In the Wake of Bush’s Conquest of Iraq
An Assessment of U.S. Threats against the
Quiet May 20 in D.C. Marks Gain for Cuba in Clash
by Fred Feldman
This is an edited version of an article posted by the author on May 21, 2003. It serves also as an introduction to the article by Jim Lobe, of the Inter Press Service, which we post below for the information of our readers.
What does the date May 20 stand for? A few words on that are in order.
May 20, 1902, was the day the U.S. “granted independence” to Cuba, after taking it from Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898. A rebellion by Cubans against Spain had begun in 1895 and was on the verge of succeeding when the U.S. intervened. Thus, May 20, 1902, was a caricature of “independence,” which Washington and its hangers-on may celebrate but true Cuban patriots do not. It was marred by the results of the Spanish-American War. For four years after that war, from 1898 to 1902, Cuba remained under occupation by U.S. forces (perhaps an example of what is in store for Iraq).
As the price of U.S. withdrawal of forces in 1902 Cuba had the Platt Amendment imposed on it, granting the Guantanomo naval base to the U.S., along with the right to intervene in Cuban affairs in the future. After U.S. forces withdrew in 1902, they returned four times—in 1904, 1912, 1917, and 1920. U.S. occupation was succeeded by a string of puppet governments in Cuba whose main job was to protect the interests of U.S. corporations, banks, and investors. The real independence that Cuba’s heroes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, and others, fought for was won only on New Year’s Day in 1959 when the July 26 Movement led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and others marched into Havana as the culmination of their guerrilla war against the pro-U.S. dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.—George Saunders
After enormous rumbling, the imperialist monster barely squeaked at the Cuban revolution on May 20. President Bush made an announcement that he hoped Cubans could soon enjoy “the same freedoms we do” (like the USA Patriot Act?). But the antirevolutionary Cubans in Miami had been hoping for more—perhaps for an announcement that, after Iraq, Cuba would be next on the hit list of the world’s only superpower.
The unexpected caution displayed in Washington on May 20 is an indication of the depth of the popularity and self-defense organization of the revolution in Cuba, which—together with the standing of Cuba on the world scene—continues to force U.S. administrations to keep the option of invading Cuba on the back burner, and this limits some of their other policies as well.
The low-key May 20 event also indicated Washington’s continued reluctance to engage in military conflicts where its forces are likely to meet massive resistance. The “shock and awe” that U.S. military commanders voiced over the stiff initial opposition they met in southern Iraq was an indication of their unpreparedness for any really intense fighting on the ground.
In the last 20 years, Washington has launched “victorious” wars against Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq again. None of the governments in those countries was capable of effective resistance politically, militarily, or both. For the U.S. military machine to attack the more important strategic targets in its current war drive against the semicolonial world—Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and, quietly creeping up the target list, Venezuela—would require taking on countries where the people and military are more likely to fight back effectively, countries that can be occupied but would be difficult or impossible to pacify.
If on May 20, for example, Washington had escalated its attacks—say, by eliminating the right of Cubans in the U.S. to send remittances to their families in Cuba, or by canceling the migration agreements agreed to between the U.S. and Cuba after the Mariel boatlift crisis of 1980—that would have almost certainly forced the Cuban government to permit a mass migration. That could have provoked a situation leading to military confrontation. But for Washington to take such measures without a plan for toppling the revolution would have risked losing the Cuban American vote in 2004, a vote that was crucial for Bush in the 2000 election.
The Havana government directly forced the present crisis into the open—around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in mid-March—by cracking down on mercenary dissidents, who were being paid with U.S. funds to organize into opposition groups politically directed by the head of the U.S. Interests Section (a virtual embassy in Havana);
The Cuban government also executed three violent hijackers who had threatened the lives of dozens of Cubans on a ferry boat. Seven hijackings of Cuban planes or vessels over seven months had resulted in the hijackers being released by U.S. authorities in Florida and the Cuban property confiscated. Hijackers who could make it to Florida would be safe, and they would be lionized by the anti-Castro “Miami Mafia.” In effect, the U.S. government was encouraging hijackings in Cuba.
While the Cuban leaders initially had to face a “firestorm” in world public opinion, heavily manipulated by the corporate-controlled mass media, revolutionary Cuba has been slowly regaining some of the lost ground. The Cuban leadership has provided patient explanation of the U.S. provocations, their situation, and their actions, and they have responded with countermobilization of world public opinion.
