CubaBrief: Examining the Castro regime’s internal blockade on Cubans – how the dictatorship restricts fishermen from fishing.

The Castro dictatorship calls the United States economic embargo a “blockade.” This is not true as the State Department (and U.S. – Cuba trade statistics over the past 20 years) demonstrate. A meme appeared on social media in Spanish that outlines this reality, and Cuban scholar and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner recently gave a commentary on this. Below is a translation to English of this meme.

“The blockade does not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does;
The blockade does not confiscate what farmers harvest, the dictatorship does;

The blockade does not prohibit Cubans on the island from doing business freely, the dictatorship does;
The blockade did not destroy every sugar mill, textile factory, shoe store, canning factory, the dictatorship did;
The blockade is not responsible for Cubans being paid with worthless pesos and stores sell you products with American dollars; the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible that Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently, the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime, the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible for sending Cubans US dollars that they give to you in worthless pesos in the Western Union, the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible for the dictatorship building hotels and the roofs that fall on Cubans’ heads, the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible for hospitals in Cuba that are disgusting, the dictatorship is;
The blockade is not responsible for not having water in homes, for not maintaining the aqueduct system, the dictatorship is;”

The United States does not have a “blockade” on Cuba, but porous economic sanctions with a focus on cutting off funds to the military that controls most of the Cuban economy. What the meme does reveal is that there is an “internal blockade” on Cubans imposed by the Castro dictatorship. Remittances continue to flood Cuba from the exile community in South Florida. What has become vastly more difficult is sending food, and medicine but that is largely due to the regime in Havana.

Afro-Cuban American scholar, Amalia Dache, an associate professor in the Higher Education Division at the University of Pennsylvania who “engages in research within contested urban geographies, including Havana, Cuba; Cape Town, South Africa; and Ferguson, Missouri” explained in July 21, 2021 the reality of the US embargo and the Castro regime’s internal blockade.

“No. It’s very hard for me to say that as someone who still has family living in Cuba. But lifting the embargo would not magically improve their lives. Here’s why: To understand the US embargo, it’s important to know about the internal blockade the Cuban government imposes on its own people. For example, the US embargo does still allow for food and medicine sales to Cuba. The Cuban government buys $100 million worth of chicken from producers in the United States annually. It sells that chicken to the Cuban people at a marked-up rate, sometimes at double the cost, and uses the profit to fund the regime. Other countries trade freely with Cuba, but because the government is heavily involved, the internal blockade keeps those profits from reaching the Cuban people. Poor neighborhoods — Afro Cuban neighborhoods — get the worst of the shortages. The police and military get money for new cars and surveillance technology.”

The Center for a Free Cuba is highlighting the reality of this embargo by examining each one of the claims above over the next several months. This first one to be examined is the claim that “the blockade does not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does.” According to an August 27, 2019 Reuters article ” Cubans eat a quarter of the seafood they did at the end of the 1980s, according to official data, and just a fraction of the global average fish consumption per capita, leading them to joke bitterly about being an island without fish.”

Journalist and visual storyteller Tracey Eaton in an e-mail sent on July 28, 2021 reported that “one of the things that inspired José Daniel Ferrer early on was to organize fishermen and fight for their rights. He told me about that when I interviewed him in his home.” Jose Daniel mentions it in this video at 6 minutes 8 seconds in which he describes setting up a “clandestine fishing cooperative” to feed families.

Laws on the books restrict fishing in Cuba by individuals using regulations that in practice are onerous and have prevented Cubans from fishing with heavy fines that if they cannot pay means prison. The most recent was enacted in 2019.

Cuba’s central government under Law 129 “Fishing Law” [Ley 129, “Leyde Pesca” ] July 13, 2019 mandates that any fishing requires a cost-prohibitive license and carries additional restrictions and penalties. In short, most citizens are not permitted to fish for their supper from a shoreline or fresh water source.

Real record on pollution
Outside of Cuba and in regime publications the claim is made that the Castro regime is a responsible steward, but like many other claims when closely inspected prove false, and the destruction caused has real impacts on both Cubans and nature.

The Castro regime sells a stolen version of Havana Club, that today “pumps 1,288 cubic meters of waste liquids into the Chipriona inlet in Cuba every day, mostly vinasse (a residual liquid remaining from the fermentation and distillation of alcoholic liquors). It has been doing that since the 1990s, although the problems became more acute starting in 2007,” according to Julio Batista in his 2017 report described the impact of this pollution as follows:

“The Chipriona inlet is a place where no one goes, where no one fishes, that doesn’t need a fence because no one wants to swim in the boiling filth that flows into its waters every day. The waters of what used to be a beach are now soupy and have the sour smell of decomposition. No studies about the marine life in the inlet are publicly available, but fishermen say there’s no fish there.” …”In the last decade, Chipriona has become the drainage point for the Ronera Sana Cruz, the biggest distillery in the country and one of the four owned by Cuba Ron S.A. It’s the end point of the sewage of the only place where the white and 3-year-old brands are distilled by Havana Club International (HCI). And the dumping ground for a company that earned $118.5 million in profits in 2016 from the sale of 4.2 million boxes each with nine liters of rum.”

Despite the Castro regime’s poor record on environmental stewardship and overall terrible record on human rights, the United States in 2016 stripped Bacardi of its right to the Havana Club brand. According to Reuters, “in January, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided to allow Cuban state firm Cubaexport to register the Havana Club name once again in the United States.” Bacardi “acquired the rights to the Havana Club trademark from its pre-revolutionary owner whose distillery was nationalized” by the communist regime.

Although Cuban laws prohibit these kinds of practices, the distillery's untreated wastes wind up in the ocean. (It is a regime facility.) Photo Jullio Batista.

Although Cuban laws prohibit these kinds of practices, the distillery’s untreated wastes wind up in the ocean. (It is a regime facility.) Photo Jullio Batista.

Ambassador Otto J. Reich, president of the Center for a Free Cuba, on January 31, 2020 in The Miami Herald called on the United States to undo this wrong that continues to favor the Castro dictatorship and gutted the rights of a Cuban family business. “The Obama administration allowed Cuba to renew an expired trademark registration for the confiscated Havana Club rum. The Trump administration should reverse that action and demonstrate to unscrupulous foreign companies that there are grave risks to economic deals with a regime that has stolen billions of dollars in properties from Americans and Cubans, and thus stop dishonestly enriching the Cuban government.”

This action by the United States in 2016 against Bacardi, and in favor of the Castro dictatorship was a deeply unpopular move for Cubans with a sense of history. Business Insider on October 28, 2020 broadcast a podcast on “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” that explored the company’s history back to Cuba’s colonial period under Spain in the 1870s.

Sadly, President Trump failed to reverse this action on his watch.

Regime fishing fleet overfished Cuban waters for export and Cubans have been heavily fined for fishing without a license, and if not paid they face prison. The following open letter is being circulated.

Let Cubans Fish

It is encouraging that President Miguel Diaz Canel has listened to the pleas of the Christian Liberation Movement, the Ladies in White, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, Cuba Decide, and the San Isidro Movement and others that for over a year called on Havana to lift limits and tariffs on food, medicine, and hygiene items brought to Cuba. Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced on July 14th they would temporarily be lifted until December 31, 2021 following the July 11, 2021 Cuban cry for help, freedom, and an end to the dictatorship.

We are pleading with your excellency for an additional concession. This is a time of great suffering. We ask you to intercede with President Diaz Canel and General Raul Castro. to urge all restrictions on fishing by Cuban citizens be immediately lifted.

Cuba is an island surrounded by a bountiful sea. The most common fish are snapper, grouper, and mahi mahi. For many years most Cubans have been unable to eat these ubiquitous fish. The reason for the absence of these fish in the diets of most Cubans is the same reason for general food shortages: the policies of the Cuban government.

Cuba’s central military- communist governing entities authorize only regime-profiting fisheries to deliver fish from its territorial island waters to its state-run and/or state partnered restaurants and hotels. Those not authorized by the regime cannot fish. There are restrictions in place limiting Cubans from fishing both in fresh and saltwater. A Cuban who tries to sell fish, shrimp, or lobster is fined or sent to prison if he is not authorized to fish by the government, which takes all fish for state-sanctioned purposes.

We urge governments with diplomatic relations, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to immediately send observers on how to come to the aid of Cuban families, and to let Cubans fish. That an island nation’s people are unable to feed their families with fish from the seas around them is beyond comprehension.

Penn GSE News, July 21, 2021

What you need to know about the protests in Cuba

July 21, 2021

Amalia Dache during a research trip to Cuba. (Photo courtesy of  Santiel Rodríguez Velázquez)

Amalia Dache during a research trip to Cuba. (Photo courtesy of  Santiel Rodríguez Velázquez)

Amalia Dache studies the role of place in education.

And no place holds her focus like Cuba. An Afro Cuban American who still has family on the island, Dache has been closely following the protests that started July 11, but have roots dating back decades.

Dache traveled to Cuba in 2018 and 2019 to research the Afro Cuban experience, and the opportunities that existed — or were closed off from — the island nation’s significant Black population. Her findings challenged many of the Cuban government’s statements about access to education, health care, and jobs, while also detailing stories of repression and persecution.

