The Narrow Media Spectrum on US-Cuban Relations

The narrow ideological parameters of so-called mainstream media [1] in the United States might make a Soviet state censor blush. Look, for example, at what passes for independent “fourth estate” coverage and commentary on US President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.  Across the painfully limited “left” to right spectrum of dominant US media, one finds three false and doctrinally embedded assumptions, each mandating deletion of basic realities that don’t fit the reigning narrative of Uncle Sam as a great democratic, benevolent, and humanitarian force in the world (a fairy tale widely rejected beyond the US).

Because It Didn’t Work
The first such assumption is that the only thing wrong with US policy towards Cuba over the last five-plus decades is that it “didn’t work” – that is, that it didn’t succeed in pushing Fidel Castro and other leaders and heirs of the socialist Cuban Revolution out of power. The deletions required to support this argument are voluminous.  They include US direction, sponsorship and protection of “countless terrorist activities against Cuba and anyone who advocated normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba” (Marjorie Cohn), leading to the deaths of thousands and once bringing the world to the edge of nuclear obliteration; countless assassination attempts against Castro; a scandalous and deadly economic embargo that has long evoked richly deserved global ridicule; and the US “military occupation of Southeastern Cuba for over a century, including its major port, despite requests by the government since independence to return what was stolen at gunpoint – a policy justified only by the fanatic commitment to block Cuba’s economic development” (Noam Chomsky).

Punishing “the Castro Idea”
The second doctrinal assumption holds that these US policies sprung from Washington’s noble and democratic intentions. Nothing could be further from the truth.  A rich documentary record shows that Uncle’s Sam’s half-century campaign to isolate Cuba and block its development was driven by the same basic imperial goal that drove US policymakers to murderously assault Indochina in the 1960s: to contain the “virus” of popular and national self-determination in the Third World periphery, which US planners expected to function as neocolonial complements to the rich industrialized state-capitalist nations led by Washington.  The US terror campaign and the embargo were meant to severely punish an island nation that had dared to turn against the commands of its self-appointed Yankee imperial and capitalist masters, even enlisting Uncle Sam’s Cold War rival in its self-protection.  If the Cubans could so humiliate Washington just 90 miles off US shores, US planners reasoned, then other Latin American and other Third World nations and people would be inspired to reject US supervision and pursue development outside the imperial framework. The danger was neatly described by an elite report on Latin America that President Elect John F. Kennedy commissioned before taking office in early 1961: “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands.”  The autonomous and relatedly socialist experiment in the Caribbean (supposed to be a “big American lake” in the minds of US planners) had to be isolated and crushed.

Means, Not Ends
The third doctrinal assumption is that the goals behind Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations and ease the embargo are noble, democratic, and humanitarian.  This, too, is childish. As Dr. Binoy Kampmark recently noted on Counterpunch, “For all the rage directed at the recent Cuban-US thaw” by US right wing Republicans, “the advocates on either side of the aisle follow a constant in US policy: the transformation of Cuba and a return to the sylvan idyll of a US presence.”  As Kampmark observes, “The old story about transforming states in the image of Washington’s preferred policy remains. The disagreement has been over means, not ends.”  The methods may be changing but the core underlying goal of undermining Cuba’s autonomy and the Cuba example – the dangerously contagious desire of “developing world” people and nations to “take matters in their own hands” (as US Founders did in their own way in 1776) – lives on. “The latest efforts involved the activities of the USAID agency in April to create a social media program designed to foment unrest in Cuba and efforts to implement ‘ZunZuneo,’ a text messaging network directed at Cuban youths.”  As Kampmark notes, “Freedom of press, speech, and association, a full opening of the internet, are the usual mantras of US-driven policy that constitute these violations of sovereignty.”

Also writing in Counterpunch, Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, rightly mocks US liberal and Cuban celebration of the new thaw in US-Cuban relations:

“Normalization of relations with Cuba is not the result of a diplomatic breakthrough or a change of heart on the part of Washington.  Normalization is a result of US corporations seeking profit opportunities in Cuba, such as developing broadband Internet markets in Cuba….Before the American left and the Cuban government find happiness in the normalization, they should consider that with normalization comes American money and a US Embassy.  The American money will take over the Cuban economy.  The embassy will be a home for CIA operatives to subvert the Cuban government.  The embassy will provide a base from which the US can establish NGOs whose gullible members can be called to street protest at the right time, as in Kiev, and the embassy will make it possible for Washington to groom a new set of political leaders…In short, normalization of relations means regime change in Cuba. Soon Cuba will be another of Washington’s vassal states… American money is now going to defeat Castro’s life work. And if the money doesn’t do it, the CIA will.  The agency has long been waiting to avenge the Bay of Pigs, and normalization of relations brings the opportunity.”

One might question the hyperbolic tone of Roberts’ commentary and his lockstep assumption that Cuban socialism will collapse before Washington’s designs, but Roberts has no doubt accurately captured the persistent imperial intention behind “normalization” in the neoliberal era. (Meanwhile, Washington sees old means as useful when it comes to punishing Venezuela for the sin of successful defiance and autonomous populist development outside and against the Empire. The Obama administration has recently signed legislation that freezes assets and revokes travel visas belonging to Venezuelan officials –  this on the trumped up charge that they violated the human rights of right-wing protestors who engaged in US-funded protestors seeking to create de-stabilization leading to the overthrow of Venezuela’s  socialist government last spring.)

