The humanitarian aid comes at a critical time for Cuba, which is mired in a severe economic and health crisis. The country is suffering severe shortages of food, medicines and other basic products, which has led to growing unrest that erupted on 11 July in a wave of citizen protests in different localities across the island.
In recent years, the economic situation in Cuba has only worsened. In a country whose main source of income - ahead of tourism - is the money sent by its emigrants, and which has 10% of its population in the United States, the result has been devastating. The Caribbean country suffers from an everlasting economic crisis, aggravated by the pandemic, which has provoked a new wave of repression by the authorities. COVID-19 is breaking records every day on the island, where the number of positive cases and deaths from the pandemic has multiplied exponentially. Moreover, the island is facing the third resurgence of the pandemic, with the number of cases and deaths reaching record highs every week, making it one of the countries with the highest incidence of the disease.
Cuba has now been plunged into a severe crisis for a year and a half due to the paralysis of its economy by the pandemic and the tightening of sanctions carried out by Donald Trump's administration and maintained and reinforced by President Joe Biden after the July protests, which were violently repressed by Cuban security forces. Since coming to power in December 2018, the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been trying to strengthen its leadership among Latin American governments considered left-wing while maintaining its strategic - and not tension-free - relationship with the United States.
Mexico's current support for Cuba is considered by many experts to be unprecedented, an example of a return to the stance towards Cuba that Mexico maintained during the governments of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in the twentieth century. During those decades, Mexico was very cautious towards the island and defended non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries in order to prevent them from criticising Mexican domestic policy.
However, for López Obrador, of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena), the embargo on the island, which has been in force for 60 years and condemned by almost the entire international community, is behind everything. The Mexican president asked his US counterpart, Joe Biden, to make a decision on the embargo on Cuba. "I think President Biden should make a decision on the matter. It is a respectful call, from a non-interfering point of view, but we have to separate the political from the humanitarian, life is the most important thing, it is the most important thing in human rights," the Mexican president said in his usual morning conference. He also insisted on respecting the 23 June vote at the UN, in which 184 countries rejected the blockade, and has asked these countries to join in sending humanitarian aid.
Questioned about possible reprisals that the United States could impose on Mexico for sending the ships, the president argued that this is a unilateral decision. "We are an independent, free, sovereign country," he said. "I am sure that the US government will give a positive response, because such a policy is not convenient. We can have differences, but you can't condemn a people to hunger and disease".
He also pointed out that it is not possible in this day and age to want to punish an independent country with a blockade, which is why he asked Joe Biden to take a decision on the matter. He suggested that Cuban families should be allowed to receive remittances from those working in the United States or anywhere else in the world. He took the opportunity to say that his government took the decision out of solidarity, in view of the situation in Cuba, to help and show solidarity. He also recalled that he would be sending two Mexican Navy vessels to Cuba with oxygen, medicines and food.
The Mexican government sent the second of a series of ships to Cuba with medical material and food to alleviate the health and economic crisis suffered by the Caribbean island. The Foreign Ministry reported that these shipments were made "in line with the Mexican government's policy of international solidarity to support the Cuban people in the current social, economic and health situation, and considering the needs of the Cuban hospital system". The first shipment of the vessel José María Morelos II sailed from Veracruz to Cuba with 100,000 barrels of diesel "that will be used to supply energy to hospitals on the island". The second, the ship Arm Libertador Bal-02, departed while another ship sailed from Guerra Anfibia Arm Papaloapan A-411 with syringes, oxygen tanks, mouth covers, powdered milk, beans, wheat flour, tuna cans and edible oil.
The Mexican leader got a first-hand account of the food and medicine crisis in Cuba. López Obrador received a letter from Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel telling him about the situation on the island. "I received a letter from him [Díaz-Canel], explaining the difficult situation due to the blockade," he said. The president assures that the shortages are mainly in hospitals, with the distribution of oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients and the supply of electricity.
Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.