Cuban President Raul Castro made it clear April 29 that while Havana was willing to discuss everything, everything, everything” with Washington, such talk must be “on an equal footing.”
Addressing the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, the Cuban leader also declared that “we are not willing to negotiate our sovereignty or our political and social system, our right to self-determination or our domestic affairs.”
President Barack Obama declared before and after he assumed office that his administration would not end Washington’s five decade economic sanctions against Havana and other efforts to bring about regime-change until the Cuban government transformed its political and social system to the liking of the White House and Congress.
U.S. policy in this regard essentially remains as it has been for 50 years since the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro liberated the nation from a domestic dictatorship supported by Washington and six decades of Yankee hegemony and occasional invasions. Despite recent indications of a softer policy toward Cuba by the new U.S. government, Washington still does not intend to tolerate a communist government in the Western Hemisphere.
This does not mean there can be no progress in talks between the United States and Cuba. Each side has simply reiterated its known positions. Cuba, however, has a strong hand this time, and may be able to make a few gains. Virtually every country in Latin America and the Caribbean has demanded an end to the economic blockade and to continual U.S. efforts to isolate and destroy the Cuban government. This is not exactly new, but the circumstances are different.
The U.S. has enjoyed hegemony throughout Latin America for over 100 years, dominating most of the economies and governments. One of the longstanding jokes in the region goes as follows: Q. “Why has the United States never experienced a military coup?” A. “Because it doesn’t have an American embassy in its country.” But in the last decade the political situation has changed substantially. Many Latin American governments have moved toward the left, some more than others, and have distanced themselves in various degrees from Washington’s policies. The increasing failure of the neoliberal economic model that the U.S. imposed on many countries in the region is a major factor as well.
The Obama Administration has no intention of “losing” Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington recognizes it can no longer rule this roost as it has done before, but it certainly plans to retain its “leadership” and dominant political and economic influence — using honey, where required, instead of a
hammer, at least for the time being. But hegemony in the Western Hemisphere remains the name of Washington’s foreign policy game, particularly as U.S. power is diminishing in the rest of the world.
In the process the White House may come to realize that it’s best to lay off the overt rough stuff with Cuba if it wants the rest of Latin America to believe that the obnoxious George W. Bush has been replaced by President Nice New Guy.
At the same time Washington is well aware there’s more than one way to subvert a poor island country much smaller in size and power: make peace and take the fortress from within with money, promises and seeming good will — as though the Cuban government is not prepared for Uncle Sam to do precisely this if it decides upon a “soft” takeover. Cuba has not survived the enmity of 10 U.S. governments, and the collapse of the socialist world, in order to naively walk into a trap. These people will go back to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, if necessary, to save their socialist system.
Washington always tries to depict Cuba as isolated and shunned, but it has the support of many countries. Cuba has had excellent relations with the Non-Aligned Movement, now composed of nearly 120 developing countries, for over 40 years, and is presently NAM’s chair. Over the years Havana has
played a leading role in clarifying the NAM’s economic and political needs in a world now controlled by the rich capitalist states since the implosion of the USSR.
President Castro told the Non-Aligned meeting that “We are currently afflicted by deep economic, social, food, energy and environmental crises that have become global. The international debates are multiplied but they do not engage every country,” most particularly, of course, the developing
“It is impossible,” the Cuban leader continued, “to sustain the unfair and irrational consumption patterns that served as the basis to the current international order imposed by a few that we have been forced to respect. A global order inspired in hegemonic pretenses and the selfishness of privileged minorities is neither legitimate nor ethically acceptable. A system that destroys the environment and promotes unequal access to riches cannot last. Underdevelopment is an unavoidable result of the current world order.
“Neoliberalism has failed as an economic policy. Today, any objective analysis raises serious questions about the myth of the goodness of the market and its deregulation; the alleged benefits of privatizations and the reduction of the states’ economic and redistribution capacity; and the
credibility of the financial institutions.”
At this point Castro noted that in the year 2008 “the number of people starving in the world mounted from 854 million to 963 million.” He didn’t have to mention what part of the globe these starving human beings live in. The delegates to the conference knew only too well.
He continued: “The UN has estimated that $80 billion a year for a decade would be enough to eradicate poverty, hunger and the lack of health and education services and houses all over the world. That figure is three times lower than what the [poorer, developing] South countries spend every year to pay their foreign debt [to the rich countries].
“The international system of economic relations requires fundamental changes. This was demanded almost 35 years ago by the member countries of our MovementŠ. The solution to the global economic crisis demands a coordinated action with the universal, democratic and equitable participation of all countries. The response cannot be a solution negotiated by the leaders of the most powerful nations without the participation of the United Nations.
“The G-20 solution calling for the strengthening of the role and functions of the International Monetary Fund, whose nefarious policies had a decisive effect on the emergence, aggravation and magnitude of the current crisis cannot solve inequality, injustice or the unsustainability of the present
“The practice of multilateralism requires absolute respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states and for the self-determination of the peoples. It also demands to dispense with threats and the use of force in international relations, and to do without hegemonic aspirations and imperial behavior. It requires to put an end to foreign occupation and to deny impunity to such criminal aggressions as those of Israel against the Palestinian people.”
Raul Castro’s comments were a continuation of the enlightened perspective Cuba has been putting forward on these important matters internationally for decades. They are not remarks that resonate in Washington or in many developed, industrialized capitals, but they hit home with the poorer
countries that have experienced hunger, humiliation and hostility from the rich countries.
By the year 2050, when today’s 6.8 billion people enlarge at minimum to 9 billion, the increase in world poverty — compounded by inadequate attention from the rich countries and the probability that global warming will create much more hardship — will extend to a larger majority of the world population, causing a crisis of historic proportions.
Cuba has been fighting to turn this situation around for a long time. What has the United States done about it except to make the problem worse and demonize Cuba? On May Day, the day after President Castro’s speech — undoubtedly by coincidence, but symbolically significant — news agencies reported that the Obama Administration has “retained communist Cuba on a list of countries that support terrorism.” The State Department is well aware there’s not a bit of truth to the change.
That same afternoon of International Workers Day, Raul Castro and up to a half-million fellow citizens massed in Havana’s Revolution Square to honor the working people of the world and to emphasize once again that they have the right to determine their own future, and they will exercise that right
rather bravely under Uncle Sam’s disapproving nose.