Media continues to deny reality of the Cuba embargo

With few exceptions, corporate media has done its best to diminish the effects or ignore completely America’s regime change policies against  Cuba.

The latest example of this ill-informed bias occurred last month during the protests throughout the island that generated considerable international attention. Overwhelmingly the media focused on the minority of protestors shouting anti-government slogans, providing much less coverage on the economic hardships, COVID restrictions and extended lockdowns that provided the underlying context to the protests. One issue that escaped serious analysis was the destructive impact of the United States embargo on Cuba’s social/economic conditions that played a predominant part in the protests.

The blockade,  the main component of regime change strategy, has been used to punish the Cuban people for the past 60 years, with the United Nations reporting the economic damage has cost more than $130 billion. For the media, however, the embargo is something to be mentioned in passing, often at the end of articles. Or not at all. The lack of recognition is an attempt to deny the harm these policies impose on Cuba, and to shift the blame that all the revolution’s supposed inadequacies are the responsibility of the government. 

During the reporting of the protests, a few mainstream outlets mentioned the embargo, with NBC News article a day after waiting till the last paragraph to even acknowledge the embargo, noting  “the Cuban government attributes the economic crisis to US embargo against Cuba and sanctions, which former President Donald Trump intensified.”  When corporate media devotes little credibility to the blockade by relegating it to the end of the article, or reduces the harm by claiming it’s only the Cuban government complaining, it creates the false perception that the blockade has little importance, as the Washington Post did in its editorial of July 12, alleging that the Cubans blame everything on the embargo for their economic problems. 

The BBC show remarkable self-discipline in determining what their readers should understand about the protests when they ran a story listing three things that were responsible – number one the food shortages, number two the COVID situation, and number three the limitations of the internet in Cuba. What the report missed was reason number four – the devastating impact of America’s blockade and regime change strategies. It can only be missed if  the BBC wanted its audience to give the embargo no consideration. 

When the embargo is the focus of media attention, the mis-information can be even more egregious.

A New York Times article, August 7, had as its headline, “Cubans want more than end of embargo”. The report, written by two staunch anti-revolutionary authors, purported that the embargo was the end talking point, not the starting position where all other issues of Cuban government shortcomings and faults should be addressed.

The editorial regurgitated the usual accusations against Havana, including civil rights abuses and economic restrictions. Classic narratives claimed the population was desperate to overthrow their government and even a new storyline was introduced that the revolution does nothing for its own people. No acknowledgement was made of the continuation of the country’s social justice programs including free health care and education. This despite the economic challenges resulting from  the shutting down of the tourist industry under COVID and the increased sanctions former president Donald Trump instituted and which current president Joe Biden has done nothing to reverse. 

The authors then took to task anyone who might think it legitimate to consider the embargo the main impediment to Cuba’s economic and social development: “In a televised address, the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, blamed the embargo — tightened during Donald Trump’s time in office — for causing the demonstrations and said protesters had been manipulated into blaming the Cuban government by the American media. Unfortunately, some Western politicians, progressive organizations and even a few American actors have echoed this message.”  As if anyone who recognizes the harm caused by America’s regime change strategy should not be taken seriously. The media’s role has long been to ridicule those who see the embargo as a debilitating factor in Cuba’s economic advancement. 

The New York Times piece also utilized traditional propaganda methods of providing a grain of truth without mentioning context that would provide real understanding of the issue.

“Some progressive groups argue that Cubans are protesting food and medicine shortages caused by the U.S. trade embargo. This interpretation falsely claims that the embargo makes it impossible to obtain food and medicine, even though the United States created an exception to its trade embargo of Cuba in 2000 to allow food and medicine sales and sells millions of dollars’ worth of food to the country, including grain and protein consumed by Cuban households.” 

