How Cuba Survived Sanctions and the Lessons for Zimbabwe

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
1 International Centre of Nonviolence, Durban University of Technology, Durban,
South Africa.
2 History Department, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe.
3 Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg,
Johannesburg, South Africa.
4 Department of History, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe.
5 Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Zimbabwe, Harare,
Corresponding author:
Mediel Hove, History Department, University of Zimbabwe, Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant,
Harare, Zimbabwe.
How Cuba Survived
Sanctions and
the Lessons for
Mediel Hove1,2, Enock Ndawana3,4 and
Munetsi Anthony Nhemachena5
This article discusses how Cuba survived the economic sanctions
that were imposed by the USA and the lessons that Zimbabwe and
other sanctioned countries can glean. Using the subaltern framework
for analysis, the article’s central argument is that Cuba survived the
US-imposed economic embargo through sound planning, rigorous
policy formulation, and implementation in the critical sectors of educa-
tion and health, including tactical diplomatic maneuvers among other
strategies. It concludes that Cuba’s survival against the US economic
embargo provides a number of significant lessons for many countries,
including Zimbabwe facing economic sanctions from powerful states.
Cuba, Zimbabwe, sanctions, lessons, survival, United States
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
24(2) 172–195, 2020
2020 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0973598420911856
Hove et al. 173
The US sanctions on Cuba conspicuously demonstrated the inadequacies
of the use of sanctions as a foreign policy tool (Losman 1979; Robins
2013). While the US-imposed economic embargo on Cuba since 1962
aimed at effecting political change in the country (Mason and Kimmerling
1998: 230), it failed in all its objectives (Rosenblum 2002: 18), until the
embargo was officially repealed in 2015 (The United States Department
of State 2015). Although Cuban sanctions were in place for more than
half a century, the country managed to survive without foreign aid from
one of the most powerful countries in the world. Against this backdrop,
despite the lack of political freedoms in Cuba, the country’s success in
defeating the US embargo forms good basis for lesson gleaning for other
countries under sanctions. The case of Cuba is critical and instructive for
countries like Zimbabwe because many of its socioeconomic institutions
remained resilient and functional, thereby alleviating the effects of the
sanctions on the common people (Garfield 2000: 16–19; Yamaoka 2009:
3). This was unlike in Zimbabwe where Australia, Britain, the European
Union (EU), and US-imposed sanctions led to an unprecedented
economic decline and the country’s failure to deliver many, if not all, of
the basic social services, particularly clean water, sanitation, health, and
education (Hove 2012: 72).
Contrary to the established norm that the powerful countries like the
USA normally win economic warfare (sanctions) against smaller
countries, the Cuban case is a plausible example where a small island
state stood up to the sanctions challenge posed by a superpower for well
over five decades. By and large, this is divergent to the international
relations’ reasoning, especially neorealism that the great powers shape or
influence small states (see, e.g., Brown and Ainley 2005: 43). As a
consequence, we place the Cuban resistance of the US economic embargo
against all odds within the subaltern framework. We use the subaltern
realism perspective to explain Cuba’s survival of the US sanctions. To
this end, the Cuban case represents a perfect example of how weak, poor,
and small states are able to resist external pressure and influence from
the superpowers such as the USA (see, Gershman and Gutierrez 2009;
Machin-Gomez 2008; Robinson 2000).
In this light, this article argues that how Cuba managed to survive the
economic embargo imposed on it by the USA provides a number of
significant lessons for Zimbabwe. It attempts to answer the following
questions: what Cuba did? Why Cuba succeeded where Zimbabwe did

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