By Assad Shoman
For half of the time that the United States of America has waged an unremittent war on Cuba, most people thought they understood why and didn’t blame the US so much. After all Cuba was part of the world socialist bloc and under the protection of the Soviet Union, the enemy of the US in the Cold War between these two superpowers. That was from 1960 to 1990.
But why has the war continued for another thirty years since the Soviet Bloc fell apart and ceased to exist?
Well, the real reason the US began to wage war on Cuba was not because of its links with the Soviet Union at all, because it started before that. Indeed, one can say that Cuba rushed to the Soviets for help because of the war already being waged against it by the USA.
The Fruit Which Did Not Fall
Almost a century before the Soviet Union even existed, in April 1823, then US Secretary of State and later President John Quincy Adams stated: “There are laws of political as well as physical gravitation; and if an apple severed by its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjointed from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union which by the same law of nature, cannot cast her off its bosom.” In other words Cuba, dangling there temptingly as just the biggest Florida Key, must become part of the USA.
Later that year President James Monroe announced the doctrine that bears his name, reduced to the slogan “America for the Americans,” where America means the entire western hemisphere including the Caribbean and “Americans” means, you guessed it, the government of the United States of America.
The chance to grab Cuba finally came in 1898, fifty years after the USA had made war on Mexico and forcibly taken half its territory. The thirty-year Cuban independence struggle against Spain under the intellectual leadership of Jose Martí was being won by the Cubans, but the United States intervened and militarily occupied the island. The United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed in May 1902. Before that, Cuba was made to accept the Platt Amendment, a US law that gave the US the right to build and occupy a military base at Guantanamo and the right to intervene in Cuba whenever it so decided.
It did so four years later, in 1906, a military occupation that lasted until 1909. In 1912, U.S. military forces suppressed an armed rebellion by Afro-Cubans in Oriente province to protect U.S. property. Between 1917 and 1922, the United States once again militarily occupied Cuba. By then Cuban governments understood that if they did anything that the US government would deem as injurious to US interests on the island, it would intervene.
By 1958, those US interests were significant. Sugar was Cuba: it accounted for 90% of Cuba’s exports and 33% of the national income, and US companies controlled about 75% of Cuba’s arable land(1). U.S. financial interests included 90 percent of Cuban mines, 80 percent of its public utilities, 50 percent of its railways, 40 percent of its sugar production and 25 percent of its bank deposits(2).
The Revolution Becomes Anti-Capitalist
The Cuba that the revolutionaries met on 1 January 1959 upon defeating the dictatorship supported by the US government was one of poverty and dispossession for the majorities, with millions of illiterates and large segments of the population, particularly in rural areas, having no access to safe water and electricity, let alone education and health. In order to carry out the social and economic programs that were the purpose of the revolution, it was necessary first of all to carry out a serious agrarian reform.
The Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959 set the maximum quantity of land per proprietor at 406 hectares; and it provided for compensation for expropriated lands in the form of twenty-year bonds, with its value based on what the owners had declared in tax reports. Much of this land was US-owned, and although compensation was offered, US companies elected to rely on their government to roll back this reform or roll out a new Cuban government, as they were used to doing. The nationalization of the industries and big businesses of the national bourgeoisie was not part of the new government’s plan, but was forced on it by the counterrevolutionary attitude of the national bourgeoisie, who had been forged in the context of the U.S. dominated neocolonial republic, and was really a “figurehead bourgeoisie,” totally subordinated to U.S. capital.
Almost all of them, along with the supporters of the dictatorship, emigrated to Florida and began the effort to destroy the revolution, with the active support of the US government. The first sanctions against Cuba by the US government occurred in early 1960, before the Soviet Union had any presence in Cuba. The sanctions have been maintained, sometimes less harshly than other times, through every US President from Eisenhower to Biden. Cuba’s ties with the Soviet Union, which were absolutely necessary for its survival, were a convenient excuse for almost thirty years for the US blockade against Cuba, but they were never the real reason. More than thirty years have passed since the Soviet Union crumbled, and Cuba had to find a way to live without the Soviet Bloc, and it did.
