The Question of Cuba and the USA
Click here for a history of Cuban-American relations and list of sources.
Why do Americans hate and fear Cuba so much? The American reaction towards Cuba is not merely the normal American xenophobia towards other nations - France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, the entire Middle East, Japan… and pretty much the rest of the world. No, this is something deeper, a chasm in the already suspicious American political psyche. Mention Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, China or even Russia and most Americans will hardly flutter their eyelids. Say Cuba and they’ll go off kilter, launch into a wild tirade and scream invectives about Castro, freedom, human rights, and Communism.
Cuba, it seems, weighs more heavily on the American mind than almost any other nation. So heavily that Americans will lash out at anyone who even suggests a more temperate approach to the small island, even to the point of legal action against citizens of other nations who deal with Cuba in their own country.
Yes, bizarre - and unethical - as it sounds, the US has taken legal action against foreigners who even remotely appear to befriend the Cuban people. Take, for example, James Sabzali, a Canadian businessman. On February 28, 2004, he stood in American court charged with 75 counts of violating a 1917 US law – the "Trading with the Enemy Act" and a count of conspiracy.
His crime? Arms? State secrets? Military blueprints? No - he sold water purification supplies to Cuba – most of which were done while he was living and working in Canada where trade with Cuba is legal.(1)
For that humanitarian – not military - business, for a mere $3 million in sales over several years, he faced a possible life sentence and up to $19 million in fines. That’s less than a single M-1 Abrams tank ($9 million). American arms manufacturers sell more weaponry to sworn enemies of America in a week than Sabzali sold water treatment systems in his career to date. But American arms manufacturers have lobbyists who pay a lot of money to US politicians and their election campaigns to keep their trade flowing. Sabzali is merely a single, honest businessman doing business that is legal in his home country.
Sabzali, a Canadian, ended up with an American criminal record for violating American law even though he lived in another country when he sold goods to Cuba. When he visited the US, he was charged with smuggling, taken to court, given a year’s probation and fined $10,000.
The unfortunate Sabzali spent three years in the USA under strict travel restrictions, including 14 months when he was forced to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and could not drive more than an hour from his home – even to visit his wife and children back in Canada. Obviously water purification salesmen are a tremendous security risk - more so than, say, the family and numerous relatives of Osama bin Laden who were allowed by the State Department to leave the USA immediately after 9/11, avoiding any questioning or charges for the attack on the WTC and Pentagon.
This happened in a country where the CEO of the board of Smith and Wesson was a convicted criminal who served a 15 year prison term for armed robbery before he achieved his business position! Is there some logic I'm missing here?
Sabzali’s crime was to sell Cubans cleaner, safer water. In reaction to the sentence, US attorney Joseph Poluka crowed, "you’re not allowed to violate the laws of this country just because you live outside it." The judge, however, was critical that the prosecutor’s case was strewn with "inflammatory language."
So what is it about Cuba that inspires this most vehement American hatred?
Is it Fidel Castro they hate and fear? At 78 years (in 2004 - see notes, below for updates), Castro remains a firebrand, but words are all he has with which to challenge America. He certainly doesn’t have the military or economic strength to wrestle with America on any scale. Castro might be arrogant, egotistical and argumentative, and a diehard socialist, but at least he isn’t taking dirty money from corporate lobbyists to do their bidding.
Castro has no corporate forces to match against all-powerful American business interests, no cultural industry that can stand up to the massive, artificial cultures created in Hollywood or corporate recording industry marketing departments and broadcast at high energy throughout the world. He can’t capture US markets with any products that would threaten American jobs - American corporations are already moving overseas in droves and creating massive American unemployment in their wake to create profits over quality. That's not Castro's doing, it's the US administration that encourages it.
Even if Cuba has something challenge American business, it wouldn’t make any difference to what Americans do to themselves. Cuban cigars would lose their romantic lustre once they became legal. Cuban music has already found a comfortable but small cultural niche that’s not likely to replace the plastic pap created by the massive pop media marketing departments. Cuba’s lean cuisine won’t lure Americans away from their fat-dense gluttony of fried foods and greasy burgers.
And despite all the official rhetoric and propaganda about Castro as a dictator, that really doesn’t matter one whit to American foreign policy. American governments have cheerfully gotten into bed with the most vicious and brutal regimes without losing a moment’s sleep – Pinochet in Chile, Diem in South Viet Nam, Marcos in the Philippines, Hussein in Iraq (before he acted independently and attacked Kuwait), Cordova in Honduras, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, d’Aubisson in El Salvador, Musharif in Pakistan, Mao in China, the Shah of Iran, a series of successive military juntas in Guatemala, Mobuto Sese Seko in Zaire, the Taliban in Afghanistan… the list of dictators wined and dined - and paid - by the US government is quite extensive. In fact, while the Soviet Union was around, it seemed a race to see which side could ally with the most number of oppressive regimes in its club.
