Cuba: Right to Live Without a Blockade

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Oxfam Calls for Lifting US Sanctions Against Cuba

Seventy-eight percent of women and girls living in Cuba were born under the pressure exerted by the US blockade on the island for nearly six decades. According to a new Oxfam report, these sanctions impact the daily lives of all Cubans, but especially women. The blockade affects families and their livelihoods, and limits progress toward a more fair and inclusive society.

The new Oxfam report, Right to Live Without a Blockade: The impact of US sanctions on the Cuban population and women’s lives, explains how US policy blocks people from developing their capabilities and exercising leadership to pursue their goals and fully exercise their rights, particularly affecting the most vulnerable groups.

“Oxfam calls for the US blockade to be lifted. For over a year, these sanctions have represented a real obstacle to the procurement of mechanical ventilators, face masks, diagnostic kits, reagents, vaccination syringes, and other necessary materials to address COVID-19. Our organization supports the campaign for a people’s vaccine that is free and accessible as soon as possible to everyone, everywhere. Cuba is developing five of its own vaccine candidates, two of which are currently in the final phases of clinical trials. Yet by blocking trade and commercial transactions, the US blockade is delaying widespread vaccination on the island,” Elena Gentili, of Oxfam Representative in Cuba, explains.

Based on the research for this study and our experience working in Cuba since 1993 with local stakeholders, communities, cooperatives, partner organizations, and allies, Oxfam recognizes how the US blockade deepens the economic crisis and restricts access to suppliers of medicines, technology, food, and other essential products.

This report asks: what has it meant to experience the current health crisis in a country under an economic, commercial, and financial blockade? The Trump administration imposed over 240 sanctions to tighten this policy, 55 of which were implemented in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These measures had already severely limited private sector activity, especially tourism-related enterprises, even before the COVID-19 crisis. A survey conducted on the island by the Cuba Standard Business Confidence Survey in 2020 revealed that over 60 percent of entrepreneurs felt that the harm the pandemic caused to their businesses in the last year was equal to the consequences of the US blockade.

The report includes a foreword by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading human rights organization that has focused on US-Cuba policy since the 1990s. WOLA President Geoff Thale echoes Oxfam’s call to end the blockade.

“The embargo against Cuba has achieved nothing throughout the decades of its existence beyond contributing to human suffering, especially the suffering of women on the island,” said Thale. “This report is essential in highlighting the current health crisis in Cuba and how US policy has exacerbated the damage.”

The analysis conducted by Oxfam based on research by the Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial (The Global Economy Research Center, or CIEM) and women’s testimonies confirmed that the blockade reinforces the patriarchal system and turns a blind eye to women’s different needs, potential, opportunities, and autonomy. The sanctions affect women in their private lives, as they carry the heaviest burden of reproductive labor and efforts to sustain daily life. Cuban women spend approximately 35.2 hours per week on household work and family care, and women are the heads of 46 percent of households on the island. The blockade also affects women in the public sphere, as their demands are unmet in the workforce and in academics, and as they struggle each day to make ends meet.

The report examines sectors in which Cuban women have a significant presence and play leading roles, such as healthcare (where Cuban women account for 71 percent of the 479,623 medical professionals), education (in 2019, women represented 60 percent of the just over 500,000 workers in the sector), and biotechnology (53 percent of the people working in the Science and Technological Innovation System and 84 percent of personnel in clinical and biotech laboratories are women).

Cuban women outnumber men among the specialists who continue to treat the most severe cases of COVID-19 in Cuban hospitals, and many women are part of the teams developing the five vaccine candidates on the island. Oxfam recognizes that the Cuban response to COVID-19 is built on the persistent daily efforts by women to overcome the difficulties and stress resulting from US sanctions against Cuba.

“We are sure that in a scenario without the blockade, it will be possible to increase social protections to benefit those most in need, support the exercise of women’s rights, and develop the private sector,” said Gentili. “Promoting dialogue and cooperation between countries will support the global response to the pandemic. Cuba is positioned to share its experience in public health and biotechnology to help other countries control the epidemic as well.”

Oxfam and WOLA call on the Biden-Harris administration to take action to normalize bilateral relations between the two nations. “It is in their hands to reverse the measures adopted by their predecessors, expand and diversify the scope of a new rapprochement between the countries, and work with Congress to definitively end the blockade,” the report concludes.

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