The Passion for Free Markets


 

For more than half a
century, the United Nations has been the main
forum for the United States to try to create a
world in its image, maneuvering with its allies
to forge global accords about human rights,
nuclear tests or the environment that Washington
insisted would mirror its own values."

So runs postwar history, we
learn from the opening paragraph of a front-page
story by New York Times political analyst
David Sanger. But times are changing. Today, the
headline reads: "U.S. Is Exporting Its
Free-Market Values Through Global Commercial
Agreements." Going beyond the traditional
reliance on the UN, the Clinton administration is
turning to the new World Trade Organization (WTO)
to carry out the task of "exporting American
values." Down the road, Sanger continues
(quoting the U.S. trade representative), it is
the WTO that may be the most effective instrument
for bringing "America’s passion for
deregulation" and for the free market
generally, and "the American values of free
competition, fair rules, and effective
enforcement," to a world still fumbling in
darkness. These "American values" are
illustrated most dramatically by the wave of the
future: telecommunications, the Internet,
advanced computer technology, and the other
wonders created by the exuberant American
entrepreneurial spirit unleashed by the market,
at last freed from government interference by the
Reagan revolution.

Today "governments are
everywhere embracing the free-market gospel
preached in the 1980s by President Reagan and
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of
Britain," Youssef Ibrahim reports in another
Times front-page story, reiterating a
common theme. Like it or hate it, enthusiasts and
critics over a broad range of opinion
agree—just to keep to the liberal-to-left
part of the spectrum—about "the
implacable sweep of what its exponents call
‘the market revolution’":
"Reaganesque rugged individualism" has
changed the rules of the game worldwide, while
here at home "Republicans and Democrats
alike are ready to give the market full
sway" in their dedication to "the new
orthodoxy."

There are a number of
problems with the picture. One is the account of
the last half-century. Even the most dedicated
believers in "America’s mission"
must be aware that U.S./UN relations have been
virtually the opposite of what the opening
passage depicts ever since the UN fell out of
control with the progress of decolonization,
leaving the U.S. regularly isolated in opposition
to global accords on a wide range of issues and
committed to undermining central components of
the UN, particularly those with a third world
orientation. Many questions about the world are
debatable, but surely not this one.

As for "Reaganesque
rugged individualism" and its worship of the
market, perhaps it is enough to quote the review
of the Reagan years in Foreign Affairs by
a Senior Fellow for International Finance at the
Council on Foreign Relations, noting the
"irony" that Ronald Reagan, "the
postwar chief executive with the most passionate
love of laissez faire, presided over the greatest
swing toward protectionism since the
1930s"—no "irony," but the
normal workings of "passionate love of
laissez faire": for you, market discipline,
but not for me, unless the "playing
field" happens to be tilted in my favor,
typically as a result of large-scale state
intervention. It’s hard to find another
theme so dominant in the economic history of the
past three centuries. The current enthusiasms
about the communications revolution that Sanger
is reporting are a textbook case.

Reaganites were following a
well-trodden course—recently turned into a
comedy act by Gingrich
"conservatives"—when they extolled
the glories of the market and issued stern
lectures about the debilitating culture of
dependency of the poor at home and abroad while
boasting proudly to the business world that
Reagan had "granted more import relief to
U.S. industry than any of his predecessors in
more than half a century"; in fact, more
than all predecessors combined, as they led
"the sustained assault on [free trade]
principle" by the rich and powerful from the
early 1970s, deplored in a scholarly review by
GATT secretariat economist Patrick Low, who
estimates the restrictive effects of Reaganite
measures at about three times those of other
leading industrial countries.

The radical "swing
toward protectionism" was only a part of the
"sustained assault" on free trade
principles that was accelerated under
"Reaganite rugged individualism."
Another chapter of the story includes the huge
transfer of public funds to private power, often
under the traditional guise of
"security." Without such extreme
measures of market interference, it is doubtful
that the U.S. automotive, steel, machine tool,
semiconductor industries, and others, would have
survived Japanese competition or been able to
forge ahead in emerging technologies, with broad
effects through the economy.