But for the United States to stop its war against Cuba, that country would have had to do what the former Soviet Bloc countries did, and change its economy and society from a socialist to a capitalist one. It would have had to revert to the situation where a handful of companies, dominated by US companies, would own the big industries and services like electricity and water. Everything would have to be privatized. With capitalism reigning, the social reforms the Revolution had gained, such as free health, free education, universal access to sport and culture, the development of scientific enterprises such as the pharmaceutical industry that has made vaccines against COVID—all that would have to be sacrificed to a handful of rich Cubans in the hands of US capital. The whole object of the war on Cuba, over 60 years old now, is to transform Cuba into a colony for multi-national corporations.
Consider that Cuba is the only country in the Americas that is not capitalist. And think back to the slogan America for the Amerikkkans (the USA), and you will see why the US has waged war, and will continue to wage war, against the only country in the hemisphere that has been able to stand up to the might of the Empire and say ‘No’. As President Nixon said in 1971, “If we throw in the towel on Cuba, the effect on the rest of Latin America could be massive, encouraging them, encouraging Communists, Marxists, Allende, or call it what you will, to try for revolution”(3). Six months before, Salvador Allende had won democratic elections in Chile, but he was a socialist, and that made him an enemy of the USA. On 11th September 1973 (the first 9/11), the US supported a coup that put Augusto Pinochet in power, a bloody dictator in whose reign thousands were killed, many more went into exile, and all deprived of democratic freedoms for decades—with, of course, the full support of successive US Presidents.
Fidel Too Stubborn
Actually US governments, to be fair to them, have given the Cuban government different opportunities to get the blockade lifted. All the Cubans had to do was stop this or that policy that the US didn’t like at a given time, and they were promised the lifting of the blockade. But Fidel too stubborn, he said no.
And these offers were made even by fervent believers in power politics determined to destroy Cuba, such as Henry Kissinger, no less. Although the US Secretary of State wanted “Castro’s Cuba” destroyed as much as anyone, he was practical. There were (and are) vital day to day issues that required cooperation from a neighbor so close, such as immigration, security, drug trafficking. US citizens, arbitrarily denied trading with and visiting Cuba, were questioning the need for the blockade, while internationally it was isolating the US from even their close allies. While never stopping trying to bring down the Fidelistas by unconventional warfare, therefore, different administrations also tried to negotiate easing of the blockade in return for some cooperation.
Secret talks in 1975 came close to normalizing relations, but failed because Cuba refused to accept the condition the US insisted on to end the blockade. Socialist Cuba was always a firm supporter of anti-colonial struggles, especially in Africa. In 1975, the Portuguese colony of Angola was heading toward independence when an internal group allied to world capitalism, and supported covertly by the CIA of the US and by Apartheid South Africa, threatened to derail it. The independence movement’s leader Agostino Neto asked Fidel for help, and with Angola’s capital threatened by the CIA-backed forces and especially by white South African troops, Cuba sent over thirty thousand troops to defend Angola, beat back the invading South African forces, and Angola became independent on 11 November 1975(4). At that very time, Belize was fighting for its first UN resolution against Guatemala, with full Cuban support.
US negotiators, who really wanted to see the blockade lifted, begged their Cuban counterparts to just leave Africa alone, what did it bother Cuba if South Africa extended its power on the continent? Fidel replied that Cuba owed an unpayable debt to Africa, and that he would help whenever liberation struggles asked him to. That ended the first big and real opportunity to end the blockade, for as President Ford said in December 1975, “the action by the Cuban government in sending combat troops to Angola destroys any opportunity for improved relations with the United States”(5).
