This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 21 March 2016 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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– Thoughts on Obama’s springtime Latin American offensive
– From AWTW150413: What future for Cuba did the handshake between Barack Obama and Raul Castro herald?
Thoughts on Obama’s springtime Latin American offensive
21 March 2016. A World to Win News Service.
A Tale of Two Bertas
During his visit to Havana, in a counterpoint to his meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, US President Barack Obama was scheduled to meet with Berta Soller, a representative of “The Ladies in White”, founded by wives of political prisoners.
There is no need for Obama to visit Honduras, because it has never escaped American domination and in US eyes, no changes are needed in that country. There, Berta Caceres, another woman considered a troublemaker by her government, was murdered in bed on 3 March. One difference between the two kinds of dissidents is that the Honduran regime was brought to power by the US.
Berta Caceres was a leader in a movement against the devastation of Honduras’s environment and indigenous people to benefit foreign investment. She had predicted that she would be killed by the country’s military, which has repeatedly intervened in favour of US interests in Honduras, a job they are trained, financed and “advised” to carry out, as are the police. (AWTWNS160307) After her death, the police detained a survivor of that attack and fellow members of her group. On 15 March Nelson Garcia was shot dead as he returned home after a protest, the third member of her movement to be murdered in the last year.
Their blood is on Obama’s hands. Don’t tell us that the US, under Obama or anyone else, is going to stand up for the right to dissent in Cuba or anywhere else unless it happens to suit their interests – and those interests mean enslaving whole countries.
Obama jokes about flying to Cuba
Obama joked that his voyage to Havana only took three hours, unlike the last US president to visit Cuba, Calvin Coolidge, in 1928. Coolidge came on a gunboat, sailing for three days.
After snatching Cuba from Spain in the 1898 war waged over Spanish colonies, the U.S. wrote an amendment into the Cuban constitution allowing it to intervene at will. The US army occupied and directly ruled Cuba repeatedly. American warships were a frequent sight in Havana’s harbour. Coolidge came to salute the transformation of this former slave plantation country into a haven for US interests – gambling, prostitution, the majority of the sugar plantations and almost all of the sugar exports. In particular, he came to express support for the regime of General Gerardo Machado, who faced popular unrest, particularly from students.
When Machado’s successor annulled that amendment, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent 19 warships and mobilized the Marines and bombers. Later the US installed the bloodthirsty General Fulgencio Batista, who was to rule Cuba until overthrown by the revolution led by Raul’s brother Fidel Castro in 1959.
It might look like the US abandoned “gunboat diplomacy” toward Cuba after the 1961 failed CIA-led invasion of Cuba by sea, if you don’t take into account the decades of sabotage, bombings, assassination plots against Cuba leaders, the CIA bombing of a Cuban airliner and so on, not to mention the half-century US “embargo” of Cuba’s economy, the contemporary equivalent of a naval blockade, which finally forced the Cuban government to accept when Obama made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Obama didn’t come to Cuba on a gunboat, but he represents the same ruling class, the same interests, the same policies and, ultimately, the same reliance on the US’s terroristic military power.
The military theoretician Carl con Clausewitz once famously wrote, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Obama’s trip to Cuba and Argentina is a continuation of the imperialist politics and goals that the US has pursued by whatever means necessary at any given moment.
Next stop: Argentina
After celebrating the reconquest of Cuba, Obama’s next stop is to be Argentina, where a new government has pleased Washington by agreeing to pay off bonds to American investors in what respectable Western business analysts think it’s cute to call “vulture funds”.
Obama is to visit there on 25-26 March, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the military coup that marked the intensification of the “dirty war” during which the military kidnapped, tortured and killed tens of thousands of people, including those who could best be classified as dissidents – the kind of people Obama claims to support now in Cuba. The exact number is unknown because so many people simply disappeared. Many prisoners were taken in aircraft and dropped, alive, far out at sea. Another hallmark of the military’s suppression campaign was to snatch babies from women – sometimes raping them in prison to make them pregnant – and give them to officers and other regime supporters to raise as their own. Many adults today are not sure who their biological parents were. This is an open wound in Argentine society.
