How unjust and cruel US sanctions impact on Cuba’s health provision

By Aymee Díaz Negrín – Presentation to the annual Latin American Conference held in London on 27 January 2024

I think when we talk about the US blockade against Cuba, many times we think only about the illegal and unilateral sanctions against a country or a government with a political system completely different from the US, but the blockade is not only against the Cuban government. It has a devastating impact on the Cuban population, especially in the education and health sectors, despite the Cuban government’s huge efforts to provide high quality medical services.

Just to give you an idea about the impact of the US policy: between March 2022 and February 2023 the blockade cost the Cuban health sector almost 240 million dollars.

I am going to mention some examples to better understand what this means:

• During the period March 2022 and February 2023, MediCuba, the Cuban medical products importer, made 69 requests to US companies for access to resources and supplies needed by the national health system. Three replied in the negative and 64 did not reply.

• There are currently 20,000 Cuban families waiting for diagnoses of genetic diseases to whom it has not been possible to provide adequate care because the necessary technology uses over 10% US components and is inaccessible.

• JASCO, a Japanese company that manufactures spare parts for laboratory equipment has refused to sell to Cuba, because of her inclusion in the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

• Three Swiss banks refused to transfer donations to Cuba from the solidarity organisation MediCuba-Switzerland, intended for the purchase of surgical instrumentation for the burns and reconstructive surgery unit at Havana’s Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.

• In the most difficult moments of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the number of cases had peaked and our intensive care wards were overstretched, Cuba was prevented from importing pulmonary ventilators, under the pretext that the European suppliers were subsidiaries of US companies, which is undoubtedly a cruel and inhumane act and also a gross violation of trade rules and international law. Cuba had to develop its national production of pulmonary ventilators with its own prototypes.

• When our main medical oxygen production plant broke down at the peak of Covid-19 cases in our country and two US companies tried to supply Cuba with medical oxygen, it was demonstrated that a specific licence was required from the US government, even in times of pandemic despite the UN’s call to waive sanctions during that period.

• Cuba also has evidence of actions taken by US government agencies to prevent the sale of medical oxygen to our country by foreign companies from two Latin American countries.

• According to the UN, Cuba was the only country to which AliExpress could not make and distribute donations to face Covid, owing to the effect of the US unilateral sanctions.

• In Cuba, about 450 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in children each year. Many of them lack the drug of choice because of the impossibility of acquiring it.

All these examples are inhumane and affect the right to life and well-being of the Cuban people, the majority of whom, more than 80%, have never experienced life without the blockade.

The harm is very real, to be honest, and undermines the quality of public services, causing delays, waiting lists for specialist consultations, and shortages of medicine and medical supplies.

All the examples I cited above are caused by three fundamental measures implemented by the United States:

1. the inclusion of Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

2. the impossibility of acquiring medicines and medical technology of US origin or with more than 10% of US components.

3. the ruthless persecution of Cuba’s financial transactions

All these measures can be removed by the president of the United States if there were political will and a genuine desire to help the Cuban people.

Until that day arrives – we don’t know when – Cuba will continue to make enormous efforts to maintain the free health services for all that is one of the main achievements of the revolution. Just to give an example, in 2022, despite the country’s difficult economic situation, 73% of Cuba’s national budget was allocated to the sectors of greatest implications for the population, including public health, education and social security.

In addition to Cuba’s efforts, we have received solidarity support from organisations and thousands of people like you around the world. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you, individuals CSC members and trade unionists who supported the Covid Medical Appeal which raised thousands of pounds to send syringes, cryotubes and butterfly needles to Cuba for use in vaccinating the Cuban population.

We highly value the launch of a CSC new appeal “Cuba Vive” jointly with NW, Northern Ireland and Scotland regions of UNISON to fundraise to buy medicines, surgical supplies and medical equipment.

It is true that a country cannot sustain itself through donations, but you can be sure that every medicine, every supply, every medical equipment will be helping to save a life.

I am going to close with a sentence from the general secretary of the Cuban health workers’ union that you can find in CubaSi and I quote: “The Cuban people are very grateful for every action of support. You show that the unjust and illegal policies of the US government cannot and will not be able to block solidarity”.

Thank you