With the surprising news of Fidel Castro’s resignation as Cuba’s president after a reign of forty-nine years, U.S. President George Bush made an even more astounding statement. In response to Mr. Castro’s announcement, Mr. Bush said he was committed to "help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."
One is left practically speechless by that pronouncement. Does Mr. Bush think the people of Cuba are now filled with bright-eyed hope? Does he believe that they look at ‘the blessings of liberty’ he has bestowed on Iraq, and dream of the same? Do they long to have their infrastructure destroyed, essential services disrupted, their families torn apart in the middle of the night? Do the look forward to the need to flee their nation for the relative safety of a refugee camp in whatever other country might be willing to let them in? This is what Mr. Bush has brought to formerly peaceful and sovereign Iraq.
Perhaps Mr. Bush feels that Cubans ignore Iraq, and look to that shining light of freedom and democracy only ninety miles off their northern shore. There the upper class and wealthy can enjoy health care, something all Cubans already have. Walking through any U.S. street, pedestrians are accosted by the homeless, begging money for food, liquor or drugs. This too would be an unfamiliar sight to most Cubans. Those with sufficient monies in the United States can afford to send their children to private schools, which are at least equal to the education that is government-provided in Cuba.
But Mr. Bush did not stop there. Not content with astounding his listeners with his desire to bestow his bizarre brand of ‘the blessings of liberty’ onto the unsuspecting Cuban people, whether they want it or not, Mr. Bush went on. In the same speech he said: "Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free, and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy."
One might think that in a ‘true democracy,’ the voters speak. If two or more candidates are running for the same office, and one receives more votes than any of the others, it might be reasonable to assume that that candidate would win that office. Does Mr. Bush forget his own infamous pseudo-election in 2000? Does he not recall that his major opponent in that election, former Vice President Al Gore, garnered more votes than he? Perhaps Mr. Bush himself is attempting "to foist off as true democracy" his own ‘election’ to the presidency.
Not wanting to disappoint his legions of fans who wait with bated breath for his astute proclamations, Mr. Bush continued. He further stated that, without significant changes in the Cuban government, "political prisoners will rot in prison."
Indeed, on the island nation of Cuba one of the most notorious prisons on the planet operates. In this hell hole, prisoners as young as sixteen are held without access to legal assistance or families. They are subjected to treatment that the civilized world rejects as torture. They may be held for years, experiencing horrors that most minds cannot imagine, but which the government that operates that prison with complete impunity, indifferent to its reputation in the world community, and apparently uncaring about the effects this prison could have on its own citizens, is able to conceive. And while Cuban soil houses that prison, it is the U.S. government that owns and operates it.
A senior analyst at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, Peter Kornbluh, stated that Mr. Castro’s resignation does indeed open up the possibility for improved U.S.-Cuban relations. But, he cautioned, this is unlikely to happen under Mr. Bush’s administration. Said he: "Fidel Castro’s resignation does present a true opportunity to revisit a U.S. policy of perpetual antagonism towards Cuba, even though the current U.S. president is unlikely to make any changes in a hostile position towards Cuba."
It will long remain a puzzle what the intent of the U.S. government has been for forty-nine years in its disdain for Cuba. President Richard M. Nixon, hardly a great American hero, recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1972, apparently deciding that pretending that that nation wasn’t there didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Ten U.S. presidents have not ignored Mr. Castro and his island nation. They have been busy trying to invade it, overthrow its president, isolate it and generally make life for the Cuban people as difficult as possible. What, one wonders, have ten presidents been trying to accomplish, beyond pandering to the Cuban-American vote that is a fairly significant constituency in Florida.
One wonders what it is that the U.S. knows that the 160 nations with which Cuba has formal relations remain in the dark about. Mr. Bush has condemned the governments of some of those, such as Venezuela; yet one further wonders what possible objection the U.S. can have to Cuba’s long-term and very cordial relations with Canada. The U.S. has gone so far as to station its customs agents in Canadian airports, attempting to catch U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba in defiance of U.S. law. Cuba is a popular tourist destination for Canadians, and U.S. travelers wanting to visit the pristine beaches of that nation must do so from Canada or another nation with diplomatic ties to Cuba.
Mr. Bush, in the last several months of his second and final term in office, is often referred to as a lame duck. One must remember that an injured animal or bird is dangerous and prone to erratic behavior. Mr. Bush’s behavior has been bizarre in the best of times (if one is able to find any ‘best of times’ in the U.S. in the last seven and a half years), and now he must be considered extremely perilous. His blowhard grandstanding about Iran has led to nothing; no one beyond his own insulated cadre of power-hungry capitalists seems to take him seriously on that score. But Cuba has long been a major bugaboo for Mr. Bush, as it was for his last nine predecessors. He may harbor grandiose schemes about being the U.S. president to finally defeat the Communist government of Cuba, and bring to the Cubans the poverty and suffering that are so much a part of U.S. society but are swept under the American rug. He might believe he can leave office a hero, having destroyed the non-existent threat from Iraq and then having given the Cuban people his particular brand of ‘the blessings of liberty.’
A naïve citizen might think that this is not possible: Congress will not allow a U.S. president to invade a sovereign nation posing no threat to America. But since Mr. Bush has proven himself adept at manipulating intelligence, or simply making it up as he goes along, we may all soon hear dark warnings about Cuba’s nuclear stockpile. Perhaps Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will stand before the United Nations Security Council and show blurred photographs, Collin Powell style, and swear to the world that Cuba presents a threat that must be stopped pre-emptively. And members of Congress will rush headlong to the nearest microphones to assert their patriotism, express horror at Cuba’s murderous plans, and give Mr. Bush the same authority they gave him in 2002 to invade Iraq, so he can unleash U.S.-brand terrorism on Cuba.
One hopes this can be prevented. One desperately hopes that Mr. Bush will decide that two wars are sufficient for him to continue to call himself the ‘War President.’ Cuba, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, has no oil, nor is it required for an oil pipe to a further destination, as Afghanistan was. But Cuba, with its long history of antagonism from the U.S., presents Mr. Bush with a unique challenge, and one that he may perceive could salvage his disgraceful legacy. He seems to believe that his two gods, war and capitalism, equate to strength and democracy. And he may seek a new altar at which to worship them, and Cuba in transition may appear to him a welcoming sight.
Should Mr. Bush have such designs there is little to stop him. Congress has proven itself completely lacking in statesmanship, leadership or spine despite the actions of the voters in 2006 who ejected to Republicans and gave both the House and Senate to the Democrats. The three major candidates now seeking their party’s nominations offer more of the same, or a slight variation thereof. Despite high-sounding rhetoric by Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, a ‘meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss’ model is all the world can reasonably expect. Republican John McCain practically proclaims with pride that a McCain administration will be an extension of the current disastrous Bush one.
A world looking for peace and solutions to international problems cannot expect the United States to spearhead such behaviors. As long as corporate American is pulling the strings, waging industrial wars and purchasing the White House for those who bow to capitalism above all else, war, death, carnage and injustice will continue.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