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Obama, Cuba and "This, That and the Other

The Last Summit … Thank God

by SAUL LANDAU

Fidel Castro scored one big political victory last week, without speaking or even leaving his house – and one sort of amusing little win. By a lopsided score at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Cartagena, Fidel beat President Obama 31-2. The USA and Canada still want to exclude Cuba from future meetings, but the rest of the Hemisphere rejected the US position. Excluding Cuba, most Presidents maintained (Ecuadorian President Correa Nicaragua’s Ortega refused to attend this session because Washington insisted on excluding Cuba), would mean they would not attend future meetings.

Fidel has indeed persevered as the little win illustrated when Marlins’ Manager Ozzie Guillen said he admired Fidel’s ability to persevere in the face of hundreds of assassination plots.  He was subsequently suspended and received tons of hate mail. The incident showed that Fidel’s Miami-based enemies remain obsessed and can’t think clearly. Two hundred or so picketed the stadium and demanded that Marlins’ owners fire Guillen because he said, “I love Fidel Castro,” meaning, he clarified, “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother—— is still here.”

“Guillen knows he has much work to do [for expressing himself]  to win back a segment of fans. Some may never forgive him.” (Edgar Thompson NY Times, April 17)

“No matter what I do,” he said, “it’s not going to be enough.” Guillen realized that Fidel has obsessed his foes.

One old enemy, Luis Posada Carriles the assassin, in between continued violence plotting and visits to his proctologist, finagled an exhibition of his paintings at a Coral Gables bank – not the kind of art he tried practicing against Fidel’s life and a Cuban passenger airplane he bombed out of the sky in 1976 with 73 aboard.

Obama lost in Cartagena because his agenda didn’t match the needs of countries of his fellow heads of state. Indeed, his pushing a free trade treaty (neo-liberalism incarnate) in an area that has witnessed the devastating impact of this economic model and suffers from poverty and inequality did not win him admiration. Obama also insisted on maintaining the drug war that has turned several countries into murderous narco-states. Maybe Obama thought he could apply to drugs the old “nothing succeeds like failure” formula?

The nonsense he spouted on Cuba, however, provoked all the attendees with the exception of Canadian Prime Minister. Central American and the Caribbean nations’ leaders argued to repudiate the exclusion and embargo. They all recognized Cuba’s legitimacy and sent a clear message. Only the right wing Canadian Prime Minister voted with Washington.

US policy toward Cuba is at best “an anachronism,” conservative Colombia President Santos said, a stupid and stubborn obsession that has outlived both the Cold War and all semblance of reality

Obama’s predictable election year response? Cuba had not yet made the democratic changes Washington demanded to justify a US policy change. One could imagine the chorus of groans. The ignorant or obsessed – extremist Cuban exiles inridden Miami – might buy the “no free elections or press in Cuba” line, given US affinity for Saudi Arabia and other sexist monarchies. Once historical facts enter the equation the US case goes down the proverbial drain.

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (D) reflected majority feeling at Cartagena: “We are out of step with our policy with Cuba. It is past time to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and end the embargo.”

Indeed, Obama even admitted, “sometimes those controversies date back to before I was born. And sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports, we’re caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War, and this and that and the other.” (Andrew Cawthorne and Brian Ellsworth, Reuters, April 16)

“Time warp?” In 2009, Obama backed a coup d’etat in Honduras. In 2002 (W. Bush), the United States supported an unsuccessful coup in Venezuela. Or maybe those examples illustrated Obama’s “this that and the other.”

In Cartagena, while Secret Service and military personnel enjoyed some no longer secret services US officials piously invoke human rights to explain Cuba policy. Yet, the world knows the US holds more political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay than Cuba has – and arguably under worse conditions.

A Century ago, Washington grabbed that piece of Cuba, and keeps it despite Havana’s demand for its return. In the 20th Century, US troops invaded and occupied Cuba three times, not including the invasion by CIA-backed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.

In 1952, Obama might read, to defeat anti-democratic Communism the democratic US fought the Cold War[ML3] . In Cuba, this translated into backing General Fulgencio Batista when he shredded the Cuban constitution and made himself President (dictator). No complaints came from Washington when Batista invited mafiosos to become partners with his government in gambling and prostitution. Washington sent arms and US trainers to help Batista.

In 1954, the CIA overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz and replaced him with military thugs who ruled Guatemala for over three decades of murder, torture and looting.

Past US friends and allies include Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza and sons,  “Our son of a bitch” as FDR called the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet – and scores of lesser-known dictators.

Washington has removed disobedient, albeit democratically elected governments, and replaced them with obedient but human rights violating military regimes.

If future Summit meetings exclude the United States that’s OK. Latin American leaders agreed: they don’t need Washington to hold a meeting. Fidel’s been saying that for decades.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP and his FIDEL films are distributed by cinema libre studio. His is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow.