60 Years of Failed Policy: Boston DSA Leads the Way in Ending the Embargo on Cuba

Oct 11, 2022 | Internationalism, PEWG blog

Sixty Years after the US Navy’s Caribbean fleet first created a picket around the island of Cuba, the United States’ cruel and aimless embargo of Cuba continues. Despite decades of red scare tactics, designed to silence Socialists who believe the embargo is a moral and political failure, people of all political stripes have come out in opposition of the ongoing embargo. So why is the embargo still in place? Simply put, it’s good politics for certain voting blocs. Though America’s ruling class hopes Cuba can continue to be the US’s socialist boogeyman next door, the embargo should galvanize support for Socialism.

 A sign in Cuba reads “Build the Future. Break the Blockade”

Burdensome Sanctions Limit Medical and Food Imports

The embargo’s continuing existence remains as enduring evidence of US imperialism’s cruelty against countries that dare to pursue an alternative to the capitalist economy. Cubans find themselves cut off from critical sections of trade and the global economy as a result, limiting the import of medical items, food, and cash remittances that can enter Cuba from the US. Cuba can’t even import these necessities from non-US countries due to the threats of the US’s secondary sanctions. 

While the embargo in theory allows the import of food and medical items to Cuba, the structure discourages these imports in practice. For instance, the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana, which is Cuba’s main trauma hospital, has only two working anesthesia machines. Although they had contracted with a Swiss company to purchase more, cash-in-hand, the threat of secondary sanctions killed the deal. The threat of sanctions that would cut off foreign companies from financial processing and credit institutions housed in the United States, in addition to burdensome application and approval requirements, discourage most American or global companies from doing business with Cuba. 

Similarly, while the embargo theoretically allows food exports into Cuba, US sanctions still cut off critical food imports to Cuba. Sanctions require Cuba to purchase all food with hard currency or through third-party guarantees from foreign banks. This again is where the threat of secondary sanctions discourages foreign companies and countries from providing Cuba with financing for food. Cuba’s access to hard currency is further limited by US imposed travel restrictions, limits on remissions, and restrictions on foreign currency exchange, meaning Cuba can find little relief by trading with other countries. Moreover, if a product contains more than 10 percent US-made components, then US sanctions apply to the product, effectively locking Cuba out of critical technologies in domains dominated by US production such as agriculture, computing, and aerospace. (You can read more on the sanctions here and here

But this has not stopped Cubans from carrying on. In the face of the embargo, the country has shown extreme resilience, building a leading health and pharmaceutical industry, becoming a global leader in sustainable development, and even creating its own COVID-19 vaccine when the embargo would have excluded the country from global stocks. 

Though in many ways the country is a success story in how to thrive without globalization, Cuba should never have had to adapt to such a situation. From every angle, the US embargo of Cuba is a failed and cruel policy.

DSA Leads a National Campaign to End the Embargo

With widespread consensus on the embargo’s failure comes the opportunity for DSA to achieve an elusive political goal: permanently ending the embargo. DSA has kicked off a national grassroots campaign to end the embargo that reflects the importance of strategic organizing in achieving big, progressive wins, and Boston DSA is leading the way.

The campaign begins with cities. Local DSA chapters are lobbying their city councils to pass resolutions against the Cuba embargo, through constituent lobbying, public education events on the embargo, and demonstrations against the embargo’s negative effects. Boston DSA has already achieved the passage of resolutions in the Boston City Council, Somerville City Council, and Brookline Town Meeting. (Cambridge passed a similar resolution in early 2021) 

With local support for ending the Cuba embargo firmly established, the campaign now expands to coalition work. The city council resolutions are strategically written to provide the foundation for developing ties between Cuba and local constituencies in Massachusetts in domains such as biomedical research, public health, academia, and cultural institutions. Providing the basis for doctors, public health officials, artists, academics, researchers, environmental activists, religious leaders, farmers, union organizers, and others to develop concrete ties to Cuba and experience first-hand the difficulties of the embargo is a crucial piece of broadening our base of support and creating new activists organized around ending the embargo of Cuba. 

This broadened coalition will provide additional leverage as we move to federal pressure campaigns. Since the legal framework of the embargo is a construction of Congress, it is vital to push elected officials in the House and Senate to respond to their constituents’ wishes and propose or support legislation that will end the embargo. Not only do municipal resolutions provide tangible  evidence of the desire for a change of Cuba policy, but the new movement created by using resolutions as coalition organizing tools will provide powerful leverage from our region’s top leaders in various industries. 

Organizational Structure, Elected Allies, and Localized Issues are Critical to Success

The Cuba campaign’s organizing strategy greatly benefits from DSA’s decentralized structure while leveraging the organization’s national reach. Local chapters know how to best navigate the local political dynamics and pass city resolutions, but large-scale change at the congressional level will require national coordination across DSA chapters. Chapters are working independently to pass city resolutions and then with DSA’s International Committee to coordinate the national congressional campaign across chapters. If successful, this interlinked local and national approach can serve as a template for future DSA organizing campaigns that want to build a national campaign from the grassroots. 

One of the key lessons learned to date is the importance of developing strong relationships with our local electeds in order to encourage the praxis of internationalism from local office. Kendra Lara, a DSA member and Boston City Council member, introduced the Cuba resolution to the Boston City Council and was an important ally in navigating the political dynamics and procedures to pass the resolution. Willie Burnley Jr., a DSA member and Somerville City Council member, approached Boston DSA about passing a similar resolution in Somerville and drew on our support to pass a resolution in his city. Likewise, Ryan Black, a Boston DSA Coordinating Committee member and former Brookline Town Councilor, was the primary citizen petitioner who introduced the successful resolution in Brookline. 

The campaign has also solidified the importance of finding local connections to issues of national and international relevance. Though Boston and Cuba are 1,500 miles apart and the Cuban population in Boston is miniscule compared to cities in Florida,Boston and Cuba are both global leaders in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The Boston resolution emphasized how Boston academia and businesses could benefit from knowledge exchange with Cuba. Cuba is also a leader in sustainability, a growing concern as the Boston area adapts to the impacts of the climate crisis. Thus, collaboration on sustainability between local cities and towns with Cuba may form promising bases for future resolutions.

Join Our Campaign

Want to end the Cuba embargo? Or just interested in strategic organizing campaigns? Join us! You can email the Boston DSA campaign at cuba.bdsa@gmail.com and we will link you up with the work. Be on the lookout for upcoming political education events as we move new resolutions forward! If you would like to directly help Cubans, who experienced a disastrous fire in early August and the devastating impact of Hurricane Ian in September, you can donate through Code Pink or Global Health Partners. The embargo limits donations that can flow to the country and only certain organizations are able to send assistance.