October 24, 2007 at the headquarters of the State Department in Washington, President George W. Bush gave a long and extremely virulent speech against the Havana government. While a large part of California is burning and Iraq sinks in a bloody and endless war, the White House returns to the matter that has obsessed it since 1959—and which it uses to justify almost five decades of terrorist aggressions, cruel and inhumane punishment and political and diplomatic war: Cuba. (1)
“Few issues have challenged this department — and our nation — longer than the situation in Cuba,” Bush stated, emphasizing the unacceptable nature of such a reality. Since Fidel Castro’s coming to power, Washington has not abandoned its intention of overthrowing the revolutionary government at whatever price. But the revolution thanks to the majority support of the population has been able to resist the state of siege that ten successive U.S. presidents have tried to impose. (2)
Bush began his speech giving proof of his profound knowledge about Cuban reality: “In Cuba it is illegal to change jobs, to change houses, to travel abroad, and to read books or magazines without the express approval of the state.” Additionally, according to the U.S. president, “it is against the law for more than three Cubans to meet without permission” and “Neighborhood Watch programs do not look out for criminals. Instead, they monitor their fellow citizens — keeping track of neighbors’ comings and goings, who visits them, and what radio stations they listen to”. In a word, “the sense of community and the simple trust between human beings is gone.” (3)
The White House resident doesn’t stop at anything. Since he doesn’t fear the ridiculous, he doesn’t hesitate to cite the example about the press: “One Cuban journalist asked foreigners who visited him for one thing: a pen. Another uses shoe polish as ink as a typewriter ribbon,” stated the U.S. leader with all seriousness. He took advantage of the occasion to declare that “the dissidents of today will be the nation’s leaders tomorrow,” reminding us that these dissidents – isolated and, above all, are motivated by the desire of gain,— are generously, and illegally financed by the United States: “The United States Congress has recently voted for additional funding [45.7 million dollars] to support Cuban democracy efforts.”(4)
“Cuba’s regime uses the U.S. embargo as a scapegoat for Cuba’s miseries,” assured Bush. This way, the inhumane sanctions that seriously affect daily life for all kinds of people, would be only an excuse. But, in this case, the president did not explain why he “urge[d] our Congress to show [its] support and solidarity for fundamental change in Cuba by maintaining [the] embargo.” (5)
Bush urged the international community to join its irrational and ineffective policy and apply sanctions against Cuba. He cited the European nations as an example that docilely follow Washington’s directives, namely the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland who did not hesitate to interfere in Cuban internal matters and promote subversion. (6)
The president, always very up-to-date with Cuban reality, proposed scholarships for Cuban students, “to help them have greater educational opportunities,” when all international institutions—from the United Nations to the World Bank—are unanimous in praising Cuban excellence in the area of education. In this respect, 157 countries out of 175 just chose Cuba for UNESCO’s Executive Council. On the other hand, history’s ironies, currently 500 poor U.S. students, excluded from the university system of the world’s first democracy, are in a completely free medial program in Cuba. But this point apparently escaped the president’s astuteness. (7)
The White House resident also announced the creation of a multi-billion dollar “Freedom Fund for Cuba,” under the direction of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez, meant to overthrow the Havana government and bring Cuba again under the United States’ sphere of influence. Bush clearly said, “the operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not ‘stability’ [but] freedom’.” Maybe he was alluding to what currently prevails in Iraq and Afghanistan. (8)
By way of concluding, Bush launched a call to the military for insurrection: “When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty […] you’ve got to make a choice. Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people? Or will you embrace your people’s desire for change?” Finally, he took the occasion to address the “Cubans who [were] listening—perhaps at great risks”- through Radio or TV Martí, two U.S. media outlets who illegally distribute subversive programs to Cuba. “We want nothing from you except to welcome you to the hope and joy of freedom,” Bush said. (9)
But, contrary to Bush’s statements, Cubans do not run “great risks” listening to his speech. It was distributed in Cuba on radio, television and the press, for example in Gramna, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. El Nuevo Herald, a newspaper of the extreme right in Miami controlled by the former Cuban oligarchy, expressed its surprise emphasizing that Bush’s words were distributed ”without interruptions.”(10)
The island’s inhabitants, who hate any attack on their sovereignty and national independence, realized to what extreme measures Washington was proposing to take to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs, measures that are unacceptable and contrary to international law. They could also see how completely disconnected the U.S. president is from Cuban reality. In his speech, with a nasty whiff of colonialism, Bush smashed to smithereens the principle of the people’s self determination. Far from offering them “the hope and joy of freedom,” the U.S. president promised to increase the economic sanctions against them even more and increase their daily suffering and difficulties.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque , vehemently condemned “the unprecedented increase in the United States government’s policy against Cuba.” According to him, it is a “confirmation that the policy in force […] is regime change in Cuba, even by force.” The speech from Washington is “an irresponsible act that gives an idea of the level of frustration, desperation, and personal hate of President Bush for Cuba; an invocation to violence, a call, even, the use of force in order to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and impose his plan on Cuba.”(11)
But Cuba, since 1959, has been unfazed by the language of threat and blackmail. The only thing it has achieved is to radicalize the Cuban revolutionary process throughout the decades. In 1962, Cubans were prepared to undergo a nuclear holocaust before renouncing their sovereignty. Fundamentally, nothing has changed. Pérez Roque insisted. “If the objective of the United States’ president’s words is to intimidate the people, to scare its leaders, I must tell you starting now that it is a complete failure,” said Perez Roque (12) For Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly, it is nothing but proof of [Bush’s] delirium. “He never will have Cuba.”(13)
The current government of the United States, which just destroyed two countries and is responsible for the crimes of Guantánamo and Abu-Ghraib, the massacre of close to a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, secret prisons, clandestine flights and legalized torture, does not have any moral authority to expound about freedom and human rights.