"Thatcher’s
Britain" is another good choice to
illustrate "free market gospel." Just
to keep to a few revelations of early 1997,
"during the period of maximum pressure to
make arms sales to Turkey," the London
Observer
reported, Prime Minister Thatcher
"personally intervened to ensure a payment
of 22 million pounds was made out of
Britain’s overseas aid budget, to help build
a metro in the Turkish capital of Ankara. The
project was uneconomical, and in 1995 it was
admitted" by Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd
that it was "unlawful." The incident
was particularly noteworthy in the aftermath of
the Pergau Dam scandal, which revealed illegal
Thatcherite subsidies "to
‘sweeten’ arms deals with the Malaysian
regime," with a High Court judgment against
Hurd. That’s aside from government credit
guarantees and financing arrangements, and the
rest of the panoply of devices to transfer public
funds to "defense industry," yielding a
familiar range of benefits to advanced industry
generally.

A few days before, the same
journal reported that "up to 2 million
British children are suffering ill-health and
stunted growth because of malnutrition" as a
result of "poverty on a scale not seen since
the 1930s." The trend to increasing child
health has reversed and childhood diseases that
had been controlled are now on the upswing thanks
to the (highly selective) "free market
gospel" that is much admired by the
beneficiaries.

A few months earlier, a
lead headline reported "One in three British
babies born in poverty," as "child
poverty has increased as much as three-fold since
Margaret Thatcher was elected."
"Dickensian diseases return to haunt
today’s Britain," another headline
reads, reporting studies concluding that
"social conditions in Britain are returning
to those of a century ago." Particularly
grim are the effects of cutting off gas,
electricity, water, and telephones to "a
high number of households" as privatization
takes its natural course, with a variety of
devices that favor "more affluent
customers" and amount to a "surcharge
on the poor," leading to a "growing
gulf in energy between rich and poor," also
in water supply and other services. The
"savage cuts" in social programs are
placing the nation "in the grip of panic
about imminent social collapse." But
industry and finance are benefiting very nicely
from the same policy choices. To top it all off,
public spending after 17 years of Thatcherite
gospel was the same 42 1/4 percent of GDP that it
was when she took over.

Not exactly unfamiliar
here.

Exporting
American Values

Let us put aside the
intriguing contrast between doctrine and reality,
and see what can be learned by examining the new
era that is coming into view. Quite a lot, I
think.

Sanger is celebrating the
WTO agreement on telecommunications. One of its
welcome effects is to provide Washington with a
"new tool of foreign policy." The
agreement "empowers the WTO to go inside the
borders of the 70 countries that have signed
it," and it is no secret that international
institutions can function insofar as they keep to
the demands of the powerful, in particular, the
United States. In the real world, then, the
"new tool" allows the U.S. to intervene
profoundly in the internal affairs of others,
compelling them to change their laws and
practices. Crucially, the WTO will make sure that
other countries are "following through on
their commitments to allow foreigners to
invest" without restriction in central areas
of their economy. In the specific case at hand,
the likely outcome is clear to all: "The
obvious corporate beneficiaries of this new era
will be U.S. carriers, who are best positioned to
dominate a level playing field," the Far
Eastern Economic Review
(FEER) points
out, along with one UK-U.S. megacorporation.

Not everyone is delighted
by the prospects. The winners recognize that
fact, and offer their interpretation: in
Sanger’s words, others fear that
"American telecommunication giants…could
overwhelm the flabby government-sanctioned
monopolies that have long dominated
telecommunications in Europe and
Asia"—as in the United States, long
past the period when it had become by far the
world’s leading economy and most powerful
state. It is also worth noting that major
contributions to modern technology came from the
research laboratories of the "flabby
government-sanctioned monopoly" that
dominated telecommunications here until the
1970s, using its freedom from market discipline
to provide for the needs of advanced sectors of
industry generally by transfer of public funds
(in indirect ways, unlike the more direct
modalities of the Pentagon system).

Those who cling
irrationally to the past see matters a bit
differently. The FEER points out that
"jobs will be lost" in Asia and
"many Asian consumers will have to pay more
for phone service before they will pay
less." When will they pay less? For that
bright future to dawn, it is only necessary for
foreign investors to be "encouraged…to act
in socially desired ways," not simply with
an eye to profit and service to the rich and the
business world. How this miracle will come to
pass is unexplained, though doubtless the
suggestion will inspire serious reflection in
corporate headquarters.

In the time span relevant
to planning, the WTO agreement will raise phone
service costs for most Asian consumers, the Review
predicts. "The fact is, comparatively few
customers in Asia stand to benefit from cheaper
overseas rates" that are anticipated with
the takeover by huge foreign corporations, mostly
American. In Indonesia, for example, only about
300,000 of 190 million people make overseas calls
at all, specifically the business sector.
"It’s very likely the cost of local
telecoms service, in general, will rise" in
Asia, according to David Barden, regional
telecoms analyst at J.P. Morgan Securities in
Hong Kong. But that is all to the good, he
continues: "if there is no profitability in
the business, there will be no business."
And now that still more public property is being
handed over to foreign corporations, they had
better be guaranteed profitability —
telecommunications today, and a far wider range
of related services tomorrow. The business press
predicts that "personal communications over
the Internet [including corporate networks and
interactions] will overtake telecommunications in
five or six years, and telephone operators have
the biggest interest in getting into the online
business." Contemplating the future of his
own company, Intel CEO Andrew Grove sees the
Internet as "the biggest change in our
environment" at present. He expects
large-scale growth for "the connection
providers, the people involved in generating the
World Wide Web, the people who make the
computers" ("people" meaning
corporations), and the advertising industry,
already running at almost $350 billion annually
and anticipating new opportunities with the
privatization of the Internet, which is expected
to convert it to a global oligopoly.

Meanwhile privatization
precedes apace elsewhere. To take one important
case, over considerable popular opposition the
government of Brazil has decided to privatize the
Vale Company, which controls vast uranium, iron,
and other mineral resources and industrial and
transport facilities, including sophisticated
technology. Vale is highly profitable, with a
1996 income of over $5 billion, and excellent
prospects for the future; it is 1 of 6 Latin
American enterprises ranked among the 500 most
profitable in the world. A study by specialists
of the Graduate School of Engineering at the
Federal University in Rio estimated that the
government has seriously undervalued the Company,
noting also that it relied on an
"independent" analysis by Merrill
Lynch, which happens to be associated with the
Anglo American conglomerate that is seeking to
take over this central component of Brazil’s
economy. The government angrily denies the
conclusions. If they are accurate, as one may
plausibly surmise, it will fall into a very
familiar pattern.

Side comment:
Communications are not quite the same as uranium.
Where there is even a pretense of democracy,
communications are at its heart. Concentration of
communications in any hands (particularly foreign
hands) raises some rather serious questions about
meaningful democracy. Similar questions arise
about concentration of finance, which undermines
popular involvement in social and economic
planning. Control over food raises even more
serious questions, in this case about survival. A
year ago the secretary-general of the UN Food and
Agricultural Organization, discussing the
"food crisis following huge rises in cereals
prices this year," warned that countries
"must become more self reliant in food
production," the London Financial Times
reported. The FAO is warning "developing
countries" to reverse the policies imposed
on them by the "Washington Consensus,"
policies that have had a disastrous impact on
much of the world, while proving a great boon to
subsidized agribusiness—incidentally, also
to narcotrafficking, perhaps the most dramatic
success of neoliberal reforms as judged by the
"free market values" that the
"U.S. is exporting."

Control over food supplies
by foreign corporate giants is well under way,
and with the agreement on telecommunications
signed and delivered, financial services are next
in line.

Summarizing, the expected
consequences of the victory for "American
values" at the WTO are: (1) a "new
tool" for far-reaching U.S. intervention
into the internal affairs of others; (2) the
takeover of a crucial sector of foreign economies
by U.S.-based corporations; (3) benefits for
business sectors and the wealthy; (4) shifting of
costs to the general population; (5) new and
potentially powerful weapons against the threat
of democracy.

A rational person might ask
whether these expectations have something to do
with the celebration, or whether they are just
incidental to a victory of principle that is
celebrated out of commitment to higher values.
Skepticism is heightened by comparison of the Times’
picture of the postwar era with uncontested fact.
It is further enhanced by a look at some of
history’s striking regularities, among them,
that those in a position to impose their projects
not only hail them with enthusiasm but also
typically benefit from them, whether the values
professed involve free trade or other grand
principles—which turn out in practice to be
finely tuned to the needs of those running the
game and cheering the outcome. Logic alone would
suggest a touch of skepticism when the pattern is
repeated. History should raise it a notch higher.

In fact, we need not even
search that far.