When there wasn’t a dictator handy to woo, the USA had no qualms about creating one. Pinochet in Chile, for example. Where was the US conscience when he was gleefully murdering thousands of people in the football stadium? The histories of Honduras and Guatemala are punctuated with violent regimes armed and supported by the USA and their henchmen at the United Fruit Company. Legally elected governments like that of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala have been displaced by thugs like US-trained Col. Carlos Castillo Armas (1954). Why did the USA do nothing to end the bloody, repressive reign of Idi Amin in Uganda? Or his equally brutal successor, Milton Obote? Or Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe?
One of Cuba’s worst and most oppressive leaders, General Machado Morales, was supported and courted by the USA. His successor, Fulgencia Batista, another master of brutality and corruption, was put into power and kept there by American interests. He was even brought back from retirement in Florida when Washington and the Mafia needed more administrative compliance - and kickbacks - in Havana.
So why is Fidel any different?
Could it be that he is Communist? That hardly mattered to Richard Nixon when he courted Mao Tse Tung, and both Nixon’s and Mao’s successors have managed to bridge the ideological gap without noticeable difficulties. Of course, the influx of American corporations seeking to tap the huge Chinese market and take advantage of low wages significantly dulled the anti-Communist rhetoric from the USA. Geschäft vor Politik, after all... but US officials were already recommending Castro’s assassination before he took power, and before he was known to be a Communist...
The Cold War was often more a clash of personalities between US and Soviet leaders, rather than the politics of global strategy and ideologies. Kennedy and the US looked upon Cuba as theirs by Manifest Destiny, not to mention the potential profits from crime and corruption their friends wanted to recapture. Khrushchev looked on Cuba as way to poke Kennedy in the eye after US missiles aimed at the USSR were installed in Turkey and Italy. He also wanted a bargaining chip to use in negotiations over Berlin (then a divided city isolated in the heart of Communist East Germany). Initially, the USSR didn’t want to support Cuba – Stalin had no interest at all in Latin America – but Khrushchev acted impulsively and decided to arm the island against the advice of this cabinet. At first, Castro opposed Soviet missiles being brought in, but bowed to pressure from his benefactor who told Castro he had "no right to base our decision on narrow self-interest."
But that was more than 40 years ago. Of all the players in the Cold War, only Castro remains alive and in power.(7)
The USA has open relations with Viet Nam, the country Americans fought in and died for, during more than a decade of intense war, to keep free of the eventually victorious Communists. Today, Nike has a nice plant there to make shoes they sell back to the Americans they laid off when they moved overseas. The US sells Boeing planes to China and even ships food to North Korea – both Communist nations. Of the four remaining Communist nations, the US has relations with three.
Besides, what is Communism today? It’s hardly more than a quaint political philosophy, a footnote in history, an exciting but eventually unsuccessful ideological experiment. It was a bad idea when proposed, and a worse implementation. Castro has never been able to export it to any significant degree beyond his own borders. Even Cuba’s favourite son and pop-culture martyr, Che Guevara, was unable to fan the flames of international revolution beyond a few embers. His memory is larger than his successes, and he's an icon for T-shirt politics, but they're about as relevant to modern politics as Andy Warhol is to today’s art.
Communism simply isn’t a threat in 2004. It hasn’t even held power except in a couple of isolated pockets since the USSR shattered in the early 1990s – and the few remnants are crumbling. You can’t get today’s youth interested in Communism – they’re too busy being vapid consumers and shopping for material goods to get into the ideology of a worker’s paradise.
The USA could overpower Cuba merely by opening the doors to trade and sending in a few Wal-Marts and McDonalds. They’ve never needed troops or terrorists: consumer goods and good jobs would win the war without a single shot being fired. In a couple of years, you wouldn’t be able to tell Cuban from Puerto Ricans or New Yorkers or Floridians – except possibly for the drop in literacy combined with an increase in obesity that reflects American consumer trends. All those socialist ideals would disappear under an avalanche of pop stars, insipid TV sitcoms, junk food and Hollywood action flicks. Mementoes of the Cuban revolution would be sold on eBay like old Soviet lapel pins and war medals.
Is it Cuba’s Socialism? Americans generally have apoplexy when someone even whispers the word "socialism" because they equate it with Communism - the same way they equate Survivor TV with reality, the WWF with sport, and SUVs with adventure. There are many nations today that practice varying degrees of socialism but that have nothing to do with Communism – Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Italy, France, India, Australia, New Zealand, to name a few. That usually means their citizens have rights to universal health care, education, legal services, and other social benefits, but capitalism is still the main economic force.
