to ignoring the impact of the coronavirus when discussing the current state of the U.S. economy. Since 1962, a U.S. trade embargo has burdened the island, costing the country nearly $130 billion. The U.N., for 29 consecutive years, has urged the U.S. to end the embargo due to the profound economic suffering it has caused. Comparing the embargo to the global coronavirus pandemic, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla at this year's General Assembly stated, "Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills, it must stop." Prior to 1959, the U.S. accounted for three quarters of Cuba's export revenue.

People ride on a bicitaxi
People ride on a bicitaxi in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Coupled with former President Donald Trump's increased sanctions on Cuba in his last days in office after labeling the country a state sponsor of terrorism, U.S. foreign policy has continued to cripple Cuba. Words of support for the protests by Biden indicate a lack of accountability for the crisis, especially since the current administration refused to reverse Trump's last-minute sanctions. Without easing the sanctions and embargo, any Cuban regime will be doomed to fail. Such political verbal advocacy of the Cuban struggle, however, is not reflected by tangible empathic support. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week warned the U.S. would not be giving refuge to Cubans fleeing the island by boat.

Republican Party members have similarly been vocal in their support of the Cuban protests. Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, "If supporting those demanding liberty & preventing a state sponsored massacre 90 miles from our shores doesn't merit action what does?" The insincerity of his support is highlighted by his repeated calls for increased sanctions on Cuba and support of the Trump administration's reversal of President Barack Obama's engagement with the island nation. Numerous studies have shown that economic sanctions impact the world's poorest the most, increasing the poverty gap. Advocating for increasing such sanctions is a factor in Cuba's current crisis.

The Cuban example is not unique. Throughout modern history, the impact of U.S. foreign policy has often been neglected by Washington as successive U.S. governments fail to recognize their roles in deepening global grievances. Political decisions made in Washington, to secure U.S. national interests, have caused profound suffering with colossal repercussions worldwide; from the American coups of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and democratically-elected Salvador Allende in Chile in favor of instating U.S. sponsored neoliberal regimes to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is it a surprise that these countries have continued to suffer? Chile, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan have all witnessed mass protests in recent years as a partial consequence of U.S. interventions, not to mention sanctions. Iran has been suffering from the "toughest" sanctions and as a result, widespread economic crippling of Iranian civilians is to be expected.

Much like today's political support of Cuban protests, former President George H.W. Bush supported an Iraqi uprising in the early '90s before quickly abandoning the promise of assistance. As a consequence, an estimated 50,000-100,000 Kurds and Arabs were slaughtered and dumped in mass graves by Saddam Hussein's regime following a crackdown. To make matters worse, the resulting sanctions implemented on Iraq caused everyday Iraqis to suffer, not the dictatorship. When asked whether half a million Iraqi children were worth dying for the sake of sanctions, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, responded, "The price is worth it."

As with suffering in Iran, Iraq, Chile and Cuba, the U.S. must take responsibility for its role in confounding global crises. Hollow words of support from the White House will do little to help the Cuban people suffering from a lack of medication and food—lifting of decades-old economically crippling embargoes will.

Ahmed Twaij is a freelance journalist focusing mainly on U.S. politics, social justice and the Middle East. He is also a photographer and filmmaker. His Twitter is @twaiji.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.