An Improper
Forum

The same day that the front
page was reporting the victory for American
values at the World Trade Organization, New
York Times
editors warned the European Union
not to turn to the WTO to rule on its charge that
the U.S. is violating free trade agreements.
Narrowly at issue is the Helms-Burton Act, which
"compels the United States to impose
sanctions against foreign companies that do
business in Cuba." The sanctions "would
effectively exclude these firms from exporting
to, or doing business in, the United States, even
if their products and activities have nothing to
do with Cuba" (Peter Morici, former director
of economics at the U.S. International Trade
Commission). That is no slight penalty, even
apart from more direct threats against
individuals and companies who cross a line that
Washington will draw unilaterally. The editors
regard the Act as a "misguided attempt by
Congress to impose its foreign policy on
others"; Morici opposes it because it
"is creating more costs than benefits"
for the U.S. More broadly at issue is the embargo
itself, "the American economic strangulation
of Cuba" that the editors term "a cold
war anachronism," best abandoned because it
is becoming harmful to U.S. business interests.

But broader questions of
right and wrong do not arise, and the whole
affair is "essentially a political
dispute," the Times editors stress,
not touching on Washington’s
"free-trade obligations." Like most
others, the editors apparently assume that if
Europe persists, the WTO is likely to rule
against the United States. Accordingly, the WTO
is not a proper forum.

The logic is simple, and
standard. Ten years ago, on the same grounds, the
International Court of Justice was found to be an
inappropriate forum for judging Nicaragua’s
charges against Washington. The U.S. rejected ICJ
jurisdiction, and when the Court condemned the
U.S. for the "unlawful use of force,"
ordering Washington to cease its international
terrorism, violation of treaties, and illegal
economic warfare, and to pay substantial
reparations, the Democrat-controlled Congress
reacted by instantly escalating the crimes while
the Court was roundly denounced on all sides as a
"hostile forum" that had discredited
itself by rendering a decision against the United
States. The Court judgment itself was scarcely
reported, including the words just quoted and the
explicit ruling that U.S. aid to the contras is
"military" and not
"humanitarian." Along with U.S.
direction of the terrorist forces, the aid
continued until the U.S. imposed its will, always
called "humanitarian aid." Public
history keeps to the same conventions.

The U.S. then vetoed a
Security Council resolution calling on all states
to observe international law (scarcely reported),
and voted alone (with El Salvador and Israel)
against a General Assembly Resolution calling for
"full and immediate compliance" with
the Court’s ruling—unreported in the
mainstream, as was the repetition the following
year, this time with only Israel on board. The
whole affair happens to be a typical illustration
of how the U.S. used the UN as a
"forum" for imposing "its own
values."

Returning to the current
WTO case, in November 1996, Washington voted
alone (with Israel and Uzbekistan) against a
General Assembly Resolution, backed by the entire
European Union, urging the U.S. to drop the
embargo against Cuba. The Organization of
American States had already voted unanimously to
reject the Helms-Burton Act, and had asked its
judicial body (the Inter-American Juridical
Committee) to rule on its legality. In August
1996, the IAJC ruled unanimously that the Act
violated international law. A year earlier, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the
OAS had condemned the U.S. restrictions on
shipments of food and medicine to Cuba as a
violation of international law. The Clinton
administration’s response was that shipments
of medicine are not literally barred, only
prevented by conditions so onerous and
threatening that even the largest corporations
here and abroad are unwilling to face the
prospects (huge financial penalties and
imprisonment for what Washington determines to be
violations of "proper distribution,"
banning of ships and aircraft, mobilization of
media campaigns, etc.). And while food shipments
are indeed barred, the Administration argues that
there are "ample suppliers" elsewhere
(at far higher cost), so that the direct
violation of international law is not a
violation.

As the issue was brought by
the EU to the World Trade Organization, the U.S.
withdrew from the proceedings on the ICJ model,
effectively bringing the matter to a close.

In short, the world that
the U.S. has sought "to create in its
image" through international institutions is
one based on the principle of the rule of force.
The "American passion for free trade"
entails that the U.S. government may violate
trade agreements at will. No problem arises when
communications, finance, and food supplies are
taken over by foreign (mainly U.S.) corporations.
Matters are different, however, when trade
agreements and international law interfere with
the projects of the powerful.