Today, modern Socialism is far removed from what Marx suggested – the dictatorship of the proletariat, a milestone (or millstone...) on the path to Communism. Many American politicians simply don’t appreciate the subtle distinction between Communism and Socialism, so to be sure no one is left out, they condemn them both with equal vehemence (the shrill harridans of the right, like Ann Coulter, confused over the nature of political reality, even vilify the Democrats as "left" and "liberal"). And, of course, many American politicians are heavily funded by lobbyists to fight any encroachment on corporate interests even when it would be in the best public good to do so.
But I digress. Yes, Cuba is socialist, but so are many of America’s trading partners (Canada, Sweden, China...). Ideology really doesn’t get in the way of business deals. True, Cuba has universal medical care, free buses, and an enviable literacy rate, all thanks to socialism, but with little effort, America could reduce that down to its own parsimonious level of user-pay service through commerce, investment and corporate lobbyists, without requiring an embargo or even ideological posturing.
What right does the USA have to determine the political structure of any nation?
None. Period. That, of course, hasn’t stopped it from doing exactly that: building up or tearing down the governments of dozens of nations – elected or otherwise – to replace them with those more amenable to US policies and corporate interests. Take the recent US-led invasion of Iraq, for example, now shown to have nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" and apparently a lot to do with oil companies on whose boards many of the Bush administration have sat (or still sit). Ditto with Afghanistan.
Lest we forget, the US nation was also born in a revolution against its then-legitimate government. History can’t be allowed to interfere when you’re pandering to lobbyists who control voting blocks and finance your campaign.
Is it because Cuba, being Communist, is ostensibly atheist? A change to the Cuban Constitution in 1992 dropped the official policy of atheism, although the state is (like the US and Canada), officially secular. The Pope’s recent visit proves Catholicism still beats strongly underneath the official disregard for religion. No doubt, Cuba will prove irresistible to hordes of Bible-waving evangelists looking to harvest some souls for their particular creed or cult. They’ve swarmed all over the former Soviet countries, albeit without much to show for their efforts. But Cuba’s only a short hop away, offering many more zealots the opportunity to prove themselves by dragging others into the fold. And if they offer free food, free consumer goods, money and maybe some employment, no doubt they will get a few Cuban converts.
Atheism isn’t a good reason enough to hate Cuba: it’s merely a condition for employment for the evangelists. Religious differences haven’t stopped ATT, Coke, McDonald’s, Nike, Levis or any of a thousand corporations from opening shop in any heathen nation where the labour laws are lax and the wages are low. In fact, Christian conscience seems unblemished when exploiting workers in sweatshops in non-Christian nations.
Besides, China is still officially atheist and the USA has the largest trade imbalance in world history with China, importing from China million of times the amount it exports to that Communist, atheist nation. Ask any Tibetan buddhist if China's atheism is allowed to intervene in American trade relations.
Can it be that, despite numerous tries, Castro has managed to survive numerous American attempts to assassinate him? That must rankle some of the CIA's experts in 'wet work' in Washington who enjoy murdering people. For all their expertise, they haven’t managed to kill this one man in 45 years of attempts, even with the exploding cigars and poisoned milk shakes. They have, however, killed a few hundred Cuban workers in the process, the everyday sort of people that the US is supposed to be protecting, plus an airplane full of teenagers. I'm sure someone in the CIA is proud of those deaths, although I can't imagine why.
The US has conducted or arranged the murder (assassination) of many other world leaders since WW2 - Lumumba, Allende, João (Jango) Goulart, Sukarno, Mohammed Mossadegh among them - a large percentage of which had been democratically and legally elected by a majority of their own people. But the US has also botched other assassination attempts - Qaddafi, Hussein, Noriega, Figueres and many others. The failure to murder Castro belongs among the latter. But should an entire nation base its foreign policy on the CIA's ineptitude? I don't think so.(8)
Can it be that Castro nationalized a lot of American properties and companies when he took power? That must certainly be an annoyance, especially since several top US officials including CIA directors had pecuniary interests in Cuba through the nefarious United Fruit Company, one the sorest losers after the Revolution.
America didn’t embargo Mexico when President Cardenas nationalized the assets of 17 oil companies in 1938. In fact, America welcomed Mexico into NAFTA as a trading partner. In 1950, Saudi Arabia broke contracts with western oil barons and nationalized its resources. They’re an ally of America today - despite their previous support of Osama bin Laden. In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, built by western money to ship western goods. America did nothing. Venezuela nationalized its oil resources in 1970. So did Libya. Iraq did it in ’72; the Shah of Iran did it in ’73. Both Iraq and Iran were American allies until recently. Nigeria also did it in ‘73. The Russian Ministry for Anti-Monopoly is preparing a new law to nationalize its underground resources in 2004.
