Salim Lamrani, The Economic War against Cuba: a Historical and Legal Perspective on the US Blockade (New York: Monthly Review Press)

Salim Lamrani, The Economic War against Cuba: a Historical and Legal Perspective on the US Blockade (New York: Monthly Review Press)


Reviewed by Steve Ludlam

Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffied


English-language readers of the work of Salim Lamrani, a French academic, will be mainly familiar with his scholarly online journalism, characterised by the combination of richly referenced detail with clear and strong argument. His subject matter has frequently been the unending ‘regime change’ efforts of the US state against the Republic of Cuba, the terrorism and the dubious claims and morals of many prominent US-supported Cuban dissidents. Lamrani routinely heads straight for the most controversial topics in hostile media coverage of Cuba and offers an alternative perspective underpinned (unlike most of the journalism) by serious investigation and argument. Less well known are his books on Cuba and US and EU policy, published in French, one with a preface by Nelson Mandela. This concise study remedies this wider literary gap in access in English to his writing. Once again the mixture of careful presentation of historical, legal and political evidence with a clear line of argument is characteristic. Despite its subject matter, the tone is measured and its lack of polemical ornament will appeal to a wide readership seeking clear material on the origins, content and impact of half a century of attempts to strangle the Cuban rebellion in the US backyard. 

The book assembles primary sources to outline the US embargo legislation that has enforced what the Cubans, because of its extraterritorial implementation, call the blockade. It details effects on: healthcare in Cuba; the persecution of US citizens contravening the embargo; the extraterritorial pursuit of non-US companies legally trading with Cuba or Cubans; the bizarre priorities of the US Government Accounting Office that apparently devotes far more resources to its war on Cuban cigars than to its wars on drugs and terror; and the current state of majority US public opinion against the embargo. The book also explains why the Cuban government refers to the embargo as genocidal, a claim many might regard as overblown. But Lamrani quotes the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of December 1948, as forbidding action against a national group ‘causing bodily or mental harm’, alongside a State Department official’s explanation of the purpose of the embargo being to ‘bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government’ (pp72-3). The final part of the book reproduces the 2011 UN debate and vote on the embargo, reminding the reader of just how little international support exists, and tabulates the votes since 1992. In posing the question of why the embargo persists, Lamrani notes the range of faltering justifications offered across the decades: reaction to nationalizations of US property; cold war security; Cuba’s interventions in southern Africa; and most recently human rights objectives. Common factors noted today are the influence of the Cuban-American lobby, and the supposed electoral or political costs of piloting repeal through Congress, since the 1990s legislation took away most presidential discretion in the area. Lamrani himself comes down in favour of the historical argument that no US government for 200 years has ever accepted the possibility of an independent and sovereign Cuba, and Obama is no exception. 

Plentiful evidence of the ‘bodily or mental harm’ caused by the embargo can also be found in numerous UN reports on its impact on the enjoyment of social and economic rights on the island, and in Amnesty’s 2009 report on economic and social impacts. Further, Amnesty has joined President Carter and Wayne Smith, former US Head of Interests in Cuba, de facto Ambassador (who writes a prologue to the book), in identifying the implementation of the embargo legislation’s ‘track 2’, which funds opposition groups inside Cuba, as directly undermining civil rights on the island and leaving all dissidents cast as traitors. It is not unreasonable to assert that, in the face of the human rights polemics against Cuba, that the US embargo and its associated policies are directly and indirectly the major sources of constraint of human rights of all kinds on the island. Certainly, securing the ending of the embargo and US ‘regime change’ policy would do more for human rights in Cuba than anything else outsiders can possibly achieve. Hopefully, as well as filling a surprising gap in material for students of Cuba, this splendidly concise book will contribute also to the demise of a blunt and counterproductive weapon that imposes such harm on a people who dared to overthrow a US-supported dictator, and who have struggled since to construct their own society.


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