This terror was explicitly supported by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who told a leading general, “We wish the new government well. We wish it succeed. We will do what we can to help it succeed.” “We understand that you must establish authority.” In this meeting he also said, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But then you should get back to normal procedures.” The “dirty war” lasted seven years. (National Security Archive, nsarchive.gwu.edu)
Under the US-supported “Operation Condor,” generals who took power in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay similarly took vengeance on an enormous and unknown number of people considered problematic to the interests of US imperialism and its domestic allies.
Obama’s ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly and literally embraced Kissinger, calling him “a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as Secretary of State.” (Quoted in the New York Times, 26 February 2016) It has been written that her role in supporting the 2009 military coup in Honduras was “pure Machtpolitik [might makes right], the kind Kissinger deployed in Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina and elsewhere.” (The Nation, 5 February 2016)
Apparently Obama wasn’t aware of the significance of the date when making plans to visit Argentina. In reply to criticism that this could seem as a celebration of the 1976 coup, his current Secretary of State Susan Rice said, “On this anniversary and beyond, we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation.” Except, of course, that this nation includes two opposing sides, the victims and their children, those kept and those stolen, and the torturers and murders who have prospered in civilian life, and the same Argentine ruling class that called in the generals.
Can you imagine going jogging and running into the man who tortured you? What do the words “heal and move forward” mean when they come from the mouths of Kissinger’s successors, including Hillary Clinton and her former employer Obama, and the American monopoly capitalist, imperialist ruling class that continues to fatten from the countries they dominate, including Argentina, and are now once again eyeing Cuba as a source of great wealth?
A final note: Why is Obama visiting a dictatorship?
Is the Castro regime a dictatorship? It is not, actually, the kind of openly terroristic strongman regime the US has so often installed, in Cuba and many other countries, especially in its “back yard”, Latin America. But the regime does represent the dictatorship of a reactionary class, a monopoly of power – and ultimately force, a state apparatus run by a class of people based in the state and economic institutions organized from what was once the property of US capitalists and their allies, plantation owners and a handful of big-time capitalists. It has been called “a kind of repressive welfare state in which the masses are kept powerless and economically chained to the logic of world capitalism.” (Raymond Lotta, Revolution no. 367, revcom.us)
Just as this state, based on a new exploiting capitalist class despite its (now all but forgotten) socialist pretences, could not transform the society as it had been shaped first by slavery and then US domination, with all the oppression and inequalities that produced, so also it could not reduce the economy’s dependence on foreign capital, going from dependence on the Soviet Union (where “socialism” had also become a hollow shell since the 1950s) back to the US today.
“The lack of political rights and the ferment of dissent that the Cuban regime’s reactionary critics complain about is stultifying. Yet the most central right such people never talk about and will never agree to anywhere, and that the Castro regime never dreamed of, is the right of the masses of people to increasingly take part in running society through a new kind of state, transforming economic, social and political relations and themselves, leading to a world free of all oppressive relations among human beings.” (AWTWNS150413)
The US, too, is a dictatorship, where total power is in the hands of a monopoly capitalist ruling class, whether in the form of elections (which made Obama the empire’s CEO) or otherwise. It has no lessons about people’s rights to give Cuba, even when it comes to prisoners: As of 2013, 518 out of every hundred thousand people were in prison in Cuba, compared to 730 people per hundred thousand population in the US. (International Prison Studies, prisonstudies.org) Mass imprisonment in the US is directly connected with the oppression of minorities, including the gunning down of youth in the street by the police, a signature feature of daily life in the USA.
