Slipping and Sliding in San Pedro Sula

Cuba and Obama’s Struggle to Rerail US Policy in the Americas

When we look around the world we see a number of leaders – Chávez is one of them but not the only one – who, over the last eight years, have become more and more negative and oppositional to the United States. The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs. It didn’t work.

We are going to see what other approaches might work. We have no guarantees that we can create a better relationship with someone who has a different view of politics, the economy, and so much else. But we think it’s worth trying to just explore this and see what comes of it. I don’t think that in today’s world — a multipolar world where we are competing for attention and relationships with at least the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians — it’s in our interest to turn our backs on countries in our own hemisphere.

So we’re going to try some different approaches. No illusions about who we’re dealing with or what the issues are. But I think it’s worth a try, because what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked very well. In fact, if you look at the gains, particularly in Latin America, that Iran is making and China is making, it’s quite disturbing. They are building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I don’t think that’s in our interest.

I’m certainly open to constructive criticism and ideas, but – we talked about exchanging ambassadors again with Chávez, which I think we will do at some point. We are looking to figure out how to deal with Ortega. The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua, and you can only imagine what it’s for.

We want to try to build better relationships with [Ecuador’s Rafael] Correa, and we want to see if we can figure out how to get an ambassador back and work with [Evo] Morales in Bolivia.

We’re facing an almost united front against the United States regarding Cuba. Every country, even those with whom we are closest, is saying ‘you’ve got to change, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing.’ We would like to see some reciprocity from the Castros on political prisoners, human rights, and other matters.

So we’re looking at a number of different relationships and trying to figure out whether we can be more productive. My bottom line is: What’s best for America? How do we try to influence behavior that is more in our interest than not? And that’s how we’re looking at it.

— US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Address to State Department Employees, May 1, 2009

In resisting the aggressions of the most powerful empire ever to have existed, our people fought for the other sister peoples of this continent. The OAS was an accomplice of all the crimes committed against Cuba.

At one moment or another, the totality of the countries of Latin America were victims of interventions and political and economic aggression. There is not one single one that can deny that. It is ingenuous to believe that the good intentions of a president of the United States can justify the existence of that institution that opened the gates to the Trojan horse that backed the Summits of the Americas, neoliberalism, drug trafficking, military bases and economic crises. Ignorance, underdevelopment, economic dependence, poverty, the forced return of those who emigrate in search of work, the brain drain, and even the sophisticated weapons of organized crime were the consequences of interventions and plundering proceeding from the North. Cuba, a little country, has demonstrated that it can resist the blockade and advance in many fields, and even cooperate with other countries.

— Fidel Castro, “The Trojan Horse,” June 2, 2009

Washington “pretty much by itself”

On June 3, at the end of a a Ministerial Conference of the Organization of American States (OAS) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – and while President Barack Obama was the recepient of lavish pomp and circumstance by the absolutist monarchy and semi-feudal dictatorship of the House of Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Washington’s delegation, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, patched together a last-minute, highly-diluted resolution that allowed Washington to save some face and prevent an abject political humiliation over its anti-Cuba policy. Nevertheless the gathering registered a further retreat by a clearly stung Washington in the face of overwhelming Hemispheric (and international) opposition to the decades-long US economic and political war – and permanent military intimidation and threats – against revolutionary and socialist Cuba.

Washington continues to hold onto the core of its bipartisan policy of demanding the overturning of the Cuban government and promoting the consequent return of US economic, financial, and political domination. But, in doing so, Washington, under the Obama Administration, was forced, at San Pedro Sula, to jettison yet another legal prop cushioning and justifying the core policy, in this case a US-promoted 1962 resolution expelling Cuba from the OAS.

According to an article in the May 31, 2009 USA Today the Obama Administration went into the Conference prepared to accept the abrogation of the 1962 resolution and retreat to a position of setting political conditions for Cuba’s “membership” in an Hemispheric body which the Cuban revolutionaries view with contempt as an historic tool of US imperialism against Latin America and the Caribbean. Other national delegations, led by Nicaragua and Venezuela, put forward a position of opposing any conditions on Cuba. This view was apparently supported by at least the two-thirds majority needed to pass if things had moved to an open and public vote. But a push for an up-or-down vote did not happen and apparently an accomodation was made to Washington’s “needs.”

