The claim: The U.S. ‘blockade’ of Cuba means the island nation can’t trade with any country or company
In Cuba, protests against food and medicine shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic have sparked online misinformation about the country’s relationship with the United States.
“People are either unaware or being purposely obtuse about the U.S. blockade on Cuba,” reads text in a July 12 Facebook post. “Do you realize it doesn’t just mean they can’t trade with the U.S.? Cuba can’t trade with ANY country or ANY company whatsoever, threatening other people who may want to help.”
The post, which has more than 3,900 shares, is a screenshot of a tweet from Alexis Isabel, a socialist activist. Isabel’s post has more than 560 retweets.
Over the past week, thousands of Cubans have protested in what has been called the biggest anti-government demonstration in 30 years. The demonstrations come amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis in decades, spurred in part by the Trump administration’s sanctions on the country.
But the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which has been in place for decades, isn’t technically a “blockade,” as the post claims. And it doesn’t prevent the island nation from trading with other countries or non-American companies.
“That is a false claim,” Lillian Guerra, a professor who specializes in Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida, said in an email.
USA TODAY reached out to Isabel and the Facebook user who shared the post for comment.
Embargo doesn’t apply to all countries, companies
The U.S. has maintained a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba since the 1960s, preventing most American companies from doing business on the island and vice versa. The sanctions do not force other countries and non-U.S. companies to cut ties with Cuba, although they incentivize it.
The Kennedy administration imposed the embargo in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro’s regime deposed a U.S.-backed government in Cuba. The embargo effectively restricted all trade between the two nations.
Many U.S. trading partners followed suit.
“Only in the 1960s and 1980s was the U.S. able to demand and enforce a unilateral trade embargo against Cuba from its own trading partners in the world,” Guerra said.
After the Castro regime formally aligned itself with the Soviet Union, the U.S. attempted to isolate Cuba from other nations by ousting it from the Organization of American States (OAS), an international group of countries in the Western Hemisphere. In 1964, the body voted to require all member nations to impose political and economic sanctions on Cuba. Mexico was the only country that resisted.
As of 2019, Spain, China and Italy were among Cuba’s top trading partners. Even some American companies, including Marriott and United Airlines, have done business in Cuba over the past few years, although the Trump administration unraveled several components of the detente pursued by the Obama administration.
“As far as I can tell, all kinds of companies doing business in the U.S., (like) foreign airlines, still conduct plenty of trade with Cuba,” Javier Corrales, chair of the political science department at Amherst College, said in an email.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba doesn’t explicitly prohibit other countries or foreign companies from trading with the island nation. But experts say it may have a chilling effect.
“Of course the U.S. cannot prohibit firms from other countries from trading with Cuba,” Richard Feinberg, a professor of international political economy at the University of California-San Diego, said in an email. “However, the U.S. has instituted various economic sanctions that make that trade and investment riskier and more costly, creating serious disincentives.”
In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. passed the Cuban Democracy Act. The law barred vessels that had traded with Cuba in the past 180 days from docking at U.S. ports and prevented foreign subsidiaries of American companies from doing business in Cuba. Four years later, President Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which imposed sanctions on foreign companies that traded with Cuba.
Companies that engage in transactions in U.S. dollars could also be subject to provisions of the embargo, Michael Touchton, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, said in an email. But those provisions are disincentives for non-U.S. companies – not a legally binding prohibition on foreign trade with Cuba.
“There are some interpretations of the embargo that would support the claim, but it’s a stretch,” Touchton said of the Facebook post.
Many Cubans and other opponents of the U.S. embargo – including the United Nations General Assembly – call it a “blockade,” although there hasn’t been an American naval blockade on Cuba since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Our rating: False
The claim that the U.S. “blockade” of Cuba means the island nation can’t trade with any country or company is FALSE, based on our research. The embargo prevents most American companies from doing business with Cuba and vice versa. Although the embargo creates disincentives for other countries and companies to trade with Cuba, it does not compel them to cut economic ties with the island nation. Many countries, as well as some American companies, do business in Cuba.
Our fact-check sources:
- Kyle Moxie, July 12, Facebook post
- USA TODAY, July 11, ‘We are fed up’: Thousands of demonstrators throughout Cuba protest shortages, rising prices
- Lillian Guerra, July 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Richard Feinberg, July 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- USA TODAY, July 12, ‘Cuban people are demanding their freedom’: Biden expresses support for protesters
- Michael Touchton, July 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Associated Press, July 13, Cuban leaders increase police patrols after rare protests
- Council on Foreign Relations, accessed July 13, U.S.-Cuba Relations
- U.S. Department of State, accessed July 13, Cuba Sanctions
- History.com, accessed July 13, Full U.S.-Cuba embargo is announced
- USA TODAY, July 13, As protests roil Cuba, Biden faces pressure to keep Trump policies despite campaign pledge
- The Washington Post, Jan. 16, 1977, Spy Scandal Is Souring Canadian-Cuban Relations
- Observatory of Economic Complexity, accessed July 14, Cuba
- The New York Times, July 30, 1975, CUBA SANCTIONS, IMPOSED IN 1964, LIFTED BY O.A.S.
- European Journal of American Studies, spring 2009, Carnivalizing the Cold War: Mexico, the Mexican Revolution, and the Events of 1968
- United Nations, June 23, UN General Assembly calls for US to end Cuba embargo for 29th consecutive year
- Britannica, accessed July 14, Cuban missile crisis
- Reuters, June 5, 2020, Trump administration orders Marriott to cease Cuba hotel business
- U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, March 26, 2018, Updates To List Of U.S. Companies With A Presence In Cuba
- Javier Corrales, July 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Congress.gov, accessed July 14, H.R.927 – Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996
- Congress.gov, accessed July 14, H.R.5323 – Cuban Democracy Act of 1992
- Govinfo.gov, accessed July 14, STATUTE-76-Pg1446.pdf
- Al Jazeera, June 17, 2015, ‘El Bloqueo’: 55 years of obstructing the Cuban people
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