We learn more by
investigating the reasons for U.S. rejection of
international law and trade agreements. In the
Nicaragua case, State Department Legal Adviser
Abraham Sofaer explained that when the U.S.
accepted World Court jurisdiction in the 1940s,
most members of the UN "were aligned with
the United States and shared its views regarding
world order." But now "A great many of
these cannot be counted on to share our view of
the original constitutional conception of the UN
Charter," and "This same majority often
opposes the United States on important
international questions." It is therefore
understandable that the U.S. should be far in the
lead since the 1960s in vetoing UN resolutions on
a wide range of issues including international
law, human rights, environmental protection, and
so on (UK second, France a distant third),
precisely contrary to the standard version
repeated in the opening paragraph above. The U.S.
advanced its lead another notch shortly after
this account appeared, casting its 71st veto
since 1967. When the question (Israeli
settlements in Jerusalem) moved to the General
Assembly, the U.S. and Israel stood alone in
opposition, again a standard pattern.

Drawing the natural
conclusions from the unreliability of the world,
Sofaer went on to explain that we must now
"reserve to ourselves the power to determine
whether the Court has jurisdiction over us in a
particular case." The long-standing
principle, now to be enforced in a world that is
no longer obedient, is that "the United
States does not accept compulsory jurisdiction
over any dispute involving matters essentially
within the domestic jurisdiction of the United
States, as determined by the United States."
The "domestic matters" in question were
the U.S. attack against Nicaragua.

The basic operative
principle was stated elegantly by the new
Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, when she
lectured the UN Security Council about its
unwillingness to go along with U.S. demands
concerning Iraq: The U.S. will "behave, with
others, multilaterally when we can and
unilaterally as we must," recognizing no
external constraints in an area deemed
"vital to U.S. national
interests"—as determined by the United
States. The UN is an appropriate forum when its
members "can be counted on" to share
Washington’s views, but not when the
majority "opposes the United States on
important international questions."
International law and democracy are fine
things—but as judged by outcome, not
process; like free trade.

The current U.S. stand in
the WTO case thus breaks no new ground.
Washington declared that the WTO "has no
competence to proceed" on an issue of
American national security; we are to understand
that our existence is at stake in the
strangulation of the Cuban economy. A WTO ruling
against the U.S. in absentia would be of no
significance or concern, a Clinton administration
spokesperson added, because "we do not
believe anything the WTO says or does can force
the U.S. to change its laws." Recall that
the great merit of the WTO telecommunications
agreement was that this "new tool of foreign
policy" forces other countries to change
their laws and practices, in accord with our
demands.

The principle is that the
U.S. is exempt from WTO interference with its
laws, just as it is free to violate international
law at will; uniquely, though the privilege may
be extended to client states as circumstances
require. The fundamental principles of world
order again resound, loud and clear.

The earlier GATT agreements
had allowed for national security exceptions, and
under them, Washingon had justified its embargo
against Cuba as "measures taken in pursuit
of essential US security interests." The WTO
agreement also permits a member to take "any
action it considers necessary for the protection
of its essential security interests," but
only in relation to three designated issues:
fissionable materials, traffic in armaments, and
actions "taken in time of war or other
emergency in international relations."
Perhaps not wishing to be officially on record
with an utter absurdity, the Clinton
administration did not formally invoke its
"national security exemption," though
it did make clear that the issue was
"national security."

At the time of writing, the
EU and the U.S. are trying to arrange a deal
before April 14, when the WTO hearings are
scheduled to begin. Meanwhile, the Wall Street
Journal
reports, Washington "says it
won’t cooperate with the WTO panels, arguing
that the trade organization doesn’t have
jurisdiction over national security issues."

Indecent
Thoughts

Polite people are not
supposed to remember the reaction when Kennedy
tried to organize collective action against Cuba
in 1961: Mexico could not go along, a diplomat
explained, because "If we publicly declare
that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty
million Mexicans will die laughing." Here we
take a more sober view of threats to the national
security.

There were also no reported
deaths from laughter when Administration
spokesperson Stuart Eizenstat, justifying
Washington’s rejection of the WTO
agreements, "argued that Europe is
challenging ‘three decades of American Cuba
policy that goes back to the Kennedy
Administration,’ and is aimed entirely at
forcing a change of government in Havana" (NYT).
A sober reaction is entirely in order on the
assumption that the U.S. has every right to
overthrow another government; in this case, by
aggression, large-scale terror, and economic
strangulation.