Since the start of the protests, policymakers and journalists in the United States and around the world have sought out her expertise on the closed off country. 

“I can’t ever stop thinking about Cuba,” Dache said.

We asked Dache why Cubans are in the streets, what the internal blockade Cuba’s government imposes on its people entails, and what many Americans get wrong about life in Cuba since the revolution.

Q: Why are we seeing anti-government protests in Cuba now?

This is a historic moment for Cuba and all of Latin America. The wave of protests that started July 11 was sparked by shortages of food and Covid-19 vaccinations as the pandemic sweeps across the island. 

But the momentum behind these protests has been building for years. Rappers and artists, notably the San Isidro Movement, have been calling for democratic reforms since 2018. If you listen to the song ‘Patria Y Vida’ — meaning Homeland and Life — you are hearing the voice of people who are tired of a repressive regime, tired of having family members disappear, tired of not having access to the internet, and tired of not having many of the basic necessities of life. 

Q: Afro Cuban youths are leading many of these protests. What should Americans know about the Afro Cuban experience?

Afro Cubans are central to Cuba’s story, even if the regime doesn’t tell it that way.

While accurate information is hard to come by, it’s estimated that seventy percent of Cubans are of African descent. When Castro’s government came to power, it declared an end to racism. And since there was no racism, they also outlawed all  Afro Cuban organizations and centers of the Afro Cuban community. It would have been as if the United States had outlawed the NAACP and Black churches after the Civil Rights Act passed. Black Lives Matter would not be allowed to exist in Cuba today.

Since then, we’ve seen the regime limit opportunities for Afro Cubans. In my research, I spoke to Afro Cuban families who lost their small businesses during the revolution and were never able to recover financially. I spoke to people whose access to education — something the regime brags about internationally — was cut off because they wouldn’t align with the communist party – the party that rules all Cuban civil society, all institutions, including systems of education. 

Cuba’s president calls the predominantly Afro Cuban neighborhoods with high rates of poverty where these protests started marginalized. How could there be marginalized neighborhoods in a supposed post-racial egalitarian society?

Q: Your family is Cuban, but you also spent time there as a researcher in 2018 and 2019. What did you learn and how did it change your thinking about the regime?

First, every person I interviewed was afraid to speak. They knew that telling their life story came at great personal risk. If I wasn’t Cuban and people weren’t able to make introductions on my behalf, I don’t know how many interviews I would have been able to conduct. That helps illustrate how little Americans and others around the world truly know about the lives of everyday Cubans, especially Afro Cubans.

In interview after interview, I heard stories of repression and cruelty, from the founding of the Cuban state to today. Women who had to give birth without access to pain medication. Unclean hospitals. People who had been jailed for long periods because of suspicions about their political beliefs. 

I also saw how the regime used food access as a tool of repression. At one point, the taxi drivers who drive working people — not tourists — went on strike over a dispute after the government refused to allow them to raise fares. The government ended the strike by pulling milk from stores across Havana.

Every time I went back, something basic was missing from the shelves. It seemed like you could never get bread and butter at the same time. I saw how the government makes people devote so much energy to getting food or finding food that they don’t have time to complain about the taxis, or the lack of internet, or the crumbling hospitals.

My research very clearly challenged the idea that all or most Cubans have direct access to education or the medical establishment. It’s just not the case. If you don’t have access to American dollars, you often don’t have access to vital services.

Q: The United States has imposed a long-standing trade embargo on Cuba. If that were lifted, would Cuban people be better off?

No. It’s very hard for me to say that as someone who still has family living in Cuba. But lifting the embargo would not magically improve their lives. Here’s why: To understand the US embargo, it’s important to know about the internal blockade the Cuban government imposes on its own people.

For example, the US embargo does still allow for food and medicine sales to Cuba. The Cuban government buys $100 million worth of chicken from producers in the United States annually. It sells that chicken to the Cuban people at a marked-up rate, sometimes at double the cost, and uses the profit to fund the regime.

Other countries trade freely with Cuba, but because the government is heavily involved, the internal blockade keeps those profits from reaching the Cuban people. Poor neighborhoods — Afro Cuban neighborhoods — get the worst of the shortages. The police and military get money for new cars and surveillance technology.

Q: Since the start of the start of these protests, some Americans have talked about the role of “white Cubans” play in influencing US policy toward Cuba. Is that a fair characterization?

 Like I said earlier, it is important to recognize that the Cuban dictatorship created a racist and classist society that keeps Afro Cubans poor and without power. But ideas of race and class among Cuban people are different than they are in the United States, and Americans are distorting the picture when they project their racial dynamics onto Cuba.

