Quick, name a country that offers free medical school training to up to 500 American students that promise to practice in under-served areas in the US. If you answered Cuba, then you probably were at a Pastors for Peace Cuban Caravan event in Iowa City, Ames, or Des Moines this weekend.
If you didn't know it, there has been a blockade on Cuba since 1962. The US "embargo" has been reinforced in October 1992 by the Cuban Democracy Act (or "Torricelli Law"), which aimed to restrain the development of the Cuban economy’s new driving forces the by hitting the inflow of funds and goods by: i) the strict limitations of the transfers of foreign currencies by the families in exile, ii) the six-months ban to enter U.S. harbors of all ships that had anchored in a Cuban port, iii) sanctions against firms doing commerce with the island even though under the jurisdiction of a third state.
The embargo was systematized by the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act ("Helms/Burton Law") of March 1996, aimed to harden the "international" sanctions against Cuba. Its Title I generalizes the ban to import Cuban goods, demanding, for example, that exporters give proof that no Cuban sugar has been integrated in their products, as was already the case with nickel. It conditions the authorization of currency transfers to the creation on the island of a private sector including employment of salaried staff. Still more enterprising, Title II fixes the modalities of a transition to a "post-Castro" power, as well as the nature of the relationship to have with the United States. Title III grants the U.S. tribunals the right to judge demands for damage and interest made by a civil and moral person of U.S. nationality that considers having been injured by the loss of property in Cuba due to nationalization, and claims compensation from the users or beneficiaries of this property. At the request of the old owners, any national (and family) of a third state, having made transactions with these users or beneficiaries, can be sued in the United States. The sanctions incurred are set out in Title IV, which provides the refusal of the State Department to give U.S. entrance visas to these individuals and their families.
In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo even further by ending the practice of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies trading with Cuba totaling more than $700 million a year.
The United Nations General Assembly has voted many times to encourage the U.S. to lift the blockade, however most recently, U.S., Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against the resolution (Micronesia abstained. Albania, El Salvador and Iraq did not vote) have voted against the "necessity to lift the blockade against Cuba."
The pressures exerted by the U.S. Departments of State and Trade on the suppliers of Cuba have concerned a wide range of goods necessary for the health sector (medicines destined for pregnant women, laboratory products, radiology equipment, operating tables and surgery equipment, anesthetics, defibrillators, artificial breathing apparatuses, dialysis apparatuses, pharmaceutical stocks…) and went as far as to prevent the free supply of food for new-born babies and of equipment for unities of pediatric intensive care . The production capacities of vaccines conceived by Cuba are hampered by the frequent lack of spare parts and of essential components that have to be imported, as well as water treatment plants.
This embargo causes unjustified suffering of the Cuban people. The shortages affecting many medicines, which are not produced in Cuba, complicate the immediate and complete implementation of the procedures of treatment of breast cancer, leukemia, cardiovascular or kidney diseases, and HIV for example. Moreover, the U.S. authority’s infringements on individual freedom of movement and scientific knowledge… (restrictions on travel of U.S. researchers, the disrespect of bilateral agreements on Cuban researcher’s visas, refusal to grant software licenses or to satisfy the orders from Cuban libraries of books, magazines, diskettes or CD-Rom of specialized scientific literature…) have in fact led to the extension of the embargo to areas formally excluded from it by the law.
According to Wikipedia, "Recent US polling indicates that the American public is ambivalent about continuing the embargo. For instance, a 2007 AP/Ipsos Poll indicates that 48% of Americans favor continuing the embargo, against 40% who favor ending it. Interestingly the same poll revealed that, despite overwhelmingly unfavorable opinions of Fidel Castro (6% favorable vs. 64% unfavorable), Americans strongly believe that diplomatic relations should be re-established with his government (62% in favor, 30% opposed)."
The Pastors for Peace have been making trips, at risk of arrest by the American government, for 13 years to deliver goods, medicines, and school supplies to people in need in Cuba realizing that a social justice and humanitarian imperative, in their eyes, supersedes unjust laws.
If you would like to support their efforts, go to their website and learn more.