The U.S. and Cuba

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
non-aligned nations.

“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
system.”

“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.

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of the Guardian (US) radical newsweekly. He may be reached at: jacdon@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 5th, 2009 at 3:01am #

    Very well done, dear Jack A. Smith!
    “Ceterum censeo”: Join the campaign for freeing the Cuban Five, the five Nelson Mandelas.
    They are highly educated and moral people and could serve their country better than rotting in U.S. prisons.

  2. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 5th, 2009 at 4:59am #

    The more time the Cuban Five are kept as hostages in U.S. prisons the more time people in the world will have to get wise about the terrorist acts against Cuba supported by the successive U.S. governments.
    The Cuban 5, who came voluntarily into the “belly of the beast” in South Florida were originally educated as diplomats ( so as Gerardo Hernández and Fernando Gonzáles) or as an economic scientist (so as Ramón Laba~nino),
    or as an ingenieur for building airports (as Antonio Guerrero) or as a pilot (as René González).
    However, knowing about the victims of terrorist acts they wanted to save lives by monitoring planned terrorist acts.
    They managed not only to save Cuban lives but also those of U.S. citizen wanting to fly from Central America to Cuba.
    Please, visit http://www.freethefive.org .

  3. Tennessee-Chavizta said on May 6th, 2009 at 4:50pm #

    CUBA AND VENEZUELA ARE THE BEST DEMOCRACIES OF ALL HUMAN HISTORY. AND FIDEL CASTRO AND HUGO CHAVEZ ARE THE MOST DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTS OF ALL HISTORY OF POLITICAL SYSTEMS.

    My meeting with Leonel Fernández, President of the Dominican Republic

    By Redaction AHORA / Friday, 06 March 2009 / uc.arohanull@noiccader

    http://www.ahora.cu/english/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1219&Itemid=108

    (From CubaDebate)

    It took place last Monday, March 2, at 4:58 in the afternoon. I had met him in the Dominican Republic when he was elected for the first time as president. He was especially courteous to me. He spoke of his first efforts to increase the capacity for generating electricity with much less consumption of fuel oil whose prices were rapidly growing.

    Nobody handed him the job on a platter; he got there through a kind of process of natural selection by virtue of which he went up the political ladder while historical events were unfolding.

    He is the son of a Dominican woman who had emigrated, like many of her compatriots, to the United States, and he was taken along with his brother to New York City where he learned how to read and write.

    He was lucky in that his mother would closely follow the problems in their homeland and she communicated revolutionary opinions and criteria to him that would condition him for the new times the Dominican people were living through.

    He arrived at his own criteria different from me, but they determined his attitude in regards to situations that were similar, and at the same time very different to those I had gone through in Cuba 23 years before; when I was not even 6 years old, I had a young Cuban schoolteacher who, together with her two sisters and without a doubt coming from a petit bourgeois Santiago background, was living in quite poor conditions, after having gone to school, one studying medicine and the other becoming a teacher and the third one studying piano at a university in Haiti, the neighboring country closest to Cuba and to Leonel Fernandez’ homeland.

    I endured the tough experience of hunger, without knowing what it was, taking it for a ferocious and uncommon appetite, in the city of Santiago, a city I saw for the first time with amazement; the schoolteacher who worked at the school in Birán during the Machado dictatorship, did not receive a salary but a generous fee from my parents, and she persuaded my family to send me to Santiago.

    I learned to add, subtract and multiply thanks to the red-covered school notebook, before I learned how to read and write. In this way I began using my imagination, but they held me back two years, years I was able to recover later on with a lot of effort.

    Thus one can perhaps better understand my interest in conversing with Leonel in the light of current times.

    I met Juan Bosch, a Dominican historian and personality in 1946 when I was not even 20 years old; I was a second-year law student and leader in that faculty, also the president of the organization for solidarity with the Dominican democracy in that peoples’ courageous struggle against the Trujillo tyranny, installed by American forces in their intervention on the island in 1928.

    Bosch and I were in the Sandino Battalion, named after the Nicaraguan hero who fought against the Yankee interventionists and was murdered for it, after another imperialist intervention of that Central American country.

    The distinguished Dominican intellectual was not the head of that expedition. Other Dominican politicians were leading it. Almost all of them were acting in good faith, but they were motivated by class ideas and interests, even those of the oligarchy and bourgeoisie.

    The worst is that the Cubans leading it were the most corrupt of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Auténtico), the name stolen from the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by Martí to fight for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico, the last two colonial enclaves Spain possessed in Latin American at the end of the nineteenth century.

