Where does Cuba stand now?

A quote from Fidel at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party in April 2016.
A quote from Fidel’s speech at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party in April 2016.

This post is more in-depth analysis about Cuba’s predicament than my previous post which focused on Fidel’s recent death. I could note the health programs in Cuba, the visit of the Vietnamese president to Cuba even as that country has thoroughly surrendered itself to “the market,” education programs on the island, or other aspects. But, I’d like to instead focus on the recent “normalization” in Cuba since 2014.

Recent articles have noted the possible (and likely) change of tone when it comes to Cuba. Bloomberg declared that Trump will need to “balance his pro-growth economic plans and allegiance to business with the hard-line campaign pledges” which connect with his promise to “reverse the improved U.S. relations with Cuba forged by President Barack Obama,” unless the nation accepts bourgeois freedoms, the former which is at odds with those corporations who are “hoping for a foothold there” such as those in the “wheat, corn…soymeal…raw sugar and energy product” industries, assumedly. [1] Some say that by taking a hardline position he will be at odds with the “U.S. business community” (and Jeff Flake), such as the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, but supported by Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Other articles note that if Trump reverses the “normalization” it will hurt companies like Best Buy, WalMart, JetBlue, Starwood, Carnival, American Airlines, and Airbnb, who want to expand their markets in Cuba, costing them, apparently, “hundreds of millions of dollars” as possible tourism (mainly from the US) would dissipate. [2] Some writers even thought that Trump would embolden the “hardliners” in Cuba (presumably more critical of involvement with the US), according to supposed “Cuba experts,” apart from Raul Castro who has instituted some market-related measures on the island.

In order to go forward, it is important to consider three viewpoints on the situation. One of these is by RancidSassy (also called “ that, while ignoring criticisms of the Cuban revolution (since they are an anarchist), Obama’s “mild normalization of relations with the Cuban state” is not that existing. They worry about the “vicious plan to complete the domination of Cuba, probably ending in its total recolonization by financial capital” which was “more like a declaration of war,” writing that this “imperial scheming” (or diplomacy as it is often called) needs to be interrupted like Chelsea Manning did. Sassy goes further to talk about the failed assassination plots, the USAID program (and fake Twitter), and that US embassies are “basically just CIA offices.” He worried about Raul Castro praise Obama and the Pope, noting how “liberals dressed as radicals,” like CodePink’s Medea Benjamin, Mother Jones’s David Corn, self-indulgent journalist Jeremy Scahill, writer Max Blumenthal, and advocate Yosef Munayyer, praised this rhetoric. He went on to talk about Cuban exiles in Miami, propaganda aimed at Cuba coupled with the blockade which was “loose” enough to allow US agribusiness to trade stable foods to the Cuban government, how Israel is “useful to the empire as a giant spaceship of white capitalism in a typically resistant Middle East,” and said liberals (and others on the left) aren’t worrying about “an empire that has spent the last century or more systematically binding the peoples of the world to its political and financial will.”

Before moving onto the next piece, I think Sassy has a good point. Already the naval base in Guantanamo, the US embassy in Havana, and US overt (ex: USAID) and covert (ex: CIA) are projecting imperialism onto Cuba. If this one agrees with this argument, then well-meaning radicals should resist the “normalization” of relations, since a “fair” compromise with the empire is likely impossible. If there are “hardliners” in Cuba, like in Iran, as one could call them, then these forces should be encouraged under an approach to a Trump presidency. This presidency, managing the murderous empire, which seems poised to reverse the “vicious plan to complete the domination of Cuba” as Sassy put it, and would allow for these “hardliners” to have more room to breathe and grow, leading a possibly stronger counter against US imperialism. This could be especially the case after 2018 when Raul Castro will step down as President.

