The True History of the United States Trade Embargo on Cuba

A man walks in front of a mural in Havana that features the Cuban Revolution and theUnited States embargo. (EFE/File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Zúñiga, Miami, 5 February 2022 — On June 5, 1960, Fidel Castro ordered the nationalization of the Texaco company’s oil refinery in Cuba.  The following month, on July 5, he ordered the seizure of the two remaining US refineries, Shell and Esso. Castro let the owners know that there would be no monetary compensation for the nationalizations. The response of the president of the United States was to cancel the sugar quota of 3 million tons that the US bought annually from Cuba.

A month later, in August 1960, Castro ordered the nationalization without compensation of 38 US companies, including the 36 sugar mills they owned and the telephone and electricity companies. In addition, he imposed an extraordinary increase in tariffs on imports of American products.  Washington then made the decision to suspend the export of merchandise to Cuba, with the exception of medicines and food. Two months later, in October 1960, Castro ordered the nationalization of all foreign banks and the confiscation of all remaining US companies in Cuba. The total value of those seizures was assessed at the time at just over $1 billion [translator’s note: roughly $9.4 billion today].

On January 3 of the following year, 1961, diplomatic relations were severed. A few months later, in March, the US Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act and President John F. Kennedy, based on it, ordered a trade embargo on Cuba.

By excluding the United States from payments for nationalized properties and businesses while giving payment guarantees to the rest of the affected countries, Fidel Castro demonstrated that his action was based on hatred of that country and the desire to start a confrontation with it. The explanation given by President Kennedy to Congress for imposing continue reading

the embargo on Cuba was to defend the interests of US citizens arbitrarily dispossessed of their legally established companies in Cuba.


With very small differences, all the legislation of the democratic countries of the world coincide in the definition, conception and application of the laws related to the nationalization of foreign properties and businesses. The classic definition states: “The nationalization measures entail an obligation on the part of the nationalizing State to pay fully for the damages to the injured foreign owner. The expropriation must be followed by a prompt, adequate and effective compensation to the owners.”

Numerous governments around the world have nationalized foreign properties, but generally those governments have compensated the owners adequately. Russia, Venezuela and Brazil nationalized the oil industries, Bolivia the natural gas industry and Chile the copper industry, just to mention a few examples of countries in the region.


The Castro regime calls the embargo a “blockade” with the evident purpose of magnifying its impact and presenting itself as a victim, which, logically, arouses sympathy or pity in the world because Cuba is a small country and the United States is a large and powerful one. This propaganda manipulation has been used with remarkable efficiency and has been replicated by all the world’s leftist governments. But what is true and undeniable is that the aggressor was the Castro regime and the US embargo was the response to the confiscatory aggression, which, by the way, is still maintained to this day. Castro persistently refused to pay the Americans whose property was confiscated while he compensated all other foreign businesspeople.

In addition to false, the use of the word “blockade” is bombastic. Historically, the economic blockade of a country implies measures that have not been used in the case of Cuba, such as surrounding the country with warships and blocking the airspace to prevent goods and supplies from reaching that country. The United States did this against Haiti in 1993, seeking to force the Haitian military regime to return political power to the last democratically elected president in that country, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Cuba has no US ships or planes surrounding it.

A blockade also implies that the country cannot trade — that is all access to the country is blocked — and Cuba trades with the entire world. A blockade must include the impossibility of carrying out banking and financial transactions with other countries. Cuba conducts normal transactions with other countries. The only such transactions that are limited or controlled are those directly with the United States or those subject to restrictions for suspected links to terrorist groups, money launderers or their front people.

In short, the island of Cuba is not subject to any blockade.


In that nearly 30-year period, between 1962 and the disintegration of the USSR, Castro rarely referred to the US embargo in his speeches. From the beginning of 1960, Castro began to receive economic and financial aid from the Soviet Union and from all the communist countries of Eastern Europe. Politically, Castro mocked the sanctions, implying that they did not affect him and that they had no impact on his national or international decisions.

In addition to free economic and military aid, the Soviets extended extensive lines of credit to Castro. In 2015, the amount of the debt for these lines of credit with the former Soviet Union, today Russia, was officially known: just over 35 billion dollars. That figure confirms why Castro did not even mention the US embargo. With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the subsidies and credits that kept the regime afloat economically ended. From that moment on, the embargo became the subject of constant complaint by Fidel Castro and his regime.


