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The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty.
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.
Did Marx inspire the comedy writer in the White House Press Secretary Office to issue a December 8 press release entitled: “Fact Sheet: Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba?”
Perhaps, he meant the word “Fact” to read “Farce.” For 100 plus years, the White House has rarely uttered a fact about Cuba–no less a whole sheet. But covering real facts with pious language does make for farce–on stage anyhow. For example, in 1898, President William McKinley sent US troops to our neighboring island to “help Cuba gain independence from Spain.”
To allay suspicions of McKinley’s imperial agenda, Congress passed the Teller Amendment, renouncing intentions of annexing Cuba. But in 1901 Senator Orville Platt’s amendment to an appropriations bill allowed the United States to intervene as it wished in Cuban affairs and to lease a naval station — which soon becam the base in Guantanamo.
Washington then forced Cuba to include the Platt amendment’s provisions in its new Constitution. President Theodore Roosevelt withdrew US troops from Cuba in 1902, but re-dispatched them in 1906 to reverse an election he didn’t like–that is “restoring order.” The occupiers stayed for three years and returned again in 1912, to crush an armed uprising against the government–which did not ask for US help.
From 1917-23, US Marines insured that Cubans didn’t revert to revolutionary behavior–as Russians had done after 1917. Marines also “protected US property” by breaking strikes.
By 1925, Washington had found a “democratic caretaker,” Gerardo Machado, who earned the nickname of “the Butcher” by killing and torturing those who dissented. Revolutionaries overthrew Machado in 1932. Faced with deep social unrest in Cuba and fearing yet another revolution, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt announced a Good Neighbor Policy. No more armed intervention in Latin America, he promised. Instead, in March 1933, FDR dispatched Sumner Welles to Cuba to prevent a left-wing government from taking power.
To add punch to Welles’ mission, US warships dropped anchor off the Cuban coast. Welles’ discovered an ideal leader, Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant whose main virtue was loyalty to the Americans. With a new surrogate in power, Washington repealed the Platt Amendment, but kept the base at Guantanamo.
Cuba became “democratic.” Elected governments obedient to Washington felt “free” to steal from the Cuban people, as successive Presidents and their entourages did, without serious disapproval from Washington. In 1952, Batista staged a fraudulent election and made himself President again. In the ensuing years, Batista tortured, murdered and imprisoned dissidents, but behaved obsequiously to the power in Washington and the Mafia in Havana.
When revolutionary anger manifested itself throughout the island, the United States allowed the dictator to use its Guantanamo base to refuel and provide bullets and bombs for his planes, which bombed supposed rebel positions — often defenseless rural areas and towns that suspected of “sympathy” with the rebels.
These historical sketches illustrate the past Administrations’ evolving understanding of “free Cuba.” “Free” euphemistically means “obedient.” So, in 1898, Washington “freed” Cuba from Spain, and called it “independent.”
The 1959 revolution “freed” Cuba–it began to disobey — from US domination. So, Washington again announced it wanted to “free” the island from the new Cuban government which had not asked permission to make a revolution. By 1960, after the Soviet Union offered aid to Cuba, Washington changed its line: “free” Cuba from communist domination. By 1990, the USSR having imploded, President Bush (41) tried to “free” Cubans from the social benefits they had achieved over thirty years and replace them with Miami-based Cubans who would privatize (“free”) everything.
From 1959 on, some of these Florida-based, Castro-hating and freedom-loving Cubans had committed thousands of acts of terrorism against the people they loved on the island–how else can you show true love? Backed by the freedom-loving CIA, the terrorist activity continued sporadically. Currently, US agencies “fail” to detect “freedom-loving” conspiracies, like the bombing of Cuban hotels in the 1990s.
For sheer farcical consistency, however, President Bush (43) decided he had to create something new. On October 10, he announced a new Commission would “plan for the happy day when Castro’s regime is no more and democracy comes to the island.”
US Presidents as members of the “They’ll Say Anything Club” claim that US policy always aims to spread democracy. US military interventions in Cuba in the 20th Century in Iran, Guatemala, Haiti, Vietnam, Nicaragua, — well, there’s hundreds of them–certainly achieved that goal–didn’t it? Spreading democracy also meant showing Cuba how to manage its resources. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Congress, for example, controlled Cuba’s economy by manipulating the sugar quota–guaranteed prices for Cuba — so that Cuba became dependent on the US sugar purchase.
If it seemed less than democratic to give vast military and political support to dictator Batista–well, look at the Big Picture: he was anti-Communist and very obedient. Under his “democratic days” happiness reigned in business and Mafia circles. Indeed, in pre 1959 Cuba, the Mafia Don and the US Ambassador were arguably two of the most powerful people in Havana.
On December 5, 2003, with this history in mind, I’m certain, co-chairs Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez convened the President’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Also present were leading Cabinet members. The team that showed its dedication to truth, peace, democracy and law in Iraq will plan for similar results in Cuba.
“United States policy regarding Cuba is clear — hasten Cuba’s peaceful transition to a representative democracy and a free market economy — ending decades of an oppressive dictatorship.” Thus, the Commission has decided that US-style democracy (no vote counting necessary for Floridians) and economic arrangements must prevail in Cuba as well.
The Commission’s unwritten agenda, winning the 2004 election, means that words must appeal to anti-Castro donating blocks and tested vote counting intimidators who seek “means by which the United States can help the Cuban people bring about an expeditious end of the dictatorship.”
To get support from the Florida-based anti-Castro Cubans who continue to show their love of the island through violence, the Commission will advise the President on how to “establish democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the rule of law” and “create the core institutions of a free economy.” The 2000 elections in Florida illustrated the evolving fine points of freedom: erasing opposition voters from the register; preventing others from voting; not counting all votes. Cubans now know how fair elections work.
“Freedom” now includes concentration camps in Guantanamo, a new US method for “securing” human rights. Even habeas corpus has evolved to the point where Bush detains US citizens without charges or right to lawyers. In November, both Houses of Congress voted to lift the ban on travel to Cuba, but White House staffers made phone calls and the Congressional conference committee nullified the will of Congress. The evolution of US democracy!
Do I hear laughing from Havana? US Administrations always avoid the question: “who invited us?” Does Bush have a massive secret petition from the Cuban people asking for his help? Evidence of Cubans desiring US-style change comes form those who directly or indirectly receive material aid from the US Interests Section in Havana or from other US agencies–defined as “freedom loving Cubans.” The 11,000 signatures (out of 8 million eligible) on the Varella petition to demand of Cuba’s Parliament a more US style system, for Washington constitutes solid evidence for yet another intervention in Cuban affairs. One wit speculated that Cuban state security agents composed only half of the Varella signers.
The new Commission also plans to help Cubans “meet basic needs in the areas of health, education, housing, and human services.” In the Big Rock Candy Mountain landlords reduce rents, the coal industry stops smelting, bosses raise pay and benefits. Hey, look how the US has helped our neighbors in the past! Well, it certainly helped big US businesses and banks.
In 1933, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler opted out of the farce. “I helped make Mexico… safe for American oil interests in 1914,” he said, “Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street.”
Not funny? How about Castro creating a “Free the United States Commission.” Demand electoral reform, investigate Dick Cheney and Halliburton for illegal war conspiracy in Iraq. The Commission could — oh, what’s the use. The country that “freed: Cuba in 1898 and wants to “free” it again now has a Commission. For farcical regularity, the writer could add: “To maintain the quest for honesty and democracy, the Administration will repudiate its past naughty behavior toward Cuba.” That would get a laugh.
SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: www.rprogreso.com. His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com