CubaNews / November 2006
By Larry Luxner
The U.S. embargo cost Cuba $4.1 billion last year in higher financial and shipping costs, lost business and cancelled contracts — double the amount in 2004 — as tougher U.S. rules took a bigger bite out of the island’s recovering economy,
Cuban officials quoted by various media say the island saw sharp declines in the number of Cuban-Americans coming on family visits, while restrictions on money transfers and packages meant less cash and fewer goods arriving in Cuba for friends and family.
“This is not an embargo, but an act of economic war,” said Cuba’s vice-foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, at a mid-October news conference. He complained that Cuba had to spend far more on insurance and freight in 2005 because Cuba was forced to trade with nations more distant than the United States.
Last year, 182 countries voted in the United Nations against Washington’s 44-year-old embargo on Cuba, up from 59 in 1992. Only Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted with the United States. This year’s annual UN vote on the bloqueo is set for Nov. 8.
In all, Rodríguez said “conservatively” that the embargo has cost the island more than $86 billion. That includes income lost as the tally of Cuban-American visitors fell 54%, from more than 115,000 in 2003 to less than 62,000 in 2005. Visits from other Americans fell 45%, from over 85,000 in 2003 to 39,000 in 2005.
Washington has cracked down on Ameri-cans who go to Cuba without special licenses by fining 487 people a total of more than $500,000 for breaking a ban on travel to Cuba.
It is also increasingly chasing companies in third countries who do business with Cuba and threatening banks to close down Cuban accounts and transactions in dollars, he told a news conference.
“The blockade intensified and its extraterritorial reach has been extended,” Rodriguez said during the release of Cuba’s annual report to the UN General Assembly on the impact of the embargo.
Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department fined Dresser Rand Group Inc. $171,300 for trading with the island. The New York-based supplier of energy products was penalized because its Brazilian subsidiary had purchased raw materials from Cuba.
“U.S, policy against Cuba is totally isolated and destined to fail,” said Rodríguez.
Stepped-up U.S. measures include stepped up action to freeze Cuban assets and the creation of a task force to chase Cubans nickel, Cuba’s top export with annual sales of $1.1 billion, mined in part by Canada’s Sherritt International.
Cuba said there had been a marked increase in U.S. pressure on foreign banks to cut correspondence relations with Cuban banks over the last year.
Swiss bank UBS AG and HSBC in London closed dollar accounts held by Cuba, the Cuban report to the UN said. And Trinidad’s Republic Bank Ltd. has stopped processing payments that Cuba makes to U.S. agricultural exporters.
In July, the Netherlands Caribbean Bank (NCB), a subsidiary of Dutch financial services group ING Groep NV, was put on a U.S. blacklist for doing business in Cuba. An ING spokesman confirmed a report in the Volkskrant daily that the U.S. government put NCB on July 28 on a list which bans U.S. companies and citizens from doing business with the bank.
“ING is viewing what the implications might be,” the spokesman said.