Saturday, January 25, 2014

More than 50 Years Later, the Blockade Against Cuba Survives as Punishment for Achieving Self-Determination

It is the best illustration of the dichotomy between the U.S. government's professed admiration for democracy and its actual imposition of hegemony.  The blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba for more than 50 years is one of the most universally accepted issues in the history of international relations: 99% of the world's nations agree that the blockade is illegal and must end.  They have voted this way for the last 22 years.  Besides the U.S. and its client state Israel, only a small handful of tiny Pacific island nations, former Soviet satellites and dictatorial regimes have ever sided with the U.S.

UN Resolutions against the US embargo on Cuba

Year  For            Against Abstained Voting Against
1992 59 3 71 U.S., Israel, Romania
1993 88 4 57 U.S., Israel, Albania, Paraguay
1994 101 2 48 U.S., Israel
1995 117 3 38 U.S., Israel, Uzbekistan
1996 138 3 25 U.S., Israel, Uzbekistan
1997 143 3 17 U.S., Israel, Uzbekistan
1998 157 2 12 U.S., Israel
1999 155 2 8 U.S., Israel
2000 167 3 4 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands
2001 167 3 3 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands
2002 173 3 4 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands
2003 179 3 2 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands
2004 179 4 1 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2005 182 4 1 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2006 183 4 1 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2007 184 4 1 U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2008 185 3 2 U.S., Israel, Palau
2009 187 3 2 U.S., Israel, Palau
2010 187 2 3 U.S., Israel
2011 186 2 3 U.S., Israel
2012 188 3 2 U.S., Israel, Palau
2013 188 2 3 U.S., Israel

Even the U.S. public is against it.  Yet, the blockade will not go away.  Most Presidents have found ways to strengthen it.  Congress even enthusiastically joined in the act, assuming unilateral power to lift sanctions.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. government's insistence on disobeying the will of the entire world and the laws governing it underscores the insanity of this policy.  It has been ruled illegal repeatedly by every single international organization that has considered it, and can reasonably said to constitute genocide.

The justifications by U.S. officials have ranged from Cuba's nationalization of American assets after the revolution (legal under international law and carried out without controversy with other European governments); Cuba's relations with the Soviet Union (in violation of Washington's rule that communism is illegal, despite what international law says); Cuba's sponsoring of terrorism (in the form of fighting against colonial dictatorships in Africa); and most recently violations of human rights (for which the U.S. has a very particular definition).  

Speaking before the U.N. this past October, Ronald Godard "said his country strongly supported the Cuban people’s desire to design their own future... It was unrealistic to expect Cuba to thrive unless it changed its policies, opened up for competitions, respected international property rights and allowed unfettered access to the Internet, among other things."

Godard fails to mention the fact that the Cuban people already design their own future, having been able to do so for the first time in 1959, despite the interference and continued subversion of the United States itself.

"After hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism, a half century of American hegemony, the Cubans in 1959 were finally able to wrest control of their land for their national interests, not for those of a foreign power," writes Keith Bolender in his book Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba. "Through massive economic and political change, isolation, compromise, forced limitations and unrelenting aggression from the United States, the Cuban national identity has been increasingly characterized by the defiance of whatever shortcomings there may be in life, nothing is more significant than self-determination."  

The talk of Cuba not "thriving" is also easily refutable. A study in 1970 by the Twentieth Century Fund of New York found that: "In education and public health, no country in Latin America has carried out such ambitious and nationally comprehensive programs. Cuba’s centrally planned economy has done more to integrate the rural and urban sectors (through a national income distribution policy) than the market economies of the other Latin American countries." 

After the success of the revolution in driving out U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, the revolutionary government moved quickly to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the nation's poor.  Young adults were sent as tutors to the country side to teach literacy, traveling cinemas were brought to villages, free day care centers were established, and agrarian reform implemented that allowed peasants to own the land they farmed.  By any measure, life had drastically improved for the nation's citizens after the revolution.  

There is no objective measure the U.S. can use to back up its claims.  The reason is because they really mean the opposite of what they say.  

"Cuba had become what Washington had always feared from the Third World – a good example," as William Blum explains.  

The great U.S. fear, which would create a hysterical and violent reaction from military planners, was vocalized by Castro's revolutionary partner Che Guevara: "Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America.  We are telling these countries to make their own revolution." 

One example of such American possessions is Puerto Rico.  Seven years before the success of the Cuban revolution, Puerto Rico had implemented its own constitution.  Of course, it was subjugated by the United States constitution. After decades of suffering the violent suppression of populist movements demanding self-determination, Puerto Ricans settled for as much autonomy as they could get short of undertaking a revolution of their own.  

Despite the new constitution, Puerto Rico remained (and still does remain) a colony. The new "Free Associated State" or "Commonwealth" was simply a vehicle to provide plentiful opportunities for U.S. investors, favorable conditions for U.S. corporations, open markets to export American goods, and a tropical playground for rich American vacationers. In short: exactly what Cuba had been from 1898 until the overthrow of Batista.  

The idea that a country could reclaim for itself its own sovereignty and self-determination from its rightful master, the United States, was something that had to be suppressed at all costs.  The U.S. knew that their dominance over Latin America came at the expense of the poor masses, and the thought of these masses rising up to challenge them drove them into a hysterical frenzy. 

"If the only aternatives for the people of Latin America are the status quo and communism," said John F. Kennedy, "then they will inevitably choose communism." 

The response from the U.S. to deter the self-determination of the Cuban people was quick and forceful.  The U.S. started an unrelenting campaign of interference, terrorism and full-scale military aggression in order to sabotage the revolutionary government and prevent a socioeconomic system that valued the needs and desires of the masses over the demands of a foreign power.  

