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.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Pipe Dream or the Key to Ending U.S. Hegemony in Latin America?

Quietly, news emerged this past June about a deal to build a larger-than-life project that could transform the country of Nicaragua.  If preliminary reports are true, plans are in the works in Central America that would build a canal more than three times as long as the Panama Canal and fit massive cargo ships twice as large.  While the project is still in the preliminary stages and would need final approval, what was announced in June has the potential to transform not just this long suffering country, but the dynamics of global commerce.

The Sandinista government of Nicaragua, led by Daniel Ortega, has agreed in principal to grant the rights to build a canal crossing through the country from Pacific to Atlantic Ocean to a Chinese businessman named Wang Jin, head of the HKND Group.  The price tag has been set at $40 billion, which would be paid for entirely by Wang, who promises to get the job done in 5 years.    

In return, Nicaragua would receive $10 million per year and an equity stake in the canal that would eventually result in 100% ownership in 100 years.  Ortega has approved the plan, and in June it was approved by the National Assembly.  

"Although both Mr. Wang and President Daniel Ortega insist that the project will go ahead, people who have worked with HKND say it has more of an option to build than an obligation.  In effect, the cost of the option is the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Wang is expected to pay from his own pocket to find out which route is most physically and financially feasible," says The Economist.

After this, many questions remain.  Is this realistic or little more than a pipe dream?   Is Wang truly an independent businessman, or is he serving partially-or entirely-as a front for the government in Beijing?  

"With an unfathomable price tag, an unchartered route, unknown environmental consequences, unidentified financial backers, unclear ties to the Chinese government, and an unproven company headed by an unfamiliar man of undetermined experience, Nicaragua's private Chinese canal project has more than a few people asking 什麼赫克," writes Tim Rogers.

But reportedly British, Australian, American and other foreign consultants and engineers are at work looking at the environmental and social impacts and consideration of feasibility.  

It is easy to see the appeal for Nicaragua.  The idea of a canal to compete with Panama's has long been a dream of rapid economic development.  The government has numbers it claims to back up its assertion that the canal will benefit the country's citizens: 403,583 out of poverty by 2018; 353,935 people from extreme poverty; a drop from 42%  to 31.35% over the next five years.

One of the reasons the Nicaraguan government has to be optimistic is the expected problems the Panama Canal will have with the next generation of container ships.  Despite Panama's recent expansion of its canal these jumbo ships are expected to be to wide to pass through it.

There is also the strategic importance of the canal as an alternative to Panama's canal.  The U.S. obsession with the Panama canal is well know.  The U.S. armed guerillas in what is now Panama to fight for separation from Colombia.  Once accomplished, the U.S. said: "Thank you very much, we'll take it from here."  They then proceeded to establish the Panama Canal Zone and oversee the construction of the canal, which would be owned and operated by the U.S. for the rest of the century.

The U.S. military remained in the country until the turnover of ownership to the local government in 1999, 10 years after mounting a terrorist assault that killed more people than 9/11 to oust a former CIA asset, Manuel Noriega, and install a pro-business candidate who had received campaign funds from the U.S. To this day, the U.S. military maintains bases in Panama.

There are no definitive links between Wang and his government.  But it is not hard to see why Beijing would be compelled by a canal to compete against Panama's.

"China has never believed that the Panama Canal and the Panamanian Canal Authority are independent of U.S. influence, said R. Evan Ellis, author of the book "China in Latin America. "There's a certain value to [Nicaragua] having their own canal."

"China's role in the development of this canal is partly about expanding its global trade.  But it's also a way for China to push back against Washington's militarized 'Pacific Pivot,' as well as the U.S. drive to establish a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (commonly shortened to Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP) that seeks to contain China's global economic growth," writes Arnie Saiki.

Despite the cloud of secrecy surrounding the TPP, a chapter of which leaked to Wikileaks, who revealed its environmental clauses to be "a toothless public relations exercise", it is clear that it is not really about free trade at all.