There is an assumption in the United States, often wrong, that lighter skinned Cubans and Cuban Americans are the descendants of rich families who were the losers of Castro’s revolution. These ideas about “white Cubans” both ignore history and buy into the regime’s propaganda. Instead, we should remember that Cubans ended Spanish colonialism by working as a multiracial coalition, and Cubans and Cuban Americans of all races and classes have been working against the regime for decades.

Right now, the whole Cuban community — on the island, in the United States, and around the Caribbean — is asking the international community pay attention and help create needed change. We might have political differences, especially about things like US domestic policy, but we share a common goal of a free, equitable Cuba. 

More from Dache:

In The Washington Post‘A powder keg about to explode’: Long marginalized Afro Cubans at forefront of island’s unrest

On MSNBC: ‘We need to focus on the Cuban people’s struggle’

On Slate’s A Word podcast: Cuba’s Color Revolution

https://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/what-you-need-know-about-protests-cuba

U.S. Department of States, July 23, 2021

Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian Assistance to Cuba

FACT SHEET, BUREAU OF ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS AFFAIRS  U.S. Department of State  JULY 23, 2021

As Cuban protestors are calling for respect for their fundamental freedoms and a better future, they are also criticizing Cuba’s authoritarian regime for failing to meet people’s most basic needs, including food and medicine.  We are concerned for the well-being of the Cuban people.  The embargo remains in place, but U.S. law and regulations include exemptions and authorizations relating to exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba.  The U.S. embargo allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba, and the U.S. government expedites requests to export humanitarian or medical supplies to Cuba.  Through the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and Transportation, there are many options available for expediting the provision of humanitarian goods to Cuba.  We actively encourage those seeking to support the Cuban people to use these options and contact us if there are issues.

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), General Licenses (GLs) and Specific Licensing

OFAC maintains several general license authorizations designed to allow for humanitarian relief and assistance to the Cuban people.  The following GLs are related to humanitarian travel, trade, and assistance with Cuba pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations  (CACR), as outlined in OFAC’s Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID 19 .

• § 515.206(b) of the CACR stipulates that the prohibitions in the CACR do not apply to transactions incident to the donation of food to nongovernmental organizations or individuals in Cuba.

• § 515.533 of the CACR authorizes all transactions ordinarily incident to the export from the United States, or the reexport from a third country, to Cuba of items licensed or otherwise authorized by the Department of Commerce (Commerce) subject to certain conditions.

•  Persons providing carrier services for authorized travelers going from the United States to Cuba may transport cargo and baggage accompanying an authorized traveler provided that the export of the cargo and baggage is authorized by Commerce, and other cargo or unaccompanied baggage whose export to Cuba is authorized by Commerce.

• § 515.572(a) of the CACR authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide carrier services by vessel or aircraft to, from, or within Cuba, in connection with authorized travel, without the need for a specific license from OFAC. Note: (1) the export or reexport of certain vessels or aircraft providing carrier services under § 515.572(a)(2) requires separate authorization from Commerce, and (2) the Department of Transportation currently limits passengers and cargo air services to and from Cuba as set forth below.

• § 515.574 of the CACR authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, provided the activities are of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; or individuals and NGOs that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.

• § 515.575 of the CACR authorizes, subject to conditions, transactions, including travel-related transactions, that are related to humanitarian projects in or related to Cuba that are designed to directly benefit the Cuban people. These authorized humanitarian projects include: medical and health-related projects; construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups; disaster preparedness, relief, and response; historical preservation; environmental projects; projects involving formal or non-formal educational training, within Cuba or off-island, on various topics.

• § 515.591 of the CACR authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide Cuba or Cuban nationals (including the Cuban government and state-owned entities) with services related to developing, repairing, maintaining, and enhancing Cuban infrastructure that directly benefit the Cuban people, consistent with the export or reexport licensing policy of Commerce. “Infrastructure” in this case means systems and assets used to provide the Cuban people with goods and services produced or provided by the public transportation, water management, waste management, non-nuclear electricity generation, and electricity distribution sectors, as well as hospitals, public housing, and primary and secondary schools.

Specific Licensing: For most transactions not otherwise authorized by OFAC general licenses, OFAC considers specific license requests on a case-by-case basis and prioritizes license applications, compliance questions, and other requests related to humanitarian support for the Cuban people.  For additional information on OFAC’s licensing process, see the guidance at: OFAC Licensing Process.

