US sanctions and coronavirus: why is help offered to North Korea, but not to Cuba?
Last week we asked whether the United States should ease economic sanctions against countries during serious crises like the novel coronavirus. We looked at Venezuela; this week we take a look at Cuba – and the US sanctions against its communist regime.
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Cuban Americans like Carlos Lazo think the time has come to calm down on them.
“I feel very bad for this situation because I feel that the United States is my father and Cuba is my mother,” says Lazo, who left Cuba for Miami 30 years ago, served in the Iraq war and is now a Spanish teacher in Seattle. .
Lazo runs a project called Fábrica de Sueños, or Dream Factory, which takes American students on an educational visit to Cuba. From this platform he also urges the United States to relax sanctions against Cuba at least during COVID-19. Cuba had only reported 139 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday. But the pandemic has ended an economic lifeline for Cuba: tourism. Lazo talks with his friends and family almost every day, and he says they tell him how much more difficult things are getting.
“When I was 15, my mother and my brother left Cuba and I lived there alone,” says Lazo. “And the one who gave me a bowl of soup is now a 90 year old woman and I’m helping her. And his biggest fear is what goes with it. Lack of resources. Hunger.”
READ MORE: In crises like COVID-19, should the United States ease sanctions on countries like Venezuela?
Lazo generally opposes US sanctions against Cuba, which he says hurts Cubans more than the regime – and gives the regime a political scapegoat. But he says he’s not suggesting that Washington suspend its entire trade embargo just yet. He believes the Trump administration could take temporary measures like allowing Cubans in the United States to send unlimited remittances to Cuba again. Since last year, they can only transfer $ 1,000 every three months.
“It prevents families from helping families,” he says.
Cuba is a closer neighbor and it does not have nuclear weapons. Using the same reasoning about North Korea that President Trump used, it’s time to put political differences aside. – Carlos Lazo
And, he adds, to help family businesses in Cuba. The promotion of private entrepreneurs has played a central role in US policy in Cuba. But many are closing now because Cuba has had to shut down tourism.
“Last week most of our clients decided to close,” says Marta Deus, who runs a private accounting firm in Havana, Chartered accountants Deus. So Deus asks why the United States does not give them more liquidity.
“The situation is very difficult, we are struggling,” she said. “So it is very important that the United States knows that the sanctions isolate the population.”
Last week, eight major American NGOs that support engagement with Cuba urged Trump to suspend several sanctions, including the limit on money transfers and barriers to things like financial transactions with the island and donations of medical supplies.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment. But such a move is unlikely – in large part because many Cuban exiles, especially those supporting Trump in South Florida, are against it.
“You are not helping anyone just by relaxing the sanctions,” says Marcell Felipe, an attorney for Cuban exile and Miami, who heads the Inspire America Foundation, a pro-democracy NGO. He is concerned that any additional American money entering Cuba at this time will simply be seized by the regime.
You are not helping anyone by simply relaxing the penalties. The Cuban government has been irresponsible in the past to deliver aid to its citizens. This reputation has consequences. –Marcell Felipe
“The sanctions are not against the Cuban people; they are against the Cuban government, ”says Felipe. “And the government has been irresponsible in the past in providing aid to its citizens. This reputation has consequences. “
Felipe insists that “in the past, aid was taken or spent by the [regime] or sold and the money kept. “
The Havana government has denied this accusation. Either way, Felipe says the US should try to get independent humanitarian NGOs to distribute food aid in Cuba; but he warns that history has proven that “there is very little chance that the Cuban government will allow a humanitarian organization to operate independently within its borders.”
But many in Cuba insist that a temporary easing of some pandemic-related sanctions would not be exploited for official corruption.
“It’s so insulting to say that we have to get rid of the Cuban government,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban ambassador and educator who is now a political analyst in Havana.
GASES FOR AMBULANCES
Alzugaray points out that what Cuba needs even more than food is fuel – but new US sanctions this year have made Cuba a challenge for importing oil. Alzugaray is currently warning that it is affecting essential services like healthcare – and the treatment of coronavirus patients.
“Now you have to move these people,” he said. “If you prevent the oil from reaching Cuba, of course it will affect the ambulances.”
Alzugaray adds that the renewed isolation of Cuba by the United States also thwarts medical cooperation during the crisis. Cuba has an advanced pharmaceutical sector; American companies like SmithKline have partnered with him in the past. And although China’s credibility has been hit hard since the start of the pandemic in that country, its health officials say the drug developed by Cuba interferon alpha 2B helped treat – but not cure – COVID-19. Cuba has also sent alpha 2B to other countries. (The Trump administration urges countries not to buy it or otherwise accept it.)
“I’m sure Cuba would be ready to share it” with the United States, says Alzugaray.
Still, it’s Cuba that needs the most help right now – and Lazo, the Cuban-American Spanish teacher in Seattle, also asks why President Trump would have offered help during this pandemic to other sanctioned countries like North Korea and Iran, but not Cuba.
“Cuba is a closer neighbor,” says Lazo, and Cuba does not have nuclear weapons. Using the same reasoning regarding North Korea that our president used, it’s time to put the political difference aside. “
Either way, easing sanctions against the coronavirus may have been a possibility four years ago, when US-Cuban relations thawed. But not now – when the freeze is restored.