The Cold War is over. Showing diplomatic vision, boldness, and courage, Obama has in one stroke, the normalization of relations with Cuba, ended nearly 70 years of dangerous international conflict, 55 years of which symbolically and actually focused on Cuba as an energizer for keeping alive, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, a dangerous global division mostly conducted by proxy armies. We on the Left are grateful, despite some harsh words in the past, to our president for breaking apart the ideological chains enslaving us all. With the newly-established Freedom of the Cuban people, the world can now rejoice.
What utter rubbish! And much of the American Left have swallowed the casuistry, innocents led to the slaughter—not their/our own, but countless millions exposed to the preponderant power of US military-grounded imperialism. Principle: You cannot kill with one hand, and make nice with the other, because making nice leads to further killing. Python (i.e., American capitalism), gorge thyself—serves us right for abandoning the global popular struggle (much of it, especially in the Western Hemisphere, inspired by the Cuban Revolution) and succumbing to the wiles of a president who, because he is black, radicals do not dare to criticize. Go tell it to the Mountain of political correctness; better, tell it to Paul Robeson, Dr. King, A. Philip Randolph, James Chaney, Bob Moses, James Farmer, James Foreman, who would see at once and penetrate the disguises and subterfuges of a Black President dedicated to war, intervention, regime change, assassination, torture—anything but, social justice and improvement of the lives of all working people, black and white alike. Our Obama is no stranger to Wall Street, and that as a first approximation explains the “normalization of relations,” which I choose to call the “normalization of imperialism.”
Python (the master criminal-state) has, perhaps defying the laws of biology, borne a progeny of sharks now circling the waters of Cuba. Eager for the spoliation of a country unwilling to play by America’s rules (ah, halcyon days of Batista, the lights of the Hotel Nacional burning all night for gambling, street beggars, urchins, hovels, the iron boot for stability, prostitution to satisfy the thirst of American tourists) and, therefore, giving hope to other countries seeking to escape the US orbit of imposed degradation, had to be blockaded, strangled, crushed in spirit, if Americans were to have an already reinforced self-righteousness of capitalism confirmed and placed beyond doubt. Cuba was the unconscious nightmare, the Alternative, to be destroyed lest our people learn from its example and demand a democratization of the social structure and political economy. Fidel came before Putin; both must go.
The Obama policy decision can be viewed on three levels (probably more, but that will do for now): a) most immediate, the financial-commercial-ideological penetration of Cuba, US firms standing by as so many serial rapists ready to pounce. I mean the term quite literally, which stripped of sexual content I tend to think of “rapacious,” as in (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate) excessively grasping or covetous—to be applied to invaders, living on prey, ravenous, and thus, a neutral description of the American business community ready for action. (Marxists using escalated rhetoric might better turn to Webster’s for the sharply denoted meanings which may carry still greater punch—a silly aside.) Yet much as I eschew sexual analogies, one perhaps valid point comes out of the Obama pronouncement of a policy change: this new engagement entails foreplay, softening up the victim, for ultimately wrenching (commercial, financial, etc.) penetration, the victim overpowered in the process. I call this the Cosby Phenomenon, slipping Cuba the cantharis, Spanish fly, to have America’s way with it, unrestrained and with impunity.
Skipping sexual analogies, however, or not completely, we see American banks and corporations lined up as so many serial rapists—no better than that—plunging into the Cuban market. Thumbnail sketch: Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are already exporting corn and soybeans; Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, frozen chickens; Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have made clear, they want in, also Marriott International and, because Cuba has one of the largest deposits of nickel in the world, John Deere and Caterpillar, with mining and farming equipment, are knocking on the door. Telecommunications is not a negligible investment opportunity, especially the Internet infrastructure and services, as well. (See NYT, “What U.S. Companies Can Expect in Cuba,” Dec. 20.)
Going a little further, Alicia Parlapiano’s NYT chart, “How America’s Relationship With Cuba Will Change,” (Dec. 17), we find that The Times, true to its (colonial/imperialist) colors, begins on this note of the reporter, the heading “Diplomatic Relations”: “There have been no diplomatic relations with Cuba since the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro and his Communist government came to power.” Communist, usurpation (came to power), there was little chance for allowing Cuba to find its way—the Bay of Pigs a notable instance. On “Travel Restrictions” we find a number of categories, heretofore to be decided on a case-by-case basis, which still remains in effect, but, now, general licenses to travel, no longer case-by-case, includes, “Support for the Cuban people, including human rights work,” “Humanitarian work,” “Private foundations and institutes,” and “information dissemination,” all in all a nifty package hopefully fooling no-one, to turn loose NGOs, CIA, and other species of liberal humanitarianism bringing the Word to a benighted people.
