Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College President Dr. Richard Georges, and 33 other Virgin Islands residents were among the signatories of an Aug. 30 petition urging the United Kingdom to pressure the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba in part to facilitate humanitarian aid during the pandemic.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office responded eight days later, largely agreeing with the petitioners and saying that the UK has been pressuring the US for years to do exactly that.
The US has enforced an economic embargo against Cuba since the 1960s, starting shortly after Fidel Castro seized power. Through a variety of laws dating back to 1917, the system prevents most US companies from operating in Cuba and vice versa, and it incentivises other countries and businesses to take a similar approach.
The US claims that the embargo is designed to pressure Cuba’s government to move toward democracy and uphold human rights by putting an end to practices such as arbitrary imprisonment and unfair trials.
But other countries, including the UK, have long called for an end to the sanctions, which they say hinder Cuba’s economic development and endanger its population, especially during crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution demanding the end of the embargo. Most recently, the UK and 183 other countries voted for the resolution in June, with only the US and Israel voting against it.
In the Aug. 30 petition, which was delivered to the VI Governor’s Office but addressed to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, VI residents called on the UK to up the pressure given the current circumstances facing Cuba.
“We, the undersigned people of the Virgin Islands, write to you to express our grave concern over the continuation of the United States’ sanctions on Cuba and the impact they are having on a Caribbean country that has ever been unstinting in its support of Caribbean and African peoples,” states the petition. “We call on you to urge your ally, the United States, to lift or ease the sanctions, especially given the detrimental impact they are having on the brave and courageous people of Cuba during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”
The petition goes on to call the US sanctions “hypocritical” given the “numerous and continuing extra-judicial killings of black and brown people in the US itself” as well as US voting restrictions that have curtailed “the rights of black and brown people to vote.”
“No other country is subject to such a wide range of sanctions by the US — not even Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for the death and dismemberment of a journalist in its embassy and the origin country of most of the 9/11 terrorists,” the petition states.
The UK FCDO responded in a Sept. 7 letter, thanking the petitioners and noting that the UK largely agrees with their position.
“The UK opposes the US embargo against Cuba,” the letter states, noting the UK’s support of the UN General Assembly resolution calling for its end. “The UK’s view is that the embargo is counterproductive, including because it negatively affects the living standards of the Cuban people and impedes the political and economic development of the country.”
The UK, the letter adds, has made its position clear and “regularly” engages US officials on the issue through its Washington embassy and through the US embassies in Havana and London.
“We look forward to further discussions on Cuba with the US administration, and to sharing our thoughts on the positive developments in the UK’s relationship with Cuba in recent years,” the response states.
The VI petition was organised by Eugenia O’Neal and Mohammed Tarabay, according to a press release they issued.
“Cuba has been a good friend to the Caribbean and is now a friend in dire need, so we must respond,” Mr. Tarabay said.
Besides Ms. O’Neal and Mr. Tarabay, the signatories included Geli Maynard, Uschi Mikoleiczik, Katherine Irish, Jessica Mikoleiczik, David Penn, Amin Tarabay, Natasha Chalwell, Aurelius Wright, Marlon Abner, Terry Donovan, Kim Huish, Verna Penn Moll, Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Russell Jones, Derek Corea, Alton Bertie, Presenda Polius Williams, April Glasgow, Zebulon McLean, Ehab Tarabay, Bashaar Tarabay, Dr. Richard Georges, Albert “Pop” Stevens, Ian Clark, Delma Tavernier, Patricia Turnbull, Tiffany Brewley, Abraham Tarabay, Milton Creque, Kirsten Lettsome, Jannel Cannonier, Sara Hussein, and Cindy Rosan.