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U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

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A Review of United States Policy Toward Cuba

by David Mercile

After 40 years of Revolution, the success of the Republic of Cuba is remarkable. Even as the United States has laid siege to the humble island, carried out countless acts of violence, and progressively developed a policy fueled by rancor and viciousness, the Cuban people have resisted with courage and struggled on their path to Socialism and independence.

Present U.S. policies toward Cuba are principally the instrument of Miami-based affluent and rightist Cuban-Americans, xenophobic politicians, and what is perceived by some decision-makers as the interest of United States business, with the first group certainly the most vocal. The power of Miami is maintained through massive campaign donations and an uncompromising program of demagoguery and duplicity, though these groups need overcome little opposition from the government that created them. Though some corporations favor a shift in US policy, the general thrust is to keep Cuba isolated and tie all concessions to capitalist reform. All factions of the anti-Cuba coalition subscribe to the nostalgic dream of converting Cuba back into a United States neo-colony, dominated by a rightist Cuban elite and U.S. corporations. The principal instrument in achieving this vision is the blockade of Cuba.

The reality of the blockade is that it is a naked attempt to place Cuba under the political and economic control of the United States and resurrect the imperialist system that the Revolution destroyed. The myth of the blockade is that it seeks to bring democracy and freedom to Cuba. U.S. law links the end of the blockade to the demand that President Fidel Castro not return to office, yet he is very likely the most popular man in Cuba and perhaps the one who would receive the most votes in a "democratic" election. The rhetoric of freedom and democracy obviously have little to do with the true goals of U.S. policy on Cuba.

The contradictions between rhetoric and reality were accurately described by Bertrand Russell decades ago,

"It should also be noted that when Kennedy declares to an enthusiastic multitude that he will restore freedom to Cuba, it must be understood that he means freedom for the children to die agonizing deaths from hookworm and for the rest of the population to be subject to a ruthless and brutal government of corrupt dictators who will provide riches for inhabitants of the U.S. and a very few of Cuba."

The policy towards Cuba runs counter to the principles that the United States assumes gives it a moral advantage over Cuba. The US is now using or advocating policies that it has fought wars against. The United States fought the War of 1812 against Britain to protect the rights of US ships to trade freely with the outside world, yet now restricts the same rights of Britain and the rest of the world to trade freely with Cuba. The American people fought the War of Independence against the last great imperial power for their freedom, yet now they have become the world's great imperial power and wish to impose the conditions they once fought against on Cuba. United States hypocrisy towards Cuba is centuries old. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest." By 1823, Jefferson had changed his view, "I candidly confess that I have ever looked on Cuba as the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States." Unfortunately, this philosophical dishonesty is only the beginning of the problems with United States policy towards Cuba.

A high degree of savagery and violence has marked the United States'actions. In an article in the January/February 1999 issue of Foreign Affairs, Senator Jesse Helms refers to the Cuban government as a "terrorist regime." Yet, for decades the CIA attacked Cuba and aided and encouraged terrorist groups whose crimes claimed many lives and created horrendous suffering. The CIA and its collaborators have destroyed crops, demolished buildings, perpetrated numerous hit-and-run attacks, committed acts of sabotage, bombed Cuban buildings and airplanes, and killed countless civilians. According to The Secret War Against Cuba, the CIA has also waged acts of chemical and bacteriological warfare against Cuba, poisoning the people and the island. This all came after the ultimate act of terrorism: the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba. By contrast, the crimes of which the United States accuses Cuba focus upon supporting such liberation struggles as those against the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and the South African apartheid regime. It is the US that is the "terrorist regime."

Though the use of outright violence persists, the anti-Cuba forces have discovered an even more insidious weapon --the refusal to permit food and medicine to be sold to Cuba. After a year-long investigation, the American Association for World Health reported, "It is our expert medical opinion that the U.S. embargo has caused a significant rise in suffering --and even deaths --in Cuba." According to Oxfam America, about half of all modern drugs cannot be purchased by Cuba because of US law. Not only does this prevent Cuba from resolving many of the health problems in the country, but Cuba's excellent medical researchers have their work severely hindered by the inability to use drugs essential to their work. Consequently, Cuba may have lost the opportunity to cure major, worldwide, lethal diseases. Notwithstanding the difficulties posed by the blockade, Cuba has continued the struggle to fight health problems. According to the AAWH report, "A humanitarian catastrophe has been averted only because the Cuban government has maintained a high level of budgetary support for a health care system designed to deliver primary and preventive health care to all of its citizens." What other country in "democratic" Latin America demonstrates this level of commitment? "Such a stringent embargo, if applied to most other countries in the developing world, would have had catastrophic effects on the public health system. Cuba's health-care system, however, is uniformly considered the preeminent model in the Third World," says the AAWH study. Statistics from UNICEF show that Cuba not only spends the highest percentage of its GDP on health care of any Latin American country, but its free health care system covers 98 percent of the population, higher than anywhere in Latin America and higher than the United States.

Nevertheless the consequences of the blockade can be fatal. The AAWH report describes an incident which perhaps best portrays the character of US policy, "In one instance Cuban cardiologists diagnosed a heart attack patient with a ventricular arrythmia. He required an implantable defibrillator to survive. Though the U.S. firm CPI, which then held a virtual monopoly on the device, expressed a willingness to make the sale, the U.S. government denied a license for it. Two months later the patient died."