Julie Creswell’s NYT article, “U.S. Companies Clamor to Do Business in New Cuban Market,” (Dec. 18), lists some of the sharks, the point being that within hours of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, US companies “were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market they have not been in for the better part of 50 years—if ever.” The thirst for profits drives the engine of diplomacy—mine. Creswell, however, is wise enough to know this will not be a cakewalk, Cuba not lying prostrate at America’s feet. “But while there may be robust opportunities for some companies,” she writes, “especially those selling products or goods that could be viewed [here succinctly she hits the nail on the head] as enhancing Cuba’s own domestic production or helping to develop its underused resources, other companies could get the cold shoulder.” Take, for example, McDonald’s. She quotes Kirby Jones, an adviser since 1974 on doing business there: “’For a company like McDonald’s, the Cuban government is going to ask, ‘How does McDonald’s coming in and selling hamburgers help the economy of Cuba? It’s just not going to be like other regions where you see a McDonald’s on every corner.’” Viva Raul.
Actually, Obama’s intent is quite different, saturate the Cuban market with American chains of whatever kind, including hotels. I raise the point to suggest this is not wholesale capitulation on Cuba’s part. The gnashing of teeth in Washington will, no doubt, soon begin. Damien Cave reported on Raul’s televised speech at the end of Cuba’s legislative session (Dec. 20); his NYT article, “Castro Thanks U.S. but Affirms Cuba’s Communist Rule,” same date, makes clear he is not easily beguiled by Obama and, whether Cuba in fact is communist—or ever really has been, one delights in twitching Uncle Sam’s nose. Cave: “[Raul] declared victory for the Cuban Revolution on Saturday in a wide-ranging speech, thanking President Obama for ‘a new chapter,’ while also reaffirming that restored relations with the United States did not mean the end of Communist rule in Cuba.” Thanking Obama is a nice touch, driving him up the curtains (like Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”). Raul “alternates between conciliatory and combative statements” against the US; he “would accelerate [Cuba’s] economic reform [presumably greater capitalistic factors], prioritizing an end to the country’s dual-currency system.” Yet the clincher giving one hope the US has not vanquished the Cuban revolution (Cave’s account of the speech continues): “But he also said that changes needed to be gradual to create a system of ‘prosperous and sustainable communism.’” For good measure, Raul stressed that with open relations now starting, “’the only way to advance is with mutual respect.’” Here my bear hug: “’Every country has the inalienable right to choose its own political systems. No one should believe that improving relations with the United States means Cuba renouncing its ideas.’” And Cave, in explanation, writes: “He [Raul] insisted as he and Fidel Castro have insisted for years that the United States not meddle in the sovereign affairs of the Cuban state.”
Surprisingly, a good deal of trade has gone on, the US, we learn being “already the fourth-largest exporter to Cuba, behind China, Spain and Brazil (still only $359M, latest figures), but of course with the inevitable strings attached: “Producers needed to be paid in cash in advance and payments needed to be funneled through a third-party bank in another country, typically one in Europe.” Not the best thing for business expansion, US corporations, with profits involved, proving far less ideological than Obama and Congress. Devry Vorwerk, Cargill’s vice-president for corporate affairs, is quoted by Cave: “’This is a wonderful first step, but we would like to see the embargo ended.’” Tell that to Menendez and Rubio.
Thus, Cuba is attempting a selective application of normalization, firms admitted conducive to its own economic growth, the others, wholly consumer-oriented (he mentions Frito-Lay corn chips, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts), not discouraged, but consigned to the tourist trade. The Spanish chain Melia Hotels International, very well placed, illustrates the Cuban strategy: it receives “only management contracts… the government in Havana prefer[ing] to own the buildings and land itself.” American hoteliers may not be so easily persuaded, the CEO of Marriott International saying, “’We will take our cues from the U.S. government but look forward to opening hotels in Cuba, as companies from other countries have done already”—except that those companies have agreed to abide by the Cuban ground rules and did not fall back on their governments, as Arne Sorenson proposes here, to force concessions. It will be interesting to see how American business and banking fare under the New Dispensation—if poorly, one can expect the reinstatement of the embargo, boycott, wider encirclement, and the cancelling of recognition. Cuba is no longer a Batista whore house.