When the US delegation found no support for specific language deliniating its political conditions – the usual demagogic and hypocritical boilerplate about “democracy,” “political prisoners,” “free elections,” and so on – the Clinton-led team was reduced to conjuring up language, mealy-mouthed enough to reach “consensus,” that could be nevertheless be spun into a stick to attack Cuba and maintain Washington’s core, unchanged agenda.

The language within the actual resolution, passed by acclamation, reads “…that Cuba’s participation in the OAS would be the result of a dialogue initiated at the government of Cuba’s request and in conformity with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS.”

Dan Restrepo, who is a special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs on the U.S. National Security Council said, “What we’ve seen today is really a testament to the hard work of multilateral diplomacy…The United States and other countries from various parts in the hemisphere fought, defended and prevailed in saying that this was not an automatic process, that ‘yes, let’s leave an argument of the past in the past, let’s not become prisoners of the past, but let us ensure that we are defending the basic principles of democracy and human rights and nonintervention and noninterference as the path forward to Cuba’s return to the organization.”

In an article in the June 5 Washington Post – based on mostly unattributed interviews with “diplomats” and obviously spun by US officials to present what happened in the most positive light – it was reported that polarization, rupture, and even the possible disintegration of the OAS appeared imminent. At one point, before bolting to the Middle East to join Obama, Clinton had blurted out the reality that Washington was “pretty much by itself” in the discussions over Cuba at the OAS Conference.

The Post piece further asserts that “The United States compromised more than it ever had in the OAS on the Cuba issue, diplomats said, and it mustered its most impressive diplomatic firepower to get a deal – with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton leading the delegation and [President] Obama calling Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.”

On the defensive throughout the San Pedro Sula Conference, Clinton took the line that the new Obama Administration had already done so much to reverse Bush’s “failed” policy on Cuba that they were actually taken aback by how little this had softened the united, clear, and unwavering call by all governments and countries across the Americas for Washington to immediately and unilaterally end all economic and travel sanctions against Cuba.

“I want to emphasize the United States under President Obama is taking a completely new approach to our policy toward Cuba: We have eased restrictions on family travel and remittances,” Clinton said. “As I was getting ready in my hotel room this morning, I had CNN on and I saw just a tearful reunion between a man and his little baby boy who he hadn’t seen in a year and a half because of the prior travel restrictions.” Clinton added that the Obama Administration had also authorized telecommunications links with Cuba supported resuming bilateral talks on immigration and direct mail.

“We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past,” she said in the text of a speech prepared for delivery to the group. “At the same time, we will always defend the timeless principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” Of course the whole “past” of US interventions and subversion in the Americas shows a vicious disregard for the “timeless principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

The Post article tells us that “Nicaragua and Venezuela were threatening to quit the group unless Cuba was readmitted…And there was a possibility that members could put the issue to a vote, leaving the United States alone on the losing side, which would have caused a backlash in Congress.” Republican and Democratic Congessional Representatives most strongly identified with the counter-revolutionary elements in the Cuban-American community tied to decades of terrorism and sabotage inside Cuba (who are in now in a distinct and shrinking minority) have been threatening to cut off US funds to the OAS which has historically been utterly dominated by Washington’s political and economic interests and priorities – with no higher political priority than eliminating the Cuban revolutionary example.

Recovering from the Bush years

Such a move is viewed as politically disastrous by top US policymakers who are attempting to advance, not further erode, US political authority in the Americas, which is seen as having deteriorated significantly during the years of the George W. Bush Administration. Those years saw the defeat in 2002 of a US-backed military coup in Venezuela and the failure of the White House drive to get rid of the government of Hugo Chavez as well as the election and consolidation of other left-wing governments in Bolivia and Ecuador that are in conflict with Washington and international capital and which quickly developed close relations and deepening economic and political collaboration with Cuba. All of those governments came into power out of the mass popular struggles and class battles against the imperialist-imposed austerity, or “neoliberal,” policies that have increasingly framed and marked politics in Latin America from the mid-1990s under the Democratic William Clinton Adminstration through the years of the second Bush Administration.