    Nobody could understand the confusing gibberish of Grau San Martin, the physiology professor and heir to the Revolution unleashed by Antonio Guiteras Holmes, Minister of the Interior for the Revolutionary Government which arose after the Machado years, after the tyrant was overthrown in 1933.

    The innocent hunger I referred to earlier completed the picture.

    When the Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959, Leonel had just turned 6 years old.

    Jiménez Moya, who along with other Dominican revolutionaries landed in the vicinity of the Sierra Maestra in a civilian Venezuelan plane outfitted with 150 semi-automatic Garand guns that were firing nine 30.06 cartridges per clip, and a FAL rifle personally sent to me by Admiral Larrazábal, President of the provisional Venezuelan government after the ousting of the pro-Yankee Pérez Jiménez, was incorporated into our forces along with other compatriots of his in the days when we were waging the last battles in the eastern region of Cuba.

    He was seriously wounded during the siege by an enemy battalion of well-trained special troops; looked after by our field medics, he recovered and was ready for the June 14 operation in Santo Domingo in the year 1959.

    That day, at 6:20 in the afternoon, 56 Dominican combatants landed at Trujillos’s military airport in Constanza; that was the only alternative at that time, instead of doing it at the selected location. Almost all of them perished following a heroic battle.

    A few days later, another 169 arrived by sea and faced the same fate. The plan their own combatants had coordinated and drawn up couldn’t be implemented. As usual, the adversary resorted to torture and terror. It is a story that should be written.

    The joint blood shed in our struggles for independence, and in the 50’s and 60’s, has united our peoples forever.

    Once the Revolution triumphed in Cuba, the Eisenhower government submitted us to a brutal economic blockade, a ferocious terrorist campaign and later attacked the Bay of Pigs using Cuban mercenary troops.

    Colonel Francisco Caamaño Deñó leads an uprising against Trujillo’s military high command in 1965 and demands the return of Juan Bosch who had been elected president by the people in December 1961. A group of revolutionaries that had been trained in Cuba join him and his officers and soldiers.

    The Dominican Congress elects him President of that country.

    The United States imperialist government, alarmed by the events, sends the 82nd Airborne Division and more than 40,000 Marines to occupy the island.

    Caamaño kept those powerful invading forces at bay and harassed them tirelessly, forcing them to negotiate. He had sworn to never surrender. When an agreement had been signed, with guarantees the Americans never fulfilled, Col. Caamaño abandoned the national territory and was appointed military attaché in London by the government.

    But he was not the kind of man who would resign himself to such a task. He wanted to return to Santo Domingo to fight against those who were oppressing his people. He turned to us, asking for our cooperation.

    We also didn’t want him to give up his life at any time, we would have liked the circumstances to be more favorable, but our word was sacred.

    He lived among us for a while, bolstered by the promise of providing him support to return, bearing arms, whenever he so decided.

    We shall always consider the confidence he placed in our people an immense honor.

    It is another story that needs to be written with all the necessary thoroughness.

    I knew that Leonel, among other things, admired the culture of our people. Therefore, I allowed myself to present him with a page bearing 26 lines that contained a very short story of the black poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, known as Plácido who, on March 1, 2009 commemorated one more anniversary of the date of his arrest, together with others of his race. He was accused of conspiring against the whites, and after 4 months in prison he was executed on June 29, 1844.

    Such was the concept of justice applied by the Spanish Empire for centuries in Quisqueya and in Cuba.

    I had learned about the famous Prayer to God written by that great poet when I was in sixth grade at the Jesuit Dolores School, and I shall never forget it.

    Leonel read it; he was with comrade Esteban Lazo, Politburo member, recently appointed by the Party to organize the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth which will begin within a fortnight.

    I am very pleased to know that our people will be able to learn about the life, thought and the insuperable verses written by Plácido.

    Where the conversation with Leonel acquires its greatest dimension is when he deals with the subject of the cost of the current crisis. Starting with that instant, his mind doesn’t stop for a minute reasoning, expressing each one of the main chapters in the cost of the current crisis with exact figures.

    He begins by clearing up the doubt, almost universal, and the confusion between the meaning of the English “billion” and the Spanish “billion”.

    The English billion represents only 1,000 million.

    The Spanish billion represents a million millions for us.

    Enormous confusion ensues when dealing with news and figures in cables and articles.

    For that reason, Leonel uses the word “trillion” to refer to the American billion. Its exact meaning corresponds to a “million millions”.

    If he wishes to refer to the U.S. GDP that reaches the figure of almost 15 “million millions”, he expresses it by stating that the GDP of that powerful nation is approximately 15 trillion dollars.

    Having made the clarification, he doesn’t even pause to go on explaining about what Bush spent on the war in Iraq, added to the annual deficit in the budget of that country, which he calculates one after another, until next March 19th; he immediately adds Bush’s bailout plan; and he follows this with the Obama bailout plan and so on.

    In this case, he limits himself to what the crisis is costing the United States. He begins calculations with how much this is costing the European countries in turn, first those in the Euro-zone supported by the European Central Bank, and then all the countries in eastern Europe and finally Great Britain and Sweden.

    Not missing a beat, Leonel goes on to review the costs to countries in the rest of the world.

    He compaits the GDP of the United States and other nations. He adds them all up. He calculates the deficits proposed in each one of them. He goes on to calculate the loans taken on by the banks to sustain the production of each of the producing companies, the times money deposited in the banks is loaned, the grand totals of loans, generators of toxic derivatives, and the escalation to figures that equal hundreds of trillions of dollars.

    Leonel states that financial speculation rules everywhere.

    “Persons who do not produce are speculating”.

    “One person sells oil he doesn’t produce and another person buys oil he doesn’t intend to consume”.

    “The same is happening with food”.

    “And so it goes with everything”.

    The mortgage becomes a stock which is bought and sold on the market, he continues, without the homeowner knowing about it. He could lose his home because of an operation that is carried out in some faraway country.

    “Neoliberalism is collapsing on its own.”

    “Returning to Keynesian principles does not solve the current crisis.”

    “That implies looking for new ideas.”

    Leonel knows that the figures are mind-boggling; he is concerned about the necessity for such sums to be understood even though they appear absurd and he promises to go on supplying data.

    I would define Leonel’s thesis just as he sees things: capitalism is a system that oozes poisonous toxins through every single pore.

    With the passion heard in his voice, I deduce that the Yankees will curse the arithmetic taught to Leonel in New York when he was learning to read and write.

    For its part The Wall Street Journal, which is the mighty voice of international finance, publishes an article by Tunku Varadarajan on March 2, stating that the economic guru Nouriel Roubini is firmly maintaining that a temporary intervention is the best solution for the financial crisis.

    “Nouriel Roubini is always dressed in black and white. I have known him for nearly two years and have seen him in a variety of situations, en route to class at the New York University’s Stern Business School where he’s a professor; over a glass of wine in his boyish loft in Manhattan’s Tribeca; at an academic conference, seated sagely on the dais; at a bohemian party in Greenwich Village at 3 in the morning.

    “He always wears a black suit with a white linen shirt”.

    Roubini is the owner of the Roubini Global Economics consulting firm located in the heart of New York City. Today he is the person whose opinion on the crisis is the most in demand by the main newspapers in the United States.

    “The idea that the government should pay trillions of dollars to save financial institutions and keep on spending on non-receivable assets is not an attractive one because then the fiscal cost is much greater, instead of being seen as somewhat Bolshevik, nationalization is seen as being pragmatic. Paradoxically, the proposal is oriented more to the market than the alternative of the zombie banks”.

    “Then, shall the top level of the U.S. government be receptive to the idea of nationalizing the banks? ‘I think so,’ states Roubini without a pause for doubt. ‘Persons such as Lindsey Graham (the conservative Republican senator) and Alan Greenspan (former Federal Reserve Board chairman) have already given their explicit blessing. In some way, that protects Obama.’”

    “So, what exactly is Nouriel Roubini’s economic philosophy? ‘I believe in the market economy’, he states, with some emphasis. ‘I believe that people react to incentives, that incentives are important and that prices reflect the way things ought to be distributed. But I also believe that market economies sometimes have market failures and, when these happen, there is only room for prudent (not excessive) regulation of the financial system’”.

    Two things which Greenspan got completely wrong were that, in the first place, the market is self-regulating and, in the second place, that the market is failure-proof.

    In a word, for Tunku Varadarajan of The Wall Street Journal and the eminent expert Nouriel Roubini, the capitalist system cannot function without the market, but the market needs to be regulated, therefore the state must ensure both.

    I can understand Leonel’s anguish when he seriously meditates on the cost of the crisis. The very society which has driven the developed capitalist system has no idea now about how to deal with the problem, and its most acknowledged theories toss out ideas like the ones we have just mentioned.

    With the greatest serenity in the world, he returns to the more concrete problems of Santo Domingo and he points out each of the measures proposed for the coming years. On that point, social funds are to be his central issue. He compellingly takes up the idea that in the social funds of the countries of Latin America discounts in the real salaries of the workers constitute a source of capital that, when managed by the state, will accumulate resources which do not devaluate, and so, that will grow each year.

    Invested in homes and other important services for the population, discounting a real part of the labor invested each year in them, the value of these funds would continuously increase.

