Jan 5, 2015
On October 17th, President Obama and Raul Castro, the head of Cuba, announced an agreement between the two countries. Obama said, “isolation hasn’t worked.” Very true. After trying to get the Cuban people to submit for 55 years, he admitted that the strong-arm methods the U.S. had used against Cuba had failed.
This announcement was the result of secret negotiations begun a year and half ago. For now, it only means the establishment of diplomatic relations. Prisoners found guilty of spying will be exchanged, and embassies will be set up. Several measures will facilitate trade. On the other hand, the embargo won’t end completely until the U.S. Congress repeals the Helms-Burton Act, and there are opponents of that change among both Republicans and Democrats. But many U.S. companies want to profit off the Cuban market.
President Kennedy established the embargo in 1962 in response to the Castro regime nationalizing U.S. businesses on the island. The Cubans had done this in response to the U.S. cutting diplomatic relations and economic ties with the new regime. The U.S. intended to break all those who questioned its hold over the Americas.
While the embargo continued for over fifty years, the U.S. made many attempts to overthrow the Castro regime, beginning right after the Cuban revolution of 1959. This included hiring the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro and landing right-wing opponents of Castro in an invasion of the island at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. U.S. intransigence led the Castro regime to establish links with the USSR and call itself “Communist.”
The interests of U.S. imperialism were the only basis for bad relations with Cuba. They could not stand that, so close to the U.S., a popularly-supported revolution would have overthrown a U.S.-backed dictator who had allowed U.S. corporations to drain wealth from the population. The U.S. could not stand for Cuba to serve as an example to the rest of the world.
And it has served as an example, despite the best attempts of the U.S. to crush it, despite its poverty, despite its isolation. The fact that wealth was not being drained from the island meant that Cuba could build health care and literacy rates far beyond any other country in the hemisphere – including the U.S.
After the end of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. again hardened the embargo. Soviet aid to Cuba stopped and the Cuban economy was stifled, forcing the Cuban people to suffer many hardships. The U.S. hoped to get rid of the Castro regime, but the Cubans held out. After the year 2000, Cuba got aid from the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela, which gave it oil and permitted it to reestablish relations with all of Latin America.
Although the embargo never ended, it went through various phases. During the 1990s it was strict, but it was relaxed after 2000, permitting U.S. multinational companies to trade with Cuba. The giant Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland sold Cuba wheat, and Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride sold it frozen chickens. Other companies want to do the same: Coca Cola, Pepsi, Marriott Hotels, cell phone companies, John Deere, Caterpillar, food and alcohol companies. They want to block the advance of Chinese capitalist companies that are already on the island. The pressure of big capitalists will likely get Congress to decide to end the embargo.
When announcing the deal with Cuba, Obama said in Spanish, “We are all Americans.” This was his way of bringing up to date the old orientation of U.S. imperialism formulated in 1823 by Democratic President James Monroe, which added up to “America for the Americans.” For decades, acting on this principle, the U.S. intervened, sometimes directly and militarily, to maintain the hold of its corporations over Latin America. The U.S.-imposed Cuban constitution of 1901 authorized the U.S. to intervene in the island to defend its interests.
Beyond the increase in trade and tourism, this change could facilitate U.S. relations with the rest of Latin America. Next April will be the Summit of the Americas. Some countries threatened to not attend if Cuba wasn’t invited. Furthermore, the U.S., Mexico and Cuba need to renegotiate their maritime borders, with the exploitation of offshore oil at stake. By coming to an understanding with Cuba, Obama hopes to immediately benefit in these negotiations. On the domestic scene, it could increase his standing among Latino voters, many of whom showed their distrust of him during the recent Congressional elections.
Raul Castro said Cuba wanted “national independence and self-determination.” The fact is that the U.S. failed in its attempt to bring down the Castro regime and now has to acknowledge this. Over fifty years later, Obama has done this. Unfortunately, most likely those who will be the first to benefit from this will be U.S. corporations.
The Cuban population risks exchanging a situation of poverty for the situation of people under the yoke of imperialism. There is the serious risk that the progress the Castro revolution brought the population in health care and education will be submerged and disappear under the push of the “Made in the USA” market economy.