Marina Watson Pelaez
George Galloway, outspoken British Member of Parliament, has severely criticised US president Barack Obama for allowing the commercial, economic and financial American embargo on Cuba to continue after almost half a century.
Galloway, who is also an author and broadcaster, was senior vice chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s foreign affairs committee for 14 years. He was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 when he opposed the war in Iraq which he regarded as an illegal invasion and founded the anti-war party Respect in 2004.
Although he is widely known for his campaigning work on behalf of the Palestinians (in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East), Galloway is also a supporter of Cuba.
“I have a love affair with Cuba”, he says.
The Solidarity for Cuba conference held recently in London’s Congress House, Great Russell Street, provided a view of Cuba that is not normally publicised in the media.
“The media blockade is also part of this long struggle that we have been leading for fifty years”, said Cuban economic councillor Carlos Alfaro.
At the conference, Galloway expressed great disappointment with Obama, stating that the US president’s earlier promises about Cuba had been a mirage. He said: “I am sad because I supported him on my radio and Tv show and fell out with several friends. He (Obama) has failed to make progress and he continues to sink and the more he sinks the less he will be able to do something.”
He added: “There is a blockade against Cuba, against a country that has no intentions of ill intent. It is international bullying of the very first order.”
The US embargo or el bloqueo (blockade) as it is known in Cuba was partially enacted shortly after the Cuban revolution in 1958 and was fully enforced in 1962.
Obama has recently made piecemeal concessions concerning Cuba. He has agreed to allow American’s to visit Cuba, and money transfers can now be made to family members on the island.
Despite these changes, the embargo, which limits American businesses from conducting business with Cuban interests, is still in effect and is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history. The United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (6.6 per cent of Cuba's imports are from the US). However, Cuba must pay cash for all imports, as credit is not allowed.
Carlos Alfaro explained how the embargo stops other countries world-wide from trading with Cuba. “More than fifty countries have limited transaction with Cuba. They feel threatened and ask themselves, what is going to happen to us if we deal with Cuban companies? There is a lot of fear”, he said.
According to Galloway, the UK plays a great role in shaping global public opinion and we should persevere to help the island. He said: “I don’t expect that David Miliband will be foreign secretary for too long but he could become the first foreign secretary to go to Cuba. He has a track record of working in Cuba but could do more in these months. In parliament we are putting a lot of pressure on him to visit the island.”
Alfaro claims that the day the embargo is lifted, Cuba will be free. He said, “People say we are blaming a lot on the blockade, but let us lift the embargo and see how far Cuba can go. It’s unbelievable that the embargo is still there.”
How Cuba has coped meanwhile with this economic struggle is inexplicable. Galloway compares Cuba to a bumble bee. “Its body weight ought to not get if off the floor but it does. Due to economic laws Cuba should have collapsed, but it hasn’t.
“It is the most extraordinary place on the planet”, he added.
Surprisingly, a lot of people still believe that communism is at the heart of Cuba’s problems. They are unaware that Cuba does not want citizens to suffer but that it is rather the US, the most powerful, wealthy and influential continent in the world which is impeding its economic development.
But as Galloway said at the conference, "Cuba has friends all over the world and there is no possibility of it going back to slavery and humiliation."
* See The-Latest story: Cuban blogger fights for freedom.