Ripe Fruit and Rotten Imperial Ambitions

Just in case the idea is taking root that the U.S. policy of empire building is the invention of the current gang of neo-conservative hawks in power, one need only conduct a cursory examination of the history of Cuba. With world headlines carefully watching the health of the dominant figure of the past fifty years of revolutionary history on the island, it’s worth taking the long view to understand the issues at play, and to appreciate the cold, ruthless continuity of imperial ambitions.

The official attitude of the U.S. government towards Cuba was, in fact, explicitly laid out as far back as 1823, when then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams described the Caribbean island as a “ripe fruit” that would naturally fall under U.S. control once it was wrested from the Spanish Empire. Adams would go on to be the sixth president of the young republic, but it would not be until the turn of the next century that his country would really begin to harvest their imperial possessions, taking the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, while establishing a neo-colony in Cuba. To ensure their domination, and to prevent the legitimate independence of Cuba, the U.S. grafted the Platt Amendment onto the Cuban Constitution, which paradoxically granted that the United States “may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence”.

The Revolution that came to power in 1959 marked an abrupt end to the neo-colonial period in Cuba, nationalizing the land, industry and banking of the island, and in a matter of a few short years carrying out a profound social transformation. For upwards of forty-five years, the official policy of successive U.S. governments has been to strangle Cuba economically through a comprehensive embargo, or blockade, and to isolate the socialist island from its Latin American neighbours. The first tactic has been effective in a sense, if its aim has been to punish a population for choosing a different social system, while the attempt to keep the Cuban example quarantined’ has begun to fail spectacularly in recent years, as evidenced by the radical processes underway in both Venezuela and Bolivia.

In recent days, media coverage has reduced the drama of Cuba to the health of one man, Fidel Castro, who has temporarily at least handed over power to his younger brother, Raul. More relevant than the hyperactive and indeed, as one Cuban leader has called them, “vomit-provoking” — celebrations of some in the exile community of Miami’s Little Havana, has been the response of U.S. government officials and the mainstream media. For instance, a Reuters news story, run in dozens of newspapers across North America, unintentionally carried a historically fitting headline, Cuba ripe for economic change’ (August 2, 2006).

DERRICK O’KEEFE is co-editor of Seven Oaks.