Trump administration sanctions that impose new travel restrictions on Cuba are aimed at Cuba’s economy and will have no effect on Cuba’s support for Venezuela, says Netfa Freeman of IPS
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
The Trump administration imposed new travel restrictions on Cuba taking effect on Wednesday, June 5. The new restrictions prohibit cruise ships from travelling to Cuba, as well as educational and cultural trips, known as people-to-people trips, which are the most common type of visits made by U.S. citizens to Cuba. According to the Cuban government, this year alone over 250,000 Americans visited Cuba between January 1 and April 30. Under the people-to-people designation, the cruise ship lines Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian have all said they will suspend travel to Cuba, which will affect about 800,000 bookings. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin released a statement on Tuesday in which he justified the new restrictions by saying “Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region, and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”.
The new restrictions come on top of last April’s implementation of what is known as Title 3 of the 1996 Helms Burton Act, which allows U.S. citizens to sue anyone in the world for using property that the Cuban government expropriated after the Cuban Revolution.
Joining me now to discuss these latest sanctions against Cuba is Netfa Freeman. Netfa is events coordinator and policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, and is on the coordinating committee of the Black Alliance for Peace. He recently returned from a trip to Cuba. Thanks for joining us today, Netfa.
NETFA FREEMAN: Thank you for having me.
GREG WILPERT: So based on your recent trip to Cuba, just how important are U.S. visits to Cuba’s economy? And what impact do you think will these latest restrictions have on Cubans?
NETFA FREEMAN: It’s going to have a pretty severe impact. The visits are very important economically. Cuba depends on tourism–or not, yeah–depends on tourism largely for economic and national revenue. So that’s what this is targeting, is the ability for Cuba to generate revenue through tourism. And we’ve seen, because of the loosening of restrictions by the Obama administration, restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, regular people have been able to open up entrepreneurial projects in the forms of restaurants and hotels, small hotels, and those kind of things. So it’s going to inhibit a lot of that. The Trump administration was seeing, and in spite of its trying to roll back those restrictions and in spite of the country being devastated by hurricanes and things like that, people were going–still going to Cuba in record numbers. And a lot of them mostly from the United States and Canada. In fact, and that was last year, the record number last year was almost 5 million people visiting Cuba from different places around the world. And so you can imagine that’s a large revenue generator. And just the beginning of this year alone it was a 93 percent increase in people from the United States going.
And so it’s–you know, this is what this move was about. It’s really not about–in your opening it talked about, you know, the administration being concerned of the destabilizing effect that Cuba has in places like Venezuela. But if they consider the exchange of doctors, and personnel, doctors and teachers, it has a destabilising effect, then that’s really, that’s really a bizarre thing. But it goes, falls to reason, because here in the United States health care is not a right. Education, these are not rights. But in places like Cuba they’re universal human rights. And they’ve tried to help, with the request of other countries, help those countries establish certain things. So it’s very telling for them to articulate these types of dispositions. Cuba does not have, contrary to U.S. propaganda, the government propaganda, there are no military or security forces in Venezuela, unless you’re talking about teachers and doctors. But the United States and in spite of, to the contrary, has military bases and personnel in so many countries around the world; in fact, occupies a military base in Guantanamo and Cuba. So there’s a large hypocrisy here.
GREG WILPERT: Now, officially U.S. tourism to Cuba has always been prohibited under the 1996 Helms Burton Act. But the Obama administration in its thaw towards Cuba allowed travel beginning in late 2014 by designating visits as people-to-people visits. Now, in theory trips are still possible under this other designation, which is known as support for the Cuban people. Now, what would that mean? And could it become a workaround to allow U.S. citizens to continue to visit Cuba? Or are there issues with this designation?
NETFA FREEMAN: It could be a workaround. The issues with the designation, however, though, is the designation is meant to support U.S. regime change efforts through agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development, and funded by supposedly nongovernmental organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy. So they actually fund operations that are meant to co-opt Cuban citizens to work against their own country. And then they also use those types of exchange as support for the Cuban people. And you can see in the case of this man, Alan Gross, who was going there under the auspices of trying to support the Cuban people but really operating using other covert intentions of the United States to destabilize the country. So we have to be very careful about that. And I think that that’s really why, that’s how it’s primarily been being used, as means to undermine Cuba’s right to self determination, for people to bring their own concepts of what democracy is.
Usually here in the United States they make democracy synonymous with capitalism. In Cuba and other places they have levers in their own means of democracy. There’s 90-some percent participation rate in the electoral processes. They have the right to referendums. These are the things that should measure what democracy is. But in this country, the neoliberal paradigm measures it based on the ability for investment, foreign investment and trade and capitalism to flourish.
GREG WILPERT: Now, do you think that the new tightening of sanctions, whose rationale includes, as we already mentioned, putting pressure on Cuba to abandon its support for the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, that this will have any effect, politically speaking, on Cuba that would actually change its policies towards Venezuela?
NETFA FREEMAN: No. Absolutely not. I think that, one, that its policy toward Venezuela, like we said, and not just Venezuela but other countries, is to send their personnel to help. And they don’t interfere with the politics of other countries, contrary to what is being put out there. But they put out support personnel like medical doctors, and things like that. Now, the kind of support they do give that’s political are in the international arena, on the stage, when it comes to United Nations, and putting out statements, and voting certain ways that condemn hegemony by the U.S.-EU-NATO axis of domination that tries, you know, really tries to increase dominance around the world. And so in that sense if they are trying to get them to vote a different way, or not engage the international arena in a way that is–that builds and sustains their solidarity that they have with Venezuela and other places, they’re not going to be successful. This is the only thing that countries like Cuba have to ward off the machinations of hegemony by forces like the United States. They know, and even the Cuban people know, that the logical conclusions, the outcomes from surrendering to U.S. domination, are things like we see in Libya. Things like they see in Honduras, where the democratically elected president was overthrown in a U.S.-supported coup, and for the last 10 years that country has seen all sorts of privatizations and political repressions and things like that as a result of the government. The United States wants to have in power in Honduras. So they know that they might–that they’re better off sticking out sanctions and those kind of things than they are to capitulating with U.S. designs.
GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Netfa Freeman, policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. Thanks again, Netfa, for having joined us today.
NETFA FREEMAN: Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.