Intentionally lacking were the details of the considerable obstacles American businesses have to face to conduct business with Cuba,  including the prohibition of US government support and private financing for such exports, as well as the denial of access to US government credit guarantees and USDA export promotion programs. Those restrictions ensure it is unnecessarily complicated to sell food and medicine to Cuba. The result is little is purchased, and the exception does not ameliorate the damaging economic impact of the embargo. And of course, no Cuban exports are allowed into the United States. This information would have provided greater interpretation of the exception — instead the reader simply concludes the embargo has no impact and the Cuban government is the one to blame for not buying more. Media bias is revealed as much, if not more, by what information they choose not to print.

The opinion piece additionally suggested that even if the embargo was lifted it wouldn’t alter what the authors asserted were the Cuban government’s restrictive economic and social policies. There is no basis for that theory, as the embargo has been a constant since the early months of the revolution. For the past 60 years the Cuban people have known of no other relationship with the United States. There is evidence to the contrary, however, as when former president Barack Obama moved towards partial normalization in 2014, the economic life of Cuba, particularly in Havana, rose dramatically with the influx of American tourists and business interests. Cuba instituted economic reforms and eased certain restrictions, providing indication that when the government feels a lessening of the siege, it reacts accordingly. 

The true sentiment the authors felt regarding the embargo was disclosed with the offhanded comment, “While the embargo has proved to be a failed policy…” 

It is in fact not a ‘failed policy’ — the embargo is working exactly as intended.  

The remark that the policy has failed implies it is of no concern whether the embargo continues or not, it has not accomplished its purpose, so should not be considered to have any influence on Cuba’s economy or the behavior of the government. Interestingly, the authors are not calling for the end of the policy, only acknowledging that it has so far ‘failed’ in its purpose to induce the population to overthrow, one assumes violently, their own government. Little wonder that Havana is particularly sensitive to civil unrest it perceives to be encouraged by foreign design.  

So what is the purpose of the embargo? The United States has made it clear exactly what it is designed for. In April 1960, the US State Department recognized the majority support for Fidel Castro  and recommended an anti-revolutionary policy would be “adroit and inconspicuous as possible” while aiming to deny “money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” 

President Dwight Eisenhower approved, saying that if the people of Cuba were hungry they’d throw the revolutionaries out. That mentality remains fully entrenched in current US regime change strategy. 

The embargo has been anything but a failed policy. Last month’s protests are evidence of that. The primary purpose of the blockade is to cause economic misery among the population, a condition fully expressed in the civil unrest. The hoped for result would be the ending of the Cuban government, and the media and political elites in the United States did their best to promote that narrative. While protests around the world do not engender an ideological angle within corporate media, in Cuba the event was entirely framed under that construct. 

Whether the protestors even acknowledged that the embargo’s historic purpose is to bring them out on the streets is irrelevant – much of America’s purpose is to ensure the embargo and regime change policies are not recognized as in any way responsible for the social pressures and economic dislocation so many in Cuba are feeling. 

The New York Times commentary fit perfectly into that tactic, with the reader having little or no background information to fully understand the extenuating circumstances.

Revealingly, media never permits dialogue on one subject —  if the embargo has no impact, why is it still in place? To answer that question would provide insight into something that has been effective the past 60 years precisely because the harm it does is not scrutinized by those who have imposed it. Ignorance is corporate media’s reliable stance when it comes to reporting on the blockade, a hypocritical position from an institution that is supposedly structured to provide information without self-imposed, biased filters.    

America’s stated objective of the embargo is not just political rhetoric. It is a multitude of legal provisions that impose unrelenting sanctions on every aspect of Cuba’s ability to advance  economically, prohibits normal trade relations with the United States and applies debilitating conditions to conduct business with the rest of the world. Additionally, the blockade is not limited to levying economic restrictions. Certain technologies and internet services are also prohibited for use in Cuba, such as Zoom, Nvidia, Oracle, Dell and Adobe. All designed to make it more difficult for the Cuban government and its people to interact on a level playing field within the modern world. And yet the misperception persists that it is the Cuban side that arbitrarily restricts the internet. 

Corporate media will never report honestly on the reality of the embargo. It is the standard narrative when it comes to Cuba, regardless of the harm it does to the Cuban people, or to the truth.

Keith Bolender is author of Manufacturing the Enemy, The Media War Against Cuba (2019 Pluto Press).