"If negotiators created a genuine free-trade regime that put the public interest first, with the views of ordinary citizens given at least as much weight as those of corporate lobbyists, I might be optimistic that what would emerge would strengthen the economy and improve social well-being.  The reality, however, is that we have a mangled trade regime that puts corporate interests first, and a process of negotiations that is undemocratic and non-transparent," says Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.   

While China would have little incentive to scrap its regulations and benefits for state-owned enterprises to benefit U.S. investors and patent holders, a way around the trade agreement would seem extremely appealing.  Could this be what they have found, if as some have speculated Mr. Wang is indeed representing the Chinese government?

"A China-led Nicaragua Canal challenges Washington's 150-year-old claim of military and economic hegemony in the Western Hemisphere as outlined in the Monroe Doctrine.  This rise of the trans-global BRICS economy, coupled with a new inter-oceanic canal that the United States has no jurisdiction over, means that the United States has been, at this moment, out-mauevered by China."

A direct route controlled by China from Beijing to Brazil would remove a huge obstacle to trade in what the U.S. has always considered an extension of its own territory.  It would also open up easy avenues of trade with other Latin American nations.  This could drastically alter the status quo.

As one of the worst victims in the U.S.'s long and violent history of hegemony, Nicaragua should rightfully distrust the United States.  Since winning its case against the United States in the World Court in 1984 - the U.S. was found guilty of encouraging human rights violations, violation another country's sovereignty, using force against another country and mining its harbors - the verdict of reparations from the U.S. to Nicaragua has been mercilessly ignored.

Nicaragua has subsisted, barely, by succumbing to foreign investment and doing as they were told, privatizing domestic business and exporting without imposing restrictions against foreign imports. The demands imposed on the country have had the effect of "virtually eliminating much of what remains of health and welfare services, while infant mortality rises along with disease, malnutrition, and starvation, offering new opportunities to condemn the 'economic mismanagement' of the despised enemy," writes Noam Chomsky.

It is largely because of the United States that Nicaragua finds itself with such widespread poverty, not to mention the emotional scars of the prolonged civil war. If Nicaragua is able to develop their country and its resources without U.S. involvement, this would be a tremendous victory to the Nicaraguan people and the Sandinistas.

But it seems at this early stage of the canal project, as well as the TPP, that no one outside the governments involved can truly understand what outsiders can only speculate about.

In this global game of chess, it seems that for once, the U.S. government might have been outmaneuvered. Hopefully it will be for the benefit of a nation who well deserves the rewards this would bring them. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Subversion of Puerto Rican Self Sufficiency

It has now been more than a year since the historic referendum in which the Puerto Rican people rejected the current political status they have been subjected to for 115 years.  Yet despite their vote to reject colonialism, Puerto Rico is no closer to obtaining sovereignty.

The vote to change the island's political status, which received a decisive 54% majority, barely registered as a blip on the radar in the mainland U.S. news cycle.  There were a few articles reporting the results, but the issue did not manage to register in the larger national political conversation. For many Americans, the problems in Puerto Rico aren't considered America's problems.  But there are 3.6 million Puerto Ricans on the island who are second-class American citizens. 

Puerto Ricans are dealing everyday with policies from Washington that impact their lives, policies they have no vote in deciding. Since the election a year ago, here are two significant issues that illustrate the detrimental effects of Puerto Rico's status on its economy.

The inability to Import Rice Seeds Suited for Puerto Rico's Climate

A sad irony about Puerto Rico is that on an island with a tropical climate rich with fertile soil, perfect for growing many fruits and vegetables, roughly 85% of food sources are imported. It's common at the supermarket to see the shelves full of plantains from the Dominican Republic, avocados from Mexico, papaya from Costa Rica, and mangoes from Nicaragua. And that is a fraction of the corn, poultry, cereals and root vegetables from the United States. Earlier this year, it was reported that the sandwich franchise Subway, expanding on the island, wanted to buy peppers for its sandwiches from local farmers. They were informed that there was no production capacity to sell them even a fraction of what they would need. Obviously, efforts to increase agricultural self sustainability are direly needed.  

