Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick

It’s clear that from now until November, the Trump administration will pummel its island neighbor, write Medea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores.

President Donald J. Trump signs policy on Cuba, June 16, 2017. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

By Medea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores

A team of 85 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Peru on June 3 to help the Andean nation tackle the coronavirus pandemic. That same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced another tightening of the sanctions screws. This time he targeted seven Cuban entities, including Fincimex, one of the principal financial institutions handling remittances to the country. Also targeted was Marriott International, which was ordered to cease operations in Cuba, and other companies in the tourism sector, an industry that constitutes 10 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product and has been devastated globally by the pandemic. 

It seems that the more Cuba helps the world, the more it gets hammered by the Trump administration. While Cuba has endured a U.S. embargo for nearly 60 years, Trump has revved up the stakes with a “maximum pressure” strategy that includes more than 90 economic measures placed against the nation since January 2019.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, called the measures “unprecedented in their level of aggression and scope” and designed to “deprive the country of income for the development of the economy.” Since its inception, the embargo has cost Cuba well over $130 billion dollars, according to a 2018 estimate. In 2018-2019 alone, the economic impact was $4 billion, a figure that does not include the impact of a June 2019 Trump administration travel ban aimed at harming the tourist industry

While the embargo is supposed to have humanitarian exemptions, the health sector has not been spared. Cuba is known worldwide for its universal public healthcare system, but the embargo has led to shortages of medicines and medical supplies, particularly for patients with AIDS and cancer. Doctors at Cuba’s National Institute of Oncology have had to amputate the lower limbs of children with cancer because the American companies that have a monopoly on the technology can’t sell it to Cuba. In the midst of the pandemic, the U.S. blocked a donation of facemasks and Covid-19 diagnostic kits from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma. 

Attacking International Medical Assistance

Cuban doctors arriving in Italy to help during the pandemic. (Twitter, @JoseCarlosRguez)

Not content to sabotage Cuba’s domestic health sector, the Trump administration has been attacking Cuba’s international medical assistance, from the teams fighting coronavirus today to those who have travelled all over the world since the 1960s providing services to underserved communities in 164 countries.

The U.S. goal is to cut the island’s income now that the provision of these services has surpassed tourism as Cuba’s No. 1 source of revenue. Labeling these volunteer medical teams “victims of human trafficking” because part of their salaries goes to pay for Cuba’s healthcare system, the Trump administration convinced Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil to end their cooperation agreements with Cuban doctors. Pompeo then applauded the leaders of these countries for refusing “to turn a blind eye” to Cuba’s alleged abuses. The triumphalism was short lived: a month after that quote, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil begged Cuba to resend its doctors amid the pandemic. U.S. allies all over the world, including in Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, Italy, Honduras and Peru have gratefully accepted this Cuban aid. So great is the admiration for Cuban doctors that a global campaign has sprung up to award them the Nobel Peace Prize. 

The Trump administration is not just libeling doctors, but the whole country.  In May, the State Department named Cuba as one of five countries “not cooperating fully” in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The main pretext was the nation’s hosting of members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). Yet even the State Department’s own press release notes that ELN members are in Cuba as a result of “peace negotiation protocols.” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called the charges dishonest and “facilitated by the ungrateful attitude of the Colombian government” that broke off talks with the ELN in 2019. It should also be noted that Ecuador was the original host of the ELN-Colombia talks, but Cuba was asked to step in after the Moreno government abdicated its responsibilities in 2018. 

Havana, 2017. (Pedro Szekely via Flickr)

The classification of Cuba as “not cooperating” with counterterrorism could lead to Cuba being placed on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which carries tougher penalties. This idea was floated by a senior Trump administration official to Reuters last month. Cuba had been on this list from 1982 to 2015, despite that fact that, according to former State Department official Jason Blazakis, “it was legally determined that Cuba was not actively engaged in violence that could be defined as terrorism under any credible definition of the word.”  

Of course, the United States is in no position to claim that other countries do not cooperate in counterterrorism. For years, the U.S. harbored Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of the bombing of a Cuban civilian airplane in 1976 that killed 73 people. More recently, the U.S. has yet to even comment on the April 30 attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., when a man fired on the building with an automatic rifle.

While there are certainly right-wing ideologues like Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio orchestrating Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, for Trump himself, Cuba is all about the U.S. elections. His hard line against the tiny island nation may have helped swing the Florida gubernatorial campaign during the midterm elections, yet it’s not clear that this will serve him well in a presidential year. According to conventional wisdom and polls, younger Cuban-Americans — who like most young people, don’t tend to vote in midterms — are increasingly skeptical of the U.S. embargo, and overall, Cuba isn’t the overriding issue for Cuban-Americans. Trump won the Cuban-American vote in 2016, but Hillary Clinton took between 41 percent and 47 percent of that electorate, significantly higher than any Democrat in decades.

Senator Marco Rubio. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

As an electoral strategy, these are signs that Trump’s aggression towards Cuba may not pay off. Of course, the strategy might not be just about votes but also about financing and ensuring that the Cuban-American political machinery is firmly behind Trump. 

The strategy has certainly not paid off when it comes to achieving the goal of regime change. The Trump administration is arguably farther from achieving regime change in Cuba now than the U.S. has ever been in over 60 years of intervention. During Trump’s tenure, Cuba calmly transitioned from the presidency of Raul Castro to that of Miguel Díaz-Canel. In 2019, Cuban voters overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution. These aren’t signs of a country on the brink of collapse.

All Trump has achieved is making life more difficult for the island’s 11 million inhabitants, who, like people all over the world, have been battered by the economic impact from coronavirus. Tourism has collapsed. Income from remittances has tanked (both because of new U.S. restrictions and less income in the hands of the Cuban diaspora). Venezuela, once a major benefactor, is mired in its own crisis. But Cuba’s economy, which was forecast to contract by 3.7 percent before the pandemic hit, has been through worse, particularly during the 1991 to 2000 economic crisis known as the “special period” after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A change in the White House would bring some relief, although Joe Biden has staked a rather ambivalent position, saying he would restore relations as President Barack Obama did, but adding that he was open to using sanctions as punishment for Cuba’s support to the Venezuelan government. 

It’s clear that from now until November, and perhaps for four more years, the Trump administration will pummel its island neighbor. Cuba will continue to seek global condemnation on the blockade (the 2019 UN vote was 187 against vs 3 in favor—the U.S., Brazil and Israel) and continue to show what a good neighbor looks like. It responded to these latest provocations in the way that only Cuba does: with more global solidarity, sending Covid-19 healing brigades to Guinea and Kuwait a day after the June 3 round of sanctions. A total of 26 countries now have Cuban medical personnel caring for their sick. 

That is the kind of goodwill that money just can’t buy and it greatly presents a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s shameful behavior during the pandemic. Back in March, as Cuban doctors arrived in Italy, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted: “One day we will tell our children that, after decades of movies and propaganda, at the moment of truth, when humanity needed help at a time when the great powers were in hiding, Cuban doctors began to arrive, without asking anything in return.”

Medea Benjamin is an author/activist, and cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and a campaign coordinator with CODEPINK. For more on the Nobel Prize for Cuban Doctors campaign, see

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    June 18, 2020 at 11:05

    So what else is new? The US has never taken well to any nation or person(s) that can do something better – and not just under COV-IDIOT Trump. Cuban lives matter too…

    June 18, 2020 at 08:40

    “Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick”

    Love that headline.

    And it so fits what we have learned about him from his relative, Mary L. Trump. Her new book isn’t out yet, but highlights have been published – see today CNN site.

    Apart from being a relative, Ms Trump is also a psychologist.

    A cold and cruel man, for sure.

    For those who follow events closely, that’s no surprise, but it is nice to see it documented by an insider and an expert.

    • Terre Nord
      June 19, 2020 at 15:29

      donald tromper. “A cold, cruel man…” You give trump too much credit. He is not that bright. He is an animal, a pig, a dog. His understanding of human life and civilization is as simple as an animal’s: take what you want; think only of yourself; I must win at all times; damn all consequences; me, me, me! My apologies to dogs and pigs.

  3. Michael McNulty
    June 18, 2020 at 08:33

    When Cuba goes abroad it sends doctors. When America goes abroad it sends soldiers. When Russia and China seek foreign minerals they build schools and bridges. When America seeks foreign minerals it bombs schools and bridges.

    • AnneR
      June 18, 2020 at 11:09

      Your assessment, Mr McNulty, is spot on. Trump is but the overt, crass exemplar of the actions/behavior of *both* faces of the single party – where, after all, is the outcry, uproar from the “Dems” against these life killing sanctions? Pretty much where it was and continues to be with the Strumpet’s ever-increasing economic sanctions against Venezuela, Iran and on. On this economic sanctions front alone all members of the ruling elites – corporate-capitalists to a wo/man – in Congress or not appear to be perfectly happy with starving to death, killing via deprivation of essential medical care the targeted countries’ ordinary populations. All, of course, for “humanitarian” intervention reasons. Sick doesn’t begin….

      And even if (as is most likely) most Americans can’t/won’t see it, the overwhelming majority of the world are fully aware of the profoundly deep rooted hypocrisy in US foreign “policy” in general and particularly toward the countries of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, China, Russia, Iran, Yemen.