If you have additional questions regarding the scope of the Cuba sanctions requirements, or the applicability or scope of any humanitarian-related authorizations, please contact OFAC’s Sanctions Compliance and Evaluation Division at (800) 540-6322 or (202) 622-2490

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Licenses 

The export and reexport to Cuba of items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) generally requires a BIS license. While there is a general policy of denial for exports and reexports to Cuba of these items subject to the EAR, the EAR states which categories of exports and reexports may generally be approved or reviewed on a case-by-case basis.  In addition, certain types of license exceptions exist for different categories of transactions.  If the exporter determines the export or reexport transaction meets the criteria of the license exception, the exporter may choose to use the license exception and not apply for a license.

There is a general policy of approval for the following categories of exports, subject to certain conditions:

• Medicines and medical devices, whether sold or donated.

• Telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people.

• Items necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial aircraft engaged in international air transportation.

• Items necessary for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters or coastlines, including items related to renewable energy or energy efficiency.

There is a case-by-case review policy for the following categories of items:

• Items to meet the needs of the Cuban people, including items for export or reexport to state-owned enterprises, agencies, and other organizations of the Cuban government that provide goods and services for the use and benefit of the Cuban people.

License Exception for Gift Parcels

Gift Parcels and Humanitarian Donations (GFT) (Section 740.12(a) of the EAR) authorizes the export and reexport of certain donated items by an individual (donor), or a forwarding service acting on behalf of the donor, to an eligible recipient (donee). Gift parcels may contain a variety of items, including food, most medicines, medical supplies and devices, certain consumer communications devices, and other items of a type normally exchanged as gifts between individuals, subject to restrictions described in Section 740.12(a) of the EAR.  Eligible recipients (donees) are individuals, other than certain Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials, and charitable, educational, and religious organizations in Cuba that are not administered or controlled by the Cuban Government or the Cuban Communist Party. For example, hospitals or schools administered or controlled by the Cuban Government are not eligible recipients.

Donors may send one gift parcel per month per eligible recipient. The combined total domestic retail value of eligible items may not exceed $800 per gift parcel. However, the frequency and value limits do not apply to food donated in gift parcels. Items contained in gift parcels must also be in quantities normally given as gifts between individuals.

In addition, Section 740.12(b) of License Exception GFT authorizes the donation  of eligible items to meet basic human needs provided the donors meet the eligible criteria and maintain a system of verification to ensure that the donated items are delivered to the intended recipients.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of International Aviation  

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates international air services to, from, and within the United States by U.S. and foreign airlines. Currently by DOT Orders, passenger and cargo air services between the United States and Cuba are limited to scheduled and public charter flights to and from Havana, and other authorized charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other travel deemed to be in the interest of the United States.  Each such flight between the United States and Cuba requires specific approval from DOT, and DOT approval of humanitarian charters is subject to coordination with and clearance by the Department of State.  For all such flights, interested carriers may apply for the necessary authorization pursuant to established DOT procedures.

https://www.state.gov/fact-sheet-provision-of-humanitarian-assistance-to-cuba/

From the archives

Periodismo de Barrio, August 28, 2017

The dead waters of Havana Club

In the last decade, the Chipriona cove has become the outlet for the largest rum distillery in Cuba.

Everybody knows. No one prevents it.

By Julio Batista Rodríguez

“The state protects the environment and natural resources of the country.” – Article 27 of the Cuban Constitution

Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

The Chipriona inlet is a place where no one goes, where no one fishes, that doesn’t need a fence because no one wants to swim in the boiling filth that flows into its waters every day.

The waters of what used to be a beach are now soupy and have the sour smell of decomposition. No studies about the marine life in the inlet are publicly available, but fishermen say there’s no fish there.

The distillery that makes Havana Club rum pumps 1,288 cubic meters of waste liquids into the inlet every day, mostly vinasse. It has been doing that since the 1990s, although the problems became more acute starting in 2007.

At the commercial fishing dock in Santa Cruz del Norte, workers don’t want to talk. They have already complained a lot to the local office of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), but their complaints don’t seem to have been useful. Or even recorded.

In the last decade, Chipriona has become the drainage point for the Ronera Sana Cruz, the biggest distillery in the country and one of the four owned by Cuba Ron S.A. It’s the end point of the sewage of the only place where the white and 3-year-old brands are distilled by Havana Club International (HCI). And the dumping ground for a company that earned $118.5 million in profits in 2016 from the sale of 4.2 million boxes each with nine liters of rum.

The Cuban government stood to earn 59 percent of those profits.

Maybe that’s why the fishermen in Santa Cruz believe their battle is lost.

Full article ]

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2020/4/27/the-dead-waters-of-havana-club