GRANMA INTERNATIONAL 1997. ELECTRONIC EDITION. Havana, Cuba
Influential business coalition including General Electric, IBM, Exxon and Mobil takes action against legislation directed against Cuba
A powerful coalition of major U.S. companies, including Exxon, General Electric, IBM and Mobil, has organized a campaign against the Helms-Burton Act and economic sanctions in general. Frank Kittredge, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said in Washington that the country's principal business associations believe the U.S. government is striking out blindly with punitive measures that nobody understands, according to the Reuters news agency.
Under the name of USA Engage, this influential coalition - which also encompasses corporations like Citicorp, Allied Signal Ingersoll Rand and Westinghouse, and represents the country's principal exporters of goods and services - is joining with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in launching a campaign aimed at waging a battle on the political front against the sanctions established in the Helms-Burton Act.
According to Kittredge, their basic argument is that unilateral sanctions are highly inefficient, and end up being counterproductive. A study carried out by the National Foreign Trade Council revealed that over the last four years, the United States has approved 61 unilateral measures against 35 foreign governments.
According to the results of the study, these U.S. sanctions had little or no effect on other countries but have, however, cost the United States billions of dollars in lost business opportunities and jobs.
U.S. sanctions were not limited to developing or wayward nations. Washington also took trade-related reprisals against partners and allies like Canada and Italy, and military powers like Russia and China.
The Clinton administration has pontificated on numerous occasions on the use of unilateral sanctions, even in cases when the United States has been clearly isolated, as in the long-standing economic embargo against Cuba.
The reasoning usually put forward by U.S. authorities like Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to explain why they stubbornly cling to such unpopular stances is that the United States is genuinely "indispensable."
Up until now, it has been highly unusual for large corporations to voice their protest against these sanctions, which tend to represent better business opportunities for their foreign competitors.
But this year, the United States must decide whether to resume granting trade preferences to China, predicted to become a rival superpower in the coming century.
Michael Jordan, the president of Westinghouse, a U.S. conglomerate that manufactures everything from refrigerators to nuclear plants, wrote in the Journal of Commerce that his company had to eliminate 3500 jobs due to the prohibition on the sale of nuclear technology to China.
Since 1989, he explained, because China was unable to buy this technology from the United States, it has bought or ordered eight billion dollars' worth of equipment from France, three billion dollars' worth from Canada, and four billion dollars' worth from Russia.
For his part, Kittredge maintained that U.S. businesses also lose when automatic sanctions are applied as part of the so-called "certification" process, an annual evaluation carried out by the United States on how other countries are fighting drugs. Due to the fact that Colombia was deemed to have failed this evaluation in both 1996 and 1997, the U.S. Eximbank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) are prohibited from financing operations in Colombia.
As a result, U.S. investment in Colombia last year was almost one half less than in 1995.
U.S. companies also complain that Washington's propensity to impose sanctions affects their prestige as international suppliers. As Kittredge explained, foreign industries are often hesitant to use U.S. companies as suppliers, because they never know when the U.S. government is going to sanction a country and thus interrupt the delivery of parts or services.
In the meantime, the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung reported that a group of extreme-right U.S. Congress members were working on reforms to render the Helms-Burton Act even tougher. One of those congresspeople, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, reacted violently to the campaign announced by U.S. business representatives and wrote to them in an attempt to persuade them to cease their efforts.
Elsewhere, negotiations between the United States and the European Union (EU) regarding the application of Helms-Burton, which the ANSA press agency characterized as a "permanent headache for U.S. diplomacy," continued to offer little noteworthy progress over recent days, while the wait goes on concerning what the World Trade Organization (WTO) will decide in the arbitration requested by the EU against Washington.
In the meantime, Colombian President Ernesto Samper reiterated his condemnation of the legislation in a meeting with a Cuban delegation visiting Bogot=E1, while Chilean President Eduardo Frei said that it is impossible to talk about and believe in free trade in the Americas with unilateral laws in existence.
Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza made similar statements along with his Russian colleague, Yevgeni Primakov, during a meeting in Moscow, while Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy stated that the Helms-Burton Act is an issue that concerns the entire international community.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Miguel =C1ngel Burelli reiterated that it was his country that raised the matter of condemning the U.S. legislation within the Organization of American States (OAS), while Viola Furbjelke, a Swedish member of parliament and head of its foreign affairs committee, maintained that this legislation is contrary to international law.
Cecilia Julin, the deputy director for Latin America in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that relations between the United States and Sweden have been adversely affected by the application of the act.