Commentary. After sending doctors around the world to fight Covid-19 (including Lombardy), it received no ‘bridge of love’ from the West in return. The UN motion calling for an end to sanctions still passed, however.

Cuba helped Lombardy with doctors; Italy still supports the blockade

An enormous caravan of cars, motorcycles and bicycles in white, blue and red, the colors of the Cuban flag, drove along the Havana waterfront on Sunday to demonstrate opposition to the bloqueo. In 53 other cities around the world, although obviously with more modest numbers, protesters built a symbolic “bridge of love” toward Cuba, a country in great difficulty that nevertheless chooses to send its doctors to help those in need. “Doctors, not bombs,” as Fidel Castro used to say.

Instead of a “bridge of love,” Italy has chosen an act of pure political vassalage. It is difficult to talk in any other terms about Italy’s vote—in good company with other European countries aligned with the U.S.— against the motion presented on March 23 at the UN Human Rights Council on the negative repercussions of economic sanctions applied by some countries against others.

Presented by China, the State of Palestine and Azerbaijan, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, the motion passed with 30 votes in favor, 15 against and two abstentions. Among the sanctions condemned were those imposed on states such as Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Iran: countries that oppose the imperial policy of the United States and as a result are subject to an economic strangulation that is exacerbating the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of both human lives and economic crisis.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Venezuela are having “devastating” effects for the population, especially for “the whole population of Venezuela, especially but not only those in extreme poverty, women, children,” accused the UN envoy, Alena Duhan, after assessing their consequences. These measures have directly caused tens of thousands of victims, going far beyond hitting the political-military leadership.

Cuba has been subjected to such unilateral sanctions—that is, to an economic, financial and commercial blockade—by the United States for more than 60 years. The bloqueo was renewed by 12 consecutive presidents (Barack Obama, while criticizing it, proved unable to scrap it). The penultimate one, Donald Trump, has made it even more criminal in nature, with the addition of 242 measures and sanctions, including a kind of naval blockade to try to prevent the island from receiving oil supplies. Aid with healthcare supplies was also blocked because there were no shipping companies ready to face the consequences of the U.S. embargo.

The term “sanctions” usually means consequences for a code of ethics that was broken. But for those who are facing them on a daily basis, as has been the case in Cuba for six decades, they manifest themselves as a criminal imposition with the sole and stated purpose of bringing down a socialist government that Washington deems intolerable in its “backyard,” less than 200 kilometers from Florida.

On Monday, researchers at the Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering in Havana who, together with the Finlay Institute, have produced five vaccine candidates against Covid-19, began phase III testing on 120,000 people for the second candidate, Abdala. They have at their disposal only one mass spectrometer on the island, essential for carrying out the analysis of vaccines. It was purchased 20 years ago, and as Dr. Guillén, director of the Finlay Institute, has warned, it is impossible to purchase a new one or to obtain spare parts because of the U.S. sanctions.

Despite this dramatic situation, just over a year ago, on March 21, 2020, the Cuban government sent 53 doctors to Italy who were (and are) part of the Henri Reeve Brigade to help doctors in Lombardy in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The same brigade has sent medical personnel to dozens of foreign countries that have asked Cuba for help (the latest being Qatar).

Today, there are shortages of basic necessities on the island, including medicines, due to the bloqueo. But this situation does not seem to be of great concern to the last of the 12 U.S. presidents, Joe Biden: he has made it known that “the issue of Cuba is not a priority” for the White House. And it does not seem to be worrying the Draghi government either, which has shown its “gratitude” for the (free) assistance received a year ago by voting against the motion to condemn the sanctions.

In the pharmacies of Havana there are no antibiotics, but Italian subservience towards Washington is always on supply.

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