‘New embargo on tourists bad for Cuba’

Thursday June 27 2019

US Secretary of State John Kerry(C), stands

US Secretary of State John Kerry(C), stands with other dignitaries as members of the US Marines raise the US flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, Cuba on August 14, 2015. President Donald Trump is trying to push back gains in relations made during the Obama administration. PHOTO | AFP 

By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax ksaid@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Following the announcement by the United States government restricting its citizens who seek to travel to Cuba, the Cubans living in Tanzania as well as their friends gathered here Sunday, June 16, 2019, to denounce the decision, calling it a final nail in the coffin of the Island’s economy.

On June 2 this year, the Trump administration on Tuesday imposed major new travel restrictions on visits to Cuba by United States citizens, including a ban on many forms of educational and recreational travels.

A statement by the US Treasury Department said that the US will no longer allow the group educational and cultural trips known as “people-to-people” travel to the island. Those trips have always been used by thousands of American citizens to visit the island. Nor will the Treasury Department allow cruises, private yachts or fishing vessels to stop in Cuba.

Cruises have become the most popular way for Americans to travel to Cuba since 2016 when President Obama reopened relations with the island. This year, between January 1 and April 30, a total of 142,721 Americans went to Cuba on cruises, compared to the 114,832 who travelled there by plane. These numbers do not include Cuban-born Americans visiting family, according to the New York Times.

The move is a continuation of measures taken since President Donald Trump came to office in January 2017 promising to reverse Obama’s thaw with Cuba. President Trump has banned individual visits and, in a series of moves, limited commercial interactions with the country.

However, the US has defended the measures, saying that they were a response to what it called Cuba’s “destabilising role” in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

A botched plan

“The US has been thinking that its sanctions against Cuba would destabilise the Island and thus force people to rise against their government,” said Mr Salim Msoma, who is Chairperson of the Tanzania and Cuba Friendship and Solidarity Committee which organised the function. “These other steps indicate their awakening of how wrong they were and thus decided to tighten the noose against the Cubans’ necks. It is a botched plan.”

Mr Msoma was addressing a group of about one hundred participants who gathered at the Cuban ambassador to Tanzania’s residence to make their case against the new development. They included secondary school students, members of the Cuban Doctors Brigade, members of the Tanzania Socialists Forum as well as members of grassroots organisations fighting for social justice.

“In 2018 alone, for example, a total of 4.75 million US tourists visited Cuba in that year. This is a lot of money that enabled the Cuban government to get foreign currencies. This also brought relief in the midst of the biting embargo. But with this latest move, this will no longer be the case,” Mr Msoma.

What is surprising him, Mr Msoma said, is that the US is not even learning from its own history of how its aggression against other countries have caused unspeakable casualties. He said that they are quick to forget, pointing to the present talk by the Trump administration of starting a war with Iran, forgetting how its war with Iraq ended as one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.

In his keynote presentation, Mr Isaack Katanda, retired Tanzanian Colonel, with a wealth of experience in peace-keeping operations said that the new measures currently applied are meant to restrict even further the right of Americans to travel to Cuba and to impose additional obstacles on the limited opportunities of the American business community in Cuba.

He explained that the intensification in 2018 of the extra-territorial application of the blockade has unleashed the irrational persecution by the US government of Cuban commercial and financial transactions, with reprisals against business people and banking and financial entities having ties with Cuba.

“The tightening of the blockade has been accompanied by aggressive, menacing, disrespectful rhetoric and conditions coming from the most senior levels of the US government,” Katanda pointed out sharply.

A doomed failure

In his closing remarks, Cuban ambassador to Tanzania Prof Lucas Domingo Hernandez Polledo reiterated his government’s willingness to maintain a respectful dialogue and co-operation on topics of mutual interest with the US government.

In a gesture that intends to portray that Cuba is not a notorious neighbour to the US, Prof Polledo offered that his country is convinced that the two countries can co-operate and coexist in a civilised manner, while at the same time respecting their differences and promoting everything that benefits both nations and their peoples.

But he warned that it should not be expected that, in order to achieve these ideals, Cuba would make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence, or accept preconditions of any sort.

“Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, either through pressures and impositions or by using more subtle methods, shall be doomed to failure,” he uttered in a firm voice.

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