Seventy-eight percent of girls and women living in Cuba were born under the pressure imposed by the U.S. blockade on the island nearly six decades ago. According to a new Oxfam report, “Right to live without a blockade. Impacts of U.S. sanctions on the Cuban population and women’s lives” these sanctions impact the daily lives of the most vulnerable Cuban populations, affect their families and livelihoods, hinder the development of skills and self projects and limit progress towards a more just and inclusive society.
“Oxfam calls for an end to the blockade. For more than a year, these sanctions have been a real obstacle to the purchase of mechanical lung ventilators, masks, diagnostic kits, reagents, vaccination syringes and other supplies needed for the management of COVID-19 disease. Our organization supports the campaign in favor of an effective and universal vaccination to guarantee people’s protection. Cuba is developing five vaccine candidates of its own, two of which are currently in the final stages of clinical trials. However, the U.S. blockade, by hindering trade, is delaying mass vaccination on the island,” says Elena Gentili, Oxfam’s representative in Cuba.
Based on the evidence provided by this research and, above all, on its experience on the island since 1993, working together with territorial actors, communities, cooperatives, social organizations and allies, Oxfam recognizes that the U.S. blockade deepens the economic crisis, hinders access to suppliers of medicines, technologies, food and other basic necessities.
The new report asks what has it meant to live through the current health crisis in a country under an economic, commercial and financial blockade? The Trump Administration imposed more than 240 sanctions to reinforce that policy, 55 of which were implemented in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those measures were already severely affecting the private sector before the COVID-19 crisis, especially for tourism-related enterprises. A survey carried out on the island by the Cuba Standard Business Confidence Survey in 2020 showed that more than 60% of the island’s entrepreneurs considered that the damage caused by the pandemic to their businesses in the last year was equivalent to the consequences of the U.S. blockade.
Women, the most affected The analysis carried out by Oxfam on the basis of a study by the Center for Research on the World Economy (CIEM) and testimonies, especially from women, confirms that the blockade reinforces the patriarchal system and ignores the differentiated needs, opportunities and autonomy of women. It harms them in the private sphere, where they are usually the ones who carry the greatest weight in the reproduction and sustainability of daily life. Cuban women dedicate around 35.20 hours a week to domestic work and caring for their families, and are the heads of 46% of the country’s households. This has an impact on them in the public sphere, when they do not find answers to their demands, and in the work and study areas, where they have to deal with the scarcity of resources on a daily basis. The report delves into sectors with a high presence and prominence of Cuban women, such as health (where they represent 71% of the 479 623 professionals), education (in 2019 they were 60% of the little more than half a million who worked in this sector) and biotechnology (53% of the people working in the science and technological innovation system and 84% of the personnel in clinical and biotechnology laboratories).

Cuban women outnumber men among the specialists who still remain in the red zone of the country’s hospitals, alongside the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients, and many are part of the teams developing the island’s five vaccine candidates. Oxfam recognizes that the Cuban response to COVID-19 has much to do with the day-to-day efforts of the women, who must navigate the difficulties and stress caused by U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
We are certain that, in a scenario without a blockade, it is possible to increase social protection for the benefit of those who need it most, support the exercise of women’s rights and develop the private sector,” Gentili stressed. Promoting dialogue and cooperation between both countries will favor the global response to the pandemic. Cuba could also contribute its experience in public health and biotechnology to help other countries control the epidemic.