Among other things the Cuban leaders have made their political position on the death penalty more widely known—they consider it vindictive and barbaric. Cuba regards itself as part of the international effort to bring an end to capital punishment. The Cuban government imposed a three-year moratorium on the death penalty, which ended with the recent executions. However, the siege conditions which Cuba has continually faced for the past 43 years of U.S. economic blockade, terrorist attacks against Cuba, and military and diplomatic pressure—siege conditions which are now intensifying—have made it impossible to completely dispense with this admittedly barbaric punishment at this time. Cuba still requires the death penalty today as one of the ultimate measures of national self-defense.
If the Cubans had waited until a full-scale migration crisis was forced on them before standing up to the mounting provocations, the U.S. might have been able to take much stronger action in the initial confusion and “emergency” atmosphere—since U.S. law proclaims that any new wave of unauthorized immigration from Cuba (like the one from Mariel) would be an “act of aggression” against the United States.
The Havana government explained the trials of the mercenary dissidents in detail, showing the growing pattern of provocation from Washington that was steadily rising—and still is. (See, for example, Fidel Castro’s April 25 explanations on Cuban television and his May Day speech, available from Cuban sources in rough English translations; these should be available soon on the Labor Standard web site.)
The Cuban leaders have countered the campaign to isolate Cuba as a supposed violator of human rights by making known the facts and organizing a countercampaign in defense of Cuban independence and sovereignty, an example being the appeal “To the Conscience of the World,” which has now been signed by more than 3,500 people (including Eduardo Galeano, who earlier criticized the trials of the bought-and-paid-for dissidents and the execution of the three ferry hijackers). Also, actor Danny Glover, who is under attack for signing the statement “To the Conscience of the World,” must be defended.
(The text of the appeal “To the Conscience of the World” appears immediately below. Supporters and friends of Labor Standard are urged to add their names as endorsers.)
The international order has been violated as a consequence of the invasion against Iraq. A single power is inflicting grave damage to the norms of understanding, debate, and mediation among countries. This power has invoked a series of unverified reasons in order to justify its invasion. Unilateral action has led to massive loss of civilian life and devastation of one of the cultural patrimonies of humanity.
We only possess our moral authority, with which we appeal to the conscience of the world in order to avoid a new violation of the principles which inform and guide the global community of nations. At this very moment, a strong campaign of destabilization against a Latin American nation has been unleashed. The harassment against Cuba could serve as a pretext for an invasion. Therefore, we call upon citizens and policy makers to uphold the universal principles of national sovereignty, of respect for territorial integrity and self-determination, essential to just and peaceful coexistence among nations.
[This document was initiated in April by a group of Mexican citizens. Among the more than 3,500 who have endorsed it are Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Michael Albert, and Eduardo Galeano, as well as four Nobel Prize winners: Rigoberta Menchu, Nadine Gordimer, Gabriel Garcia Marques, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.]
The U.S. failed to prevent Cuba’s election to the UN Human Rights Commission or to gain a vote condemning Cuba in the Organization of American States. This confirms Cuba’s continued high standing in the eyes of most of the world.
Strong support in the United States for an end to the travel ban has not been decisively shaken, with even anti-Cuban forces becoming more divided over this.
Confrontation Far From Over
The confrontation is not over, however, not by a long shot. It seems unlikely to end, in fact, as long as both the Cuban revolution and U.S. imperialism exist in the Americas.
The rightist, prowar Brothers to the Rescue, who provoked the Helms-Burton bill by violating Cuban airspace with hostile aircraft and obliging Cuba to defend control of its airspace, are promising more air raids into Cuba. The Cuban response to such violations and threatening activities could be used to generate more propaganda, more threats, and more economic/military anti-Cuba moves.
In addition, the U.S. government is still pursuing policies that, if not modified, will make an explosive new migration crisis inevitable. In the two years of the Bush administration, fewer than 2,000 visas for Cubans to immigrate legally to the U.S. have been issued by Washington. The current migration accords between the U.S. and Cuba require that 20,000 be issued each year.
While the Cubans are policing their borders to prevent illegal, and especially violent illegal departures, they will refuse as a matter of principle—as they have done in the past—to turn the country into a penitentiary. Those who want to emigrate legally, but are being illegally denied the opportunity to do this by the U.S. government, will at some point no longer be prevented from leaving the country.
The National Network on Cuba has called for local activities across the country to educate people about Cuba, the Cuban revolution, and the real issues in the clash with Washington.
The fact that Washington seems to have backed down somewhat, for now, does not eliminate our duty to take its threats against Cuba or any other country with the utmost seriousness. Washington is not invincible—Cuba is showing that once again—but we must avoid any temptation to replace the unfounded triumphalism of Washington and Wall Street empire-builders with any triumphalism of our own.
by Jim Lobe
Reflecting deep splits inside his administration and the Cuban-American community over future policy toward Cuba, U.S. President George W. Bush announced no new policy initiatives toward the Caribbean nation on its national day Tuesday.