Some presidents of the United States have modified the restrictions imposed by the embargo, seeking with these incentives to get the Cuban regime to improve the situation of human rights on the island. In 1975, Gerald Ford issued an executive order that allowed foreign subsidiaries of United States companies to sell their products to Cuba. The volume of trade between the subsidiaries of the United States and Cuba reached, in 1991, the figure of 718 million dollars.

President Jimmy Carter also introduced changes to the embargo. In 1977, he authorized trips to Cuba by exiles who had relatives on the island. That change meant an important economic injection for the Cuban regime and Castro then allowed those trips that were previously prohibited for Cuban exiles. This Carter modification is what makes it possible for billions of dollars in remittances to reach Cuba every year. In 2018, the year before the coronavirus pandemic, exiles sent some $2.5 billion to their relatives in Cuba.

Bill Clinton, in 1992, increased the limits on sending of money remittances to Cuba up to 300 dollars per month and authorized the visits of groups of religious, students and academics to Cuba. The then president also authorized the Castro regime to buy any amounts of medicine and food if they were paid for in cash. The measure was later expanded to include clothing, shoes, and a wide range of items.

The figures of the volumes of food purchases that the Castro regime began to import from the United States varied according to the economic situation. The following are the rounded figures from the United States Department of Commerce regarding the values of food exports to Cuba between 2000 and 2021:

Year 2000: 498 million dollars;
2001: $532 million;
2002: $553 million;
2003: $395 million;
2004: $392 million;
2005: $350 million;
2006: $560 million;
2007: $641 million;
2008: $710 million;
2009: $528 million;
2010: $363 million;
2011: $363 million;
2012: $464 million;
2013: $359 million;
2014: $299 million;
2015: $185 million;
2016: $241 million;
2017: $291 million;
2018: $271 million;
2019: $286 million;
2020: $176 million;
2021 (through September): $235 million.

Some imports to Cuba are striking. In 2020, the Castro regime imported $70.6 million worth of beer from the United States. In 2015, it imported whiskey worth $61.3 million. In 2003, newsprint for $4.4 million.

The United States is Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner in terms of trade volume. In addition, according to the US Department of Agriculture, that country supplies about 96% of the rice and 70% of the poultry products consumed in Cuba. It also exports wheat, corn, soybeans and their derivatives on a large scale.

Additionally, between 2014 and 2020, the US authorized the sending to Cuba of donations of a wide range of medical products, special foods and medical equipment worth almost 36 million dollars.

With these exports and donations from the United States to Cuba, what blockade is the regime talking about? In reality, the remaining restrictions of the Act are not even consistent with the concept of a trade embargo.


Due to the serious epidemiological crisis that the Island is suffering, in November 2021 President Joe Biden authorized the US airlines IBC Airways and Skyway Enterprises to carry out charter flights with humanitarian aid. The planes would transport up to 7,500 pounds of medical supplies, food, medicine, hygiene items and other supplies that cannot be purchased on the Island.

In August 1960, Castro ordered the nationalization without compensation of 38 US companies, including telephone and electricity companies. (Archive)

A revealing fact about the falsehoods of the Castro regime regarding the embargo occurred on July 15, shortly after the massive protests in Cuba. That day, the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, issued an order lifting, until the end of the year, the restrictions on the entry of food and medicine that travelers may bring to Cuba through the airports. That restriction on the entry of these products from the United States had not been imposed by the United States but by the Castro regime itself.


The propaganda about what the regime calls the “blockade” is constant, identifying it as the cause of all the country’s problems, the shortages of both food and medicine as well as construction materials, buses, trains, electric light bulbs and even paper. Many wonder, what do things Cubans don’t have available to them — such as the raising of pigs, chickens and cows, the cultivation of potatoes and vegetables and the fishing of shrimp and lobsters — have to do with the embargo?

The propaganda is so intense that even educated Cubans who are not sympathetic to the regime say that “the embargo must be eliminated in order to remove the constant excuses that the regime’s officials use so as not to be responsible for their failure.”  Unfortunately, these people do not understand that the regime does not sustain itself with “excuses,” but with terror and police repression.  They do not understand that the communist dialectic is always looking for scapegoats to blame for the mistakes and failure of its centralized economic system. If a factory does not meet the production plans, the culprit is not the communist economic system, but the official in charge of fulfilling the plans. If the country does not progress, the cause is that other nations deny it loans, but they never mention that they do not pay their debts…

When Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with the Cuban communist dictatorship, the regime began to prepare for the possibility that the US would lift the embargo. And what did they do at that time? Well, they carried out a “study” on the damage caused by the “blockade” to the Cuban economy.  The calculated amount was $822.28 billion. Thus, if the United States lifted that sanction, the regime’s next demand would be that it compensate “Cuba” with that amount. Of course, the United States would not do it, and there they would have the next excuse ready for the economic and financial disasters that Cuba would continue to suffer under Castroism. Shortages would be “justified” then by alleging that the United States did not want to pay the damages and we have to work many years to ‘heal’ the economy… The dialectic capacity of communists to create excuses is infinite.

