Denying History: Cuba in the German Liberal Press

On 17 December 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced “normalization” of U.S.-Cuban relations. As a first step of rapprochement, an agreement between both countries included the release of political prisoners. It was also announced that at a later point in time restrictions on trade, travel and exchange were going to be eased. Obama was also considering to discuss in Congress as to whether the embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962 should be dissolved. Already in 1961, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower had terminated diplomatic relations with Cuba in reaction to the Cuban Revolution.

The U.S.-Cuban negotiations were extensively discussed in the liberal German press. A closer reading of the news indicated a slant in coverage: Cuba was depicted as a terror state and a nefarious actor. The USA, on the other hand, was described as a benign actor with noble aims such as to bring democracy and reforms to Cuba.

This was suggested by the following exemplary quotes: The Süddeutsche Zeitung argued that the Cuban regime was “undemocratic” and “conducts human rights violations.” (Süddeutsche.de, 17 December 2014) The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung referred to Obama who had asked “his Foreign Secretary John Kerry to assess Cuba’s status as a ‘terror don’.” (FAZ.NET, 17. December 2014) Die Welt highlighted how “Washington seeks a new way: trade, tourism and (…) unprecedented communication freedoms are assumed to encourage reforms” in Cuba (Welt.de, 18. Dezember 2014). The Frankfurter Rundschau contextualized Cuba and terrorism: “Since 1982, the island is on Washington’s list of states which, in the eyes of the USA, support terrorist activities.” (FR-Online.de, 20. Dezember 2014).


Since the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 and the disposal of U.S.-supported Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, numerous Cuban exiles have settled in the state of Florida. To a significant extend, Cuban exiles constitute political refugees who seek to establish an alternative political and economic system in Cuba.

The USA has been supporting Cuban exile groups with political and financial means. In fact, the CIA has aided exiles in conducting subversive activities against the Castro regime. Noam Chomsky argues in his book Hegemony or Survival that shortly after the Cuban Revolution in March 1959, the National Security Council (NSC) “considered means to instigate regime change” in Cuba. Already in May 1959 “the CIA began to arm guerrillas inside Cuba,” Chomsky further writes, and in Winter, CIA-led Cuban exiles conducted bombing raids. Chomsky describes such policies as “international terrorist attacks against Cuba.” In Hegemony or Survival, Chomsky further documents how similar policies had been conducted by U.S. successor governments. For instance, Chomsky writes the following about the government of U.S. President Richard Nixon: “Terrorist activities continued under Nixon, peaking in the mid-1970s, with attacks on fishing boats, embassies, and Cuban offices overseas, and the bombing of a Cubana airliner, killing all seventy-three passengers. These and subsequent terrorist operations were carried out from US territory, though by then they were regarded as criminal acts by the FBI.”

The U.S.-American politician Bill van Auken wrote on the World Socialist Website that the USA has sponsored and protected Cuban exile terrorists” whose attacks “have claimed thousands of lives.” To label Cuba as a terrorist state would thus constitute “a grotesque inversion of the real relationship.”

Castro’s Idea

Such views are hardly disseminated by the German liberal press which rather associates Cuba with terrorism. Press coverage demonizes Cuban society and this framing serves U.S. interests. Who remembers that before the Revolution, the Cuban people were subjugated by a US client regime? U.S. historian Paul Street argues this in an article for ZNet: “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 U.S. control in service to great U.S. business interests. The Batista era (1952-1959) witnessed the nearly total domination of the Cuban economy by U.S. corporations and the related political domination of the island by Washington.“

After the Revolution, the USA was concerned about Cuba’s independence, which could have served as a model for other countries in the Latin American hemisphere. This is evidenced by John F. Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger’s warning about “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands. “Schlesinger wrote in a report for the Kennedy administration that “Castro’s idea” could be particular effective in areas where “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes,” because in such regions, the poor could be “stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution” and demand “opportunities for a decent living.” Accordingly, it could be argued that the subversive policies against Cuba and the economic sanctions were designed in order to counter progressive developments in Cuba. This was so because in practice, “Castro’s idea” included the nationalization of industries at the expense of U.S. business interests. This critical context has largely been ignored in the German press.

But if we assess the current rapprochement between Cuba and the USA, the historical background and its implications need to be considered. U.S. interests in Latin America have not changed. As Paul Craig Roberts comments: “Normalization of relations with Cuba is not the result of a diplomatic breakthrough or a change of heart on the part of Washington.” In fact, Roberts further argues: “Normalization is a result of U.S. corporations seeking profit opportunities in Cuba.” Together with “normalization,” foreign currency and a U.S. embassy will settle in Cuba. This has the broader goal of taking over Cuba’s political and economic affairs: “In short, normalization of relations means regime change in Cuba.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Michael February 24, 2015 12:58 am 

    What Mr. Zollman describes is, of course, right on target. The U.S.’s effort to change regimes and control other countries is a common story. If one wants to follow it today, simply read recent (but not only recent) stories about Venezuela in the New York Times and then read insightful articles in ZNET and other alternative/progressive websites, but especially here.

    Craig Spence, a journalist who reported on Viet Nam in the 60’s once said at talk he gave at my college that Time magazine was “serialized fiction” in its reporting of that country and the U.S. invasion.

    Well, the premier daily of the U.S. when it reports on Venezuela fits this description, too.

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