As I was preparing to travel from Mexico to Cuba in early February for a month-long stay, a Cuban friend in Havana messaged me with some advice. If you need things like milk and coffee, he said, be sure to bring them with you.

Indeed, as Cuba now marks six decades of existence under a US embargo, basic commodities are hard to come by – and that’s just one aspect of current US policy that is making life hell. for Cubans. While the crowd of right-wing Cuban exiles and allied fanatics like Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal prefer to insist that there is “no blockade”, the reality indicates quite the opposite.

Sixty years ago, on February 7, 1962, an “embargo on all trade with Cuba” came into effect under the supervision of then-President John F Kennedy, who had taken care beforehand to procure no less than 1 200 Cuban cigars. It continues to be the most comprehensive embargo ever imposed on a country by the United States and at the time included a ban on all sales of medicine and food.

It was two years after Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, made a shrewd suggestion during a White House conference. According to the minutes of the January 1960 conference that appears on the State Department website, “the president said that…we could quarantine Cuba. If they (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out”.

Who said American statesmen weren’t charming?

A few months later, in April 1960, Eisenhower’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Lestor Mallory, produced a memorandum on what to do about Fidel Castro now that the glory days of the brutal US-backed dictatorship in Cuba was over. Significantly, the very first “salient consideration” listed in the memo is that “the majority of Cubans support Castro.” So much for Washington’s favorite old “democratic” argument for regime change.

Because of this problematic majority and other salient considerations, Mallory advised that “every possible means be undertaken expeditiously to weaken Cuba’s economic life”. He continued in infamous diplomatic jargon:

“If such a policy is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call for a line of action which, while being as adroit and unobtrusive as possible, would make the greatest inroads in refusing money and supplies to Cuba, to diminish the and real wages, to cause hunger, despair and the overthrow of the government.

After all, there’s no such thing as deft, low-key starvation.

Fast forward to 2022, and the sanctions regime against Cuba is tightening, making it the longest embargo in U.S. history — and one that has cost Cuba an estimated $130 billion, according to the United Nations. The punitive details have fluctuated over the years, but the United States has remained determined to strangle the Cuban example: the idea that there could be a functioning nation that places things like collective welfare and free health care and education above relentless consumerism and the savage army. campaigns.

The penultimate US President Donald Trump has imposed 243 new sanctions on the small island, while lifting a ban on US citizens from suing international companies and individuals for using former US properties in Cuba that have been nationalized by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution. Imperial grudges die hard.

Current US President Joe Biden – who was supposed to be, you know, nicer than Trump – imposed even more sanctions, de facto escalating the US war against Cuba, and in June 2021 the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 29th consecutive year in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the American economic blockade. As is normal for the course on such issues, it was 184 nations against the United States and Israel – another country where they like to believe that those blocked and beleaguered are responsible for their own fate.

In his official explanation to the General Assembly in defense of the American vote, the political coordinator of the American mission to the UN, Rodney Hunter, described the sanctions as “a set of tools in our broader effort towards Cuba to advancing democracy”. [and] promote respect for human rights“, encouraging the Assembly “to support the Cuban people in their quest to determine their own future”. Obviously preventing people from acquiring the food, medicine and other basic goods they need is not the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “respect for human rights”. ‘man “. Nevertheless, the only democratic “future” for Cuba is, as always, the one that the United States has determined the Cuban people should want.

A much stronger analysis of the situation in Cuba emerged immediately after the UN vote, in the form of an article in The Nation by American actor and activist Danny Glover, who accused the US embargo of be responsible for the shortage of millions of syringes in Cuba in the midst of a pandemic. “No company wants to get bogged down in the complicated banking and licensing requirements that the U.S. government imposes on dealings with Cuba.”

Admittedly, the United States has imposed so many onerous restrictions on Cuba — and made doing business with Cuba such a colossal headache, with potentially gargantuan legal and financial repercussions — that it all seems anything but “slick and quiet.”

Here in Havana, basic foods and other essentials are conspicuously absent. Milk is an absolute luxury and coffee is rare. (I would have been fitted with the latter product myself if the good folks at Mexican airline Viva Aerobus hadn’t made me leave it on the floor of Mexico City airport as punishment for violating the weight allowance.)

None of this means, of course, that the Cuban government is flawless – but the current flaws must necessarily be analyzed against the backdrop of economic suffocation by the global superpower. As many observers have reasoned in response to the argument that the Cuban state is using the embargo as a scapegoat for all its malicious mismanagement: why not just end it, then, and deprive the state of his apologies?

Luckily, my first contact in Havana was a 50-year-old man who was repatriating to Cuba from Miami, where he had lived for five years as a mechanic and truck driver. “My whole body hurts when I’m in the States,” he told me in lively Cuban Spanish, “and I only start to relax when I’m on a plane from there- low”.

He had concluded in his old age, he said with a wink, that he needed very little to be happy. Life in the United States was not one of them, because what he had lived in the United States was not life but rather capitalism – an “American dream” in which he had never even had the time to go fishing because he was still working. Yes, Cuba was mad, but it was a madness he understood and loved – plus he was sick of listening to Cuban exiles in Miami endlessly plotting their right-wing revolution.

Now, as the 60-year-old US embargo forces Cubans to live on less and less while imperial immunity to human decency and compassion advances rapidly, it may be worth clinging to the words of Che Guevara: “The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love”.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.