The economic, financial and productive disaster of the Castro regime is identical to the one that was suffered and is suffered by all the communist regimes that have existed. Their economic system simply doesn’t work, but the communists will never accept it. That is part of their dogmas. Whoever does not understand it, gets confused and may end up believing in those absurd excuses.


All of the above information supports the conviction that the US trade embargo on Cuba has been more theoretical than practical. The only prohibition that has had an impact on the Castro regime has been to give it access to credit in the United States.

This has prevented the Castros from plunging future generations of Cubans even further into debt. This reality becomes clearer to understand when we investigate the gigantic amount of money that the Castros have borrowed on behalf of the nation and that they have not repaid. The regime has never informed the people how those funds were used. The list of money (in dollars) received by the regime (and never repaid) is as follows:

– Russia : 35 billion. That country forgave 90% of the debt in 2014.

– Paris Club : 11.1 billion. The Club forgave 8.5 billion in 2015.

– China : 6 billion. That country forgave 100% of the debt in 2011.

– Argentina : 2.7 billion. Foreign Minister Felipe Solá demanded payment from Cuba at the last CELAC summit.

– London Club : 1.4 billion in commercial debts. They have already sued the regime in an English court.

– Romania : 900 million. None of it has been repaid.

– Brazil : 561 million. The Bolsonaro government has tried to collect the debt, but without success.

– Mexico : 487 million. That country completely forgave the debt in 2013.

– Spanish companies in Cuba : 325 million. They haven’t been repaid.

– Czech Republic : 276 million. They haven’t been repaid.

– Hungary : 200 million. They haven’t been repaid.

– South Africa : 137 million. That country completely forgave the debt in 2012.

A total of more than $59 billion dollars that the regime has received, that it has not returned to the lenders and that was not used to solve any of the multitude of needs that Cubans have suffered for decades, such as the lack of housing, transport problems, water supply and rural electrification, among others.

It is well known that the priority of the regime in the use of the country’s resources is what it needs to stay in power. Thus, for example, the last credit that Russia has granted the Castro regime for 50 million dollars, in October 2018, will be used, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, to acquire armored vehicles and helicopters. With the severe food crisis that Cuba is experiencing, this is one of the priorities of the regime.

Many will have seen the photographs that the Government published of the fleets of patrol cars that they bought for the Police and State Security, but they have not bought a single ambulance, despite the terrible lack of them. The Mercedes Benz agency in Cuba “took pity” on the people’s suffering and made a gift of 18 ambulances last March.

The priority is to strengthen the repressive and military apparatus that keeps them in power. For that indisputable reason, it is necessary to apply economic sanctions that cut off their income. Based on these premises, the ones that then President Donald Trump imposed on the Castro regime had the objective of cutting off the income of the regime’s military companies that, as we know, have appropriated businesses that produce dollars, including hotels, gas stations, hotel shops and restaurants, currency exchange offices, food markets taking payment only in dollars, rental cars, tourist taxis, etc.

The sanctions imposed by Trump were:

Cancellation of cruise ship trips to Cuba: Each ship that arrives on the island must pay, on average, 13 dollars per passenger for the right to dock at the port and thousands of dollars more in supplies and services to the ship, including fuel. All this money goes to the coffers of military companies and it is money that is used, primarily, for repression (purchase of patrol cars for State Security and the Police, protection and attack equipment for Special Troops, electronic means for surveillance of opponents, to pay for high salaries and benefits for the police to help in the repression and for the enormous costs of the hundreds of prisons where opponents are imprisoned).

Application of the Helms-Burton Law: This measure stops the unscrupulous foreign investors who are going to take advantage of the companies confiscated from their legitimate owners and that contribute millions of dollars in investments to the Castro military. In addition, those foreign investors will pay the regime directly for hired labor — and not the Cuban employees — the salaries in dollars, of which the military keep 90%.

