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Cuba says Obama's easing of trade embargo has not helped economy

Published 10/09/2016

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez gives a news conference about the government's annual report in Havana (AP)
Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez gives a news conference about the government's annual report in Havana (AP)

Barack Obama's easing of the US trade embargo on Cuba has had virtually no positive effect on the island's economy, Cuba's leading diplomat has said.

Presenting Cuba's annual report ahead of a UN vote on condemning the embargo, foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez said the sanctions cost his country 4.6 billion US dollars (£3.5 billion) last year.

The total cost of the 55-year-old embargo stands at 125.9 billion dollars (£95 billion), he added.

Cuba's update on the embargo is an annual ritual driving home to a mostly domestic audience Havana's message that US sanctions are to blame for most of the country's problems.

The report contains a detailed accounting of specific damage from the embargo, such as US government fines on Cuba's business partners, and scenarios in which Cuba faults the US for the loss of hypothetical business.

For example, the report estimates that Cuba could sell 2.5 million cases of Havana Club rum in the US each year and factors in that theoretical lost revenue, 105 million dollars (£79 million), to the total damages in the report.

Mr Rodriguez praised Mr Obama for allowing easier US travel to Cuba, permitting commercial flights and attempting to ease financial transactions, among other measures.

However, he said, "there's been no fundamental change in the application of the blockade, and because of that, I can say, there hasn't been a greater economic impact of the executive actions until now and there won't be until we see bigger steps".

He acknowledged the problems of Cuba's centrally controlled economy, which is struggling to increase productivity in the face of an outdated and inefficient bureaucracy and low state salaries that lead many employees to steal from their workplaces or accept small bribes to get by.

"No-one's ignoring or aims to hide our problems, our limitations, our mistakes," he said. "But neither can we diminish the impact of the blockade."

The United Nations votes next month on an annual resolution on condemning the embargo that usually passes with overwhelming support. Last year the US considered abstaining for the first time, before voting against it.


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