One of the highest priority targets in the U.S. government's economic war on Cuba has been the food sector. Generating the conditions that lead to hunger and despair qualifies, by virtue of international law, as a crime of genocide and a violation of the Cuban people's right to food.
The blockade measures affect imports of food products destined for the Cuban population, both for direct consumption in the home and social consumption in schools, old age homes, hospitals and day-care centers. They have a direct impact on the people's nutritional levels and consequently on their health.
The prohibitions imposed by the U.S. government on the export of food products to the United States led to 114 million dollars in losses for Cuba in the year 2002 alone.
The fact that transactions take place in a single direction also prevents the rational and efficient use of transportation, given that ships leave Cuba in ballast. This is the case even when the next destination of the ship is not the United States.
An example of this is the case of bulk shipments that could register savings of approximately 36% in transportation costs. Current freight expenditures are around 15.50 dollars per metric ton, when this figure could be reduced to approximately 10.00 dollars if shipments could be taken back to the United States.
The regime of trade disparities corroborated in the so-called Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act passed in October of 2002, while allowing the controlled sale of foodstuffs to Cuba, is irrefutable proof that the blockade, far from being eliminated, is still fully in force, especially due to the rigorous application of additional restrictions to those already established in previous legislation.
In view of this reality, and despite the difficulties and limitations that have prevailed in this one-way trade, the purchase of foodstuffs has been the result of enormous efforts by companies in both countries to succeed in the negotiation, contracting and execution of sales operations.
If trade could be carried out between both countries under normal conditions, the benefits for U.S. farmers and consumers and for all Cubans would be considerable.
For example, if Cuba had not been forced to spend an additional 22.4 million dollars to import food from other markets last year, it could have used this money to purchase 52,000 metric tons of bread wheat, 40,000 metric tons of rice and
4, 000 metric tons of powdered milk from the United States. This would have enriched the basic diet of the Cuban population, while benefiting U.S. producers as well.
The agricultural sector, whose development is essential for food production and consequently for improving the nutrition of the Cuban people, suffered damages of 108.5 million dollars as a result of the U.S. blockade.
The export of tropical fruit to the United States was historically a major Cuban export line until 1959. Given the tariff concessions offered by the United States on imports of fruit, Cuba could export 13 million tons of avocadoes, mangos, coconuts, papayas and other fruits to that country, representing approximately 25 million dollars in income.
With regard to exports of citrus fruits and their derivatives, losses resulting from prices and freight costs are estimated at 4.5 million dollars annually. Approximate 50% of current exports could be redirected to the U.S. market, among other reasons, because of the different dates of the grapefruit season in Cuba and Florida. This means that Cuban grapefruit would not compete with those domestically grown.
Seed potatoes must be imported with freight costs 50% higher than if these were bought from the United States. With this money alone, Cuba could sow an additional 2, 300 hectares and thus produce an additional 57,000 tons, at least, which would obviously benefit the population.
At the same time, the blockade prevents Cuba’s access to the most advanced technologies in the area of animal feed, developed by the United States. If Cuban farmers had access to these technologies, with the current poultry farming stock, they could increase egg production by 291 million units and poultry production by 8, 800 tons.
The direct cost of the blockade in the poultry production sector is estimated at 59.6 million dollars. Solely owing to the need to acquire the raw materials for poultry feed in distant markets, this sector incurs additional costs of more than 10 million dollars annually.
Likewise, the restrictions imposed on Cuba in the acquisition of fuel, spare parts for farming equipment, cargo transportation, pesticides and fertilizers have a negative impact on agricultural and livestock yields. The country must import around 35,000 tires of different sorts every year, 80% of them from Asia and the rest from Eastern Europe, which results in close to half a million dollars in losses through freight costs alone.
Veterinary services are also affected by the pressures exercised by the U.S. authorities to obstruct the acquisition of raw materials for the production of medicines, equipment and diagnostic kits, the latter being produced exclusively by U.S. companies in the majority of cases. These measures have a direct impact on the efforts to combat diseases affecting Cuban animal stocks, some of which were deliberately introduced into the country as a consequence of biological warfare waged by the United States. The fight against just two of these diseases, bovine nodular dermatosis and varroasis in bees, costs the country close to a million dollars annually.