remedy the embarrassing situation that their country had wound up isolating itself during its attempts to isolate Cuba,” noting that groups like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) popped up, that were opposed to the US, and that the Cubans for many years did not “undo their own revolution and surrender to the US under the worst possible terms, as was expected,” leading the country to become “a major powerhouse in healthcare and biotechnology” and building of the country’s “middle class.” The article goes on to say that the decision to reestablish relations with the island dates back to 2007 when a major law firm, Alston & Bird, which represents “financial service, healthcare, energy, and telecommunication companies,” had such a strong interest that they worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to challenge “the Florida ban on travel to Cuba,” with Obama, by engaging in the action benefiting his financial backers. Still, the article notes that reestablishing diplomatic relations was done simultaneously with the release of the Cuban Five, and later with removal of Cuba from “the list of countries that sponsor terrorism,” with the Cuban government having a “tough negotiating stance with US business.” Like Saddy, this writer notes that “the rollback of the US sanctions has been quite limited in terms of the restrictions on trade and investment” and that Cuba “remains dissatisfied and wary of the US,” with a continued push to close the illegal base at Guantanamo Bay, as negotiations continue, and that in exchange for opening its market to the US, “Cuba wants equal access to the US market,” selling those in the US biotech and computer software products, while expanding their tourism industry. The writer concludes that

“Cuba has had enough experience with the Monroe Doctrine to know that the US goal will always be to turn it into a colony…the new wave of colonists…think that their work to undermine the Cuban Revolution will become easier after Cuba’s great hero Fidel Castro dies. This is partly the result of a US belief in its own propaganda…the US intention is clearly a Bay of Pigs invasion with a smile. The Cuban Revolution has enormous symbolic importance for people throughout the world who are fighting US domination, and the undoing of this revolution would be major psychological blow. The US is already hinting that it wants popular elections that it can manipulate…As ever, the Cuban revolution thrives while under attack; one can only hope that it will never imagine it is not.”

Chery, like Sassy, makes good points. I personally think that “popular elections” are what corrupted leftist parties in Angola and Mozambique, in part, to adopt more market-based approaches and slowly accept the capitalist model. One-party elections are vital if the Cuban Revolution is to be preserved. I will say that I do not think the normalization is “a Bay of Pigs invasion with a smile” as that would mean that it is covert and secret, along with including Cuban exiles. That isn’t true in this case, as the initiative is being led by the hunger of US business to obtain new markets and push down “unfair” barriers, along with being assisted by Obama.

The last viewpoint examined here is that of James Early, who sits on the board of The Real News, an independent news organization which is better than Democracy Now! by far but is still within the “progressive” camp broadly. Early notes the history of Cuba, specifically describing it as having, before 1959, an economy owned 75% by the US, a “narco state…with Meyer Lansky and the US mafia dominating that as a playground with rampant prostitution, deep racism, and exploitation” and saying that while they “did repress” it was to uphold “certain virtues and to repress those things that go against the common good” and that we should recognize the “sometimes egregious failures” of the Cuban Revolution, none of which he names. He goes on to say that many left “because they feared communism…[or] wanted to take an opportunity to get out of the country and to increase their economic circumstances,” with many of these people as “Euro Cubans. Not people of color Cubans.” Early then talked about Cuban exiles, the “propaganda machine of the United States” distorting the reality in Cuba, the US State Department’s imperial role, and the horrible “wet foot, dry foot policy” which gives preferential treatment to Cuban exiles coming to the US. He adds that by criticizing those who have “dogmatic ideological perspectives [which] are ultra leftist” which reject any criticism (which he never expands on) of the Cuban Revolution, noting that “Cuba has made its own self critiques” while acknowledging the accomplishments, with great debate going on within the Communist Party, including “debating freedom of press and within Granma, the official news organ” and allowing criticism of the Communist Party in Cuba, with owning “up to errors” and that a personality like Fidel will not emerge in the future but that “we will see the same kind of humanistic policies…sharp debate on how to calibrate that…[and] draw[ing] a very hard straight line against monopoly, against excessive wealth…[and] maintain[ing] a socialist orientation.” He closes with words that are worth keeping in mind:

“…big capital in the United States…already made its peace with the failed policy overthrow the Cuban socialist revolution in a way that it has gone on for the last half century. They now feel that the flooding of the country with money and goods and consumer attitudes, they will be able to undermine and overturn that revolution. But in the process they want to make money. The Cubans have always preferred to fight and this new context within the protocols of nations, not having the United States outside as a rogue nation…I think we’ll see a mediation of that. I can envision that that US capital will be pressing the Donald Trump regime to not overturn the fundamental issues that Barack Obama stepped forward…it’s going to be tough…I think we see the change in policies brought forth under the administration of Raul Castro.”

