It was a great and pleasant surprise to land in Italy and find out that President Obama was going to take executive action to lift the blockade against Cuba.
In these reflections, I will look at some of the context in which this decision was taken: my particular concern is to challenge the idea that President Obama’s actions occurred in a vacuum. Instead, popular, organized action plays a role, which means that we (as the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center) can also play our role in influencing otheraspects of US foreign policy.
First, however,, I think it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the following line from President Obama’s speech: “Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these
five decades.” This is an astounding statement. The fact that the President can utter such a transparent lie – and that no-one in the press thinks to challenge it – is a true testament to the amount of work that remains to be done before we can have a just foreign policy.
Let’s start from the assumption that the government of the United States is concerned with human rights anywhere in the world, now or in the past. If we were TRULY concerned with human rights, why would we have continuously fomented and supported right-wing military dictatorships throughout the Americas, like Pinochet in Chile, the Somozas in Nicaragua, or the genocidal policies of the military rulers in Guatemala? Why would we have stood in support of the apartheid regime in South Africa, or the Indonesian invasion of East Timor?
There is another example from the past that has recently come to light and is of particular interest to me. If the United States was genuinely concerned about ‘human rights’, why would US President Jimmy Carter have sent Steve Pieczenik to Italy, to ensure that the Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, who had been kidnapped by the Red Brigades, to make sure that Moro's murder was the only "necessary and inescapable" option left available to his abductors (in the words of Italian judges who are investigating his role)? In Pieczenik’s words, Moro was "sacrificed" for the stability of Italy, adding that up to the last day of Moro's captivity he was "afraid they would free him". In another interview with France 5 television channel he claimed that the decision to force the kidnappers' hand was made four weeks after the abduction, "when Moro's letters became desperate and he was about to reveal state secrets" – particularly the role played by the United States government in supporting right wing extremists who had conducted several bloody acts of terrorism in Italy. Coming back to the present: given Obama’s ongoing campaign of drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, his alignment with the despotic Saudi monarchy, and his ongoing support for Israel’s criminal actions in Gaza and the West Bank?
Let us turn now to our government’s support of ‘democracy and human rights’ in Cuba. On October 6th, 1976, Cubana Flight 455, a Cuban flight from Barbados to Jamaica, was blown up by a bomb attack. All 73
people on board were killed. Two CIA operatives, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch have been widely implicated in the bombing, and have admitted to conducting several other acts of terrorism against Cuba. Both of them currently live in the United States, where they have lived free from criminal prosecution. Is this what President Obama means when he says that our government has been supporting ‘democracy and human rights’ in Cuba? Mind you, this is only a single example. There are many more. Setting the President’s transparently false claim aside, let’s now turn to the context in which this decision is being made.
First: since 1999, there has been a consistent and strong support among the public in the United States for normalizing relations with Cuba. Second: it is certain that there are many elements in the business community in the United States who also support ending the embargo – the pharmaceutical industry and agricultural conglomerates, two name just two. Third, and most importantly: it cannot be a coincidence that this move comes at a time in history in which many Central and Latin America countries are finally asserting themselves. For part of the last decade, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Nicaragua all have governments that are taking steps to reduce the grotesque income inequality that exists within them – itself an unprecedented historical situation. In the past, any move in this direction was met with a US-sponsored military coup, if not an outright US invasion.
It would be naïve to suppose that this is due to a fundamental change in the preferences of the people in power, specifically some specific difference between the Obama administration and all preceding US administrations. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed at best to be dragging her feet in condemning the 2009 coup in Honduras against President Manuel Zelaya, and the United States took no real action to punish the illegitimate government that replaced him. Similarly, the Obama administration continued to exert pressure to keep former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide from returning to Haiti after he was ousted in a US-sponsored coup in 2004. Aristide only returned to Haiti in 2011, in defiance of all the pressures exerted by the United States.
The important conclusion is this: if the countries of Latin America are finally free to pursue an independent path, it must be at least in part because of the domestic resistance in the United States against US aggression. This resistance appears “invisible” – because the corporate media do not report on it. But is real, and the WPJC is a part of it In conclusion, we should be pleased to hear that step forward has been made in improving reations with Cuba – and we should remember that those of us who struggle for peace and justice have played a role in bringing it about.