Obama renews Cuba trade embargo

US President Barack Obama extended the White House’s 47-year trade embargo against Cuba on Tuesday – missing an opportunity to improve the human rights situation for people on the island.

Amnesty International had called on President Obama not to renew the sanctions, which limit Cubans’ access to medicines and are endangering the health of millions.

“The US embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan earlier this month. “It’s preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health.”

In a statement, Mr Obama said that it was in the US national interest to extend the ‘Trading With The Enemy Act’, which covers the trade embargo. It is largely a symbolic step as the final decision on ending the embargo rests with Congress.

According to data from the United Nations, Cuba’s inability to import nutritional products for consumption at schools, hospitals and day care centres is contributing to a high prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia. According to UNICEF, in 2007 the condition affected 37.5 per cent of Cuban children under three years old.

Children’s health was also put at risk by a decision from US syringe suppliers to cancel an order of three million disposable syringes made in 2007 by UNICEF’s Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization when it became known that the units were destined for the implementation of a programme in Cuba.

Similar situations have affected the implementation of UN programmes to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS on the island.

“Although responsibility for providing adequate health care lies primarily with the Cuban authorities, governments imposing sanctions such as embargoes need to pay special attention to the impact they can have on the targeted country’s population,” said Irene Khan.  

Since gaining power, President Obama has lifted some of the restrictions allowing Cuban-Americans to visit relatives whenever they want and send money home.

Amnesty International has called on members of US Congress to repeal the legislation defining the trade embargo.