Other opportunities came over the years, if only Cuba would stop supporting Puerto Rico’s independence, or stop sending its doctors to help all over the world, or stop supporting freedom in Latin America. But Cuba would not betray its internationalist principles to please the USA, and so the blockade remains to this day. Cuba’s refusal to be bought out has inspired peoples and countries the world over, even when they can’t follow in its footsteps. That is why last week, the President of Mexico said what many world leaders would want to say, “We may or may not agree with the Cuban revolution and its government, but having resisted 62 years without submission is quite a feat . . . Consequently, I believe that for their struggle in defense of their sovereignty, of their country, the people of Cuba deserve the prize of dignity . . . And I think that for the same reason, it should be declared a World Heritage Site.
Maybe a Mistake
Maybe it was a mistake for Fidel and the Cubans to be so stubborn. Look how they are suffering now, with food and other shortages making it easier for the US government to continue its unconventional war and seek to create unrest and subversion in the country. If they had just given in to US demands, reversed the land reform, returned all industries and factories to the US capitalists, how much better would its people be. They would have the US government as their friends rather than their implacable enemies. They would enjoy all the benefits of free trade with the USA, plenty of US investment, even tons of US aid.
They could be even better than Columbia, which now and for many years has received more US aid and military aid than any other country in Latin America, indeed among the top ten in the world. Columbia, where the longest civil war was recently ended, with the help of Cuba, and hundreds of the ex-combatants have been killed, and the terms of the peace treaty have not been respected by the government. In 2021, so far, there have been 58 massacres against the population, and 103 social and human rights leaders have been killed. According to Amnesty International, “Colombia was widely recognized as the most dangerous country in the world for those who defend human rights.”
In May 2021, Amnesty reported that “Since the beginning of the demonstrations on 28 April, Colombian civil society organizations estimate that 43 people have lost their lives at the hands of the security forces, in addition to 1,445 cases of arbitrary detentions, 47 people with eye injuries, and 22 cases of sexual violence, among other incidents”(6). Poverty and inequality, human insecurity and police violence are among the highest in the region and the world.
But the US State Department says not a word about human rights violations in Colombia. Well, that’s what friends are for. The OAS, under the sway of its Secretary General Almargo, who instigated or supported coups in Honduras and Bolivia, has nothing to say about human rights violations in Colombia. Its military, the top brass of which was trained by the US School of the Americas, formerly in the Panama Canal Zone and now at Fort Benning, Georgia, and called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” has been involved in attempts to kill leaders in Venezuela (failed) and Haiti (success). Its military, sometimes described as “former military” have engaged in terrorist acts within and outside Colombia.
And on the 19th July 2021 for its independence day, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said “The United States values our partnership with Colombia in fighting against transnational organized crime, countering terrorism . . . We pledge to continue our close cooperation to support lasting peace in Colombia.”
When we constantly see on TV the repressive actions of Colombia’s police and military forces killing its citizens by the dozen, upholding the massacres and murders of human rights defenders, and keeping in power President Ivan Duque, a Trump ally, the most unpopular leader on record,(7) we marvel at how he is embraced, praised and kept in power by Trump and Biden alike.
That could be the case for Cuba’s leaders as well, if they would only toe the US line, forget about their principles and solidarity, and allow US capital to reign supreme on the island like it did before 1959. So far, with Fidel gone, its leaders are still holding strong and resisting US pressures. Countries of the world can only hope that this small country can hold on to its dignity and continue to resist and defend its independence and sovereignty. And, as the President of Mexico said recently, we have a duty not just to vote against the blockade at the UN every year (as all do, except Israel and the USA), but in practical ways show our solidarity and send help to Cuba, as Cuba has helped Africa, Asia and Latin America for decades.
- Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro, Vintage Books, 1970, p. 480.
- Smithsonian Magazine online: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/before-the-revolution-159682020/
- Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1969-1976, Vol. E-10 Doc. 36.
- In the end Cuba’s support for African independence went much further, and ended in the defeat of South African forces by Cubans, leading first to the independence of Namibia and contributing greatly to the end of apartheid in South Africa.
- “The President’s News Conference,” 20 December 1975, PPP Ford.
Image: Adalberto Roque—AFP/Getty Images
Editor’s Note: The article above is solely the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the People’s United Party.