Cracks in the Armor: A New Stage in the Fight to End the US Economic and Political War Against Cuba

Cuba does not applaud the ill-named Americas Summits, where our countries do not discuss on an equal level. If they serve for anything, it would be to make critical analyses of policies which are dividing our peoples, plundering our resources and placing obstacles on our development. Now, all that is missing is for Obama to persuade all the Latin American presidents there that the blockade is inoffensive. Cuba has resisted and will resist. It will never stretch out its hands asking for alms. It will continue advancing with its head held high, cooperating with the sister peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, whether there are Americas Summits or not, whether Obama, a man or a woman, a white or Black citizen presides over the United States.


Fidel Castro, “On the blockade, not one word was said”

April 14, 2009



A Retreat is Not Surrender


On April 4, 2009 the Obama Administration leaked to the Wall Street Journal that the previously tightened restrictions against Cuban-Americans visiting family members in and sending funds to Cuba implemented by the George W. Bush Administration would be reversed. On April 13 the new policy was formally rolled out in an executive order announced by the White House Press Secretary. The April 13 measures fulfill a promise made by Barack Obama during his successful campaign for the US presidency.The directive also included licensing US companies to sell telecommunications equipment and programming to Cuban state enterprises.


Washington today is rife with speculation, assumptions, and rumors that further concessions by the US rulers in the direction of easing the now over 50-year-old regime of harsh economic sanctions and travel restrictions may be at hand. Bills are circulating in both Houses of Congress to lift travel restrictions for all US citizens and legal residents, to ease onerous restrictions on the already legal sales of US food products to Cuba, and to do away with the US commercial embargo altogether.


So what is going on? Is Washington under Obama buckling? Can US citizens and legal residents start packing our bags for some of the world’s greatest beaches, an island of fabulous music and art, advertisement-free roadways, a universe apart where social relations are marked by the domination of working people. At no time since the Elian Gonzalez battle has there been so much discussion and debate about Cuba in US general public opinion and within the US ruling class.


A few days prior to Obama’s announcement a delegation of US elected representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), all opponents of US economic and travel sanctions, visited Cuba and met with both President Raul Castro and Fidel Castro. The delegation reported that the Cuban government was ready, willing, and able to normalize every aspect of US-Cuban relations and enter into talks with “no pre-conditions.” This was confirmed in every detail by statements from Raul Castro and several articles written by Fidel Castro in the Cuban press. The CBC delegation received widespread coverage and interviews in the US media. In Havana they were able to lay a wreath at a statue honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a ceremony marking the 41stanniversary of his assassination.


On April 8 the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), deeply involved with anti-Cuban terrorism and for many years the central organization of counter-revolutionary Cuban-American exiles long identified with the most intransigent opposition to any concessions or even discussions with the Cuban government, issued a 14-page statement falling in behind the limited retreat of the slightly reconfigured Obama policy, which registers a weary new consensus and tactical shift among the US rulers. While replete with the usual anti-Castro boilerplate and fantasies about building up counter-revolutionary pro-imperialist forces inside Cuba through “aid” and “people-to-people assistance,” the CANF statement grudgingly accepts the reversal of the more onerous tightenings of US travel restrictions by the Bush Administration for Cuban-Americans. It also calls for “cultural, academic, and humanitarian” exchanges for all US citizens and legal residents. It endorses ending restrictions on the travel rights of Cuban diplomats in the United States and starting limiting diplomatic discussions between US and Cuban officials.


An editorial in the April 9 Washington Post, long a particulaly vituperative opponent of the Cuban Revolution, slams the CBC delegation for, as the editorial headline puts it, “Coddling Cuba.” The Post editorial writers combine a forlorn lamentation of how various “pressures”– especially from “leftist Latin American presidents who have been streaming to Cuba in recent months” – are undermining long-standing US policy, with a resigned acceptance of the apparent inevitability of the expected Obama concessions on travel, remittances, and possible “dialogue” with the Cuban government.


