The British NGO, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, has had the funds it used to purchase a book on economic sanctions against Cuba seized by the Treasury Department.
Published in April, 2013, by the Monthly Review Press, a New York based publishing house, The Economic War against Cuba. A Historical and Legal Perspective on the U.S. Blockade, is a translation of the French État de siège. Les sanctions économiques des États-Unis contre Cuba. The book provides a historical and legal perspective of the economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed upon Cuba since 1960. It assesses their impact, in particular, on areas such as health, something that gravely affects the most vulnerable segments of the Cuban population by preventing the island from having access to drugs and medical devices manufactured in the U.S.
The book emphasizes this anachronistic, cruel and ineffective state of siege that dates back to the Cold War. Indeed, the embargo indiscriminately strikes all sectors of society – especially the most vulnerable – yet it has been unable to achieve its objective of overthrowing the Cuban government. Similarly, it reminds us that the sanctions against Cuba have been rejected by the vast majority of the international community, with 188 countries voting in 2012, for the 21st consecutive time, against this commercial, financial and economic embargo. In addition, 67% of the American public desires a normalization of relations with Cuba because they do not understand why, when they are permitted to travel to China, Vietnam and North Korea, they are not also allowed to visit the largest island in the Caribbean.
An entire chapter deals with the extraterritorial nature of these economic sanctions, something that clearly violates international law. Indeed, the national legislation of one country cannot be applied to another. For example, French law cannot be applied in Germany and Brazilian law cannot be applied in Argentina. But the U.S. law on economic sanctions applies to all countries in the world and a special office of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Office Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is charged with overseeing its implementation.
In April 2013, the British NGO, Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), decided to buy 100 copies of the book, The Economic War against Cuba, and asked their English bank, the Co-operative, to pay the invoice by bank transfer to the Monthly Review Press account at the Chase Bank in the United States.
However, the transaction did not take place. Indeed, the OFAC decided to block the fund transfer and demanded that the British NGO explain in detail its relations with Cuba. Rob Miller, director of the CSC, expressed his astonishment: "Extraterritorial legislation on economic sanctions is being used to prevent the sale of a book in the UK that exposes the extent of the blockade against Cuba [...]. The ridiculous nature of the U.S. blockade is once again illustrated by this case where there is a clear effort to prevent the British public from reading a book published by an American publishing house. "
Obviously, this is not the first time that the United States has applied sanctions against Cuba extraterritorially. For example, if the German company Mercedes wishes to export its cars to the United States, it first must demonstrate to the Treasury Department that they do not contain a single gram of Cuban nickel. Similarly, if a French pastry chef wants to sell his products in the U.S. market, it must demonstrate that they do not contain a single gram of Cuban sugar. Not only do the economic sanctions against Cuba constitute the main obstacle to the development of the country, they are also an obstacle to the island's commercial relations with the rest of the world. Sometimes with unusual consequences.
Translated from the French by Larry R. Oberg
Docteur ès Etudes Ibériques et Latino-américaines at the University of Paris Sorbonne-Paris IV, Salim Lamrani is Maître de conférences at the Université de la Réunion, and a journaliste who specializes in relations between Cuba and the United States.
The author's latest book is État de siège. Les sanctions économiques des Etats-Unis contre Cuba, Paris, Éditions Estrella, 2011 (prologue by Wayne S. Smith and preface by Paul Estrade).
 The Economic War against Cuba. A Historical and Legal Perspective on the U.S. Blockade, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2013. http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb3409/ (site consulted May 28, 2013). French edition: Etat de siège. Les sanctions économiques des Etats-Unis contre Cuba, Paris, Editions Estrella, 2011.