Cuban journalist Fernández: Cubans are ‘severely upset’ about the U.S. embargo
BY MARK GRUENBERG
The decades-long U.S. embargo of Cuba, plus recent bans added—to satisfy domestic political groups—mean “It’s really difficult to imagine a country without sanctions,” noted Cuban investigative journalist and filmmaker Liz Oliva Fernandez says.
But she’s trying, both in answering questions and in her documentary films.
“People in Cuba are severely upset” about the embargo, which successive U.S. administrations and Congresses have imposed ever since 1959. “How can you explain to Congress, or in Washington, D.C., that the sanctions have made life harder?” for all Cubans.
“They talk about the people, but not about the problems,” she says of U.S. federal officials.
Fernández brought that message to Washington, in the first of three appearances in the U.S. capital within a week, speaking to a small group of activists, plus two top officials of the Cuban Embassy, on April 24.
Her aim, like that of U.S. groups lobbying on the issue, is to lift the embargo, restore normal diplomatic relations, and get the U.S. State Department to remove Cuba from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
She’s also appearing twice in Baltimore as part of her East Coast tour to promote her latest documentaries. The CPUSA’s D.C. chapter is hosting her April 26 session in the city’s heavily migrant Adams-Morgan neighborhood.
Her trip will culminate with participation in an April 29 panel discussion at D.C.’s American University-hosted all-day forum on rethinking U.S.-Latin American relations and eliminating U.S. imperialism in the region.
“People in the U.S. simply do not know” about the embargo’s impact on Cubans in daily life, says Fernández. “We have a big job” to do explaining the issue. “But we have enough confidence that we can stand up to the mightiest power we’ve ever seen.”
Still, it won’t be easy, Fernández warned.
One reason, she adds, is the diet of “anti-Cuban propaganda” the U.S. government constantly emits from Congress, the White House, and through international broadcasting.
The embargo responds to the electoral clout of Cuban exile emigres, members of the island’s exploitative and capitalist class, who fled to South Florida after Fidel Castro led the successful 1959 revolution against their clout and U.S. behind-the-scenes control in the island republic.
Congressional Republicans, plus former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, have led the long embargo crusade, designed to use economic pressure to bring down the Cuban government and to restore the privileges of the émigré capitalists who fled.
Trump imposed 243 additional sanctions. Seeking to gain votes—unsuccessfully—from the intensely right-wing South Floridians, Democratic President Joe Biden retained them.
Fernández used a story from her mother, a physician and surgeon, as an example of how the embargo has hit and hurt the Cuban people. The Cuban medical system is renowned for its training of new M.D.s, its advanced research, and for sending teams of physicians to developing nations when disaster hits.
But physicians can’t work without medicines, and while her mother wants to treat all the patients who come to her with prostatic cancer, Cuba does not produce enough of the needed medications.
The main sources for them are Big Pharma firms in the U.S. and the United Kingdom—and the embargo stops those medications from entering Cuba.
As a result, her mother had to make the agonizing choice of “who would get it and who would not” of medications for treating prostate cancer. “And who would survive.”
The medical sanctions even extended to vaccines against the coronavirus (Covid-19), she said. “We couldn’t buy the medication,” Fernández explained.
Like other medications, the main manufacturers of anti-Covid vaccines are in the U.S. and Britain. Plus, pharmaceutical firms in other nations also shied away, for fear of being barred from exports to the U.S., their largest market.
The D.C. session began with a viewing of one of Fernández’s documentaries, an interview with Elian Gonzalez, now a member of the Cuban National Assembly, who first became famous as the subject of an international and intra-family dispute.
Over the protests and resistance from the rest of his family, Gonzalez’s mother took him on a refugee boat in late 1999. It sank off Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and his mother drowned. Gonzalez survived.
A tug-of-war ensued over whether Gonzalez, then aged 5, should be returned to Cuba—as his father demanded—or not. In 2000, after right-wing attempts to keep him in the U.S. failed, Gonzalez was returned to Cuba.
Fernández interviewed him for the documentary, and Gonzalez explained why he decided to remain in Cuba, where he works as an engineer.
“I decided to stay because I would be a coward if I left to migrate,” he said. “We have to try and do everything we can to bring prosperity to our country. It’s hard to build, with all the sanctions.
“I’m happy to be in Cuba. I know how we struggle and how many problems we have—and that all that is done by the U.S. government.”
The impact of the embargo in Cuba is also unequal, Fernández admits, explaining it “depends on your gender, class, and race.” Of the 11 million Cubans, an estimated one-fifth are Afro-Cuban.
The one exception to the embargo came during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration. He loosened many of the restrictions, lifting the ban on direct travel from the U.S. to Cuba, allowing monetary transfers between U.S. Cubans and their families and relatives on the island, and allowing some U.S. exports.
Ironically, agricultural exports Obama allowed responded not just to Cuban needs, but to demand from U.S. farmers, especially in the South, who see Cuba as an additional market for their produce. That’s led to city and state resolutions to Congress, including one in 2016 in the Alabama legislature.
Then, Alabama egg producers noted Cuba imports 80% of its food, including eggs—and Alabama farms produce a surplus of eggs.
City councils in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, and 20 other major cities also demand the embargo ends, New York’s Amsterdam News reports.
Another is pending in D.C., tentatively scheduled for debate and a vote on May 2. And 17 New York City council members have co-sponsored anti-embargo resolutions.
Those resolutions, however, have hit a brick wall on Capitol Hill, due to the electoral clout of the South Florida Cubans, including some, such as the sugar-cane-producing Fanjul brothers, who are big donors to the Republican Party. That leaves Fernández realistic.
“I can’t realize the policy towards Cuba will change in the near future,” she says.
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