America froze Cuban assets in the USA back in the 60s, worth an estimated $170 million by 2001, a pittance compared to the amount the embargo has cost Cuba in trade. In March, 2004, the American Treasury Department froze the assets of Canadian-based Hola Sun Travel, which provides holiday tours to Cuba.
America froze $1.7 billion of Iraqi assets back in 1990. America froze $7.9 billion of Iranian assets when Iranian people replaced the US-supported Shah with the less-tractable Ayatollah. America froze Japanese assets in July, 1941, a move that helped precipitate WW 2. American didn’t raise a peep of protest when China expropriated the entire nation of Tibet.
It would be highly hypocritical of Americans to be critical of others for doing the same thing they are wont to do themselves to others, or for action they have accepted in other nations now their friends and allies.
True, hypocrisy has ever been a watchword of American foreign policy. Nor does it matter to American policy makers that they violate either international law or the laws of other nations to achieve their own goals. To them, American law is sacrosanct, above reproach and applicable beyond their own borders.
It’s certainly not about fighting for the freedom of the Cuban people. Cubans might not have a lot, and the human rights conditions may be deplorable to some observers, but they get free medical care, free education, they have almost eradicated once widespread illiteracy, and they can ride the buses for free. That’s something not even the self-styled paragon of freedom, the USA, can claim for its people.
However, to get another take on American attitudes about human rights, ask some of the 650 or so prisoners from 40 countries being held in the naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba (how ironic…) without trial, without access to lawyers or to family for more than two years… and released prisoners have claimed torture and beatings at the hands of their American prisoners. It’s one of those "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do situations.
And it's not because Castro has had some of the terrorists and hijackers executed either. The USA has had capital punishment as a legal punishment for centuries. Any protest against capital punishment is merely faux outrage.
If it was really about freedom, then the US wouldn't have supported the Chinese government when students were slaughtered in Tianemen Square, or the Taliban while they were enslaving all the women in Afghanistan. Ask any of the detainees in American-held Guantanamo, suffering torture and incarceration without trial - let alone conviction - how they feel about America's boast of freedom and equality.
And as for free elections – America did not demand elections from the dictators it propped up or installed before Castro. Nor can it be about Cuba’s human rights record. Who can forget that on the anniversary of the massacre of dissidents at Tiananmen Square, US President Bill Clinton ordered Chinese food to show his Communist friends just where his sympathies lay? No bureaucrat nor politician in Washington lost a moment’s sleep when their friend Agosto Pinochet murdered thousands of Chilean dissidents. Or when successive military tyrants in Guatemala and Honduras had natives and workers butchered – Guatemala’s jefe-du-jour was always one of the United Fruit Company’s pet dictators.
True, Cubans never put a man on the moon – but neither have the Americans for almost 35 years. Cuba has a better literacy rate than the USA, better maternity leave for mothers, better equality for women in the workplace and more doctors per capita than the USA, but these should make America envy Cuba, not despise it.
The USA has been quite content to let dictators keep their people in a less-than-free state, as long as some financial gain might be realized for American business interests. Corporate profits have never been shy when making accommodation with repressive regimes. You don’t see George W. Bush railing on about breaking up the sweatshops and near-slavery conditions of countries to which American corporations have moved their production - like Nike in Vietnam. You aren’t treated to grandstanding attacks against nations that treat women as property, if that nation has oil resources the US wants. And let’s not get into how the oil industry had the US invade Iraq - and how American soldiers are dying to protect the interests of corporations in which the administration has serious financial ties.
Besides, after what amounted to a coup by George Bush in the 2000 presidential election, Americans have little to boast about their own elections being free and democratic.
It’s not about secret police or the repression of rights. The US government didn’t even blink when Chinese dissidents were slaughtered by troops in Tiananmen Square in China. Agencies of the USA have been active participants in helping round up and murder dissidents, or organizing effective secret police and intelligence agencies in other countries for the last century. With such agencies as the NSA, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, CSS, DIA, NRO, and others, the USA has more secret police and covert security organizations than any other country on this planet.
The US has done nothing to alleviate the slaughter and forced relocation of Brazilian natives for a century. In Guatemala and Honduras when the Death Squads were killing thousands of people for no reason but to enforce the rule by terror and make the world safe for the United Fruit Company, the US not only didn’t intervene on the side of rights – in fact they funded the governments, sold them arms, trained them and lent moral support for the brutality.
In 2001, the US gave $43 million in "humanitarian aid" to the Taliban, the most repressive and anti-rights thugs to ever rule an Islamic state. Didn't matter to the US that the Taliban enslaved and brutalized women, that it harboured and honoured Osama bin Laden, or that the Taliban were selling large quantities of heroin to finance their administration costs. Of course, no one was fooled: "humanitarian aid" to the Taliban was simply an outright bribe for oil rights. But it speaks volumes that the USA funded the Taliban and ignored their horrendous human rights violations in order to try and grab some commercial leverage. Would Cuba be treated differently if it had oil reserves? Probably.