    Observing the progress of the International Meeting of Economists on Globalization and Development, I noted during the first two days that a strong emphasis was made by the internationally prestigious economists meeting in Cuba that one should seek a source for the accumulation of capital at the service of society with the hopes of liberating society from the crisis it is suffering.

    Suddenly, before the cluster of life-saving theories and solutions, other realities occur to me and I wonder.

    Could science provide an urgent response to the melting of the Antarctic and Arctic polar regions, something which is visibly happening, and that the atmosphere is reaching levels of heat that are the highest in the last 700,000 years, something that the United Nations and other illustrious institutions know full well?

    I understand that such figures might discourage a few of us, but wouldn’t it be worse to just ignore them?

    However, my conversation with Leonel did not end there. He told me he would be traveling to Santiago de Cuba to lay a wreath at the tomb guarding the remains of our National Hero. It was this man who declared at Montecristi that the final battle against Spanish colonial power was beginning, to free Cuba and Puerto Rico. Traveling with him was Máximo Gómez who taught us and perfected the machete charges in the Cuban countryside.

    At Dos Ríos, Martí launched the slogan that presided over our people’s future struggles against imperialist domination in the counties of Latin America.

    Before we said good-bye, he said to me: “Do you know something? I don’t want to leave Cuba without visiting the Moncada barracks.” I hadn’t even remembered that fortress in the midst of so much history. I didn’t comment too much on that and I thanked him for his courtesy. He wanted to take a digital photo. A camera was found and the picture was taken. When he told me that he didn’t want people to think he was lying, I jokingly told him that there was no risk of that because everyone knew that I could get on a plane and fly over to that neighboring country.

    And so the time went by pleasantly. While I was writing these lines on Wednesday the 4th, I was listening to the passionate words of Manuel Zelaya, the president of Honduras, who attended the Meeting on Globalization and Development and yesterday delivered a great speech at the conference. Even more passionate were his words condemning the blockade against Cuba; his oratory is impressive. It is too bad that he is leaving today without my being able to greet him. It is the second time he is visiting Cuba. But what am I to do? Where do I get the time?

    Fidel Castro Ruz

    March 4, 2009

  4. Walter Lippmann said on May 6th, 2009 at 7:50pm #

    It’s remarkable how many people think that US policy toward Cuba has changed and today it’s possible for anyone to go to Cuba with no permission slip from the federal govern- ment. I’ve heard this from any number of people in recent days. Human beings like to hear what we want to hear, but it’s really striking how much this has been the case in regard to Cuba. The Obama administration has made one small but notable change, permitting Cuban-Americans to go to Cuba without asking advance authorization from Washington. But in virtually every other respect, the blockade of Cuba remains in full force and effect, as Jack A. Smith explains well in this essay.

    For nearly nine years CubaNews, the Yahoo news group to which I’ve been the principal contributor has tracked the Cuban revolution provided a wide selection of materials from, about or related to Cuba, Cuba’s people, culture and politics and related matters. It’s also provided original translations from the Cuban media.

  5. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 8th, 2009 at 3:43am #

    Hi, Walter Lippmann, nice to meet you at this site!
    My husband and I belong to those people who have been translating now and then your contributions into German for our friends, since years.
    Thanks for your work!
    However, I can’t remember just now if you were spreading the word (the truth) about the case of the Cuban Five, as well.
    To your knowledge about one topical message from Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the “International Campaign to Free the Cuban Five” in USA:

    Internet Forum on the Cuban Five

    Raise your voice for justice!

    The Isla de la Juventud section of the Cuban Journalist Association is proud to announce an Internet forum titled “Helping break down the wall of silence and misinformation on the case of the Cuba Five.” The forum is to take place during the first day of the Sixth Common Front of Ideas Conference, a biennial event that gives those who fight in the ranks of the resistance movement, in a globalized world witness to an unequal media struggle, the opportunity to share ideas and strengthen their unity.

    Under the motto “Telling the truth is a way of struggle,” the forum will be open at 10AM for web surfers to ask questions, clarify their doubts and express their opinions about the sentences these five Cuban antiterrorist fighters have served in US jails for over eleven years now.

    The Cuban Radio web portal will be the site hosting this online discussion, scheduled for May 15, as a tribute to the celebration of the 54th anniversary of the release in 1955 of Fidel Castro and a group of young men convicted for having attacked the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes garrisons. Fidel and his men were imprisoned at the Presidio Modelo, the former National Men’s Jail, located on Isla de la Juventud.

    A group of experts in the field, including legal experts, will be ready to answer the questions of the participants, and go in depth into issues of their interest.

    The forum will be available at http://www.radiocubana.cu/foro_cinco_cubanos