Returned Cuba to the list of countries that do not collaborate in the fight against terrorism: This sanction places the Castro regime in a fair place. In Havana, for example, there are living the leaders of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN), who organized the attack with a van loaded with explosives at the police school in Bogotá that caused the death of 21 people in 2020. Colombia has requested the extradition of the ELN commanders, but the regime protects them. The same is happening with the FARC, with members of Hezbollah and Hamas, and with so many other terrorist groups that found a safe haven in Cuba.

In addition, this sanction is what has prevented the Cuban military, through its company Fincimex, from taking control of remittances sent from the United States to relatives in Cuba. Fincimex is the main Cuban partner of foreign credit card companies and the Western Union money transfer company that processes the largest volume of dollar shipments to Cuba. The sanction included the recommendation to use non-military Cuban companies to send money to Cuba.

Personally sanctioned several high-ranking Castro officials and soldiers linked to the repression against citizens who express some form of discrepancy with the regime: This includes individuals such as as the Minister of the Interior, Lázaro Álvarez Casas; General Romárico Sotomayor, head of the Political Directorate of the same ministry; and General Pedro Martínez Fernández, head of the repressive “red beret” troops. It also sanctioned Raúl Castro and his children Alejandro Castro, Nilsa Castro, Deborah Castro and Mariela Castro, as well as Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, president of Gaesa. The sanctions prohibit entry to the United States for them and their close relatives, as well as the freezing of funds and properties in that country. Many Cubans on the island do not know that several of those sanctioned people have traveled to the United States as tourists or as official and have purchased apartments. Many sons of those soldiers and officials of the regime even have bank accounts and properties there.

None of these measures increases the hunger of the Cuban people. None of them cause shortages of food or consumer goods. They are measures focused on taking income away from the repressive military apparatus that sustains the dictatorship.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Paris Club Must Stop Financing the Repression in Cuba

Havana Provincial Police Patrols. (Vladimir Molina Espada)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Zúñiga, Miami, 22 November 2021 — The Cuban regime faces a very delicate and dangerous situation to maintain itself in power. On the one hand, the July 11 protests, in more than 40 cities and towns, showed the disgust of the population, which is living under the longest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, as well as multiple economic and social disasters.

On the other hand, Havana is on the verge of economic bankruptcy and does not have the slightest possibility of reversing that situation, already unsustainable for millions of Cubans.

Recently, several Members of the European Parliament joined with the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance in their denunciations against democratic governments and credit institutions, such as the Paris Club, which has just forgiven $8.5 billion in debt loaned to the ruined Cuban economy. Such indolence materializes behind closed doors, with its back to the Cuban people, and without demanding structural reforms from the island’s government.

As Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, pointed out, those 8.5 billion dollars were not used for the development of Cuba, or to carry out urgent infrastructure works. Nor even to solve the enormous need for housing.

The loans ended up in equipment for repression. It’s enough to see the expensive equipment of the special troops, the hundreds of police cars bought for the Police and the amount of fuel spent in the massive military mobilizations, on November 15. Meanwhile, hospitals are falling apart.

The communist leadership had always placed its trust in avoiding continue reading

any dangerous situation, thanks to the terror imposed on the population with the power of arms, its special troops, and with guaranteed impunity to strike, repress and even kill.

Any cancellation of the enormous Cuban debt must be conditional on real changes in the country. Otherwise, governments and financial institutions will continue to finance the repression in the country. Cuba will need, when the conditions for a democratic transition are met, the goodwill of many countries to rebuild its economy, after decades of communist disaster.

The Island will have to change, inexorably. This is demanded by a large majority. On November 15, despite the gigantic police and paramilitary deployment, significant events occurred, such as seeing priests and nuns lead groups that circumvented police controls and took to the streets; in addition to many houses that displayed messages of “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) and balconies with white or yellow fabrics, as a symbol of rebellion.


Editor’s Note: The author is a political analyst and former political prisoner in Cuba.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Hope Is Reborn in Cuba

Protests in Santiago de Cuba on July 11. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Zuñiga, Miami, August 26, 2021 —  On July 11 the Cuban people handed the communist regime a death sentence. The Miguel-Diaz government knows this and so does the exile community. The steps that both sides are taking are representative of their expectations for the immediate future of Cuba.

