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Cuba and Gaza - The story of two blockades

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Cuba and Gaza - The story of two blockades

Nino Pagliccia

16 August 2011

That the US and Israel are very close allies is clear, but nowhere it is more evident than in the way they support each other in two of the most blatant cases of defiance of international law on opposite sides of the world: the blockades of Cuba and the Gaza strip.

While the two blockades are different in many aspects – not least of which Cuba is a sovereign state (despite US unwillingness to accept that fact) while Gaza is not a state - they are similar in terms of the claims the US and Israel make to justify their actions.

The US refers to its blockade of Cuba as “embargo”. However, the hardship that it creates on the general population is just as damaging no matter what it is called. Cubans call it a “blockade” and have reported billions of dollars of social cost as a result. We also call it a blockade by virtue of its nefarious impact, not the means used to implement it. The effect of strangling the Cuban economy, by the US blocking international banking operations and trade with Cuba, is serious in human sacrifice albeit not as high as that resulting from the naval blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel.

Where the comparison of the two blockades diverges is in the continued Israeli military raids against the people of Gaza that have resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths, mostly innocent civilians. After the 1961 US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba has not been subjected to military invasions if we discount the permanent threatening presence of the illegal Guantanamo US military base on Cuban territory.

From Kennedy’s Presidential Proclamation 3447 of 1962, to the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 of the Bush Sr. administration and to the Clinton’s Helms-Burton Act of 1996 - all still in effect today - Cuba has a world record for having endured almost 50 years of a continued blockade. This is a credit for the Cuban government and a testimony of the irrational US government foreign policy towards Cuba.

On the contrary, the Gaza Strip may well have one of the most recent blockades. Israel imposed a virtual siege of Gaza in June 2007 following a Palestinian election that gave Hamas the majority of votes. But failing to form a Palestinian parliament Hamas retained control of the Gaza strip, which was not deemed acceptable by Israel.

The US claims a threat to its national security and Israel claims a threat to its legitimacy as a Jewish state vis-à-vis Cuba and Gaza respectively. But both the US and Israel show lack of imagination using the same pretext in order to justify their claims and their inhuman and illegal actions: Cuba and Gaza are considered enemies and sponsors of terrorism.

The US unilaterally considers Cuba an enemy state and lists it as one of six “rogue states” – later redefined as “states of concern” without any meaningful practical difference. In order to “fight” this enemy, the US government has opted to relentlessly interfere in Cuban internal affairs in any possible way in its attempt to overthrow the legitimate Government of Cuba, including multiple attempts on the life of former President Fidel Castro.

Israel’s perceived “enemy” is not a state nor a government that can be overthrown, but an entire population upon which attacks and killings through continued air raids and bombings have been indiscriminate and often unprovoked. The blockade is used as a way to subjugate the will of Palestinians through physical subjugation. Israel repeatedly accuses anyone who criticizes or opposes Israeli foreign policy as an attempt to de-legitimize the Jewish state or as anti Semitic behaviour. The retaliation for doing so is strong, brutal and often illegal.

However, Israel’s expansionist objective by occupying Palestinian territory since 1967 betrays other interests beyond the security of the Jewish state. This was clearly made evident by Netanyahu’s rejection of Obama’s suggestion of a Palestinian state with agreed-on pre-1967 border earlier this year. The so-called Jewish settlements have been declared illegal and Israel has been asked to put a halt to them. This has not yet happened. New settlements on Palestinian territory are been developed as we write.

It is interesting to observe that Cuba has also accused the US of having expansionist ambitions over Cuban territory based on historical evidence.

On the issue of sponsoring terrorism, the US regards Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism only based on weak claims that Cuba harbors Basque separatists from Spain and Black Panther Party freedom fighter Assata Shakur who sought asylum in Cuba from US prosecution in the 1980s. This, while the US government has supported terrorist bombing attacks in Cuba from US territory and indeed harbors terrorists. For instance, Cuba-born and former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles, now free in Florida, is been sought by the Venezuelan government for the 1976 bombing in mid-air of a Cuban airliner, departed from Venezuela, that killed all 73 people on board. The US refuses to extradite Mr. Posada.

Israel - and the US - regards Hamas as a supporter of terrorism. This perception, largely based on the language of the 1988 Hamas Charter, is maintained in spite of declarations by the Gaza leadership that the charter is not relevant anymore. In addition, the recent unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah also indicates that Palestinians want to pursue new policies that may well include a resolution granting statehood to Palestine at the UN in September. This is an aspiration that will reestablish a much-needed balance to the Israeli-Palestinian discourse. However, the US and Israel stated that they would not support such a resolution. This political entrenchment contradicts their claim for a peace process.

The two blockades have been challenged at the UN. For 19 consecutive years Cuba has submitted resolutions at the UN condemning the US “embargo” and for 19 consecutive years the resolutions have passed by an overwhelming majority. Consistently Israel has voted with the US against the resolution – in fact in 2010 they were the only two countries voting against it. On the other hand, the UN Security Council resolution 1860 of 2009 calling for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire in Gaza leading to full withdrawal of Israeli forces” also passed by a majority vote. The US abstained in support of Israel.

The US and Israel blatantly ignore those resolutions and not only they continue with their illegal blockades but they use their political powers to enforce them extraterritorially to other jurisdictions.

The two blockades have also been strongly challenged by the international community. For more than 20 years the US-based interfaith group Pastors for Peace has organized caravans to oppose US legislation that forbids Americans to travel to Cuba. Brigades of American volunteers also travel to Cuba via Canada or Mexico to join other international volunteers to do voluntary work side-by-side with Cubans.

Last July on other distant shores, an international flotilla of ten ships attempted to break the blockade of Gaza. The attempt failed in reaching Gaza but succeeded in putting the spot light on Israel’s repressive actions. International volunteers risk their lives; indeed some have lost their lives to be in solidarity with Palestinian farmers and fishermen.

Although worlds apart, Cubans and Palestinians of Gaza would have many common experiential stories of suffering and hardship to share. But possibly the most humiliating is the lack of recognition of their humanity and dignity by two powerful nations.

Both blockades unfairly keep hostage and punish innocent populations, are unsustainable and are bound to fail as a tool of foreign policy. Israel should learn from the US experience of failure and should understand that legitimacy cannot be imposed but has to be gained through integrity and respect. The responsibility lies with those who yield the power.

The arrogant attitude that the US and Israel show towards Cuba, Gaza and the UN will eventually give way to pressure from domestic and international communities but most of all from the resilience of people committed to social justice and peace.

Peace will prevail.


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