Early, like Sassy and Chery, makes a valid point. However, I think he is hard on solidarity efforts with Cuba and a bit too optimistic in many respects. But, perhaps that is not wrong to be optimistic about a socialist Cuba, but at minimum he is almost downplaying the threat going forward.

My final thoughts

A poster designed by Mahmud Dawirji for the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) in circa 1980.
A poster designed by Mahmud Dawirji for the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) in circa 1980.

I think Cuba, like Iran, is at a crossroads. If Trump reverses the “normalization” the Obama administration has put in place in regards to Iran and Cuba, there will be undoubtedly new political developments, with the reported “hardliners” or more accurately those more wary and critical of imperial influence economically and otherwise, not in favor of such “normalization,” gaining more power. This could be good as it would be a needed setback from the Western-backed moderate reformists in Iran who are basically just footsoldiers for the murderous empire.

As for Cuba, there is a real danger that it would be pulled into the neocolonial ring. Under no circumstances can those on the left, who are anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, accept (or allow to best circumstances possible), a Cuba which is wholly occupied by a foreign power, embodied by the deceitful Teller Amendment, Platt Amendment, and deceptive “support” of the cause of “Cuba Libre” pushed by the anti-Spanish and anti-imperialist rebels. [3] Cuba has had a hold on the American imagination for many years, with brutal slaveowner Thomas Jefferson even declaring that Cuba should be part of the United States in 1809! Like in the past, there are some policymakers who believe that we have to stop “oppression at our very doors,” as President McKinley declared in justifying the Spanish-American War (and invasion of Spanish-controlled Cuba), and that we need to defend “Cuban rights” which translates to rights for multinational corporations to exploit and re-establish themselves, as Fidel put it in his speech on January 2, 1959, “masters of the country.” [4] Like in the past, the empire will not accept Cuba (and its democratic nationalism) due to its challenge to US influence including support of governments like those in Grenada. [5]

In order to recognize the challenges ahead, it is worth reflecting on the slave society in Cuba in the past. From the 1760s to the late 1830s, Cuba became a “community of large sugar and coffee plantations,” from an agrarian lifestyle with less population, and became valuable to the Spanish empire as the Cuban economy grew. [6] With new strife caused by the presence of thousands of enslaved blacks, with more than 400,000 imported into the island by one estimate, and dominance (and superiority) of the white (and somewhat restless Creole) plantation class, the US became a new market for Cuban sugar. [7] The number of enslaved blacks would increase from 38,900 in 1775 to 436,495 persons, in the “faithful colony,” a term which refers to planter dependence on Spain. [8] By the 1860s, Cuban sugar dominated the world market, with the island as the largest producer of sugar, buttressed by an illegal slave trade. [9] Slavery was abolished on the island in 1886 not because of an “internal collapse” of the system but acceleration of emancipation on the island, the Ten Year War in Cuba (1868-1878) led by small planters and insurgents who declared freedom of enslaved blacks under their control, and pressure from Cuban (and Spanish) abolitionists as plantation slavery became more “multicultural” (enslaved blacks, indentured Asians, black, white, and mixed race wage workers were part of the plantation work force). [10] Of course, the exploitation would continue under the form of wage labor and under the imperialist control of Cuba up until the Cuban Revolution’s success in gaining power in 1959.

If multinational corporations again gain a strong foothold in Cuba and exert their dominance, this would not only be part of the imperialist octopus, which would be bringing its tentacles to its “former mistress,” but it would increase the exploitation of the population. There is no doubt that the Mafia and prostitution would come in full force to the island, but there would be the full force of racism and sexism making its imprint on society, along with more full-fledged sexual violence. Having US tourists on the island would also not lead to something positive, as it would be followed by the popular culture, Hollywood, and elements of US culture.