    • Jean DeClaeys
      June 19, 2020 at 14:29

      When the U.S. government starts talking about “freedom and democracy” death and destruction inevitably follow. And the morals! One can hardly move for all the U.S. morality.

  4. Anne
    June 18, 2020 at 07:50

    Having been to Cuba multiple times with a legal (in the US and Cuba) non profit which delivers medicine to Cuba, I beg to differ with the facts of this piece. Doctors are indeed commodities in Cuba. They are often traded for commodities like oil, separated from their families for up to five years. Cuba has long treated childhood bone cancers with amputation, even during the Obama administration. And while they do have some capacity for manufacturing vaccines and a few drugs, even something as simple as Tylenol for a headache is considered a miracle drug. Drug stores have, literally, empty shelves. Inspire of the US’ long embargo which prevents any updating of curriculum and equipment for doctors, the Cubans have less infant mortality and a longer lifespan than the US. Their doctors and nurses, working in labs with cardboard slide trays and nothing but a microscope, are amazing diagnosticians. There should be outrage that the embargo and the dystopian regime in control of the country pay these highly skilled people $30 a month (high pay in Cuba) and trade them for whatever they can get. But the main reason Cuba is in trouble are the Castros and their petty kingdom. It’s complicated. And Trump has done more damage. But the problem there has been going on for 2 generations. And the people there need way more than a Nobel Prize.

    • Eric
      June 18, 2020 at 17:24

      Anne, I think you’ve posted most of this before. You probably know that Cuban doctors who go abroad do so voluntarily, partly tempted by higher salaries. And if they spend five years abroad, AFAIK they come back after a year and sign up for another stint.

      As for Tylenol, what makes you think Cuba can afford to import First World medicines in large quantities, even if they can find a vendor, insurance companies and transport willing to risk U.S. penalties (and therefore charge more)? How much medicine is your NGO delivering to Cuba these days?

      Nobel Peace Prize? That’s the least the world could do to recognize Cuba’s contribution. But with past laureates like Kissinger and Obama, I’m not making bets.

      You’re right that two generations of Cubans have suffered U.S. vindictiveness for losing its Mafia paradise. Let’s hope the blockade doesn’t continue for another generation — but again (Biden) I’m not making bets.

  5. June 17, 2020 at 23:31

    Obama should be stripped of his Nobel peace prize and it should be awarded to the Cuban doctors.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    June 17, 2020 at 22:30

    The US fails to live up to the concept of “The shining city on the hill” in so many ways it’s disgusting. The UN is an important venue but it cannot replace the effect of the world’s nations standing up to evil and deceit.

  7. KiwiAntz
    June 17, 2020 at 22:00

    If there was any one, compelling reason why this disgusting & immoral American Empire needs to end & collapse under the weight of it’s Worldwide criminality, one of those reasons, would be because of its vile, repugnant, vindictive & inhumane treatment of Cuba? Cuba is a small Sovereign Nation that for 60 yrs has refused to live under the jackboot & dictates of the American Mafia Empire! Cuba’s Humanity & compassion for others has shone like a beacon of light in direct opposition to America’s sick, shameful, illegal conduct & cruelty towards Cuba! Cuba has demonstrated, time & time again that it’s actions & kindness speak louder than words by willingly helping other Nations, as well as its own Citizens by sharing its Doctors & Medical expertise around the Globe! Contrast that with America who have nothing to offer anyone except bombs & chaos! The lights are out in the Whitehouse & it’s idiotic POTUS hides in a bunker, tweeting out mindless drivel! While Cuba is lauded around the Globe for helping other Countries, America has been ridiculed & pitied & held up as a Global laughingstock, thanks to its incompetent response to the Global Pandemic, which continues, unabated? It’s lousy & pathetic, privatised Health Insurance System (not Healthcare), can’t even look after its own Citizens, who are dropping like flies & dying by the thousands with over 2.2 million infections with no end in sight? And yet, even with all this going on & it’s Economy going down the Toilet with massive Social unrest, they can still manage to find the time to sanction & punish Nations, such as Cuba, who are trying to fight the Virus? No one in their right mind, will mourn the collapse of America & it’s Sadistic Empire of Death, which is already in the process of Imperial decline & collapse, that’s happening, right before our very eyes! Good riddance!

    • Dinky
      June 18, 2020 at 08:10

      Couldn’t have put it better.

  8. Erik
    June 17, 2020 at 21:41

    Thank you for this humanitarian update. The US dictatorship of the rich cannot forgive Cuba setting a better example. Too bad they can’t foment another US revolution to restore democracy, but US corruption will eventually set that stage.

Comments are closed.