Bush’s statement caused various reactions, among them presidential Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who criticized the words of the White House resident. “The cause of freedom is not going to advance with counterproductive threats or conventional speeches. Cuban Americans have to be allowed to visit their families on the island and send them money. It’s time to break from George Bush’s status quo,” said Obama. (14)
Wayne S. Smith, former U.S. ambassador in Cuba, described the “absurd” measures. “This supposed freedom fund of several million is simply the result of the president’s imagination” he emphasized. Cuba “already has several billion dollars at their disposal from Venezuela and China. The Cuban economy is going well,” he concluded. (15)
For its part, the Associated Press recognized that the policy of fabricating and financing domestic opposition was not new, writing, “For several years, the United States government has spent million of dollars to support the Cuban opposition.” (16) No nation of the world would accept that agents at the service of a foreign power act with impunity in its territory.
The European Union once again, provided proof of its cowardly policy with its complicit silence. It didn’t deign to condemn President Bush’s words, inadmissible for the international right. Would it have been so discrete if China, Russia or Iran had called for overthrowing the government of another sovereign nation?
Any respectable analyst certainly knows that Bush’s objectives for Cuba are not feasible. Washington persists in the same policy that has failed terribly for almost half a century. The revolutionary government has at its disposal the massive support of the population and is far from being isolated on the international stage. In addition, even the dissatisfied sectors of Cuban society form a united front together with the leaders of the country when it comes to preserving sovereignty and national identity. External destabilization only reinforces the cohesion of the people around the government. With regards to an eventual armed intervention, the popular reaction would be like the Vietnam War and the current Iraqi conflict would be like a stroll in the country in comparison with what U.S. troops can expect if they committed the insane act of invading Cuba. In no way is this an exaggeration. The Cuban people are politically and ideologically ready for any sacrifice to defend the integrity of their country. They will not negotiate their independence and the United States has to accept this reality.
(1) George W. Bush, «Remarks by the President on Cuba Policy», Office of the Press Secretary, The Miami Herald, 24 October, 2007.
(4) Ibid.; Wilfredo Cancio Isla, «La Cámara da sólido apoyo a la democracia en Cuba», El Nuevo Herald, 22 June, 2007.
(5) George W. Bush, «Remarks by the President on Cuba Policy», op. cit.
(10) Wilfredo Cancio Isla, «Transmiten en la isla el discurso presidencial», El Nuevo Herald, 25 October, 2007.
(11) Felipe Pérez Roque, «Nosotros estamos claros de qué significa la ‘libertad’», Cuba Debate, 25 October, 2007.
(13) Alexandra Valencia, «Cuba’s Alarcon Uncertain on Castro’s re-election», The Miami Herald, 25 October, 2007.
(14) El Nuevo Herald, «Opiniones sobre el discurso», 25 October, 2007.
(15) Antonio Rodriguez, «Bush Call for Cuba Democracy Fund Likely to Fall on Deaf Ears», Agence France-Presse, 26 October, 2007.
(16) Ben Feller, «Bush Touts Cuban Life After Castro», Associated Press, 24 October, 2007.
Salim Lamrani is a French professor, writer and journalist specializing in U.S. –Cuba relations. He has published the following books : Washington contre Cuba (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2005), Cuba face à l’Empire (Genève: Timeli, 2006) y Fidel Castro, Cuba et les Etats-Unis (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2006).
Translated by: Dana Lubow