The big-business media is touting Obama’s executive orders as representing a “sweeping change” in US policy. Hyperbole aside the April 13 announcement does not address the rights to travel to Cuba for all US citizens and legal residents, although there are some reports that license approval for groups and institutions who desire to travel to Cuba may be liberalized and expanded to the standards that applied at the end of the Clinton and beginning of the George W. Bush Administrations. And, of course, the overall economic and financial sanctions and formal commitment to “regime change” in Cuba remain. Continuing the rationalization that represents a fantasy (although some may actually believe it!), the policy announced by Obama is being motivated as giving impetus to bringing “freedom” “democracy” and “human rights” (that is, capitalism and US domination) and the destruction of the Cuban Revolution. What we can say for sure is that, however it is rationalized and however stupid is the accompanying anti-Castro demagogy, the developing Obama policy is a retreat and concession to the growing clamor and pressure worldwide, particularly in the Americas, but also in the United States to end the US economic and political war against Cuba. We are seeing cracks in the armor.


However retreat is not the same as surrender. And while a retreat can lead to, or be a prelude to a rout, it is also a tactic used by many ultimately victorious armies, to regroup forces and lick their wounds with the hope of re-emerging stronger. This is no time for the US movement to end Washington’s economic and political war against Cuba with its unchanged presumed right to intervene against Cuban sovereignty, to let up our guard and become complacent, or think that there is now an inevitability to the collapse and end of US sanctions under Obama and the Democratic Party majorities on Capitol Hill.


It seems obvious that Obama’s April 13 announcement (which he pointedly chose not to announce personally) was deemed the least he could do given the objective political situation he faces. Across the Americas Obama is looking at a relative deterioration of US political weight and standing in increasingly volatile Hemispheric politics and intensifying class struggles. We will see if Obama’s calculation proves accurate. The reality he faces becomes more pressing as the social and political impact of the unfolding economic and financial catastrophe deepens. (A top official of the International Monetary Fund, referring to the dire economic realities unfolding in  Latin America, said, “This is probably the worst shock faced by the region ever.”)


Clearly the tightened form and more bellicose tone of Washington’s economic and political war against the Cuban Revolution under Republican George W. Bush were unsustainable. This was openly stated in a recent statement Republican Senate veteran Richard Lugar, an authoritative voice in US ruling circles on international policy, which noted that the US policy has been “a source of controversy between the United States and the European Union, as well as in the United Nations” in addition to the Americas. Lugar goes further than Obama and endorses a total lifting of travel restrictions. Lugar’s statement had the utility of providing political protection to Obama and signaled a broad new consensus in US ruling circles that a tactical shift in the direction of “engagement” and limited, calibrated concessions is politically necessary. In no way however has the overall policy goal of destroying the Cuban Revolution and erasing its example in Hemispheric and world politics been dropped. Obviously such a posture is fraught with contradictions and great political difficulty for Washington and the Obama Administration, given the highly political, savvy, experienced, and class conscious character of the Cuban Marxist revolutionaries that are to be “engaged.”


Countdown to Trinidad


The current flurry of activity takes place as the anti-Cuba US policy is utterly isolated in world politics and as the attractiveness and authority of the Cuban Revolution has never been greater. These facts are particularly true in the Western Hemisphere as a whole. This becomes an accumulating material factor and objective, permanent political pressure on Washington in general and the policy of  the Obama Administration which sees the rebranding and reimaging of US foreign policy as a pressing matter following the experience of the Bush years. 


Concretely, the upcoming April 17-19 so-called “Summit of the Americas,” an adjunct of the historically US-dominated Organization of  American States (OAS) which expelled Cuba in 1962, will certainly see Washington’s anti-Cuba policy challenged and openly opposed, even as Cuba is excluded. Every other attendee at the Summit has, or in the case of El Salvador, following the March election of Farabundo Marti National Liberation party candidate Mauricio Funes as President, will soon have normal, diplomatic relations with the revolutionary island. Politics in the Americas has certainly come a long way since January 1962 when Washington was strong enough politically to oversee the expulsion of Cuba from the OAS and subsequently lead or force every Caribbean and Latin American state, with the exception of Mexico, to break relations with Cuba.


The “Summit” was originally established under the auspices of the Democratic Clinton Administration at a Miami meeting in 1994 to push for the Free Trade of the Americas Act (FTAA) which would have codified the so-called “Washington Consensus,” that is, the neoliberal anti-working class economic, financial, trade, and social policies aimed at perpetuating and reproducing imperialist domination. At that time Cuba was in the throes of the so-called “Special Period”of severe economic contraction following the collapse of its major trading partners in the former Soviet Union and allied Eastern European countries. The political vaporization of the Cuban Revolution was taken for granted and Cuba was treated with derision and contempt by an arrogant Washington and the assorted conservative Latin American heads of state at the Miami meeting. President Clinton had already put into force the notorious Torricelli Act and a few years later would sign the Helms-Burton law, both of which aimed to deepen US sanctions into a death-inducing international blockade.