Not to mention that the most notorious prison in Cuba, a torture site contrary to international and even US law, is run by the US – Guantanamo. Obama said that he will refuse to even discuss giving Cuba back this infamous piece of stolen land. It could be asked that if it is true Obama wants to close the prison, why does the US need to keep the major naval base, if not for “power protection” throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba’s sister islands, Puerto Rico (an outright colony) and Hispanola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic)?
The most important difference between Obama’s US and the Castro’s Cuba is not that one is “free” and the other isn’t, but that the US is an imperialist country that has thrived through global exploitation enforced by global domination.
American media say that some Cubans hope they will be able to get jobs at Guantanamo. This symbolizes the future the US has in mind for many Cubans.
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What future for Cuba did the handshake between Barack Obama and Raul Castro herald?
13 April 2015. A World to Win News Service. What future for Cuba did the handshake between Barack Obama and Raul Castro symbolize? It was a heartbreaking moment when the leader of a country once a symbol of defiance to the despised “Yankee empire”, as Cubans and others in revolt against US domination labelled it, shook hands with the “honest man”, as Castro now praised the man currently in charge of that empire. It was a bitter moment for Cubans and for people everywhere, including in the US where Obama and the state machinery in general would like this gesture to relieve some of the discredit earned it by the man who is now presiding over the “slow genocide”, as it has been called, of African-Americans, and wars of aggression and attempts to reboot American hegemony throughout so much of the world.
One especially bitter element in this moment was the way Obama focused on the possibility of removing Cuba from his government’s “international terrorism” list as a way to bludgeon the submissive Castro regime into even more submission. It is the US that held sway over Cuba through terrorist tyrants for decades, that attempted to invade Cuba to bring back the old regime two years after it was overthrown, that mounted all sorts of terrorist attacks on the new regime including, most notoriously, blowing up an airliner* full of civilians, and constantly plotted to bring down the regime through the assassination of its leaders. The history of Cuban-American relations is a history of unbridled US violence.
Cuba fell into the hands of the US for the first time in 1898, when the US invaded the island with double purpose of finishing off Spanish rivalry for control of the Caribbean and putting down a Cuban revolt that threatened to turn it into what American statesmen called “a Negro republic”. Slavery and sugar cane had created modern Cuba, and although slavery had been abolished, sugar cane still enslaved the economy and its people.
US troops occupied Cuba for a total of 12 years over the course of the next two decades. The US wrote an amendment into the Cuban constitution allowing it to intervene at will, which it did openly until the American ruling class fashioned a Cuban military that could be entrusted with their interests and political structures to run the country accordingly. This meant some of the world’s most notorious tyrants, generals obsequious to Washington and unspeakably cruel toward the people. US installation of torture republics was standard operating procedure in many places, including in the neighbouring Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Sugar cane is a crop that thrives on human flesh. Under US domination, sugar plantations ate up much of the arable land. The US sucked wealth out of Cuba in two ways, by dominating big agriculture and other businesses (such as rum, a sugar-dependent industry), and selling food and nearly everything else to a country that used to be extremely fertile before its forests were burned down to make way for sugar.
People worked unbearably hard in dangerous and life-shortening conditions during the harvest months and went hungry the rest of the year. A sugar cane mill worker killed in a strike was found to have no underwear or socks to be buried in. Cubans worked on US-owned cattle ranches, but only a tenth of the people in the countryside ever drank milk and less than half of that percentage ever ate meat. In fact, it was often family labour on tiny plots of land that enabled people to survive from harvest to harvest in the cane fields. Small farmers, often poor whites, were not much better off than plantation workers.
Cuban society was as devastated as its economy. Under the watchful eyes of Washington’s ambassadors, the US-based Mafia set moral standards and the Catholic Church blessed them. Among the most sacred values was men’s right to rule over women and women’s confinement to the following categories: mothers, wives, mistresses and prostitutes.
