In recent days, two letters were sent to Democratic Senator Bob Menendez accusing him of spreading the “false narrative” that there is no association between the U.S. sanctions and the economic and humanitarian crises in Cuba and Venezuela. One was signed by some members of Congress and the other, in support of the former, was signed by a group of economists. These letters were circulated by various U.S. and international media outlets.
The economists closed their letter by demanding that the senator “If you truly believe in protecting the human rights of ordinary Cubans and Venezuelans, you should stop leveraging your considerable power in the Senate to maintain the cruel measures that cause profound human suffering, fuel humanitarian emergencies, and push many more people to migrate to the US”.
Those economists suggested that implementing measures – considered by them to be simple and common sense – could help curb migration from Cuba and Venezuela by alleviating the economic crisis affecting two countries to which they attribute a significant portion of this migration crisis. The letter urged President Biden to lift “destructive economic sanctions” against both countries, arguing that “sanctions implemented by former President Donald Trump are a critical factor contributing to increased migration.” They justified their request with the argument that they were supported by research and academic studies on the negative and substantive aspects of the sanctions on these two countries.
It is shameful. It is embarrassing when a group of people use the university degrees they hang in their offices to declare themselves more knowledgeable about a reality than those who live it -including scientists and professionals from those countries. They pretend to set themselves up as exclusive representatives of “science” to pontificate from that height as the “one and only truth” that happens to favor those two dictatorships. These are attitudes typical of the authorities of scientific institutions that promote only officially blessed thought in totalitarian countries. Attitudes that should have no place in an open society and even less in a free scientific community.
The hubris of unique truths and the invocation of “science” to justify crimes is long in human history. From the sentences of the Holy Inquisition handed down by the depositaries of Truth to the racial purges of the Third Reich carried out with the legitimacy provided by German and foreign scientists sympathetic to eugenics.
If the economists’ letter suffers from errors of method, its pretension of representing a unique truth and its sins of intolerance and arrogance are concentrated in a sinuous phrase: “if you truly believe in protecting the human rights of ordinary Cubans and Venezuelans, you should stop (…)” Such language has the unmistakable stench of the character assassination campaigns that the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela dispense to their enemies, often through their friends.
It is sad but not surprising to see how supposedly enlightened people are willing to lobby in the name of an artificially argued humanitarianism to alleviate the punishment of two of the cruelest dictatorships that exist today in the Americas. Dictatorships with close links to drug trafficking , human trafficking, and money laundering,,, . Dictatorships that have subjected millions of people to the most brutal methods of repression, and torture,,,, . Dictatorships that have been condemned in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Dictatorships that have internally destroyed their respective economies with the unpunished theft of state resources and with control policies that prevent their citizens from generating wealth. Dictatorships with policies that have allowed their oligarchic elites to take over all civil and economic institutions of the state, which they exploit at their convenience and whose profits go mostly to bank accounts in tax havens . Aspects that have been very well documented by convincing reports presented by different organizations at the United Nations, at the Human Rights Commission, at the Hague Tribunal and that have been published in the international media. To ignore this reality, which has been very well documented not only by economists but also by many specialists, social scientists, and international civil public servants, denotes an ideologically biased knowledge or an unconfessed complicity.
It must be said at the outset that Cuba and Venezuela are not by far the main migrant-contributing countries in this migration crisis that has occurred since Biden entered the White House in January 2021. Statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection prove it. From fiscal year 2020 through 2023, at the time of this writing, Mexico (2,323,278), Honduras (690,888) and Guatemala (683,031) are the countries that have contributed the most migrants in this crisis. None of these nations have been sanctioned by the United States like Cuba and Venezuela, but on the contrary had receive various aid from Washington in addition to investment capital and trade. However, between the three countries they contributed 49.52% of the emigrants in the period analyzed. While Cuba and Venezuela only contribute 5.81% and 5.57% respectively, clearly showing that sanctions are not the cause for the emigration of citizens from these two countries.
By the way, the signatories of both letters have preferred to overlook that the migration figures they try to use to selectively criticize the policy of sanctions against the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela must be inscribed in the migration explosion to the United States facilitated by the crisis on the southern border of the last two years. Massive migratory crisis that has allowed the illegal entry of 6,819,447 migrants from 2021 to date, an unprecedented event in U.S. history. See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Immigrant arrivals at the U.S. border. Fiscal years 2020-2023.