Is it because, as the US contends, Castro supports international terrorism? Hardly. The shoe is on the other foot most of the time here. The US government has helped support, fund and equip most of the hundreds of anti-Castro and anti-Cuban terrorist attacks on the island, which have gone on almost unabated since Castro took power. These include the killing of 73 civilians, mostly teenagers, in an airline bombing, the bombing of hotels and killing of tourists, shooting weapons at tourist hotels, attempts at armed insurrection and sabotage by infiltrating terrorist groups, the killing of 400 Cuban workers in an industrial bombing, and numerous assassination attempts against Castro. Even when they have the evidence, and catch the terrorists with weapons and plans, US officials generally just confiscate the weapons and let them go. In fact, the terrorists boast publicly and regularly at press conferences in the USA how they have done the bombing and other acts – and how they are immune from arrest by American authorities. And, of course, there is the economic terrorism applied through the 40-year-old embargo, which daily endangers the health, safety and human rights of ordinary Cubans.
Castro himself has renounced Cuba's support for terrorists, for exporting revolution and signed international accords on terrorism. But that hasn't stopped the US-supported terrorism against him.
How can the USA ethically and morally condemn Castro for terrorism when the USA officially condones and funds terrorism against him, the Cuban people and innocent tourists? Okay, ethics, morality and honesty aren’t necessarily integral to international politics…(9)
America has funded its own share of terrorism and exported it against its enemies for more than a century. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US spent more than $3 billion to fund, train and provide armaments to Muslim terrorists (the "mujahadeen") to fight the Communists. One of these guerrilla-terrorists was Osama bin Laden, who would turn on his benefactors and mastermind the attacks on September 11, 2001. America funded anti-Sandinista terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
The United States runs the "School of the Americas" in Fort Benning, Georgia. It is more commonly known as the "School of Assassins." Over the years, the school has trained - using American money and teachers on American soil- a long list of terrorists, including Manuel Noriega of Panama, Leopold Galtieri of Argentina and Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru. It was renamed as the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" in 2001, as if that changed anything.
And what of the embargo itself? It’s nothing more than economic terrorism. Most of the world has condemned it, and continues to condemn it. The U.N. General Assembly has condemned it every year since 1992 and demanded the US "take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate" the embargo. In 2000 and ’01, this resolution passed 167 to 3 with three abstentions. In 2002, it passed 173 votes to three, with four nations abstaining. In 2003, only Israel and the Marshall Islands sided with the US on this motion – 179 votes to three; three nations - 98% of the UN membership - against the will of the rest of the planet. Israel, however, has normalized trade relations with Cuba, an act that enraged the US government in 1997, and brought threats from President Clinton to "punish" Israel for its trade with Cuba.
The US, one notes, while refusing to heed the General Assembly’s votes on Cuba, has lambasted other nations for doing just that. Iraq’s failure to heed UN resolutions was one of America’s justifications to invade that nation (www.un.int/usa/sres-iraq.htm). Do as I say, not as I do...
In its 2002 report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations condemned the embargo as "the main cause of malnutrition in Cuba." UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund condemned the embargo. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, condemned the embargo, saying it "violates the rights of the Cuban people."
The United Nations Population Fund condemned the embargo for deterioration of Cuban standards of living. The World Health Organization condemned the embargo for its "very significant negative impact on the overall performance of the national economy" which "compromises the quality of life of the population, specifically the children, the elderly and the infirm." The embargo, it notes, forces Cuba to pay six times more than necessary for children to drink milk and shuts off supplies for medical screening tests.
Amnesty International condemned the embargo because it "helped undermine the enjoyment of key civil and political rights in Cuba by fuelling a climate in which the fundamental rights as freedom of association, expression and assembly are routinely denied." In other words, the US is actually creating the political and social conditions it claims it wants to end!
The Pope – famous for his crusade against Communism - condemned the embargo, calling it "monstrously immoral." Former US President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2002 and called for the embargo to be lifted. Former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev condemned the embargo in an editorial in the Washington Post, 2003, and called it the "last relic of the Cold War." In 1999 at the annual Ibero-American Summit, the leaders of Spain, Portugal and Latin American nations condemned the embargo. American businesses have condemned the embargo. Financial analysts warn the embargo costs American farmers upwards of $250 million a year in lost sales. But despite almost global condemnation, the embargo remains.