The assumption remains in
place and apparently unchallenged, but
Eizenstat’s statement was criticized on
narrower grounds by historian Arthur Schlesinger.
Writing "as one involved in the Kennedy
Administration’s Cuban policy,"
Schlesinger pointed out that Under Secretary of
Commerce Eizenstat had misunderstood the policies
of the Kennedy administration. Its concern was
Cuba’s "troublemaking in the
hemisphere" and "the Soviet
connection." But these are now behind us, so
the Clinton policies are an anachronism, though
otherwise, it seems, unobjectionable.

Schlesinger did not explain
the meaning of the phrases "troublemaking in
the hemisphere" and "the Soviet
connection," but he has elsewhere, in
secret. Reporting to the incoming President on
the conclusions of a Latin American Mission in
early 1961, Schlesinger spelled out the problem
of Castro’s "troublemaking": it is
"the spread of the Castro idea of taking
matters into one’s own hands," a
serious problem, he added shortly after, when
"The distribution of land and other forms of
national wealth greatly favors the propertied
classes…[and] The poor and underprivileged,
stimulated by the example of the Cuban
revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a
decent living." Schlesinger also explained
the threat of the "Soviet connection":
"Meanwhile, the Soviet Union hovers in the
wings, flourishing large development loans and
presenting itself as the model for achieving
modernization in a single generation." The
"Soviet connection" was perceived in a
similar light far more broadly in Washington and
London, from the origins of the Cold War in 1917
into the 1960s, when the documentary record
currently ends.

Schlesinger also
recommended to the incoming president "a
certain amount of high-flown corn" about
"the higher aims of culture and
spirit," which "will thrill the
audience south of the border, where
metahistorical disquisitions are inordinately
admired." Meanwhile we’ll take care of
serious matters. Just to show how much things
change, Schlesinger also realistically criticized
"the baleful influence of the International
Monetary Fund," then pursuing the
1950’s version of today’s
"Washington Consensus"
("structural adjustment,"
"neoliberalism").

With these (secret)
explanations of Castro’s "troublemaking
in the hemisphere" and the "Soviet
connection," we come a step closer to an
understanding of the reality of the Cold War. But
that is another topic.

Similar troublemaking
beyond the hemisphere has also been no slight
problem, and continues to spread dangerous ideas
among people who "are now demanding
opportunities for a decent living." In late
February 1996, while the U.S. was in an uproar
over Cuba’s downing of two planes of a
Florida-based anti-Castro group that had
regularly penetrated Cuban airspace, dropping
leaflets in Havana calling on Cubans to revolt
(also participating in the continuing terrorist
attacks against Cuba, according to Cuban
sources), the wire services were running
different stories. AP reported that in South
Africa, "a cheering, singing crowd welcomed
Cuban doctors" who had just arrived at the
invitation of the Mandela government "to
boost medical care in poor rural areas."
"Cuba has 57,000 doctors for its 11 million
people, compared to 25,000 in South Africa for 40
million people." The 101 Cuban doctors
included top medical specialists who, if they
were South African, would "very likely be
working in Cape Town or Johannesburg" at
twice the salaries they will receive in the poor
rural areas where they go. "Since the
program of sending public health specialists
overseas began in Algeria in 1963, Cuba has sent
51,820 doctors, dentists, nurses and other
medical doctors" to "the poorest Third
World nations," providing "medical aid
totally free of charge" in most cases. A
month later Cuban medical experts were invited by
Haiti to study a meningitis outbreak.

This kind of troublemaking
goes back a long way. A leading West German
journal (Die Zeit) reported that Third
World countries regard Cuba as "an
international superpower" because of the
teachers, construction workers, physicians, and
others involved in "international
service." In 1985, it reported, 16,000
Cubans worked in Third World countries, more than
twice the total of Peace Corps and AID
specialists from the United States. By 1988, Cuba
had "more physicians working abroad than any
industrialized nation, and more than the
UN’s World Health Organization." Most
of this aid is uncompensated, and Cuba’s
"international emissaries" are
"men and women who live under conditions
that most development aid workers would not
accept," which is "the basis for their
success." For Cubans, the report continues,
"international service" is regarded as
"a sign of political maturity" and
taught in the schools as "the highest
virtue." The warm reception by an ANC
delegation in South Africa in 1996, and the
crowds singing "long live Cuba," attest
to the same phenomenon.