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/nationwide-encounters
In the Cuban case, the Cuban migratory wave was unleashed after the order to repress the people was given by the dictator Miguel Díaz Canel on July 11, 2021 , when hundreds of thousands of “ordinary Cubans” took to the streets peacefully demanding freedom and the end of the communist regime in more than 70 cities of the country . Despite the repression and the policy of terror unleashed by the government to crush them, the protests continued. By the end of 2022, more than 3,400 protests had been registered in the country, which were documented by the Cuban Observatory of Conflicts . These protests were the response to the population’s rejection of the system and the chaotic measures implemented in the financial and retail sectors in the last two years by the government team headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel, which have been disastrous. First the so-called MLC stores (named after the local currency with the same denomination , then the implementation of the Monetary Ordering Task and more recently the Exchange Market . As a result, the last 24 months have seen the largest irregular exodus of Cubans in history, with a total of over 410,000 arrivals during Joe Biden’s presidency. The figure approaches half a million when the more than 25,000 immigrant visas granted and the 40,000 cases of humanitarian parole authorized are added, but still falls far short of the figures for Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, countries economically favored by the United States. Since President Miguel Diaz Canel unleashed the terror, the Cuban population on the island has been drastically reduced, with a substantial loss of young people. Diaz Canel does not offer them hope, but rather “continuity” of the internal blockade to their personal projects in search for happiness.
Hundreds of thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets not to protest the sanctions imposed on the Cuban regime by former President Trump, but to demand freedom and the end of the communist dictatorship. The crowds did not carry signs demanding the end of the “blockade” but “Freedom”. The protests occurred because the oligarchic elite in control of power insists on maintaining a failed governance regime that coupled with their administrative ineptitude has plunged the country’s economy into total bankruptcy . As a result, they have left the nation without lines of credit for failing to meet foreign debt payment obligations to creditors . They have also destroyed the sugar industry . The country no longer exports sugar, now it imports it. They have ruined the energy matrix leading it to collapse . The tourism industry has not recovered in the post-pandemic stage because other destinations in the region are more competitive. The damage also encompasses the once lauded healthcare system, which is now in ruins . It has not collapsed because of the U.S. embargo but because of its low priority in the investment allocation of the national budget to sustain its structures and produce medicines and the shortage of specialized personnel,, exported in medical brigades to appropriate a very high percentage (70-90%) of their salaries. To this must be added the food shortages and a galloping inflation that has reduced to nothing the purchasing power of workers .
The protests occurred spontaneously to demand that the regime satisfy the basic needs of the population to have access to food, electricity, medicines, transportation as well as access to drinking water. Since the transformation of the former communist state into a mafia state, the power elite has applied a benign neglect policy of disinvesting in those basic needs for several years -even during the pandemic- to prioritize investments in the construction of five stars hotels.
When the world economy collapsed due to the impact of the pandemic and the country was closed for more than twenty months in quarantine, the military oligarchic holding company GAESA -which does not submit to audits by any government institution- squandered state resources in the construction of dozens of new hotels investing several billions of dollars in a huge capital laundering operation , while tens of thousands of Cubans died for lack of medicines, oxygen , effective vaccines and the collapse of hospitals . These investments in new constructions were financed with the remittances stolen from the people and the salaries stolen from the medical and paramedical personnel working abroad through slave trade practices denounced at the United Nations .
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of the Cuban health system and made collapsed the false myth of Cuba being a medical power , which for years was built by the propaganda campaigns of the Cuban Communist Party and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). The Economist placed Cuba among the 20 countries with the highest death figures of the pandemic , demonstrating the collapse of the system. The Cuban government rejected the offer of vaccine donations from the United States and the purchase of vaccines through the special UN system that was established for low-income countries. On July 11, 2021, the day hundreds of thousands of humble Cubans took to the streets to protest, there were no oxygen balloons or ambulances, but there was police equipment recently acquired to repress the people. Those are the investing priorities of the power elite with the scarce available resources.
On the other hand, so that there is no doubt that the collapse of the Cuban economy is not due to the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, it is enough to analyze the income of the 9 most important items of the Cuban economy in the period 2013-2021 to understand that its degradation has been gradual and increasing. In this period the Cuban economy has had an accumulated loss of income amounting to $29,064.75 million, a figure similar to the foreign debt that was forgiven by Russia in 2015. See figure 2.
