The Presidential Directive issued by Barack Obama and the measures that came into force this week to ease the U.S. economic blockade on Cuba caused a big stir in the world’s media. More than a sign of the real reach of the step, the media stir-up probably confirms the magnitude of a bilateral confrontation inherited from the days of the Cold War, but with previous roots in history.
Though not always with coinciding points of view, the two official parties rather expressed moderation in their assessments, compared to the press’ rebounds and interpretations.
Numerous news agencies and web sites applauded in the first place the possibility offered to U.S. citizens to freely import cigars, rum and other Cuban products starting this week. U.S. travellers had a limit of 400 dollars to do so and out of that total, their country’s laws allowed them to acquire only 100 dollars in rum and cigars.
The new option, however, only allows purchases for personal use. The U.S. market continues being banned to exports from the largest of the Caribbean island, especially if they come from the state-run sector. “The new measures in general benefit more the United States than Cuba and the Cuban people. The reality is that the blockade persists,” commented the general director for the U.S. of the Cuban Foreign Ministry (MINREX), Josefina Vidal.
Though U.S. laws are now milder for the purchase of personal items, they maintain the ban for its citizens to travel to Cuba as tourists. They can only do so through one of the 12 authorised licenses.
The modifications recently introduced by the Departments of the Treasury and of Commerce open an interesting door only for Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry and this is probably one of the most evident offers.
The new package of measures, which came into force on October 17, authorises the development of joint medical researches between both countries for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Meanwhile, it gives the green light to the import, promotion, sale and distribution in the United States of those pharmaceutical products once they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, it admits the transactions for this purpose before the demanding FDA.
The U.S. persons and entities linked to the pharmaceutical activity will also be able to open bank accounts in Cuba.
With this novelty, Washington is viewing a leading sector in its neighbour’s development and exports. The Cuban biotechnology and the medical-pharmaceutical industry have introduced products created by it in numerous markets, to the point of ranking in the global advance. The Molecular Immunology Centre has gained renown with vaccines and medicines for some types of cancer, while the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Centre (CIGB) has incorporated to its wide-ranging portfolio the Heberprot-P, exclusive in the world for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. They are just recent examples.
Vidal, who praised that “only exception” in the prohibitions to export to the U.S., observed that it responds to “demands by some U.S. companies that have a keen interest.”
However, the Cuban media expressed doubt about the new package of measures’ ability to go from letter to facts. They cite the obstacles that continue preventing Cuban companies from operating with dollars in third countries, despite Washington officially authorising the use of that currency.
In addition to the long climb to the FDA, which makes worse its demand in the face of foreign entities, another foreseeable difficulty to enter that market can also derive from the prohibition in force to create Cuban-U.S. joint ventures in the pharmaceutical and biotechnological sector.
In terms of investments, this fifth package of measures of the Obama government does not contribute changes: severe restrictions continue.
The rest of the novelties of this government decree, like the facilities to export to Cuba some goods purchased on the Internet, are small scale. According to Vidal, “they have a very limited character.” They only expand, she said, already authorised transactions. In the agricultural sector, for example, the United States will be able to export articles like pesticides and tractors, without having to pay in cash or in advance as occurred with food products. And the ships from other countries that touch Cuban ports will be able to reach U.S. coasts without having to wait 180 days.
The Presidential Political Directive (PPD-43), presented by Obama less than a month from the elections that will put an end to his second term in office, have greater impact, at least in political terms. The document, which resumes the process to normalise relations initiated two years ago, seeks an openly political purpose: to guarantee that the road opened by the current president is “irreversible,” in the words of Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, “it will guide U.S. policy on Cuba in the future.”
The Cuban government is displaying more caution. Josefina Vidal recognized this initiative as an effort “to try to guarantee in the future the continuity of the current policy, which began on December 17, 2014.” But it will only be this way, she warned, in case subsequent presidents continue that course. “Perhaps some of them will do so, perhaps others won’t, perhaps partly, perhaps they will simply revoke it and issue a totally different directive,” she explained.
This expert in relations between both countries praised that “for the first time Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination is acknowledged in an official U.S. document.” Also, she added, it includes the recognition of “the legitimacy of the Cuban government.”
However, the official also observed that the Presidential Directive maintains “an interventionist character.” That document does not renounce using “subversive” instruments and programmes, Vidal said, and “does not hide the purpose of promoting changes in Cuba’s economic, political and social organisation.”
Cuba’s dissatisfaction is logical not just due to the letter of the policy. Obama took eight years to approve a directive with such an intention and decided to do so when there are less than three months left for a new tenant to enter the White House. (2016)
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