To this end, several months ago a delegation from the Puerto Rican government took a trip to the Dominican Republic to speak with government officials there about a pilot project to grow a grain of rice that is specially suited for a tropical climate. As its neighbor, a Puerto Rican in Mayagüez with a strong arm could practically throw a baseball to the eastern coast of the D.R.  

"The Dominican seeds were recommended by agronomists from that country, which is self-sufficient in rice production, because they are acclimated to the inclemency of the weather and the conditions of the terrain in the Carribean," said ex-secretary of Agriculture Luis Rivero Cubano, now head of a group dedicated to fostering innovation and development in agriculture.  

With good reason, the Puerto Rican government would be interested in copying the success of this Dominican program. It could help bring a food that you will find on every dinner plate in Puerto Rico to the island itself, rather than having to import it from abroad. The article goes on to explain how such efforts are part of a worldwide trend of countries looking to create sovereignty in food production.  

"In recent times, the political plan at a worldwide level has been changing. Countries now don't only defend their territorial or political sovereignty, but also look to assure their supply of energy and food." 

But when the Puerto Rican delegation brought home the Dominican seeds they were not able to get past the paternal frisk of Uncle Sam. The U.S. customs agents did not allow the seeds to be brought into Puerto Rico because of USDA prohibitions that prohibit the import of seeds from the Dominican Republic.

Unable to move forward with the anticipated project, which might have gone a long way towards promoting Puerto Rican self-sufficiency in a staple food, the government was forced to import seeds from the state of Texas from the company Rice Tech. Of course, the climate and soil in Texas is far different than that of Puerto Rico.  It remains to be seen how the Texas rice seeds will fare grown on the island. The U.S. will benefit from one of its corporations having an exclusive deal to export to Puerto Rico, but it is hard to see how Puerto Rico comes out a winner.

A Boston Court Strikes a Blow to Fresh Milk Production  

If Puerto Rico fails to produce most basic foodstuffs for its population's consumption, there is one area where they have managed to succeed: milk.  By all accounts, the dairy industry has thrived in Puerto Rico and led to a surplus in milk production. 

"Puerto Rico is the country with the most cattle per capita in the world.  The production of milk is the only area of the food industry where we are self-sufficient.  In fact, we produce more milk than we need, so that with the leftovers we can make cheese, butter, yogurt and other derivatives of milk," writes Héctor Pesquera Sevillano.  

The production of milk comes from local farmers, who collectively belong to the Puerto Rico Association of Stockbreeders.  The farmers sell their milk to private companies who process and distribute it to supermarkets and grocery stores. Being a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico must allow private companies to control this part of the industry. There are primarily two foreign corporations involved in processing of milk: Suiza Dairy and Tres Monjitas.  

The government agency overseeing the industry, Oficina de Reglamentación para la Industria Lechera (ORIL), determines how much the processors must pay the producers. Additionally, to maintain a steady supply and ensure that what is not being consumed does not go to waste, the excess milk not sold to producers is directed to the company INDULAC to produce UHT milk, cheese and other milk-based products.  

But the private, for-profit processors have always been eager to get a bigger slice of the pie, and are not pleased at what they see as the advantage of INDULAC in producing milk and dairy alternatives. They can bring UHT milk from the mainland, and earn a bigger profit than they would from fresh milk.  With tougher regulations on UHT milk from the states, the distributors see their advantages further reduced by dramatic cost increases.

Producers of UHT milk complained that this violated their protection under the Insterstate Commerce Clause. That's right: Puerto Rico cannot protect its own industries; they have to compete equally with the rest of the states. U.S. corporations are allowed equal access to Puerto Rican markets, regardless of whether Puerto Ricans wants to prioritize local business.

A federal judge in Puerto Rico agreed with the processors and blocked Puerto Rico from enforcing the regulations. This lowered the cost of UHT milk, making it harder for cash-strapped grocery shoppers to pay more for fresh local milk instead of succumbing to the savings of imported box milk.

