Page last updated at 07:11 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 08:11 UK

End embargo on Cuba, US is urged

A resident decorates his house with a Cuban flag in Holguin, north-east Cuba, 25 July 2009
Cuban children cannot access vital medicine, Amnesty claims

The US should lift sanctions on Cuba as a prelude to dropping its "immoral" trade embargo against the island, Amnesty International has urged.

US President Barack Obama has until 14 September to decide whether or not to extend the Trading with the Enemy Act, under which sanctions are imposed.

The embargo is preventing Cubans from accessing life-saving medicine, says Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan.

The US began its embargo in 1960, tightening it two years later.

This was largely as a result of Cuba's alliance with the then Soviet Union.

Mr Obama has insisted that the trade ban will stay in place until Cuba frees political prisoners and improves human rights.

'Vital medicines'

But London-based rights organisation Amnesty is concerned that the embargo is endangering the lives of Cubans.

"The US embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted," said Ms Khan.

"It's preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health."

Cuba's inability to import nutritional products from the US has led to an increase in the number of cases of iron deficiency anaemia, according to a report produced by Amnesty, using data from the UN.

Some 37.5% of Cuban children under the age of three have been affected by the ban on nutritional products, the report suggests.

Since 2000, when the US Congress passed The Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, the Cuban government has been able to import food from the US. However, it must pay cash and is not allowed credit.

According to Cuban government figures, it has spent more than $4bn on direct purchases of food from the US since 2001.

US legislation allows Cuba to purchase some medicines, but Havana chooses not to buy directly, opting instead to purchase US medicine from third countries.

The embargo was first imposed in the wake of the revolution in Cuba, which swept Fidel Castro to power.

The US wanted to force the island to reject Mr Castro's socialist policies and embrace capitalism and democracy.

Mr Obama has indicated that he favours a softening in US-Cuban relations, and has lifted the ban on Cuban-Americans visiting the island and sending money back to relatives who still live there.

The Cuban government, now led by Mr Castro's brother Raul, has said it is willing to enter negotiations with Washington, but will not make any unilateral concessions.

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