On the side, we might ask
how the U.S. would react to Libyan planes flying
over New York and Washington dropping leaflets
calling on Americans to revolt, after years of
terrorist attacks against U.S. targets at home
and abroad. By garlanding them with flowers,
perhaps? A hint was given by Barrie Dunsmore of
ABC a few weeks before the downing of the two
planes, citing Walter Porges, former "ABC
News" vice president for News Practices.
Porges reports that when an ABC news crew on a
civilian plane attempted to take photographs of
the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean,
"it was told to move immediately or it would
be shot down," which "would have been
legal under provisions of International Law
defining military air space." A small
country under attack by a superpower is a
different matter, however.

A further look at history
may be useful. The policy of overthrowing the
government of Cuba does not go back to the
Kennedy administration, as Eizenstat asserted,
but to its predecessor: the formal decision to
overthrow Castro in favor of a regime "more
devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people
and more acceptable to the U.S." was taken
in secret in March 1960, with the addendum that
the operation must be carried out "in such a
manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S.
intervention," because of the expected
reaction in Latin America and the need to ease
the burden on doctrinal managers at home. At the
time, the "Soviet connection" and
"troublemaking in the hemisphere" were
nil, apart from the Schlesingerian version.

Since Washington is the
arbiter of the "true interests of the Cuban
people," it was unnecessary for the
Eisenhower administration to attend to the public
opinion studies it received, reporting popular
support for Castro and optimism about the future.
For similar reasons, current information about
these matters is of no account. The Clinton
Administration is serving the true interests of
the Cuban people by imposing misery and
starvation, whatever studies of Cuban opinion may
indicate: for example, the polls reported in
December 1994 by an affiliate of the Gallup
organization that found that half the population
consider the embargo to be the "principal
cause of Cuba’s problems" while 3
percent found the "political situation"
to be the "most serious problem facing Cuba
today"; that 77 percent regard the USA as
Cuba’s "worst friend" (no one else
reached 3 percent); that by 2 to 1, the
population feel that the revolution has
registered more achievements than failures, the
"principal failure" being "having
depended on socialist countries like Russia which
betrayed us"; and that half describe
themselves as "revolutionary," another
20 percent "communist" or
"socialist."

Right or wrong, the
conclusions about public attitudes are
irrelevant, again a regular pattern, at home as
well.

History buffs might recall
that the policy actually dates back to the 1820s,
when Washington’s intention to take control
of Cuba was blocked by the British deterrent.
Cuba was regarded by Secretary of State John
Quincy Adams as "an object of transcendent
importance to the commercial and political
interests of our Union," but he advised
patience: over time, he predicted, Cuba would
fall into U.S. hands by "the laws of
political…gravitation," a "ripe
fruit" for harvest. So it did, as power
relations shifted enough for the U.S. to liberate
the island (from its people) at the end of the
century, turning it into a U.S. plantation and
haven for crime syndicates and tourists.

The historical depth of the
commitment to rule Cuba may help account for the
element of hysteria so apparent in the execution
of the enterprise; for example, the "almost
savage" atmosphere of the first cabinet
meeting after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion
described by Chester Bowles, the "almost
frantic reaction for an action program," a
mood reflected in President Kennedy’s public
statements about how failure to act would leave
us "about to be swept away with the debris
of history." Clinton’s initiatives,
public and indirect, reveal a similar streak of
vindictive fanaticism, as in the threats and
prosecutions that ensured that "the number
of companies granted U.S. licences to sell
[medicines] to Cuba has fallen to less than 4
percent" of the levels prior to the Cuban
Democracy Act (CDA) of October 1992, while
"only a few of the world’s medical
companies have attempted to brave U.S.
regulations" and penalties, a review in
Britain’s leading medical journal reports.

Considerations such as
these carry us from the abstract plane of
international law and solemn agreements to the
realities of human life. Lawyers may debate
whether the ban on food and (effectively)
medicine violates international agreements
stating that "food must not be used as an
instrument for political and economic
pressure" (Rome Declaration, 1996) and other
declared principles and commitments. But the
victims have to live with the fact that the CDA
has "resulted in a serious reduction in the
trade of legitimate medical supplies and food
donations, to the detriment of the Cuban
people" (Joanna Cameron, Fletcher Forum).
A recently released study of the American
Association for World Health concludes that the
embargo has caused serious nutritional deficits,
deterioration in the supply of safe drinking
water, and sharp decline in availability of
medicines and medical information, leading to low
birth-rate, epidemics of neurological and other
diseases with tens of thousands of victims, and
other severe health consequences. "Health
and nutrition standards have been devastated by
the recent tightening of the 37-year-old US
embargo, which includes food imports,"
Victoria Brittain writes in the British press,
reporting the year-long study by U.S.
specialists, which found "hospitalised
children lying in agony as essential drugs are
denied them" and doctors compelled "to
work with medical equipment at less than half
efficiency because they have no spare
parts." Similar conclusions are drawn in
other current studies in professional journals.