 Fifteeen years later, many of those Latin American, Central American, and Caribbean regimes have been swept away. Anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sentiment has grown as reflected in the election of a number of new left-wing governments in conflict with Washington, most notably Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers are doing amazing work across the Americas. The FTAA lies in a de facto dead state. In fact it was Cuba which led the continental fight against FTAA in numerous international gatherings that registered the growing popular struggles and rebellions throughout the Americas which have greatly changed the political relationship of forces in the Western Hemisphere. This will be reflected and registered at Trinidad. The Cuban Revolution will be the specter haunting Washington at Trinidad. But Cuba is of course more than a specter, but is a real material force in its example for the oppressed and exploited peoples.


The Odd Man Out


US Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, the U.S. official heading preparations for the Trinidad “Summit” made the following statement at a State Department press conference which undoubtedly caused jaws to drop and hysterical laughter throughout the Americas, “What I think is very important in talking about Cuba is that we should view Cuba in the context of this hemisphere, which, as I said, is a democratic hemisphere. Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s when governments in this hemisphere were run by military dictatorships, when there were countries with political prisoners with no free press, Cuba, though special was not totally unique in terms of human rights. Now, it is clearly the odd man out.”


Of course it is Washington that is the odd man out in the western Hemisphere when it comes to Cuba. But the sophistry and disingenousness of Davidow’s words is truly awesome. What he leaves out is that the military dictatorships of the “60s and 70s and 80s” were all backed by and sustained, actually installed by the United States government. These vicious, blood-soaked tyrannies – from Brazil to Argentina, from Nicaragua to Chile, from Guatemala to Uruguay – represented the unbridled rule of the landlords and the capitalists and the grinding down and super-exploitation of workers and peasants. They were furthermore a response to the liberating example and marching resonance of the Cuban Revolution. It was Washington’s fear of the progressive and revolutionary example – and potential extension – of the Cuban Revolution that led it to invade the Dominican Republic in 1965 and promote military coups in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and elsewhere. Cuba, in contrast, was a key supporter of the mass democratic movements that created the pressures and conditions that led to the toppling of all US-backed military regimes. That is why it is precisely in those countries where right-wing US-backed military dictatorships were overturned where solidarity with and friendship for Cuba is the strongest, even among political tendencies that do not support Cuba’s socialist perspectives.

Washington is anxious to prevent or limit open discussion and debate on the “Cuba Question” at the Trinidad Summit. But that is going to be difficult for Washington to control. Further pressure is put on the US President following the visit of the Congressional Black Caucus delegation.

Obama’s tactical approach seems to be based on the old adage attributed to a court advisor to the French monarchy in the years before the French Revolution, “Things must change in order for them to stay the same.” That is, by making relatively minor concessions to the mounting pressure Obama hopes to preserve the core of US policy, which is to actively seek to overtrun the revolutionary Cuban government and restore capitalist social relations on the island. The economic sanctions and generalized travel ban are tools toward that end.

When it comes to “the Cuba Question” the leading US political circles and the big-business media, tink tanks, and much of academia that echoes them, conform to a deceitful set of common premises, assumptions, and assertions that amount to a false general line. It is within this general line that tactical differences are fought out, at times furiously. Today the sands are shifting under Washington’s decades-long economic and political war against the Cuban Revolution which is still standing and more than ever is a universally recognized pole of attraction for the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity confronting the deepest and most profound financial and economic collapse and crisis of world capitalism and its imperialist  world order since the 1930s.


What Fidel Castro recently said hits at the real situation and challenge facing the US rulers. “It is not necessary to emphasize what Cuba has always said: we do not fear a dialogue with the United States. Neither do we need the confrontation in order to exist, as some fools think; we exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialoguing with the enemy. It is the only way of procuring friendship and peace among the peoples.” Who is really afraid of whom?


Ike Nahem is the co-ordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York, a member of the National Network on Cuba. Nahem is an Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. These are his personal political opinions.

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