Cuba approves same-sex marriage, now what, Uncle Sam?
HAVANA, Cuba — A man votes at a polling station during the new Family Code referendum in Havana on September 25, 2022. Cubans voted in a landmark referendum on whether to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption, allow surrogate pregnancies, and give greater rights to non-biological parents. (Photo: AFP)

Last Sunday, in an overwhelming referendum backed by the Government, Cubans approved gay marriage and adoption. Approximately 74 per cent of 8.4 million Cubans eligible to vote participated, with more than 3.9 million or 66.9 per cent, voting to ratify the code.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted that "Justice has been done".

The new "family code", which is over 100 pages, "legalises same-sex marriage and civil unions, allows same-sex couples to adopt children, and promotes equal sharing of domestic rights and responsibilities between men and women". (Reuters, 2022).

Cuba is the first country in the Caribbean to legalise same-sex marriage. A giant step to squashing naysayers whose narrative screams Cuba's repression of human rights. This narrative is one of the "big sticks" that the United States wields to keep its economic embargo against Cuba in place.

The US imposed an economic embargo on Cuba on February 3, 1962. This year marks 60 years since its imposition. It involved "an embargo on all trade between the United States and Cuba". This action was a continuation of a strategy aimed at regime change in Cuba which originated at the height of the Cold War. An earlier manifestation was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The embargo has been ineffective, despite inflicting bitter constraints on the people of Cuba while denying the the world of valuable trade, health benefits, investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges.

Perhaps, the US policy during the bitter Cold War demanded a show of strength in preventing the so-called "spread" of communism in the Caribbean. But since then the world has witnessed extreme changes. The Cold War ended; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved; communist China lends more money to the USA than any other country in the world; and the world's economic axis has shifted to the east. Common co-existence with the ideology of communism is now the USA's daily reality, and Cuba can no longer be regarded as a credible threat to American national security.

Today, Cuba is one of a few developing nations known for a number of medical breakthroughs, which include the only effective treatment for serious diabetic ulcers. Additionally, Cuba produces its own vaccines, including the first vaccine to treat meningitis B and another to treat dengue fever that is exported to more than 30 nations.

So when the novel coronavirus pandemic began, Cuba knew it could not wait to be dependent on the world to develop vaccines, as the embargo would prevent Cubans from accessing and acquiring them. As a result, the Finlay Institute and other State-run biotechnology centres on the island began developing their own COVID-19 vaccines. Its Soberana 02 is more than 90 per cent effective in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19 infection when used in combination with a related vaccine. As of November 18, 2021, roughly 90 per cent of Cuba's population, including children as young as two, had received at least one dose of Soberana 02 or another Cuban vaccine called Abdala, produced at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana. (Vérez Bencomo, November 2021)

The United Nations estimates that the embargo has cost Cuba more than US$130 billion in damages from compounded costs by the penalties imposed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Cuba's allies and investors. It's time to recognise that the end of the embargo is not just a US-Cuba issue, but one crucial to the national interests of Caribbean countries. The embargo, embodied in a raft of pieces of legislation at the core of the Helms/Burton Act, constitutes serious deterrents to both nations expanding our economies for growth.

This Act, in particular, enacted in 1996 to strengthen the embargo, applies US law extraterritorially to associated parties of US companies. For example, in 2006, the Bank of Nova Scotia in Jamaica decided to end banking services for Cubans living and doing business in Jamaica; in 2014 PriceSmart suspended membership accounts for Cubans who are non-permanent residents in Jamaica or any other country.

However, in a watershed moment in 2014, President Barack Obama declare "It is now time to acknowledge that particular policy has failed." This led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the easing of restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba. At the time, the Jamaican American Chamber of Commerce recommended that their office be the conduit to facilitate trade with American businesses in Cuba.

Notably in 2016, for the first time, no one voted against the UN Resolution to lift the blockade. The representative of the United States, one of two states which abstained, said, "It was time for a new chapter of cooperation." However, the Trump Administration reversed these gains, and compounded the difficulty for the country's banking transactions when it put Cuba on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. It seems President Biden has only tightened the restrictions.

We Are All Connected

Recent images of Iranian women cutting their hair in global protest against Iran's morality police brutality, young Republican and Democratic Kansans celebrating winning the vote to protect abortion rights, and open criticisms in Commonwealth countries of the British Monarchy upon The Queen's death are forcing us all to stop and honestly evaluate how our actions can and will physically harm one another.

These calls to action by people from all walks of life worldwide are stern warnings to the body politic that modified behaviour to the needs of the generation coming forward is crucial to improving a nation.

People are no longer prepared to be bludgeoned into acquiescence by 'might is right'. Rather, they will fight systems of oppression using technology to galvanise global support for their cause.

Therefore, when history presents the opportunity to reset self-serving values and change old attitudes, we must seize the moment and do the right thing. This involves leaders worldwide moving away from confrontation to accommodation; learning to be tolerant of different economic, political, and human rights systems. If we're to sustain our collective futures, we must share our compassion toward one another even as we seek to understand the differences that may divide us. You can't, on one hand, reprimand Putin yet be as intransigent as him on the other.

Despite the burden of the worst economic blockade, Cuba continues to give generously by sending vaccines, medicine, and health-care workers to countries in need.

Cuba has been a loyal and reliable friend whose footprints are visible in the world's hospitals, schools, and construction sectors. We must never take its friendship for granted.

It is unbelievable to think that the embargo is still in place and the international community have resoundingly continued to register their condemnation over the past 20 years and have disregarded the embargo in their economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba. Let's find a way to remove this outdated, counter-productive, embarrassing, and failed embargo.

We call on the US to end its economic blockade and restore normalcy to relations with Cuba using its previous reconciliation approaches with countries such as Vietnam.

Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokeswoman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet minister.

Lisa Hanna

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