As can be seen, the nine most important items of the Cuban economy generated 17,401.52 million dollars of income in 2013, while in 2021 they had fallen to 5,184.41 million dollars. This means a drastic decline of 70.20% of their income in only 8 years. This decline is due neither to the embargo, nor to the sanctions implemented by the Trump Administration against the Cuban regime, but to a regime of governance with totalitarian political and economic institutions to which the ineptitude of the power elite and its government are to be added.
Figure 2. Income in the 9 most important items of the Cuban economy, 2013, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Source: Prepared by Havana Consulting Group based on information published by the National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI) and own sources. Data corresponding to 2021 have been estimated.
Finally, it should be noted that, despite the embargo, the U.S. has sold Cuba foodstuffs worth $7 billion in the period 2001-2023 and medicines and medical equipment worth over $37 million . Further proof that the embargo does not prohibit trade with Cuba, nor does it suffocate Cubans. More than 90% of the chicken consumed in Cuba is purchased in the US.
Something similar is happening in the case of Venezuela. The deterioration of the Venezuelan economy is not due to the sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration, but to the embezzlement and corruption of Chavismo that led Venezuela to financial bankruptcy and the destruction of its oil industry since Hugo Chávez came to power on February 2, 1999, and which years later turned Venezuela into a narco-state .
The economic, political, and social crisis generated by Chavismo practically extinguished the once large and growing Venezuelan middle class. Today 96% of Venezuelans live below the poverty line earning a salary of two euros per month . The economy collapsed dramatically, with GDP per capita falling by about a quarter of what it had been before the 2013 crisis began. Venezuela is experiencing one of the worst episodes of hyperinflation recorded worldwide since World War II , which has generated that more than 6.8 million Venezuelans have fled the country because of the crisis and the repression of Nicolas Maduro’s regime . In this regard it should be noted that the NGO Provea documented 1,599 cases of torture between 2013 and 2022 .
The implosion of the Venezuelan economy can be traced back to the destruction of its oil industry. Oil production fell from a peak of 3.7 million barrels per day in 1998 to 2.2 million barrels per day in 2017, continuing its gradual decline to the present day with production barely reaching a little over 700,000 barrels per day, Today the industry produces an amount that does not satisfy the financing of imports that the country needs to survive.
The fall in Venezuelan oil production has been going on since 2015, when not even in the dictionary of Venezuelan politics did the word “sanctions” exist .
This situation has led to the collapse of the Venezuelan health system. This is reflected in the deterioration of the infrastructure, the lack of medicine and supplies and the exodus of health personnel. During the first semester of 2022, the shortage of supplies in the emergency rooms of the country’s hospitals reached an average of 46.8%, while the shortage of supplies for operating rooms reached 71.5%. By 2014, it was estimated that 33.26 percent of the country’s registered physicians had migrated out of Venezuela. According to the latest report of the non-governmental organization PROVEA, the outflow of medical personnel had increased by 2021 to 70% and the outflow of nursing personnel to 80% .
The deterioration of the Venezuelan industry has been a direct consequence of corruption not of the sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration. The scandalous levels of continued corruption in Venezuela and the unprecedented embezzlement of its public assets over the last two decades has been the cancer that has fulminated the oil industry. Venezuela’s inability to detect, punish and prevent corruption is associated with several factors, among which the lack of judicial independence and the lack of government transparency stand out. All the above has been confirmed by numerous reports of national and international organizations for the protection of human rights, among which stands out the report prepared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, .
Taking stock of the data and facts shown in the well-documented investigations I have already mentioned, there is no doubt that the letters sent to Senator Bob Menendez lack objectivity and common sense. Much more so at a time when in Cuba and Venezuela serious human rights violations and the abysmal record of destruction of their respective national economies are emerging together with mounting evidence of their connections to transnational organized crime and the affront of their alliance with Putin’s mafia state in the aggression against Ukraine.
If you want sanctions lifted on the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes you should demand that these cruel dictatorships first restore freedoms to their respective citizens, including their right to generate wealth, to express their ideas, to have a decent job, to be able to freely elect their presidents in free and internationally supervised elections. Using U.S. sanctions to justify a failed and criminal system of governance is the “false narrative” promoted by the dictators in Havana and Caracas.
Demand the lifting of the internal blockade to freedom and development that these regimes impose on their citizens. This is the best way for them to have a dignified life in their respective countries without having to emigrate.
President & CEO Havana Consulting Group
Vice President of Cuba Siglo 21
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