Cleveland City Council calls for end of U.S. blockade against Cuba
Cleveland Councilman Blaine Griffin was the lead sponsor of the resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Cuba. Here he is at a press conference in January 2019. | via Twitter

CLEVELAND—On July 1, the City Council here voted 14 to 1 for an Emergency Resolution calling for the United States to end its economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba, and for the Trump administration to open negotiations toward a cooperative relationship between the two nations.

The resolution now goes to Mayor Frank Jackson for signature, and then the Clerk of the Council will send copies of the resolution to the White House and members of Ohio’s congressional delegation.

Cleveland joins a dozen cities and two states which have passed such resolutions. Efforts to do the same are underway in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.

The blockade against Cuba was established in 1960 after the victory of the Cuban people in their struggle against the brutal regime of U.S.-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista. It has caused incalculable hardships for the Cuban people in the six decades since. While President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro re-established diplomatic relations in 2014, the U.S. still did not lift the blockade. The Trump administration has since reverted to very hostile relations, virtually shutting down the U.S. embassy in Cuba and making trade even more difficult.

The Cleveland resolution declares that ending the blockade will benefit both countries in areas like food production, the arts, and biomedical research, and would specifically benefit Ohio’s economy through increased trade opportunities. The City Council also calls out the Trump administration’s abrupt and unprovoked diplomatic withdrawal from Cuba in September 2017.

In its resolution, the Cleveland City Council expressed special concern regarding the costs of the blockade to Ohio farmers and manufacturers, who have products to sell which Cuba wants to buy. It’s estimated that the U.S. loses out on a billion dollars of agricultural exports every year because the blockade prohibits most exports and mires the rest in financial regulation.

One of the sponsors is Ward Six City Councilmember and Majority Whip Blaine Griffin, who said in an interview that the resolution began with a visit from Cuban Ambassador José Cabañas to Cleveland last summer. Cabañas met with a few council members about a possible sister city arrangement, and it became clear that the first step in establishing a relationship is ending the blockade. Councilmember Griffin chairs the Council’s public health committee, and his ward is home to two of the largest hospitals in the region.

For Griffin, an open relationship with Cuba is especially important in these days of COVID-19 because of advances in the biomedical field that Cuba has made in recent years. He said the possibility of opening up trade with Cuba is “a tremendous opportunity to have a mutually beneficial exchange.”

Councilmember Griffin added that he is an African American who is fully aware of the special place in history Cuba has for people of African descent. “So for me,” he said, “it’s personal.”

Cleveland has a history of good relations with Cuba, despite the punitive national policy. In 2016, under the auspices of the Cleveland Foundation’s program “Creative Fusion: Cuba Edition,” Cuban artists, dancers, architects, and others were awarded residencies in seven Cleveland area arts organizations. In October of the following year, the city became the first northern port to sign a memorandum of understanding with Cuba’s maritime administration, laying the groundwork for future trade.

At the time, Darrell McNair, chair of the Cleveland Port Authority, said the agreement put Cleveland in a good position when the blockade is eventually lifted. But in the weeks afterwards, the Trump administration provoked tension and ill will by claiming a mysterious ailment was afflicting U.S. diplomats, and eventually, the U.S. embassy was virtually shuttered.

The Cleveland City Council resolution has awakened new interest in passing such resolutions in other Ohio cities. Why now? Perhaps hope is dawning for a chance for better relations between the U.S. and Cuba in the not so distant future, and even an end to the blockade.

Note: IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Code Pink, the National Network on Cuba, the Communist Party USA, and other organizations are petitioning that the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade for its internationalist medical work around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read about it and sign the petition here.


Anita Waters
Anita Waters

Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.