These are the real crimes,
far more than the casual and reflexive violation
of legal instruments that are used as weapons
against official enemies, with the cynicism that
only the truly powerful can display.

In fairness, it should be
added that the suffering caused by the embargo is
sometimes reported here as well. A lead story in
the New York Times business section is
headlined: "Exploding Cuban Cigar Prices:
Now Embargo Really Hurts as Big Smokes Grow
Scarcer." The story reports the tribulations
of business executives at "a plush smoking
room" in Manhattan, who lament "that
it’s really tough to get a Cuban cigar in
the States these days" except at
"prices that catch in the throats of the
most devoted smokers."

While the Clinton
administration, exploiting the privilege of the
powerful, attributes the grim consequences of
economic warfare without parallel in current
history to the policies of the regime from which
it promises to "liberate" the suffering
Cuban people, a more plausible conclusion is more
nearly the reverse: the "American economic
strangulation of Cuba" has been designed,
maintained, and in the post-Cold War era
intensified, for the reasons implicit in Arthur
Schlesinger’s report to incoming President
Kennedy. Much as Kennedy’s Latin American
Mission feared, the successes of programs to
improve health and living standards had been
helping to spread "the Castro idea of taking
matters into one’s own hands,"
stimulating "the poor and
underprivileged" in the region with the
worst inequality in the world to "demand
opportunities for a decent living," and with
dangerous effects beyond as well. There is a
substantial and compelling documentary record,
accompanied by consistent action based on quite
rational motives, which lends no slight
credibility to this assessment. To evaluate the
claim that the policies flow from concern for
human rights and democracy, the briefest look at
the record is more than sufficient, at least for
those who even pretend to be serious.

It is improper, however, to
have any thoughts or recollections about such
matters as we celebrate the triumph of
"American values." Nor are we supposed
to remember that a few months ago, inspired by
the same passion for free trade, Clinton
"pressured Mexico into an agreement that
will end the shipment of low-price tomatoes to
the United States," a gift to Florida
growers that costs Mexico about $800 million
annually, and that violates NAFTA as well as the
WTO agreements (though only "in
spirit," because it was a sheer power play
and did not require an official tariff). The
Administration explained the decision
forthrightly: Mexican tomatoes are cheaper and
consumers here prefer them. The free market is
working, but with the wrong outcome. Or perhaps
tomatoes too are a threat to national security.

To be sure, tomatoes and
telecommunications are in very different leagues.
Any favors Clinton might owe to Florida growers
are dwarfed by the requirements of the
telecommunications industry, even apart from what
Thomas Ferguson describes as "the best-kept
secret of the 1996 election": that
"more than any other single bloc, it was the
telecommunications sector that rescued Bill
Clinton," who received major campaign
contributions from "this staggeringly
profitable sector." The Telecommunications
Act of 1996 and the WTO agreement are, in a
sense, "thank you" notes, though it is
unlikely that the outcome would have been very
different if a different mix of largesse had been
chosen by the business world, suffering at the
time from what Business Week had just
called "spectacular" profits in yet
another "Surprise Party for Corporate
America."

Prominent among the truths
that are not to be recalled are the ones briefly
mentioned earlier: the actual record of
"Reaganesque rugged individualism" and
the "free market gospel" that was
preached (to the poor and defenseless) while
protectionism reached unprecedented heights and
the Administration poured public funds into high
tech industry with unusual abandon. Here we begin
to reach the heart of the matter. The reasons for
skepticism about the "passion" that
have just been reviewed are valid enough, but
they are a footnote to the real story: how U.S.
corporations came to be so well-placed to take
over international markets, inspiring the current
celebration of "American values."

But that, again, is a
larger tale, one that tells us a lot about the
contemporary world: its social and economic
realities, and the grip of ideology and doctrine,
including those doctrines crafted to induce
hopelessness, resignation, and despair.
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