From November 14 to 15, four DSA chapters — Metro DC, Miami, Philly and NYC — launched coordinated protests demanding the Biden administration end the medical blockade on Cuba. These were planned to counter an international day of action by SOS Cuba, an anti-Cuban government group, which called on supporters around the world to protest the Cuban government on November 15.
When the day arrived, the international solidarity against the Cuban government was nearly nonexistent. In the United States, DSA counter-protests outnumbered the SOS protesters at most of the actions attended. The international response was limited - SOS actions in Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Madrid were sparsely attended. Given the United Nations’ affirmative vote in June (184-2) to call for an end to the US’s Cuban embargo – for the 29th consecutive year – it is clear that the world understands who is responsible for the hardship being experienced by the Cuban people.
SOS Cuba protesters likely represent a vocal minority. Polling published in 2020 from the Steven J. Green School at Florida International University found that 74% of Cuban Americans living in South Florida support lifting the embargo on medicine to Cuba, and 61% support temporarily suspending sanctions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that the vast majority of Cuban Americans live in Florida, the FIU’s polling is good evidence that SOS Cuba protesters’ support for maintaining the medical embargo likely represents a vocal minority among Cuban Americans.
SOS Cuba unjustly blames the medicine shortages on the Cuban government, ignoring how US policy directly prevents the country from purchasing essential goods and medicines, such as antibiotics, asthma inhalers, antiviral drugs or even bandages to reach the island. COVID-19 has exacerbated these shortages, forcing the Cuban government to ration personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and COVID tests.
At the height of the pandemic, President Donald Trump spent his last week in office inflicting further harm on the Cuban people by designating the country a state sponsor of terrorism — a move with no factual basis, according to the nonpartisan Cuba Study Group. This designation has scared off nearly all pharmaceutical companies from selling medicine to charities attempting to help Cubans, as they would risk criminal prosecution or hefty fines.
The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 updated the Cuban embargo to provide exemptions for humanitarian aid. However, in practice, requests for license exemptions are almost always denied. In October 2020, the Trump administration’s ban on remittances to the island has made matters worse by creating a severe cash shortage, preventing Cubans from purchasing medicines individually. Despite crippling sanctions, the Cuban government still successfully developed five internationally recognized candidate COVID-19 vaccines. As of November 18, 89% of Cuba’s population has received their first dose of nation’s highly effective Soberana 02 vaccine. Cuba has shared doses of the vaccine with countries overwhelmed by the pandemic, and began commercial exports of the vaccine in September.
These plans have been stymied by the US blockade, which prevents Cuba from acquiring the raw materials needed to produce more vaccines. Meanwhile, President Biden hypocritically (and unconvincingly) has pledged to vaccinate 70% of the world within a year.
Biden promised to undo Trump’s harmful Cuba policies and reinstate Obama’s moderate rapprochement on Cuba. However, nearly a year into his presidency, Biden has willingly continued the damaging sanctions levied under Trump.
If Biden truly cares about ending the pandemic and the harm affecting Cubans, he will immediately issue an executive order allowing a general license for all medical shipments to Cuba, allow remittances for Cuban Americans to send money to their families, and remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. President Biden can end the suffering of millions in Cuba and the Global South right now by passing these executive orders. Every day he waits, more will get sick and die. End the US blockade on medical aid to Cuba.