ON May 2, the Trump Administration decided to enforce Title 111 of the Helms-Burton Act. Title 111 authorises US nationals with claims to confiscated properties in Cuba to file suits in US courts against persons that may be “trafficking” in that property.
Title 111 of the Helms-Burton Act has not been enforced before, though the Act was enacted in 1996; it was signed into law by then US President Bill Clinton.
Since the Act allows the US president to suspend some of its provisions, it was felt that implementing Title 111 was not necessary given that economic sanctions against Cuba aimed at throttling its economy were already all-encompassing.
But President Donald Trump has decided to tighten the noose. He is being egged on by legislators from South Florida with its significant “Cuban exile electorate” – an electorate that staunchly supports Trump – who are angry that some US companies are now trading with Cuba. Besides, heightened harshness against Cuba is also aimed at curtailing oil shipments between Cuba and Venezuela at a time when hawks in the Trump Admin-istration, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton, are pushing hard for regime change in Caracas.
Opposition to the enforcement of Title 111 has been swift from certain quarters. The Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Cuba, Alberto Navarro, reiterated on May 31 the EU’s unanimous rejection of what he viewed as a clear violation of international law. A number of Latin American countries are also incensed by the US decision. Even civil society groups in the United States are against this unjust measure targeting Cuba.
However, it would be a mistake to see Title 111 by itself or as nothing more than a part of the Helms-Burton Act. It should be evaluated within the context of the decades- old crippling sanctions against Cuba. Since 1961, the United States has imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions against Cuba mainly because the island state, following the 1959 Revolution, chose its own path of development inspired by socialist ideals.
The sanctions not only seek to repudiate Cuba’s ideological experiment but also attempt to force the small nation of 11 million people into a state of backwardness and under-development. Because the United States has failed to achieve its goals, it has become even more hostile towards its tiny neighbour.
The world rejects the US sanctions against Cuba. Year in and year out, the United Nations General Assembly has taken the side of the Cuban people as they continue to resist US sanctions. The nations of the world are aware that what is at stake in the US punishment of Cuba is the sovereign right of a nation to determine its own destiny.
Sovereignty is intimately linked to a nation’s independence. This is one of the main reasons why US sanctions are seen as a challenge to international law, which seeks to preserve the sovereignty and independence of nation-states within the international order.
Equally important is the humanitarian implication of imposing sanctions. As shown by numerous examples, it is ordinary people who suffer immensely.
In dealing with US sanctions against Cuba, we have to go beyond merely criticising or condemning the nation’s administration. The time has come to decide whether unilateral sanctions by any one nation or a group of nations against another nation or a group of nations should be tolerated at all.
Shouldn’t we prohibit unilateral sanctions of this sort? Shouldn’t the UN General Assembly adopt a binding resolution to prohibit unilateral sanctions against any nation or peoples? Shouldn’t such a resolution be endowed with the force of law?
If sanctions are to be imposed at all upon a state, they should be endorsed by three-quarters of the members of the UN General Assembly.
A targeted state should be universally perceived as a rogue state of the worst kind. When there are lucid rules on why and how sanctions should be imposed, the reign of self-serving sanctions associated with the arrogance of hegemonic power will come to an end.
R CHANDRA MUZAFFAR
President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST)