From the Left



An Honest Response to a Colleague's Views on Cuba and U.S. Policy Toward That 'Immiserated' Island (Part 1)

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

For this week's column, I planned -- actually, started writing -- the fourth and final installment of my column "The Strange Etymologies of 'the Left,' 'Liberals,' 'Progressives' and 'Red Parties.'" But I just received a link from a dear colleague to Medea Benjamin's June 3 article on AlterNet, "Biden Has Refused to Move an Inch on Cuba Policy -- Despite His Promises." The author's name rang a bell, and upon Googling it, I recognized her as co-author of an important book, published in 1989, "No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba," which I found useful for my own research and teaching. Thus, I decided to write on Cuba instead.

Wikipedia recounts Benjamin's lifelong commitment to numerous social and political causes including anti-war movements, universal health care and living wages for all workers -- all of which, by the way, I support wholeheartedly. As I continued to read on her, I learned that while living in Cuba in the early 1980s, she wrote a piece against Cuban government censorship, which earned her deportation from the island. Thus, it appears we also share an abhorrence of censorship.

Benjamin strikes me as a person on the left but of the sort I like: ideologically mature, someone who walks the talk and is willing to transgress the doctrine of what French leftists and liberals call "pas d'ennemis a gauche" (there are no enemies on the left).

Given Benjamin's credentials and credibility, I decided to read the article. I started not knowing whether I would like it or not, or whether I would agree with what she said.

Benjamin starts by praising the work of Carlos Lazo, "an energetic Cuban-American high school teacher in Seattle." Lazo formed the Bridges of Love organization, whose goal, Benjamin explains, is "to lift the searing U.S. blockade that is immiserating their loved ones on the island." Lazo has joined efforts with the Syringes to Cuba initiative, whose name makes its humanitarian goal obvious.

But what Benjamin calls a "blockade" is not such but rather a trade embargo, and a partial one at that, which, since 2000, excludes food, medicines and humanitarian supplies, including syringes. Even if the embargo banned the export of U.S.-made syringes to the island, which it does not, Cuba could still purchase them from other nations. The problem is that Cuba does not have the funds to purchase syringes and many other essentials. The government, I should add, nonetheless manages to acquire all the necessary armored vehicles, equipment and weapons to repress its own people, as was recently displayed in efforts to crush protests led by Cuban artists of the San Isidro Movement.

Moreover, syringes are very simple manufactured goods that can be produced in virtually any country, much more in Cuba, which, for a poor country, has a well-earned reputation as a leader in the invention, production and export of complex biomedical and pharmaceutical products. Visit the BioCubaFarma webpage and you will find that it has 78 manufacturing facilities that produce over 100 products including vaccines, medications and advanced biotechnology equipment that Cuba exports to 50 countries.

The reason for Cuba's scarcity of syringes to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19 is certainly not the U.S. embargo. The Cuban ruling elite holds on to an anachronistic and failed political and economic system that has turned what used to be (in the 1950s) one of the top three wealthiest and most advanced Latin American countries into the hemisphere's beggar. In Honduras, one of Latin America's poorest nations, a Cuba solidarity group is raising money to purchase one million syringes to send to Cuba.


As a human being, I thank them, as I do Lazo, for these humanitarian initiatives. But as a Cuban, I feel ashamed of my homeland's unnecessary poverty.

Blaming the U.S. embargo for the island's misfortunes has a long history dating back to when it was imposed in 1960 (and expanded in 1962). The following quote from none other than Che Guevara is revelatory, however. Diminishing the effects of the embargo, in 1963, he stated: "Our difficulties stem principally from our errors."

Benjamin affirms that Cuba's current economic crisis (more accurately, another valley in its perpetual crisis) is "largely a result of the COVID-induced shutdown of the tourist industry and a tightening of the embargo under Trump." To her credit, here she uses the term "embargo," but the current crisis results from systemic problems that have been aggravated by the island's dependence on the tourist industry, which is vulnerable to disasters such as 9/11 and the current pandemic.

To be continued ...


Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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