While one should remain critical, there is one element that those who see themselves (correctly) as anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist in mind: solidarity. Building off what I said on Twitter, it is worth quoting the eighth term of admission into the Communist International in 1920:

“Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support—in deed, not merely in word—every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.”

While it has been 96 years since this was declared, the principles still apply. As I said on twitter, this could, most expansively be applied to Iran, Syria, DPRK, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Belarus, Philippines (maybe), Bulgaria (I suppose), and Moldova (maybe), while recognizing the roles of China and Russia. In this current time, one would have to commit themselves, if they lived in North America, to opposing US imperialism in its form of colonialism in Puerto Rico and other “territories” (U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, United States Minor Outlying Islands, and Northern Marina Islands), neocolonialism in associated states (Micronesia, Palau, and Marshall Islands), and neocolonialism manifested in the 500+ bases the US has across the world. [11] If they lived in Europe, for example, they would have to, under this logic, commit themselves to opposing imperialism of France and Britain, along with the United States, in the African continent, just to give an example. Obviously putting into action “systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples” and supporting colonial (and anti-imperialist) liberation movements would require organization. This means that the aims would go beyond just opposing the imperialism to actively working to stop it. But at minimum, this would comprise of solidarity with oppressed nations, which are listed above, and likely others, and opposing future US interventions, the “notion of American empire.” Other than this, the rest is up to all of you. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Notes

[1] Benjamin Bain and Christine Jenkins, “Trump Walks Business-Politics Tightrope on Cuba After Castro,” Bloomberg Politics, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016.

[2] Damien Cave, Azam Ahmed, and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Donald Trump’s Threat to Close Door Reopens Old Wounds in Cuba,” New York Times, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016; “U.S. Companies Hope Trump Won’t Block Their Million-Dollar Cuba Deals,” Reuters, November 29, 2016. Republished by NBCNews. Accessed November 30, 2016; David Jackson, “Trump ponders Cabinet appointments, threatens Cuba deal,” USA Today, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016.

[3] Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Time Books, 2006), 31-32, 37-44, 46, 48, 63.

[4] Kinzer, 83, 87-91

[5] Kinzer, 90-91, 135, 139, 154, 174, 205, 220, 226-227, 236.

[6] Franklin Knight, “The Transformation of Cuban Agriculture 1763-1838,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Dr. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 69, 73.

[7] Knight, 70-72, 74-77

[8] Knight, 77-78.

[9] Rebecca Scott, “Explaining Abolition: Contradiction, Adaptation and Challenge in Cuban Slave Slave Society 1860-1886,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Dr. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 454-455.

[10] Scott, 456-458, 460, 463. Scott says that about 114,000 enslaved blacks were emancipated from slavery from 1881-1886, a major factor in abolition.

[11] The “BASE STRUCTURE REPORT- FISCAL YEAR 2015 BASELINE” notes that the US military is “one of the Federal government’s larger holders of real estate managing a global real property portfolio that consists of nearly 562,000 facilities (buildings, structures, and linear structures), located on over 4,800 sites worldwide and covering over 24.9 million acres” (p. DOD 2). It also notes that there are 513 “active installations” of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and WHS (Washington Headquarters Services) (p. DOD 4). However, the total number of military sites, minus the over 4,100 in the United States, numbers 701 if one considers those in “territories” (really colonies) and overseas (not in the US or its colonies) (p. DOD 6, p. DOD 18). It also worth noting that the military “uses over 178,000 structures throughout the world, valued at over $131 billion,” along with “107,000 linear structures throughout the world, valued at over $163 billion,” and managing “24.9 million acres of land worldwide,” which one could consider as aspects of the empire itself (p. DOD 10, DOD 12, DOD 14). If that isn’t enough, there are also 42 Army National Guard Sites in US colonies, which when combined with the 701 military sites noted earlier, comes up to 743 military sites (p. DOD 16).

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