Cuba Embargo's Boomerang Effect
by Patricia Grogg
HAVANA - Washington's embargo against Cuba also has an impact on the United States economy and prevents millions of U.S. citizens from benefiting from Cuban medical progress, according to a report released by the Cuban foreign ministry.
The text of the report will be presented at the United Nations General Assembly, which on Nov. 8 will be examining for the fifteenth consecutive year the need to end the embargo imposed by Washington on Havana more than four decades ago. The document states that "because of the blockade regulations" it has been impossible to begin clinical trials in the U.S. with TheraCIM, a Cuban pharmaceutical product for treating brain tumours in children.
TheraCIM is produced by the Molecular Immunology Centre, which in 2004 made a deal with U.S. company CancerVax to develop and produce therapeutic vaccines against cancer.
This medication is registered in Cuba and other countries for treating cancer of the head and neck, and has been proved to reduce tumour mass. It could benefit children in the United States and other countries with this type of cancer, the report points out.
It also adds that were it not for the embargo, millions of people in the United States suffering from diabetes could benefit from Citoprot P, a unique product and treatment method that accelerates healing of diabetic foot ulcers, reducing the risk of lower extremity amputations.
Citoprot P was developed by the Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. According to the foreign ministry report, about 20.8 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes, a chronic incurable disease.
The restrictions that Cuba calls a blockade and the U.S. an embargo have cost this Caribbean country 86.1 billion dollars in total damages throughout the period, including four billion in 2005 alone, the document says.
Last year the U.N. approved by 182 votes the Cuban motion in favour of lifting the embargo. The motion was first set before the U.N. General Assembly in 1992, when only 59 countries voted in favour of the resolution.
The report states that the ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba causes tourist agents in the U.S. losses of 565 million dollars per million U.S. tourists who are prevented from visiting the country.
An estimated 1.8 million U.S. tourists could have vacationed in this Caribbean island in 2005, but because of the ban, U.S. tourist agencies lost potential income of 996 million dollars, the report says.
In addition, the U.S. imports about 148,000 tons of primary nickel and some 10,000 tons of cobalt annually "from distant markets."
But "If the blockade did not exist," it could purchase these raw materials from Cuba, only 200 kilometres away, the report notes.
At present Cuba produces about 77,000 tons of nickel a year, and output is set to increase through an investment programme agreed with Canada in March 2005 for the expansion and modernisation of a joint venture company to exploit the mineral.
Cuba has proven nickel reserves of 800 million tons, and potential reserves are estimated at two billion tons. The country's cobalt reserves amount to approximately 26 percent of total world reserves, according to official sources.
In presenting the report, Cuban deputy foreign minister Bruno Rodríquez said on Monday that the George W. Bush administration has created "an inter-agency task force on Cuban nickel," to monitor and prevent sales of this strategic mineral.
Energy is another good business that Havana says U.S. companies are missing out on, because they are forbidden to participate in prospecting for oil on Cuba's undersea platform in the Gulf of Mexico, only 137 kilometres from Florida.
The platform to the north of Cuba has an estimated potential of between one billion and 9.3 billion barrels of crude and between 1.9 trillion and 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
These estimates in the Cuban foreign ministry's report are attributed to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which said "the possibilities of success are of the order of 95 percent."
In 1999 Cuba opened up to tender 112,000 square kilometres of its waters in the Gulf of Mexico, divided into 51 blocks, for foreign exploration aimed at eventual exploitation.
The Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF currently has a contract to drill in six of these blocks, with a total surface area of 10,700 square kilometres. This year, however it decided to spread the risk and has sold a 30 percent share in the venture to each of two other companies, from India and Norway, retaining 40 percent itself.
The Canadian firm Sherritt International has also signed a contract for four blocks in this deep water drilling area.
Legislation approved in 2000 by the U.S. Congress permits the sale of foods to Cuba, an exception to the embargo that began to be implemented in 2001.
Between late 2001 and 2004, Cuban purchases from U.S. firms totalled over one billion dollars in cash.
In 2005, Cuba had earmarked between 700 and 800 million dollars to buy food from the United States. But Washington tightened its trading restrictions with Cuba, and the trade dropped to some 474 million dollars.
"Due to the obstacles to trade imposed by the blockade, U.S. agricultural exporters lost income of about 300 million dollars, which were used for purchases in other markets," the Cuban report said.
The economic, commercial and financial embargo was formally imposed on Feb. 3, 1962. That means "seven out of 10 Cubans have been born and grown up under the blockade," said deputy foreign minister Rodríguez.
The different generations often have different views with respect to the effects of the embargo. For example, Antonio Díaz, 70, believes that "the blockade is the reason why the country has not progressed," while a 30-year-old taxi driver who remained anonymous said "(the embargo) is nothing but an excuse to cover up economic inefficiency."
According to some experts, bilateral trade between the United States and Cuba would reach 20 billion dollars in just five years, if the embargo were lifted.
But Díaz, a retired sugar industry worker, confessed that he agreed with those who think ending the embargo won't be enough. "I think changes are also needed to straighten out the country. I don't think we're working properly, and that's something we have to fix -- with or without the blockade," he told IPS.
According to deputy foreign minister Rodríguez, the sole aim of the restrictions is to subject the Cuban people to hunger, desperation and suffering, and in his view it constitutes "an act of economic warfare and genocide."