The US Government has announced a relaxation of its trade and travel blockade against Cuba.
The US Treasury has removed sanctions on close to 60 shipping companies, trading firms, and individuals, which were blacklisted for having connections to the Cuban government.
Most of the companies were based on Panama, but two were in Florida, and a few ships were registered elsewhere.
The US trade and travel blockade of Cuba began in 1961 following the 1959 Cuban revolution during with Fidel Castro overthrew Fascist dictator Fulgencio Batista and installed himself as Communist dictator.
After taking power, Castro nationalised US-owned businesses in Cuba. Since that time, the US government has imposed a trade and travel embargo on the island.
Human Rights Watch, which is highly critical of Cuba’s human rights record, has also been critical of the US trade and travel blockade, which it said “has failed to improve human rights in Cuba and caused considerable harm for the Cuban people.”
Reporters Without Borders ranks Cuba 169th out of 180 countries in its Global Press Freedom Index.
“Freedom of information is extremely limited in Cuba, which is ranked lower in the index than any other country in the Americas,” says Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom report. ”The government tolerates no independent press,” the report says. “Internet access is restricted and tightly controlled.
”The authorities continue to cite the US embargo as the reason for the low Internet penetration but the activation of Cuba’s ALBA-1 fibre-optic cable with Venezuela proves that it has more to do with a political desire to control the Internet.
“In addition to the lack of media pluralism, outspoken journalists and bloggers are still subjected to threats, smears, arrest and arbitrary detention.”
In 2010, 74 Cuban dissidents signed a joint letter calling for an end to the embargo.
In its 2011 Report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) claimed that in Cuba “[r]estrictions on political rights, on the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judicial branch and restrictions on freedom of movement have, over the decades, become permanent fixtures in systematic violations of the human rights of the Cuban people.”
Regarding the embargo, the IAHCR wrote that, “[the] IACHR’s position is still that economic sanctions have an impact on the Cuban people’s human rights, and therefore urges that the embargo be lifted.”
In 2009 Amnesty International, which has accused the Cuban government of “[repression] of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists”, released a report criticising the embargo.
The report accused the embargo of hindering Cuban health care by preventing the importation of medical supplies.
The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly voted to in favour of resolutions calling for an end to the embargo.
The most recent American law to strengthen the embargo is the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as the Helms-Burton Act).
The lifting of the blockade
Last December Barack Obama announced moves to normalise relations between the US and Cuba.
In January 2015 a bill calling for the relaxing of the embargo was introduced into the US House of Representatives.
The Free Trade With Cuba Act would open travel, communications, and trade between the US and Cuba.
In February 2015 Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill that seeks to lift the trade and travel embargo.
The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would lift the ban on Americans doing business with Cuba, but does not lift the laws regarding human rights in Cuba, nor the laws regarding property claims against the Cuban government.
The bill is supported by Democrat Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin, and Republican Senators Mike Enzie and Jeff Flake.
Title II of the Helms-Burton Act calls for the US government to financially support a transition to democracy in Cuba.
Title III of the Helms-Burton Act authorises US nations with claims to confiscated property in Cuba to file suit in US courts against people trafficking in that property.
However, Title III allows for the US President to suspend such lawsuit provisions for periods of up to six months if it is in the US’s national interest and will enhance democratisation in Cuba.
Another bill has been introduced that seeks to end bans on Americans travelling to and from Cuba.
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 seeks to lift the ban on Americans travelling to Cuba as tourists.
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern and South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford have introduced an identical bill to the House of Representatives.
Barack Obama hopes the US and Cuba can establish embassies in each others’ countries before the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 10-11.