Diaz-Canel, the Castros’ hand-picked successor, is touring schools, gymnasia and workplaces in an attempt to raise the regime’s political profile. His words reflect the predominant mood of fear, discouragement and defeatism within the party. They knew there was a segment of the population that strongly opposed and rejected them, but they did not imagine it was so enormous or so widespread.

On the other hand, the exile community is demonstrating its optimism about the future with a conference of prominent Cuban-American businesspeople sponsored by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance. They have committed to offering their talent, expertise and investment resources as soon as freedom and democracy are restored on the island.

These prominent businesspeople have committed to establishing continue reading

a fund for the reconstruction of the Republic of Cuba that will provide “advice, credit support, financing and accounting systems to Cubans who wish to become entrepreneurs and thus develop, as soon as possible, thousands of small and medium-sized companies that will be owned by individuals and families and not by an oppressive state.”

The obstacle preventing the Cuban economy from taking off is the communist system. The people have shown that they do not want to continue with a failed experiment that has plunged them into poverty and subjected them to oppression. Their calls during the protests were not for food or medicine but for the end of the system. Everyone knows this is the problem but the regime resists change and, once again, has resorted to the only tool it has to hold onto power: repression.

Faced with violence, the popular response being discussed on the island is a national strike to bring the country to a halt and force the dictorial leadership to resign. The opposition has demonstrated that it is in the majority and, with this majority, that it can paralyze the country’s productive and commercial activities. Faced with enormous debt, lack of credit, lack of income, and a dying economy, the regime would find it very difficult to survive.

People know that under the communist regime they will never be able to improve their lives. Nor will they be able to fulfill their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs. They know that the government’s tolerance of the private sector is simply a license granted today that will be taken away tomorrow at the whim of some official. They are also convinced that private enterprise and the market economy produce prosperity.

This is why the Miami businesspeople’s commitment to Cubans on the island is so important. It covers almost all the major sectors, including finance, banking, insurance, manufacturing, construction, energy, medicine, and even real estate and the press.

Persons and peoples are motivated to make great sacrifices, even at the risk of their freedom and life, when the goal is the happiness, well-being and security of their families. Those are the desires that have always moved humanity to undertake social and political struggles to achieve a better life. Today these desires are in the hopes and minds of millions of Cubans on the island who already know there is a better future awaiting them.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Military and the Future of Cuba

The regime’s days are numbered, the author argues, with or without the participation of the military. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Zuñiga, Miami, August 16, 2021 – The Castro dictatorship was not thrilled with a proposal by businessman Sergio Pino to build houses for the military in a effort to encourage democratic change in Cuba. The issue is not the material aspect of the proposal. What bothers them is the implied message: a Cuban exile is extending his hand to the military, encouraging its leaders to take sides in the current crisis and play a role in bringing about the changes the Cuban people are demanding.

The message carries an important acknowledgement: the military has not participated in the regime’s repression against the people; their hands have not been stained with blood nor have they participated in the mistreatment and torture of political prisoners.

For this reason, most Cuban exiles would welcome a decision by the military to take the democratic path. Here is evidence of the exile community opening its arms to those military officers who have chosen to distance themselves from the dictatorship.

Clearly, the regime’s days are numbered, with or without the participation of the military. The July 11 protests in Cuba are echoes of those that occurred in Eastern European countries just before their communist governments fell. In those instances, the military prevented state security forces from attacking crowds and forced top government officials continue reading

to resign. Military officers were allowed to retain their commands, both after transitional governments took over and after democracy was established. This is how it should be in Cuba too.

Answering the call would be within the line of duty. Soldiers pledge allegiance to the nation, not to communist ideology. And the people are the nation. On July 11 the nation spoke clearly: “We want no more of this communist regime.”

We realize this system creates uncertainty for everyone, including military officers. The fear that expressing an honest opinion could be interpreted as an act of treason is real. Therefore, senior officers should use their personal relationships, not their professional ones, as a vehicle to speak privately and honestly about the situation as it truly exists in Cuba. The responsibility they carry on their shoulders is crucial.

This decision is not difficult if one honestly and objectively evaluates what the Castro regime has done to Cuba: a nation ruined and indebted, with a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread poverty, abandoned farmland overrun with marabou weed, rampant prostitution, jails filled to capacity, corrupt police, huge inequalities between the people and its leaders, and — worse still — no future.

Faced with this undeniable reality, should military commanders continue to support a regime that does not know how to govern, that only generates poverty and that hangs onto power through repression and imprisonment?


Editor’s note: The author is a political analyst and a former Cuban political prisoner.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.