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Cuba's Citizens Suffer From US Blockade

IRRESPECTIVE of anyone's opinion concerning Fidel Castro's regime, it has become obvious that the United States embargo against Cuba has not led to his ouster and probably will not do so in the near future. Rather, what it has achieved is unnecessary suffering for the Cuban people and increased pressure on dissidents.

How to overcome decades of misunderstanding between the US government and the Castro regime has become one of the main issues confronting the Clinton administration. The US trade embargo against Cuba violates the Charter of the Organization of American States, which declares: "No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State."

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The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force, but also "any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements."

Last September, Congress passed and President Bush signed the "Cuban Democracy Act of 1992," which tightens the 30-year trade ban by prohibiting foreign subsidiaries of US companies from doing business with Cuba. The law has been severely criticized at the United Nations, and 59 countries backed a resolution asking the US to repeal it. Britain called it "a violation of a general principle of international law and the sovereignty of independent nations." Only Israel and Romania sided with the US against t hat resolution.

The blockade against Cuba is not justified in the current international context. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba is no longer a security threat to the US. It is not capable of subverting governments in Central America, and it has ceased to be a significant factor in the balance of power in some African countries.

At the same time, the lack of economic support from Cuba's allies in the Soviet sphere, over 30 years of blockade and the economic mismanagement of the Cuban government, has brought its people's standard of living to a subsistence level.

FOR more than a year and a half each Cuban has had access to only one pound of rice, six pounds of beans, two eggs, a pint of oil, and less than 15 kilograms of potatoes per month. Although some products can be obtained in the black market, their price is prohibitive. More than 300 medicines and basic medical supplies are lacking. Surgery is only done on very selected cases, and there are limitations on ambulance services.

This situation has had a serious effect on the capacity of health services to provide adequate attention to the population.

Is there a way out of this quagmire? There is, if compassion, intelligence, and true commitment for democracy replace the intransigent positions of both the US and the Cuban governments. A partial lifting of the embargo could take effect, which would include the entry of food and medical supplies into Cuba.

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This could be conditioned on the willingness of the Cuban government to institute a change in favor of democratization, which would also benefit the Cuban people.

One such measure for consideration, although by no means the only one, could be the liberation of all political prisoners in the island. Negotiations between Cuba and the US, which could be conducted by a commission of notable personalities agreed upon by both governments, would not be a new fact in the stormy relations between the two countries.

A similar transaction took place after the failed invasion of the island in 1961, through an exchange of 1,189 prisoners taken by the Cubans for agricultural machinery and medicines. This arrangement could be the initial one in a gradual tension-lowering process that could ultimately lead to lifting the blockade against that country. The Cuban people would be the ones most to benefit from a more open, rational policy.

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