Throughout the Americas the traditional political spectrum moved significantly to the left in the Bush years as conservative governments were defeated electorally in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and El Salvador (and narrowly maintained power in Mexico and Peru). All of these new governing parties and coalitions remain firmly within the framework of the prerogatives of the capitalist market and the boundaries of bourgeois electoralism, eschewing the use of governmental power to promote mass mobilizations of workers and peasants. Nevertheless, to one degree or another, these governments present themselves as receptive to the demands and pressures from working people and the class and popular struggles and resistance that break out independently of them, including the increasingly politically conscious and militant struggles of indigenous peoples fighting institutionalized racism. These governments have not generally been marked by harsh repression against workers and peasants and political space has expanded.

All of this can easily bring these “leftist” governments into conflict with the “national” capitalist and landlord classes and consequently the US government which ultimately is the main prop of these ruling classes. At the same time US economic and financial power competes ferociously and unequally with these same ruling classes. One registration of all these economic, social, and political contradictions is that all of these governments (and indeed more conservative governments such as Colombia and Mexico) have pursued normal and friendly relations and collaboration with Cuba. Cuban medical and education missions thrive and do amazing work in many of these countries, where popular solidarity with Cuba is strong whatever the political coloration of the government.

The Obama Adminstration is in the unenviable position of seeing Washington’s anti-Cuba policy become a very public obstacle to the positive (from their point of view) development of US diplomacy and policies throughout the Americas. It is striking that even relatively conservative governments in Latin America and the Caribbean feel unable to identify publicly with Washington in placing conditions and politically attacking a government in Cuba that is led by revolutionary Marxists.

The Obama Administration and the US rulers in general understand fully that the disintegration of the OAS – the historic instrument and cover of US policy and Hemispheric domination – could only strengthen the already clear tendency in Latin America and the Caribbean toward regional and other bodies independent of US (and Canadian) participation which register the growing economic integration and common political orientation that runs counter to the economic, financial, social, and political policies and priorities promoted by Washington. In December 2008 Brazil hosted a Summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders which pointedly excluded the United States and Canada and included Cuba.

The Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas (ALBA), initiated by Venezuela and Cuba and expanded to now include Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, and Ecuador began and developed out of the struggle against the drive by Washington, under the cover of the OAS, to impose the so-called Free Trade in the Americas (FTAA) treaty on the peoples of the Hemisphere, reinforcing and extending neoliberal imperialist domination and unequal economic and financial exchange and social relations. FTAA is now in, at best, a comatose state to the great dismay of Washington and Wall Street.

Needless to say the current economic and financial crisis and the onset of world depression conditions can only exacerbate class and social polarization and struggle throughout the Americas, adding to the urgency for Washington to reposition itself politically and recover from the derailment of US policy over the past decade.

The Cuban Revolution and the OAS

In 1962 the Democratic Party Administration of John Kennedy was able to push through Cuba’s expulsion from the OAS based on an “adherence…to Marxism-Leninism [which] is incompatible with the inter-American system” by the revolutionary leadership team headed by Fidel Castro which came to power when the Cuban Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959. The Cuban revolutionaries established a government which was supported enthusiastically by the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people, particularly among industrial workers, peasants, Black Cubans, and youth of all social classes. The Cuban government had solidified that support by carrying out sweeping, revolutionary measures on agrarian reform and land redistribution; workers rights and entitlements such as pensions, maternity leave, trade-union representation, and so on; universal access to free medical care; radical rent and utility cost reductions; massive programs to eliminate illiteracy and establish access to excellent education free of charge for all; the smashing of racist Jim Crow segregation laws and practices; the promotion of laws and policies that greatly elevated the status and emancipation of women; and the eradication of US-based Mafia networks which organized the island’s vast prostitution, gambling, and narcotics rackets.