The American Association for World Health wrote in 1997, "Few other embargoes in recent history - including those targeting Iran, Libya, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Chile or Iraq - have included an outright ban on the sale of food. Few other embargoes have so restricted medical commerce as to deny the availability of life-saving medicines to ordinary citizens. Such an embargo appears to violate the most basic international charters and conventions governing human rights, including the United Nations charter, the charter of the Organization of American States, and the articles of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of civilians during wartime." (emphasis added)
The US embargo against Cuba has described as "the longest and most severe set of trade sanctions ever imposed on any one nation" by international health organizations. Even many American bureaucrats, politicians and non-governmental organizations have condemned the embargo. It’s maintained mostly to ensure campaigning politicians get lucrative handouts during election times from an embittered segment of the Cuban exile community (collectively known as the "Miami Mafia").(6)
American citizens are generally prohibited from visiting Cuba, except for humanitarian reasons, and sometimes for research. That violates the US Constitution. In 1958, the US Supreme Court declared its citizens had a constitutional right to travel abroad and "the right to travel is a part of 'liberty' of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment." Despite that decision, the US administration has denied its citizens a basic right under its own Constitution for 40 years.
And why do the exiles hate Castro? Aside from the power, money and prestige many lost under the corrupt Batista regime when Fidel came to power, they hate Fidel because he didn’t cave in, he didn’t collapse: he succeeded and he proved them all wrong. Now they’re still exiles and Cuba has continued without them. In 1959, Castro himself said the self-imposed exiles would come to regret leaving, "Having to live with the eternal shame of having no homeland, having to live in the cold without a people and a country, this is a worse penalty (than a firing squad), because it is the moral firing squad for traitors." They hate him because he was right. It's personal - but it has been allowed to determine US foreign policy for four decades.(5)
No, it isn’t really about Castro. Castro is merely the immediate itch that the USA and its pro-Batista friends can’t scratch. The relationship has a longer, deeper history and ties directly into American imperialism. Cuba is the lynchpin to America’s and long-held dreams of dominating the Caribbean, another piece of the empire to be cemented into place. Castro is simply the cat’s paw Washington hides behind to justify its policies and its terrorism – while successive administrations bend national policy to suit the politics of Florida in exchange for campaign funds.
Yet Castro stands for a lot in the world, a man who has moved the pillars of the earth. He has withstood the tremendous pressure and constant attacks of the world’s most powerful nation. He has become a hero for the downtrodden, for the oppressed and enslaved, the David who beat the Goliath of imperialism. Castro’s Cuba symbolizes the fight for independence and sovereignty for all small nations. He is lionized by many nations and treated as a hero for remaining unbent in the face of enormous pressure. And that really annoys Goliath!(3)
Since February, 2008, when Castro resigned from power, even that excuse dried up. But America - still under the mandate of the right-wing ideologues - made no overtures to Cuba to re-open diplomatic ties. Perhaps when the more level-headed Barrack Obama takes power, that will change.
Americans have long believed they have a divine right to own Cuba. Cuba falls under the Manifest Destiny, America’s right to control everything within its reach. But Cuba has continually thwarted that goal, squirming out of the imperialist grasp every time. America has occupied Cuba, ruled Cuba, attacked Cuba, stuffed puppet dictators into power and given American organized crime a free reign, but America has never truly conquered Cuba.
The desire to own Cuba has burned in the heart of American governments for two centuries.(2) It has never really mattered who was in power there. It simply irked Washington that Cuba has managed to survive without American intervention. The US wants the Caribbean under its control. Period. In the 20th century alone, the US occupied or intervened openly in Cuba (1899 and 1961), Honduras (1912), Haiti (1915), Guatemala (1954), the Dominican Republic (1916 and 1965), Nicaragua (1927 and 1980s), and Panama (1989) as well as confirming the acquisition of Puerto Rico (1952). Cuba is the inevitable next step.
It's also about money. Since Kennedy, successive American presidential candidates have announced they would be "tough on Cuba" in order to line their election campaign pockets with money donated by exiled Cubans, many of whom contributed to the crime, corruption and abuses that existed before Castro took power. Bullying Cuba has proven an effective way to coax money out of Cuban exiles who have the same misty-eyed nostalgia for the days of Batista that former Soviet citizens have for Stalin. Others are merely gullible, homesick Cubans who believe life after Fidel will somehow be better (without anyone saying exactly how…).
Most of the official bombast and anti-Castro rhetoric is directly linked to the campaigns to milk money out of the Cuban exile community in the USA. It gets hotter during election campaigns. The money flows into the coffers in proportion to the anti-Castro sentiments expressed by the candidates, tying American foreign policy to a special interest group simply to get their money every few years.
