December 17: Sources, Results & Prospects
— Walter Lippmann
CUBA AND THE United States announced December 17, 2014, that they had agreed to resume diplomatic relations.
Relations had been broken by Washington in 1961, when Cuba ordered the United States to reduce its embassy staff to the same number as Cuba’s embassy in Washington: 11.
Initial talks between the two have taken place. Both say the conversations were respectful and courteous.
What does this mean?
The news marked a major victory for Cuba on several accounts. Washington broke relations, and imposed a blockade over half a century ago. It hoped the pain and suffering caused by U.S. pressure would drive the Cuban people to rise up. Despite many difficulties over the years, there has never been a popular uprising against the revolutionary government.
Cuba defeated Washington militarily at Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) in 1961. Cuba defeated the U.S.-instigated guerrillas in the Escambray Mountains in the 1960s.
The United States had to return the child, Elián González, to his father and family in Cuba. Florida had placed him in the home of right-wing Cuban exiles who tried to use him as a trophy in their endless war against their homeland and its government.
Why did Washington change course? As President Obama has said repeatedly, the previous course failed to achieve its objectives: the overthrow of the Cuban government.
How many other nations, large or small, have been able to survive against a U.S. blockade? Zero. Washington’s blockade was more intense than that which targets other countries whose governments Washington opposes: Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Syria and so on. No travel ban was ever imposed on them.
Washington’s changed approach is rooted in its diplomatic isolation in Latin America, and the impact of Cuban medical diplomacy in the Third World. Some so-called “advanced” capitalist countries, such as Portugal, use Cuban doctors today.
Cuban literacy instructors have even been providing education in Australia and elsewhere. Cuba has even contributed to solving U.S. medical problems by training U.S. medical students, free of charge.
Washington had to release three Cuban agents held in prison for 16 years, in exchange for one U.S. contractor-agent, Alan Gross, and a Cuban cryptographer who had become a mole for Washington.
The United States swore repeatedly it would never make that trade, but ultimately had to do so. Washington sought the release of a few dozen Cuban prisoners. Cuba didn’t ask for Washington to free anyone other than the last of the Cuban Five.
Washington hasn’t changed its strategic regime-change objectives, only its tactics for trying to achieve them. The legal foundation of the blockade — the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Laws — remain in effect.
Given the troubled state of the U.S. economy, a market of eleven million people for the sale of U.S. commodities is no small thing. U.S. business has lost tens of millions of dollars due to Washington’s restrictions.
Many whose jobs would grow, in tourism, in agriculture and industry stand to gain should relations between the two improve. This is barely beginning, so it’s unclear how far this weeks-old process will go.
Cuba is still not permitted to sell in the United States any of its many commodities sold abroad. These include coffee, tobacco, alcohol, wood, citrus products, organic honey and more. If Cuba could sell what it produces in the U.S. market, it could even purchase more from the United States.
Washington condemns Cuba’s political system, demanding that it create one acceptable to it. Even if Cuba did that, Washington would not be satisfied.
Venezuela has everything Washington demands of Cuba: multiple opposition parties, funded and advised by the United States, opposition media, opposition demonstrations, completely open Internet access, and the predominance of private property outside of petroleum production.
In the same week Obama announced plans for normalizing relations with Cuba, he approved allowing for sanctions on Venezuela.
So Cuba’s political system isn’t the issue. The issue is Cuba’s political independence from Washington, and the power of Cuba’s example as a country providing medical care and education, completely free of charge to the patient, in a society not dominated by private corporations.
After 50 years, Washington has had to recognize that if it wants any influence in Latin America, the road to Latin America leads through Havana, not around it.
Cuba’s struggle for national independence and sovereignty, its goal to be part of a greater Bolivarian Latin America nation, have been at the heart of Cuba’s politics from the Revolution’s start.
This struggle will continue in the years ahead without interruption. Cuba has won another round in its centuries-long battle with Washington, but the need to defend what’s been achieved, and to advance the building of a more just society, continues.
We are living in interesting times.
March/April 2015, ATC 175