Naturally these measures did not go down well with the social and class forces in Cuba that had benefited and profited from the social relations of the pre-revolutionary order that was being uprooted nor, of course, with US business and financial interests that utterly dominated every aspect of the Cuban economy. As in every genuine Revolution, Cuban society became highly polarized along social and class lines. Although a distinct, clear minority, there were still hundreds of thousands of Cubans whose “way of life” was disrupted and swept away by the Revolution driven by and in the interests of the overwhelming majority who were oppressed, degraded, and exploited…and who had now risen up in a united, clench fist of revolutionary mobilization and action.

The Cuban landowning class, bourgeoisie, and large layers of the professional and middle classes – most of whom chose to ensconse to Miami and the United States — became the social base for the US-organized attempts to overturn the revolutionary order in Cuba. (Of course, not every landlord, capitalist, or middle-class professional opposed the Cuban Revolution and not every worker, peasant, and Black Cuban supported it. But it is an indisputable fact that this was the general, overwhelming tendency.)

The revoked 1962 OAS resolution also cited Cuba’s alliance with the former Soviet Union and allied Eastern European regimes as the revolutionary Cuban government sought to defend the triumphant Revolution against direct US military aggression after the defeat of the US-organize Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban counter-revolutionary mercenaries. This was a period of intense counter-revolutionary activity organized from the United States and vertically directed by the White House, CIA, and State Department. Every day assassination plots were being organized, terrorist incursions planned and implemented, and plans for economic sabotage carried out. Large bureaucracies employing hundreds of operatives were established just for the purpose of planting false stories in the press, spreading vile rumors and disinformation (so-called psychological operations or “psy-ops”). Miami was the nerve center and after the debacle of the Bay of Pigs it suffered a nervous breakdown.

The 1962 OAS expulsion of Cuba was part of Washington’s attempt to re-establish political cover and credibility for new direct aggression – this time without the leading edge of its mercenary Cuban proxies – by US forces. This period culminated later in 1962 with Cuba acceeding to Soviet pressure to secretly install nuclear weapons on Cuban territory in the hope of deterring the US invasion they knew was in place and impending. Upon discovery, Washington organized a naval quarantine of Cuba and threatened to engage Soviet naval vessels entering Cuban waters, a sequence of events that nearly led to direct military strikes and an invasion of Cuba by the United States, not to speak of devastating nuclear exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union and untold millions of deaths. The crisis was resolved when the Soviet leadership removed the nuclear weapons from Cuba, the Kennedy Administration agreed, in a secret protocol, to remove US nuclear missiles from Turkey that were an equivalent distance from the Soviet Union, and an alleged, informal pledge that the United States would not invade Cuba.

US government documents declassified since the 1962 “Missile Crisis” reveal that Washington policymakers fully understood that a US invasion would meet truly massive popular Cuban resistance – the entire population was armed to the teeth and in a state of full territorial mobilization – that would in the first days and weeks lead to 10,000 or more US casualties. It was this reality – as much as any supposed “statesman-like cool” – that restrained President Kennedy from ordering an invasion and negotiating, without the participation of the Cuban government, a mutually agreeable settlement with an equally anxious and politically-diplomatically outmaneuvered Soviet government which had overplayed its hand.

From then until now Washington has focused on isolating and subverting Cuba through attempts to implement a death-inducing economic and financial blockade, supplemented with terrorist attacks and economic sabotage launched from US soil by CIA-trained Cuban-American cunter-revolutionaries (including as revealed in 1976 US Senate Hearing the introduction of biological agents to destroy Cuban agricultural production).

The resolution passed by acclamation at San Pedro Sula overturned the 1962 expulsion of Cuba from the Washington-dominated body following the 1959 Cuba Revolution. It took Washington three years after the triumph of the Revolution to muster the support among the various capitalist governments of Latin America and the Caribbean to boot out the revolutionary Cuban government. Over the next decade-and-a-half succeeding Administrations – Democratic and Republican – and the Democratic Party-controlled Congress, promoted policies that established vicious right-wing military dictatorships throughout Latin America (Brazil 1964; Dominican Republic 1965 following a US invasion; Uruguay and Chile 1973; Argentina 1976; Bolivia with numerous coups and counter-coups from 1964-82) adding to the already longtime family-military tyrannies backed by Washington (Duvalierist Hait; Somocista Nicaragua; El Salvador; and so on.