And crafty administrations have never pushed too hard for action against Cuba because, should they prove successful, it would dry up the well of exile cash. Instead, since Kennedy America has acted in the shadows, using terrorists, spies and assassins to keep Castro and Cuba on the edge. That's terrorism, plain and simple.(4)
Castro, however, is aging. He can't last much longer (see update, below). The vultures circle, waiting for the old man to die, exchanging bets as to who will grab the reins of power. Will it be brother Raul? Or another military junta? The mafia? Castro’s aging former enemies dragging themselves out of their cushy Florida retirement? Will it be the consortiums of resorts and recreation, eager to turn Cuba into the next holiday Xanadu where pale American tourists can tan themselves while brown natives wait on them? Will it be a puppet government propped up by the real purveyors of American political power – the corporate lobbyists – eager to turn the island into a bunch of sweatshops (it's closer to home than Thailand and China) while opening new markets for their made-offshore brand-name products?
Or will there be another revolution, a civil war as factions fight for the spoils? And where will America be if this happens? No doubt waiting for the opportune moment to send in the troops, take control and finally realize the great dream of Manifest Destiny. And then they’ll send in the Wal-Marts and franchises… pretty soon Cuba will look like suburban Florida, full of aging Americans and Canadian snowbirds, narrow streets clogged with bloated SUVs, fast food chains lining the highways, bland American pop music blaring from every radio station… and everyone will be grousing about the good-old-days under Fidel.
My advice to Cubans is: enjoy these days while you can. Once the island is Americanized, it will never be the same again. The Cuba you know and love will become a memory barely seen through the haze of consumerism, greed and junk foods. Instead of working for egalitarianism, you will work serving sweaty, imperious tourists or in sweatshops making goods for them to take home. The Cuban Revolution will become little more than a logo on a T-shirt.
NB. This essay was first written in 2004, and updated in 2005. Since then, Castro has resigned as President. After intestinal surgery from an undisclosed digestive illness, and a lengthy recuperation, Castro transferred his responsibilities to his younger brother Raúl Castro (the First Vice-President), on July 31, 2006. Then on On February 19, 2008, he announced he his resignation as president and commander-in-chief. The National Assembly elected Raúl Castro to succeed him as the President of Cuba, while Fidel remains First Secretary of the Communist Party. Details on Wikipedia. Cuba celebrates its 50th anniversary of the Revolution this month, January 2009.
In the past few years, hurricanes have caused considerable damage to Cuba, forcing the country to trim social benefits in order to rebuild. Other Latin American nations - notably Venezuela - have come to Cuba's aid. There has also been a shift in Cuban politics. As noted in the Financial Times, August, 2008: "Fidel Castro has an almost obsessive belief in egalitarianism and, faced with difficulties, has often exhorted his people to greater sacrifice and commitment. By contrast, his brother is more prepared to countenance financial rewards for workers and businesses that deliver better results, even if this means accepting a greater degree of inequality... under Raúl, the balance has tilted away from idealism. As one European diplomat puts it: “Think of Cuba as if it were an old Ilyushin aircraft that Fidel Castro wants to fly to the moon. Raúl shares that ambition but he knows that unless the plane lands and essential repairs are carried out it will crash.”
For a history of Cuban-American relations, click here. For my list of sources, click here. Some of these links are outdated and may require pruning and updating.
(1) Canada has courageously maintained trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba since 1959, although relations have vacillated over the years. The Canadian government site about Canadian-Cuban relations states "Canada has consistently recognized Cuba's strong commitment to economic and social rights, with its particularly important achievements in the areas of education and health. At the same time, Canada has urged Cuban authorities to achieve similar progress with respect to basic civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech, association and the press." (see www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/latinamerica/cubarelations-en.asp). Canadian Prime Ministers attempting to snuggle closer to American leaders have often cynically evinced a harder line on Cuba, albeit usually only temporarily.
(2) Is it possible to view the commingled story of Cuba and America dispassionately and objectively? I don’t think so. It is difficult to read the history without a broiling mix of anger, resentment, abhorrence and sadness. While I have no sympathy for any Communist regime, and no particular affection for Fidel Castro as a leader, I have enormous sympathy for the Cuban people caught between two unbending regimes, pawns in a centuries-old war for imperialist interests and personal gains.
(3) Whether you like his politics, you have to admit Castro’s story has a real zing to it. After all, he led a revolution. He has been a man of action: he organized, he fought, he roamed the jungles and mountains, and he conquered. Most of our politicians – especially Castro’s most ardent enemies – have done little of note beyond rising from their stuffed boardroom chairs to rail against him. Castro isn't the usual political couch potato whose career was born in in back room deals. It’s hard not to respect the man who has stood up against a powerful empire for so long. Myths and legends are made of this stuff.
(4) As a Canadian, I also feel sympathy for the American people because they have been continually misled by their government into supporting both the embargo and continuing terrorism and acts of violence against the Cuban people under the transparent guise of defending freedom and democracy. Corporate interests, personal vendettas, greed, campaign politics, patronage and base cronyism have been allowed to guide US foreign policy over Cuba. Anyone who reads the history of the relationship between the two nations can see this. Human rights have been trampled, civil liberties repressed, and international law flouted and ignored by successive US administrations.