"American aggression ran from the embargo, propaganda, isolation, and the Bay of Pigs military invasion. As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out," Bolender writes. "American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism.  These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics.”

While terrorism, carried out first by the U.S. government and its agents by and later by groups given safe haven in Miami  still continues to haunt the Cuban people, the blockade has been the most constant and all-encompassing source of aggression for more than half a century.

It is worth examining how and why exactly did the blockade come about?  What were the reasons that the U.S. chose such a drastic measure against a tiny island that posed zero danger to the strongest superpower in the world?  

Incidentally, we have a record of exactly why the blockade was implemented.  Not surprisingly, it was part of a larger campaign to overthrow the revolutionary government by all means necessary.  There was not any concern whatsoever for the illegality nor the sheer violence and suffering this would cause innocent people. The only underlying concern was to do what was perceived to be in the strategic interests of the U.S. government, without consideration of the actual people who suffered the consequences.

Lester D. Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, noted in an internal memorandum in 1960 to Roy R. Rubottom Jr., then the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American affairs, the purpose of economic sanctions:

"The majority of Cubans support Castro. There is no effective political opposition… The only forseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship… every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… a line of action which… makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government." (Lamrani)

There you have it, right from the horse's mouth: the government policy was to inflict violence and suffering on such a massive scale that Cubans would have no choice but to surrender their basic human right of self-determination.  It is pure, savage warfare.  

Despite changing rationalizations, this is what the blockade has always been about.  Former CIA Director Richard Helms confirmed the American strategy.  In testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1978 he said:

"We had task forces that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy." (Bolender)

Despite the transparency of the U.S. government's flimsy arguments, the true nature of the blockade doesn't seem to be fully understood by the American public.  But it is easy for the victims to state what is self-evident to the rest of the world.  

In his rebuttal, the Cuban Foreign minister reasonably pointed out that: "The United States Government had no right to be an accuser, as it had irresponsibly caused the deaths of millions of civilians, including with the use of drones.  The United States had used torture and forced feeding in the case of hunger strikes and the Government was manipulating, as it saw fit, the concept of human rights...  The United States was a country that occupied territory, including the Guantanamo military base in Cuba.  The United States had exercised State terrorism and supported a policy of destabilization and regime change." 

A full history of the blockade against Cuba is beyond the scope of this article.  For a comprehensive book on the topic, Salim Lamrani thoroughly details the legal implications as well as the effects on the Cuban people.  

It is worth mentioning briefly that the most nefarious and illegal aspects of the blockade are comprised of laws imposed by the U.S. extraterritorially against third countries.  That is to say, they violate the sovereignty of impartial nations.  The U.S. imposes penalties unilaterally on these nations' trade relations with Cuba, which are conducted in accordance with the laws chosen by their populations and with international law.

These prohibitions include sections of the Torricelli Act which forbids subsidiaries of U.S. companies established in third countries to trade with Cuba. 90 percent of such trade with Cuba conducted by these subsidiaries consits of food and medicines.  Also, the Helms-Burton Act prevented international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, from granting credit to Cuba. This violated the policies of these institutions as well as those of other international organizations. (Lamrani)

Such provisions prevented foreign ships who had called on Cuban ports to then dock in American ports. Products made in foreign countries containing Cuban nickel were not allowed by the U.S. to be imported. And products containing 10 percent or more materials made in America were not allowed to be exported by third countries to Cuba.  Such tight restrictions were placed on foreign subsidiaries in their trade relations with Cuba - such as demanding full payment up front in a currency other than the dollar - that trade with Cuba has been effectively cut off in many places. Trading legally with Cuba often results in the inability to trade with the U.S. Most companies submit to U.S. demands, despite the fact that in trading with Cuba they are breaking no legitimate laws.  Other countries need to trade with the U.S., the world's biggest economy, more than they do with Cuba.

Nearly 80 percent of patents in the medical sector are held by American corporations and their subsidiaries. Cuba cannot gain access to these pharmaceutical medications and medical equipment because of restrictions imposed by the U.S. government. (Lamrani)

Many international laws prohibit the blockade and other such unilateral extraterritorial laws. Resolution 2625 of 1970 reminds nations that: "No state may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measure to coerce another State in order to obtain the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure advantages of any kind… Every state has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State." (Lamrani)

We have established that the current language of human rights used by the U.S. government to defend, against reason, its antiquated and aggresive policy is no more than propaganda.  But it is worth proving that even their rationalizations are easily refutable.  

This is best done by listening to the words of actual Cubans who have lived and suffered through the long ordeal of the blockade. 

“I don’t feel oppressed or controlled by my government," said Roman Torreira, an expert on Operation Peter Pan, which was a U.S. program to remove Cuban children from their parents and send them overseas. "There were steps that had to be taken for security, to protect the people against this aggression. Those are civil aspects, not basic human rights. Cuba’s original sin-we have never accepted the imposition or will of imperialism, first from the Spanish and now from the Americans. We are being punished and will never be forgiven for that." (Bolender)

"It is our conviction that we have to be free," said Ariel Alonso Pérez, author and historian, who was written of the history of biological terror attacks against the island. "The Americans say they want to 'free us.' Don't bother; we are free because we have our own country." (Bolender)

Logic and the historical record defy the pathetic U.S. defenses of an indefensible policy.  It would be a serious mistake to take them at face value.  It is time for the U.S. public to realize what the rest of the world did long ago: it is unfair to punish a country for governing itself.      

Works Cited

Bolender, K. (2013). Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba. Pluto Press.
Lamrani, S. (2013). The Economic War Against Cuba: A Historical and Legal Perspective on the U.S. Blockade. Monthly Review Press.