This is the “past” Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do not want to be “living in.” And who can blame them? But the present-day economic, social, and political realities in the Americas, the legacy of oppression, grinding exploitation, and obscene social inequality, flows precisely from this “past.” Indeed, how could they not be? Among these present-day realities which the Obama team came up against in San Pedro Sula is the clear and united Hemispheric solidarity with Cuba against Washington’s economic and political war.

The overriding aim of Washington’s Cuba policies is to prevent the extension of the Cuban socialist revolution, especially in the Americas, which overturned capitalist property relations on the island and began to forge a new society and new human beings based on human needs over private profit and solidarity with the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity.

This has not changed to this day and has become more compelling and imperative with the ongoing waves of mass popular and anti-imperialist struggle that have shaken Hemispheric politics in the young 21st Century. This is why Washington continues to be willing to put up with Hemispheric and international isolation and embarrassment over its policy toward a small Caribbean island that has had such a huge impact on world politics and whose influence and resonance on the world stage is greater than ever.

Epilogue to San Pedro Sula

A few days after the OAS Ministerial Conference the White House chose, with great fanfare, to announce the arrest of a former State Department employee and his wife on “espionage” charges of giving “classified” US government documents to Cuba. Supposedly the couple had been under “suspicion” for over a decade.

Nine days later the US Supreme Court announced it would not accept an Appeal to review the outrageous injustice of the five Cuban revolutionaries, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – who have been incarcerated in US prisons for more than a decade for the “crime” of preventing ongoing terrorist attacks against their country from US soil by infiltrating counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations involved in such activities. The case of the Cuban Five is emblematic of the entire history of Washington’s response to the Cuban Revolution and, at the same time, the Five Cuban patriots represent the extraordinary and heroic individuals – out of the ranks of ordinary people – that a genuine Revolution produces. The continued denial of freedom for the Cuban Five and the growing awareness and resonance of their cause has become an important part of the deepening political price Washington is paying, and is prepared to pay, to defeat and destroy the example of the Cuban Revolution. It is teaching a whole new generation worldwide about the Cuban Revolution.

Clearly, Washington’s anti-Cuba policy will not go away gently into the night. But the pressures are mounting to end, once and for all, US economic and travel sanctions and for the normalization of US-Cuban relations. The relationship of forces has changed in the Americas. While US imperialism retains great military power, its economic and financial might is increasingly crisis-wracked and its political authority has never been weaker since the origins of the modern US Hemispheric imperial colossus at the very end of the 19th Century. But today Washington can no longer control events in the Americas.

Ike Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and Teamsters Union member. A longtime anti-imperialist, socialist, and Cuba solidarity activist and leader, Ike is a founder and organizer for the New York-New Jersey Cuba Si Coalition, a member of the US National Network on Cuba, and a central organizer of the forthcoming March 18-20 International US-Cuba Normalization Conference in New York City. He is the author of many published, widely circulated essays online including The Life of Fidel Castro: A Marxist Appreciation and To the Memory of Malcolm X: Tribute to a Revolutionary. Contact Ike at Read other articles by Ike.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Josie Michel-Brüning said on July 17th, 2009 at 6:51am #

    Dear Ike Nahem, thank you very much for this brilliant article, to which I can agree with each of your words!
    And thank you to the dissident editors for publishing it!
    It is very encouraging for people like me in Germany!
    The whole readership of “dissident voice” should know that millions of people around the world are sharing Ikes “personal political opinion” at least if it comes to Cuba and the “Cuban Five”.

  2. Josie Michel-Brüning said on July 17th, 2009 at 7:03am #

    Of course, I copied this extensive article hoping for having time one fine day to translate it for my friends.
    Thank you again, especially for the well founded back ground.