The court also struck down ORIL's formula for determining how to up divvy up proceeds from milk sales. An appeals court in Boston upheld the decision, striking what could eventually turn out to be a death blow against Puerto Rican self sufficiency. The government has reached an agreement that would award about $80 million to processors to make up for this, while giving only $8 million to farmers to pay for feed.

"In my opinion, fresh milk being a product of leading necessity in the hands of a virtual foreign monopoly, the processing and distribution of milk should be nationalized," Pesquera writes. "Our economy being kidnapped by the federal government, with the perverse intention of defending the interests of the owners of capital, this idea of nationalizing wouldn't reach first base."    

The U.S. itself developed its economy in the early post-revolutionary years by protecting its own industries such as cotton. Noam Chomsky explains how in the early 19th century, the United States and Egypt had similar economies that were poised to develop rapidly.

"There was one fundamental difference between Egypt and the United States, namely the United States gained independence and it was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory - pretty much the same as today," Chomsky writes.  "They were free to follow England's own course of independent state-guided development with high tariffs to protect industry from superior British exports, the first textiles and later steel and others, and a wide variety of other modes of state intervention in order to accelerate economic development."

Puerto Rico today finds itself in a similar position as Egypt 200 years ago. Without the ability to control its own economy, it's hard to imagine a way for Puerto Rico to develop on its own terms.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Omnipresent American Bias Against Cuba

A news story published on  examines the new Cuban regulations allowing for the sale of automobiles freely for the first time since the revolution.  This is a major change for a Cuban society which recently has seen a loosening of some of the socialist economic policies that have dominated the island since the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in 1959.  This story, however, like many from an American perspective, falls into the trap of failing to contextualize the Cuban government and economy while implicitly expressing a judgment of another nation's economic system as categorically inferior to the American one.  

The story implies that the new regulations were developed and disseminated without popular participation or explanation.  "Because the communist government often neglects to explain the reasoning behind some of its more extreme measures, there's been little else for Cubans to do but joke in public as they seethe in private."  First, notice the mention of the "communist" government.  Not just any government.  How often is ours referred to as a neoliberal government? The argument about the government process and public response is completely unsourced.  Not even a quote from a citizen "seething." The writer goes on to claim a "fundamental problem" of the government, which has "not a good business model."  A reader is left with the impression that citizens are unfairly subjected to irrational laws which go unjustified by an indifferent state.

The reality is that this is not how lawmaking in Cuba works.  There is extensive comment from the public, trade unions, elected local officials, etc.  It is also disingenuous to imply that the regulations took effect without providing the public with the reasoning behind them.  The daily Granma clearly announces the plan: "Within the next few day, legal norms will be published that will put in force the import and commercialization of motor vehicles, as per the approval this Wednesday the Counsel of Ministers."  

What follows is a thorough, detailed explanation behind the formulation and implementation of the policy.  The low availability of automobiles, variance in prices, obsolete bureaucratic measures are all mentioned as part of the study which resulted in the current proposal.  

Most importantly, the reasoning behind the policy of extremely high markups is clearly expressed: "With the taxes collected, a fund will be created specially designated to the development of public transportation in all of the country."  Additionally, the markups are indicated to be earmarked at the same time for the sale of bicycles, including electric bicycles, for the general population.  

As many have noted, as a poor country under a crippling economic blockade and lacking petroleum, Cuba can't aspire to have everyone owning a car.  It would take up much more space to go into the 50-year-old blockade, which has cost the country's residents upwards of $1.16 trillion and can be reasonably said to constitute genocide.  However, it is not once mentioned in the NPR article.  As if the economic state of Cuba is completely of their own doing, brought upon themselves by their own decisions and independent of any illegal foreign interference. 

This is symptomatic of a common issue in the discussion and reporting on Cuban affairs.  There is a condescending preconception that Cuba's socioeconomic model must be changed to match our own far-superior and infinitely more just system; and every Cuban government decision is not an imperfect product of debate, competing interests and imperfect choices, like our own government's decisions, but a reflection of Cuba's ineptitude and tyranny.