For one who talks of normalized relations, Obama in his press conference (Dec. 19) was quite aggressive, as though not Cuba but Russia seemed on his mind. Times reporter Julie Davis, in an article, “Obama Defends Actions on Cuba and Promises Some Compromises With Congress,” observes that he “rejected criticism that he should not have reopened American relations with Cuba because of the nation’s human rights record [a tricky standard if applied to the US–mine], saying the historic thaw would give the United States more sway over the Cuban government.” Trade, per se good in itself, with Obama also becomes the vehicle for regime change, the two inseparable in US policy where applicable, as here, and in more developed countries still a goal (marking subservience to US needs) when assisted through the IMF and World Bank. The selfless statesman reaches out: “’The whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government.’” This is said as a general proposition, carrying beyond Cuba. But on Cuba: “’Change is going to come to Cuba. It has to.’” Yes, but can it be moderated? Does it have to be destructive?
I noted above that Obama’s policy decision can be understood on three levels. We have seen the first, the familiar face of imperialism. The second and third are more difficult to explain (and may be only the figment of my imagination), but I’d like to try. Hence (b), the US move on Cuba can also be understood without reference to Cuba. In my previous article I alluded to the favorable response to Obama’s policy among Left leaders in Latin America, who did not couch their praise of him in renewing these diplomatic relations with the same assertion of sovereignty and socialism that Raul did—at least not on record, so that one suspects decades (actually, since the 1890s) of US intervention, occupation, investment in and exploitation of natural resources and agricultural products, regime change, corruption of governments, this and so much more may simply have been enough for them to drop their guard and wish for a better future. The point being, Obama and the US government count on that yearning, that end of ceaseless struggle in face of Behemoth to the North, to continue prosecuting the policy of imperialism, using what appeared a change-of-heart on Cuba as a way of enveloping the whole of Latin America as—in the good old times—an American dependency. Cuba becomes the poster child of American altruism, innocence, humanitarianism.
This is a big propaganda order, but perhaps it is working, that is, until America shows its hand. There are no Bolivarian figures to unite the peoples of Latin America. The cynicism of the American policy toward Cuba has then the added dimension beyond zeroing in on Cuba itself, with the kind of venom seen in Kennedy’s Invasion, for the US, as always since then, is after bigger game, global counterrevolution, with Latin America particularly in the cross-hairs because of its history of revolutionary struggle—intolerable so close to American shores. Poor Cuba (as America sees it), to be conquered less for its own sake, good as that is, but not even dignified in its own right as the primary interest of Cuban policy, than a sweeping geopolitical goal which nails down the Hemisphere as prerequisite to regaining world hegemony in the face of a decentralizing international system led by the separate power centers of Russia and China, the latter especially troublesome in Latin America itself as well as in Africa and world markets.
Finally, the third level—admittedly conjecture on my part because I don’t think Obama and his national security advisers are quite up to the mark in figuring it out (chalk it up to a stratum of the unconscious in which broader outlines of policy may be formed). Hence (c), if Cuba did not exist, we would have to invent it. Years ago (1967) I advanced the argument with respect to Vietnam (which Time magazine picked up for purposes of ridicule), so indispensible the war in furthering the whole posture of the US in the world. The Cold War could not be allowed to burn out. Too much was on the American plate—the lesser objects of interest, a fear that informal regimentation in support of anticommunism appeared to be breaking down and racial turmoil too had to be brought within the confines of social discipline, both of which the Vietnam War, by flexing the muscle of a strong government and ringing the charges on the theme of patriotism, could be applied to troubled waters. Wartime, especially in curbing free speech and questioning essentials of the social order, was the handmaiden of conformity.
But Vietnam had even more to do with the global system, with the containment of Russia and China already designated the leading priority, followed closely by keeping the brakes on the Third World, so that autonomous patterns of modernization, negating America’s imperialist thrust, could be stifled at birth. Vietnam must not be allowed to succeed in this prime anti-colonialist moment, the US picking up where France, in defeat, left off. Like Cuba, Vietnam decades before (yet contemporaneous with Cuba) raised the specter of global liberation from capitalist hegemony. If the war had not occurred, it would still have been imperative to make the slaughter of an independent country the test case and supreme validation of American might. Iraq more recently has become a rent-a-battleground situation to prove a point. Cuba, an ideological dimension added, simply raised the stakes higher.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.