Deleting Cuba’s Accomplishments
It is telling that the US “mainstream” coverage and commentary follows US politicians and policymakers in making sure not to mention any of Cuba’s remarkable social policy accomplishments. Cuba joins Argentina and Chile as the only to Latin American states placed in the top tier of the United Nations’ Human Development Index – a reflection of Cuba’s progressive commitment to literacy, welfare, and universal health care.  “While US citizens continue to perish before the medical bill,” Dr. Kampmark notes, “Cubans, for all their local problems, do not have the same issues of access. Literacy levels remain stable and high.”  Cuba has also made great strides in the development of ecological sustainability.  Cuba exports doctors to West Africa and the rest of the desperately impoverished developing world (where mass poverty is sustained and expanded by US economic and military policies).  All this and more despite the half-century US terror and isolation campaign.  None of merits acknowledgement in US “mainstream” media.

“An Almost Paradise”
A final doctrinal deletion in that media’s coverage and commentary on US-Cuban relations merits mention. Nothing serious, substantive, and honest can be said beyond the margins in dominant US media or politics about why Cuba broke off from US management in 1959.  The FOX News Rubio Right goes unchallenged, historically speaking, when it preposterously claims that that Fidel Castro’s revolution “turned an almost-paradise into a floating prison.”

Mid-20th Century Cuba was a desperately impoverished island scarred by savage economic inequality, military dictatorship, and related scourges of racism, disease, and illiteracy all reinforced by US control in service to great US business interests. The Batista era (1952-1959) witnessed the nearly total domination of the Cuban economy by US corporations and the related political domination of the island by Washington.  Pre-revolutionary Cuba was also a great haven for US organized crime.  It was “an almost-paradise” chiefly for US business elites and mobsters, who exploited its abundant natural resources and cheap labor while enjoying Havana’s world-class gambling casinos, nightclubs, and brothels. For Cuba, moving forward on the “Castro idea of taking matters into one own hands” meant expelling elite and corrupting US business interests and appropriating (nationalizing) much of the vast property holdings and other assets the Yankee dispossessors had swallowed up over more than half a century of US domination.

None of that can receive meaningful attention or acknowledgement from dominant US media, consistent with Orwell’s dictum in Nineteen Eight Four: “Those who control the past control the future.  Those who control the present control the past.”

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Freedom and Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).


1. It’s not for nothing that I say “so-called mainstream media” when talking about dominant corporate media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, “P”BS, and CNN, etc. During the Cold War era, US officials and media never called the Soviet Union’s state television and radio or its main newspapers Pravda and Izvestia Russia’s “mainstream media.” I see no reason why we should consider US corporate media outlets any more “mainstream” than Pravda or Izvestia when they are just as dedicated as the onetime Soviet outlets to advancing the doctrinal perspectives of their host nation’s reigning elite—and far more effective.


  1. george patterson December 31, 2014 2:57 pm 

    The beginning of the normalization with Cuba and the easing of the embargo is a positive initial step by the United States. But it is not nearly enough since it must be followed by full normalization of relations as soon as possible and an immediate end to the embargo, including the termination of the Guantanamo military base and the occupation of southeastern Cuba. This must be followed by reparations that the US will make to Cuba for its criminal economic blockade and terrorist attacks that caused the tragic loss of thousands of lives and massive damage to the Cuban economy. The must also promise and pledge not to undermine, destabilize, subvert, and sabotage Cuba and respect and honor its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
    Fidel Castro’s revolution turned an island of misery, neo-colonial exploitation and domination, and desperate impoverishment , “scarred by savage economic inequality, military dictatorship, and related scourges of racism, disease, and illiteracy all reinforced by US control in service to great US business interests.” into an island of dignity and admirable social model of literacy, universal health care, and social welfare and impressive development of ecological sustainability. All of this has been done in spite of the savage half-century US terror and relentless, vicious, isolation campaign. A case in point is that Cuba is one of three Latin American states Latin American states, ” placed in the top tier of the United Nations’ Human Development Index – a reflection of Cuba’s progressive commitment to literacy, welfare, and universal health care.” In conclusion, this is a remarkable accomplishment, especially in light of decades of murderous assault and isolation, including terrible exploitation, upon their island by the US.

  2. avatar
    Michael December 24, 2014 5:19 pm 

    Paul is absolutely right and to seriously consider what he is saying is to realize that Cuba is in for powerful assaults–probably more than ever before. Nasir’s benign assessment really misses the point.

  3. avatar
    Nasir Khan December 24, 2014 3:37 pm 

    Paul Street’s article deflates some popular assumptions about Washington’s new approach to Cuba. To assume that Washington has changed its policy towards Cuba is too good to be true. However, if the main objective of the normalization of relations with Cuba is not to undermine the Communist system there, any thaw in relations that alleviates the economic hardships of the Cubans caused by the blockade will be a positive step. Still, it is for the Cuban leaders to make sure that America remains within the bounds of mutually acceptable diplomatic arrangements and not letting the C.I.A. operative in Cuba for any covert activities.

Leave a comment