The people of Cuba have lived, for more than half a century, under the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, and are marked by this punishment for their “deadly sin.” From the oldest to the youngest, the entire population has suffered its consequences. Many have felt its effects first hand, many others do not perceive it directly, although it affects them – perhaps because they live submerged in the habit of coexistence with the cruel policy, and keep pressing on, because as has been said: the blockade is not enough to make us surrender. However, that was, and still is its objective, and although all agree that it is unjust, not everyone knows that it is also an illegal act, an international crime.
The first attempt to conceal the truth is the very term “embargo” with which the U.S. government refers to the blockade. Under the guise of legal norms (although of dubious legality), and the frequently used legal term of “embargo,” the U.S. has carried out a criminal act against a sovereign state for almost 60 years. An act that damages and harms the entire Cuban people. We call it criminal because it is unjust, inhuman, and illegal. We must insist on this last aspect.
The alleged justification for the blockade – the nationalizations of U.S. properties in Cuba by the revolutionary governments in the early 1960s – is unfounded. These were acts of the Cuban state based on the 1959 Fundamental Law of the Republic, which in this regard contained the same regulation as the Constitution of 1940. At the international level, Resolution No.1803 entitled “Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources” adopted by the UN General Assembly December 14, 1962, supports this type of action by states, as an act of sovereignty over their wealth and resources on the grounds of public utility or social interest.
On the blockade as a legal instrument, it must be said that this is a complex and copious web of provisions, of dubious domestic legality, and completely illegal under international law, which constitute norms of economic coercion, that is, political measures under the guise of a normative framework.
In other words: an act of force dressed up as law. These are acts that attempt to justify reprisals and the desire for domination, and by this point demonstrate the great frustration of not having been able to defeat the people and overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
International law does not permit the use of a blockade as a measure of self-defense, that is, the supposedly defensive action of a state in the event of an act that harms its interests, except in the case of armed aggression, in which self-defense is permitted. Cuba has not attacked the United States. The nationalizations were a process of reclaiming control over goods and resources necessary for the country’s development, in the face of the boycott imposed by the U.S. government following the first revolutionary measure regarding property: the Agrarian Reform Law.
A simple review of several branches of law is enough to note that the blockade does not have any legal validity. In addition to violating the UN Charter, the blockade violates almost all principles of public international law, as well as the rights of states. The blockade is a violation of:
- Sovereign equality – the power of a state expressed through the right to freely decide on its internal and external affairs without infringing on the rights of other states or international law.
- The principle that states shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
- The principle that states shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace, security, and justice are not endangered.
- The obligation not to intervene in the internal affairs of any other state, in accordance with the UN Charter.
From the point of view of private international law, the exorbitant extraterritoriality of the blockade regulations makes them totally illegal. No state has the legislative power to issue norms that are imposed beyond its territory, except those of a personal nature, relating to the rights and duties of its nationals.
In terms of international commercial law, the blockade violates the rules of the World Trade Organization, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Law of the Sea, and any number of rules and principles on international contracts.
Regarding U.S domestic law itself, the web of regulations that make up the blockade have a legal form, but their content goes against the cultural norms of that nation, and its constitutional and legal foundations. Thus, they are arbitrarily imposed, rigid norms that are not based on the value of “justice,” or in line with the value of “law,” as they violate constitutional precepts. The regulations also curtail the individual rights of U.S. citizens (who cannot freely visit Cuba), while prohibiting foreign individuals and legal entities from freely entering into commercial relations with a third country (Cuba). In addition, amendments are invented to be retroactively applied to cases already decided on by the country’s highest judicial authority, thus violating the principle of judicial authority and review based on historic judicial precedents, in this case stemming from one of the most prestigious courts in U.S. legal history – that of the famous Judge John Marshall. The blockade also undermines the valid interpretation of the thought of the so-called Founding Fathers of the nation and state, by allowing issues and powers of the legislative branch to be concentrated in the executive, such as regulations on foreign trade, while granting excessive powers to the President.
And finally (though much more could be said), from the point of view of international criminal law, the blockade is a crime against humanity. According to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, crimes against humanity are all acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. The systematic nature of the blockade against Cuba, which causes huge damage and losses to the Cuban population, makes it a mass crime against humanity.
The legal consequence of all the above is state responsibility: the U.S. must someday be held accountable for the blockade against Cuba, in accordance with the international responsibility of states. In the absence of an effective way to force states to comply with international law and the UN Charter, the blockade receives the universal condemnation of the international legal community, as never before received by any country, expressly stated in the repeated votes in favor of the resolution on the policy presented to the UN General Assembly.
There are two legal requirements to be a member of the UN: to be a peace-loving state that accepts the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter, and be able to carry out these obligations. Can it be said that the U.S. is a peace-loving state that complies with the Charter? The blockade shows that the answer is a resounding no.
It can thus be categorically stated in any forum or place that the blockade is not only an unjust act, but that it is also entirely illegal.