The effects of denying food to Cuba are also significant. The blockade has caused a massive rise in the price of foodstuffs imported by Cuba. For example, Oxfam America reports that the price of wheat is doubled by forcing Cuba to import it from Europe. Imported Asian rice is much more expensive than that which could be obtained from the US. The impact of blockade-inflated prices is clear: Cubans eat less than they otherwise would.

The current US policy of restricting access to imperative medical supplies and technologies and depriving Cubans of effective access to essential foodstuffs seems to be a long delayed implementation of the policies former Under-Secretary of War J.C. Breckenridge advocated. Over a century ago, after the United States had "saved" it from Spain, Breckenridge made a recommendation concerning Cuba, "We must clear the country, even though this may require the same methods carried out by Divine Providence in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We must destroy all within range of our cannons. We must concentrate the blockade in such a way that hunger and its eternal companion, the epidemic, destroy the civilian population and decimate the Cuban army."

The United States post-Cold War efforts to rewrite and reverse history are now focused most intensely on Cuba. Cuba is the world's leading symbol of resistance to U.S. imperial domination. The U.S. has become obsessed with intimidating the Cuban people into submission. The goal of the US blockade is to starve the Cuban people into altering their sympathies and thoughts. While proclaiming to the world that Cuba must accept the mandates of the United States or face contrived hardship, the US government is also notifying all poor and developing nations that they cannot choose their own path. This arrogant and nationalistic attitude prevents respect among imperialist powers for what the UN charter describes as "the principle of equal rights and self-determinations of peoples."

Cuba has not abandoned its struggle to chart its own future in defiance of the US attempts to reverse history. "A revolution is not a bed of roses ... a revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past," Cuban President Fidel Castro said long ago. United States policy fails to reflect upon the significance of the Cuban Revolution, its fundamental ideals, and how relevant the achievement of its purposes remain today. There are several reasons for the failure of US policy. First, most of the Cuban people realize the United States does not genuinely care about their welfare. Second, Cubans recognize that they will forfeit the system of social services that has emerged as the envy of the Third World and one of the most commendable products of the Revolution. Third, there is great fear of the extreme rightist Cuban-Americans who could assume power if they returned to Cuba. No one in Cuba is foolish enough to think that such a government would be even remotely democratic or tolerant of many of the views prevalent in Cuba today. Fourth, possibly the most neglected reason for the failure of US policy, most Cubans approve of the accomplishments of their Revolutionary government, and feel connected to these gains. While accepting neocolonial status might result in new wealth flowing to Cuba, most Cubans are sagacious enough to know they will not be sharing in it.

To the majority of Cubans, integration into the imperialist network would be a political disaster. In 1994, one of the poorer years of the Revolution, 69 percent of Cubans described themselves in an independent US poll as either Revolutionaries, Socialists, or Communists. The United States would never allow a candidate who fit any of those descriptions to come to power in an election. The ultra-rightist Cubans in the United States who claim to desire to bring democracy to Cuba are completely incapable of winning an election there. Their yearning for wealth and power presents the very real danger that Cuba could become another Chile.

Abandoning Cuba's status as a fully sovereign nation would also have a detrimental effect on the social services provided to the people. The report from the American Association for World Health gives extensive evidence pertaining to Cuba's excellent health care system. What other Third World nation can boast of universal health care and an educational system that offers free university education? According to 1997 statistics provided by UNESCO, Cuba's student-teacher ratio was considerably lower than those of the United States, Canada, and the rest of Latin America. As José Martí said, "An educated people will always be strong and free."

Cuba's social progress stretches beyond health and education. The absence of homelessness in Cuba contrasts sharply with the 760,000 people in the US who are homeless every night (estimated by the Salvation Army). Likewise, Cuban drug use and crimes rates compare extremely favorably with the United States, where 1.8 million now suffer in prison.

The United States press depicts a Cuba far different from that seen by one who travels there. According to Harvard Professor Jorge Domínguez, "The US press, for the most part, reports only bad things about Cuba." Countless articles discuss terrorism in Cuba without mentioning the fact this it almost always originates outside of Cuba, or criticize the dollar economy, without mentioning that dollars are required for imports essential to social programs. Notwithstanding the inclination of the US press to distort information about Cuba, it would be impossible to maintain such an exceptional degree of ignorance about Cuba without the blockade.

Although nearly all nations in the world publicly disapprove of US policy toward Cuba, no change has occurred. A 1989 General Assembly declaration states that the United Nations, "Calls upon the developed countries to refrain from exercising political coercion through the application of economic instruments with the purpose of inducing changes in the economic or social systems, as well as in the domestic or foreign policies, of other countries; Reaffirms that developed countries should refrain from threatening or applying trade and financial restrictions, blockades, embargoes, and other economic sanctions, incompatible with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and in violation of undertakings contracted multilaterally and bilaterally, against developing countries as a form of political and economic coercion that affects their political, economic, and social development." In this year's UN vote on the United States blockade of Cuba, an overwhelming majority of 157-2 voted in favor of condemnation. In spite of the vote, the US maintains its blockade and the nations of the world, whether through intimidation or hypocrisy, submit.

If the United States is to persist in its imperialist designs on Cuba, then it could at least drop the shamelessly dishonest and contradictory portrayal of itself as desiring "freedom" and "democracy" for Cuba. No nation that loves freedom could ever seek imperialist supremacy. As Abraham Lincoln said, "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy."

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