Prostitution flourished – in brothels and on the streets, ten percent of Havana’s population “served” American military men, civilian sailors and sex tourists. The biggest growth industry was casinos. Even as Cuba became known as a country where “anything goes” for rapacious foreigners, ordinary Cubans had no rights. The aspirations of the better-off middle classes and professionals were trampled underfoot by the country’s corrupt, arbitrary, vicious and tiny ruling class in association with the ultimate rulers, US monopoly capitalists and their political representatives in Washington.
The 1959 Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and others was an inspiration to people everywhere at that time, not a “disaster” as some commentators call it, nor some obscure “Cold War” quarrel as Obama claims. It was right to overthrow a US-backed regime that murdered as many as 20,000 people in its last years.
But that revolution was not led by a party with a real understanding of and commitment to what it would take to end all forms of oppressive economic and social relations and thinking they engender, despite use of the names “Communist Party” and “socialism”. Its leaders traded dependency on the US for dependency on the Soviet Union. (The USSR itself had already abandoned socialism in the 1950s and had become “social imperialist”, socialist in words, monopoly capitalist and imperialist in reality.) Since the fall of the USSR that leadership has floundered, and not just economically. They have been unable to offer the Cuban people a viable alternative to an uninspiring and untenable status quo.
The unrevolutionary character of the Cuban regime led by Fidel Castro was apparent in the attempt to continue the island’s submission to sugar (now to be sold or traded to the USSR) in forms that reproduced the old relations of exploitation and oppression in old and new ways. Neither the dependent economy nor the society that economy had created were ever thoroughly transformed in a liberating way.
The lack of political rights and ferment of dissent that the Cuban regime’s reactionary critics complain about was stultifying. Yet the most central right such people never talk about and will never agree to anywhere, and that the Castro regime never dreamed of, is the right of the masses of people to increasingly take part in running society through a new kind of state, transforming economic, social and political relations and themselves, leading to a world free of all oppressive relations among human beings. Raul Castro’s attempt to ensure his regime’s survival by crawling to the US imperialists, the biggest criminals against humanity today and Cuba’s historic slave masters, is painfully ugly, but it is consistent with the nature of the regime and society he and his brother Fidel have led.
The country’s dependency is shifting from sugar plantations to tourism plantations, an “industry” that offers no hope for economic independence and the fulfilment of human potential. And prostitution, which has been reintroduced and thriving for decades, is both a metaphor and mechanism for the further destruction still to come as the “free market”, whose awful power was never abolished in Cuba but now to be stoked by US capital, further destroys bodies and souls.
The lust with which the US now looks at Cuba is terrifying. More generally, however, the Obama-Castro handshake does not represent a new and durable triumph for US imperialism, but manoeuvring in a world where American hegemony is increasingly endangered. An understanding of why the Cuban revolution has ended up where it is today, and why that was not and is not inevitable, would be important for people everywhere whose revolutionary aspirations have not been quenched.
This article originally incorrectly referred to the CIA bombing of a Havana-Caracas flight. In fact, it was a Cuban national airlines flight between Barbados and Jamaica, carrying the Cuban national fencing team. All 73 people aboard were killed when a time-bomb brought the plane down in an operation led by the Cuban-born CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles in 1976. Although he bragged about this act of terrorism in his autobiography, he lives openly in Miami today. (nsarchives.org).
For more, see “Re-Colonization in the Name of Normalization – Behind the Re-Establishment of US-Cuba Diplomatic Relations”, by Ramond Lotta, Revolution #367, December 29, 2014, at revcom.us. Also “Burn Down the Cane Fields! Notes on the Political Economy of Cuba,” A World to Win magazine nos. 14 and 15, available at http://bannedthought.net/International/RIM/AWTW/1989-14/AWTW-14-Cuba.pdf
Further, despite its theoretical flaws, the classic Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, who died 13 April 2015, remains a valuable, highly insightful and poetic denunciation of that continent’s history under colonialism and imperialism. (Monthly Review Press, 1997).
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