Instead, Bush met privately with a number of dissidents [sic] and family members from the island in the White House and released a short statement expressing his “hope...for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights that we do.”
Officials said that senior officials, who were still arguing about whether to take any new initiatives just hours before Bush’s meeting with the “dissidents,” could not agree and that the most dramatic step on which there was consensus—the expulsion from the United States of 14 Cuban diplomats—had already been taken.
Political hardliners close to the more radical [sic] sectors in the Cuban-American community in Florida and New Jersey had reportedly argued for reducing or cutting off remittances that U.S.-based Cubans can send to their relatives on the island and suspending charter flights used by Cuban-Americans to fly directly to their homeland.
But others argued that such steps would not only play into President Fidel Castro’s efforts to stoke anti-U.S. feeling on the island, but also alienate much of their own community, including followers of the increasingly moderate [sic] Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
In addition, congressional sentiment in favor of lifting the ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba remains high, and, while the White House has vowed to veto any legislation that would ease Washington’s 43-year-old trade embargo, Bush’s advisers concluded it would make little sense to draw attention to the divide now.
The result appears to be an impasse at the policy-making level at a particularly sensitive moment when bilateral ties have plunged to their lowest level in at least a decade.
Much of that is due to what U.S. officials and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) traditionally more sympathetic to Havana called a major crackdown by the Castro government against dissident Cubans that began as the U.S. invasion of Iraq got underway in mid-March.
Some 75 dissidents were arrested and given prison terms as long as 28 years for subversion, while hijackers of a ferry who tried to flee to the United States were executed by firing squad after a summary trial that rights groups denounced as unfair.
Many analysts here blamed Castro for seeking to take advantage of Washington’s invasion to decapitate what they describe as a growing pro-democracy movement [sic] energized by the so-called Varela Project, a petition drive led to force elections in Cuba based on a specific provision of its constitution. More than half of those arrested and imprisoned were associated with the Project.
At the same time, some observers here said that Bush contributed to growing concern in Havana about U.S. intentions beginning last May 20, when he announced a series of measures to tighten the embargo in a speech to a staunchly anti-Castro crowd in Miami.
It was also last spring that Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton publicly accused Havana of developing biological weapons in what was widely seen as an effort by administration hard-liners to insert Cuba into the “axis of evil”—North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Similar accusations were repeated most recently last September.
Late last year, the head of Washington’s Interest Section in Havana, James Cason, began a series of high-profile meetings with Cuban dissidents [sic], attending meetings in their homes, offering them the use of his residence for meetings, and publicly affirming his support for them—all of which the Cuban government interpreted as direct challenges.
In February, the Treasury Department proposed new rules that would eliminate “people-to-people” educational travel to Cuba, while senior U.S. officials began issuing warnings to Havana that any mass exodus from the island would be considered a threat to U.S. national security. At the same time, U.S. consular officials in Havana slowed the approval of visas to Cubans who wanted to emigrate to the United States.
“It is hard not to read these actions by the Bush administration as a deliberate attempt to increase tension between the two countries,” said Geoff Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) here.
Washington then launched its invasion of Iraq without securing the approval of the United Nations Security Council, an action described by the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Hans Hertell, as “a very good example for Cuba.”
On top of all this came the decision last week to expel the 14 diplomats from the Cuban missions here and at the United Nations in New York City for “conduct incompatible with their diplomatic duties,” normally a phrase used to refer to spying.
But the New York Times reported several days later that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is responsible for all counter-intelligence activities carried out in the United States, had not made any findings about espionage. It quoted one anonymous FBI official as saying that the expulsions appeared to be a political decision, a comment strenuously denied by the White House.
Most analysts believe the expulsions were designed to ease pressure for stronger action by Cuban-American hard-liners closely associated with Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush. They are associated with a split-off from the CANF, the Cuban Liberty Council, and include Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, two of Castro’s most militant foes in Congress.
But the expulsions left them with virtually nothing practical to offer hard-liners Tuesday, something which clearly disappointed them. “It’s about time some action is taken,” Ninoska Pérez Castellón of the Liberty Council, told the Miami Herald. “I don’t want to hear any more ‘Viva Cuba Libre!’”
On Sunday, Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly, charged that the U.S. administration was being urged by various hardliners, including Jeb Bush, to invade Cuba. The governor strongly denied ever making that recommendation Monday, but the flap might have been another reason why the White House decided to play down the significance of Tuesday’s national day.