As a Canadian, I am also deeply troubled and frightened by the continued use of state-sponsored terrorism by the US against the Cuban people. Its supporters say it’s against Castro, but it’s the Cuba people, the workers, children and farmers who are the victims. If the USA can justify using terrorism and assassination against one neighbour, what’s to stop it from using it against us?
And I feel shame for the American people because their government is doing to Cuba, and has done for 40+ years, what Osama bin Laden and other terrorists are doing to America. It is difficult for any rational person to see the difference between one group of terrorists and another.
Recently released declassified documents add mounting evidence to the theory that John Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy of Mafia, CIA and Cuban exiles in order to both punish him for his "betrayal" for not providing military support for the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, as well as to prevent him from normalizing relations with Cuba as he had planned to do.
(5) Yes, they may call themselves patriots and freedom fighters, but the line between patriotism and terrorism is thin, sometimes mere tissue paper. It matters not a whit what people call themselves to the families and relatives left behind after a bombing or assassination. Patriots don’t murder workers, bystanders and tourists. Patriots don’t inflict disease and suffering on their own people. Terrorists do. That’s the difference. The exiles have consistently attacked the Cuban people and innocent tourists, and boasted of their actions. That is terrorism, no more forgivable than the unprovoked attacks of 9/11.
Anti-Cuban terrorists aren't alone in their support from US governments; there are anti-Cambodian, anti-Thailand and anti-Vietnamese terrorists operating from US soil with the full knowledge of the FBI and CIA. Despite protests from the governments of the nations under attack, the US has done nothing to even limit their activities, which include bombings, attempted coups and assassination. If the US government won't stop them, then the US government is complicit in their activities. See www.metimes.com/2K1/issue2001-49/reg/you_dont_have.htm.
"The FBI considers terrorists to be criminals." says the FBI's 1999 report on terrorism in the USA (http://www.fbi.gov/publications/terror/terror99.pdf). This report notes such environmental groups as the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front as "terrorists" but anti-Cuban and similar terrorist groups operating openly from the USA are almost ignored in the reports. One of the largest anti-Cuban groups working from US soil, Omega 7, is noted in the report's chronology for numerous acts of violence. But if they're criminals, why aren't they charged and imprisoned?
On Sept. 25, 2001 in the Washington Post, editorial writer Sue Ann Pressley equated the terrorists among the Cuban exile community with the terrorists in al-Queda. Courageous words given the corporate control of American media.
(6) All of this has hurt American prestige and credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. How can any other nation support the "War on Terrorism" when the leading country actively and publicly supports and funds terrorists and terrorism on its own soil? Even by often fluctuating American standards, when compared with American treatment of other nations and their leaders, the embargo stands out as blatantly inconsistent with US foreign policies, not to mention international law. Maybe the US would get more support for its "war" if it weren't so blatantly hypocritical about its own terrorist activities.
(7) According to Forbes magazine, Castro has apparently followed the trend of dictators since the dawn of time, and amassed a very un-Communist-like fortune. The 2004 list of international high rollers estimated Castro’s personal worth at $150 million. That’s not a lot compared to those billionaire paragons of capitalism, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Robson Walton or Rupert Murdoch, but it’s sure a lot more than any other stalwart Cuban party member has. Maybe he’ll will it all to the Cuban people… however, given the source - Forbes, a notably capitalist, and highly conservative magazine - you have to treat this information as having a certain bias. In 2002, Forbes itself admitted they had no real data and had calculated "the net worth of Castro based on a percentage of Cuba's GDP." And strangely enough, Forbes has lowered its estimate of Castro's worth from a high of $1.4 billion in 1997, to $150 million in 2003. What do they think happened to all his alleged money? They don't say... nor do they offer any proof. Forbes thus entered the sphere of the supermarket tabloids for fabricating stories. Castro and his millions... Elvis and the aliens... they're all the same.
(8) See free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/weapons/Assassination.html and members.aol.com/bblum6/assass.htm) among many sites that document the long US and CIA history of murdering legally elected world leaders.
(9) For a list of recent terrorist acts against Cuba, see the UN site at www.un.org/documents/ga/docs/56/a56521.pdf and here: www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43b/142.html. And for disturbing reports on the suppression of dissent and attacks on anyone in the American-Cuban community who speaks out for normalizing relations with Cuba, read the Human Rights Watch reports at www.hrw.org/reports/1993/WR93/Hrw.htm and the in-depth look at the anti-Castro terrorist groups story at ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JBFranklins/canf.htm. Please see my sources page for more.
It’s time to end the embargo and show America is a force
For a history of Cuban-American relations, click here.
For my list of sources, click here.
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