Thursday, 15 July 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Táim an-bhuíoch don Cheann Comhairle agus don fhoireann uilig as an obair agus as an gcabhair uilig. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for taking this. I am sure that he will prove his revolutionary credentials soon. In all seriousness, we are dealing with the US economic blockade of Cuba. Many people in this Chamber and outside in Irish society see this as something that is cruel and has been a failure for 60 years. It has not even delivered what it was meant to do by the people who introduced it. It was not exactly JFK's finest hour. We are dealing with significant suffering that has impacted on many people for no real net gain other than internal American politics and keeping certain constituencies happy, especially in Florida. I want to put on the record my solidarity with the Cuban people and also address the unfairness and wrongness of this. We have a seat on the UN Security Council and we are a major player in the European Union. We have to play our part as ourselves and on an international basis in putting on the record the message that this is not working and is not good. We need a viable future for the Cuban people. The only way that that can be done is by lifting this utterly unfair and failed policy of an economic blockade.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 onslaught, harrowing pictures came from many of our European neighbours. People went through significant difficulties and tragedies. As has happened many times before, medical staff from Cuba were airlifted in to stand with front-line defenders, many of them at breaking points, in some of the worst-affected areas. Some of these people made the ultimate sacrifice. This shows significant courage and selflessness. It is how I see the Cuban Revolution and it shows the humanitarian instincts of the Cuban people. They were applauded globally but the United States continues with this absolutely failed and cruel policy. We need to deal with it.
The United Nations General Assembly recently had a resolution against this blockade. Some 184 countries voted to get rid of the blockade, three abstained and two voted in support of maintaining the blockade, namely, the US and Israel. There is no international support for this. It is wrong. We had the Obama regime and a normalisation of diplomatic contacts and lifting of sanctions. We then had the Trump regime and approximately 243 coercive measures were introduced, which were utterly wrong. Even in this pandemic, there is a situation where Cuba may have the vaccines but it cannot necessarily get the needles and other medical paraphernalia required. It is utterly wrong and we need to play our part. We need to put it on the record and to have this blockade lifted.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, I thank Deputy Ó Murchú for raising this issue. As the House will be aware, the United States has maintained a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba since 1962, which prevents US businesses or businesses with commercial activities in the US from trading with Cuban interests. Ireland's position on this embargo is long-standing and clear. Fundamentally, the embargo serves no constructive purpose and its lifting would facilitate an opening of Cuba's economy to the benefit of its people. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has expressed this view publicly on a number of occasions. In the context of the hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the injustice and severity of the US blockade has never been clearer. I assure the House on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that this issue receives close attention in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Officials in the Department closely follow developments with the US embargo on Cuba, especially in respect of the 1996 Helms–Burton Act. As the Deputy will be aware, it is a US federal law that strengthens and continues the economic embargo against Cuba. The Government was concerned by the decision taken in 2019 by the previous US Administration to suspend waivers under Title 3 of the Act, which had previously protected European parties and entities from its extraterritorial elements. Together with our EU partners, Ireland has firmly and continuously opposed extraterritorial measures that seek to extend the US embargo against Cuba to third countries. These measures are contrary to the commonly accepted rules of international trade.
Cuba also features regularly on the agenda of the EU working party on Latin America and the Caribbean, COLAC, at which Ireland is represented at an official level. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has echoed EU High Representative and Vice-President Borrell's statement following the EU-Cuba joint council in January this year, regretting the inclusion of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism by the previous US Administration. This decision will have a negative impact on foreign direct investment in Cuba and further aggravates the already difficult situation of the Cuban people in the midst of the pandemic. Ireland, along with its EU partners, has consistently supported the annual resolution put forward by Cuba at the UN General Assembly regarding the US economic blockade. This long-standing resolution has enjoyed the support of the majority of the international community. I confirm to the House that Ireland voted in favour of this resolution when it was brought before the General Assembly on 23 June.
Ireland will continue to support the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba. Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs, including at the Embassy of Ireland in Mexico, which covers Cuba, will continue to monitor the situation in closely in liaison with our EU partners.
I welcome what the Minister of State has said about support for lifting the embargo. I call on this State to do everything that it can to highlight this issue. In recent days and weeks, we have witnessed the efforts of what I can only call sinister forces attempting to subvert the combined efforts of the Cuban people and Government. It smacks of the old, 1980s, Reagan school of CIA dirty plays. It is of no benefit. We need to move into a new sphere. We have seen the abject failure of America when it has attempted to carry out regime change. We have even seen it try to extricate itself from some situations that it found itself in in recent days. There is a significant power differential, which needs to be accepted. It is America versus the tiny country of Cuba. It is stunting and forcing people into significant hardship. It is wrong and we have to do whatever we can about it.
I always compare Cuba with other countries in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Latin America, which America would consider its backyard.
In fairness, we need to look at what Cuba did in wiping out illiteracy and innumeracy, and at the health system it put in place, compared to other countries that have been impacted by America and the major difference between those that have and those that have not in those place, to see why we continue to give support to the Cuban revolution. However, we need to give Cuba real support by playing our part in ensuring that this utterly wrong blockade is lifted and that there can be regular, proper economic activity in Cuba.
I again thank Deputy Ó Murchú for his contribution and I welcome the opportunity to speak again on the issue. I acknowledge the severe impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on Cuba, not least in leading to a collapse, essentially, of the international tourism industry on which the Cuban economy is hugely dependent. I note the Cuban authorities managed to contain the initial outbreak of Covid-19 very well but in recent weeks, as so many other countries have experienced, they are faced with rising case numbers and difficult decisions on measures to control the spread while seeking to protect a vulnerable economy.
A number of the restrictions introduced by the Trump administration that I referenced in my earlier reply have served to further exacerbate an already fragile situation for the people of Cuba in the midst of a severe health crisis. We have seen reports of severe shortages of medicines, medical equipment and fuel. I reiterate Ireland's firm support for the lifting of the US embargo, which will facilitate an opening of Cuba's economy to the benefit of its people. I am well aware of reports of recent protests across Cuba and the arrests in response to those demonstrations. We urge the Cuban authorities to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully, to listen to legitimate protests of discontent, to seek dialogue and to release any people detained for peaceful protest. Again, officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs continue to monitor the situation closely, including working with our colleagues in the American Embassy, which covers Cuba, and are always happy to engage.