Obama’s Cuban Policy Shift

In simultaneous press conferences in Washington, D.C., and Havana on Wednesday, Dec. 17, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced an agreement that included the immediate release of the three remaining Cuban political prisoners held in U.S. jails since 1998—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero. Two other Cubans, Fernando González, and René González, having completed long jail terms, had been released in recent years.

The Cuban Five, as they are known with great admiration worldwide, were charged in 1998 and convicted in 2001 in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and acting as agents of a foreign government. The U.S. government-orchestrated trial included the illegal manipulation of reporters and the media more generally, forged documents, and the exclusion of exculpatory evidence. It was a classic U.S. political frame-up, aimed at poisoning public opinion and the jury pool while characterizing Cuba, the victim of U.S. terrorism for decades, as a terrorist state.

A Dec. 19 statement by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), which has been monitoring U.S.-backed terrorist attacks on Cuba, stated, “For more than 30 years after Fidel Castro took power, over 3400 Cubans have died and over 2000 have been wounded in terrorist attacks by extremist anti-Castro exile groups based in South Florida. In 1990, the Cuban government sent the five men to Miami to monitor and disrupt such groups and prevent future attacks.” The Cuban Five [long ago granted Cuba’s highest award, “Heroes of the Revolution”], remained nonviolent throughout their mission.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio and television program described one such U.S.-trained terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, as “one of the most notorious Cuban exiles who applied for political asylum in the United States several years ago.” Goodman reported that Carriles, a former CIA operative trained by the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Ga., “has been trying to violently overthrow Fidel Castro’s government for four decades. … Posada was responsible for the 1976 downing of a civilian airliner that left Venezuela bound for Cuba. The bombing killed 73 passengers, including the gold medal-winning Cuban Olympic fencing team.”

In 1998 Posada told The New York Times, “The C.I.A. taught us everything. … They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.”

The Cuban government transmitted the information obtained by The Five to various U.S. intelligence agencies that supposedly exist to prevent such terrorist activities from being initiated from U.S. soil. It was these communications to the U.S. that led to the arrest of the Cuban Five, via a deeply implanted Cuban intelligence officer in the employ of the CIA. This was Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, subsequently imprisoned in Cuba for almost 20 years.

Trujillo was part of the prisoner swap, along with Alan Gross, an American working in association with the U.S. Agency for International Development, a notorious instrument used by the CIA and other such institutions aimed at undermining governments whose policies the U.S. government opposes. Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba for the past five years. Also, Cuba has reportedly freed 53 other “political prisoners” as part of the deal with the United States.

No U.S. government action was taken against the terrorists that the Five had exposed! Indeed, U.S. spy and terrorist operations continued with abandon, all focused on the organization of an internal opposition to topple the leadership of the Cuban Revolution.

In recent years the U.S. ruling class has been divided on the issue of the most effective methods to employ to bring down the Cuban workers’ state, established in 1959 when the forces led by Fidel Castro organized a popular revolution that removed the hated U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and opened the way to a socialist revolution in Cuba.

One wing of the U.S. ruling class, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a number of “liberal” Democrats, as well as Midwest Republicans who wish to sell cheap grain and other foodstuffs to Cuba, argue that a healthy dose of American capitalist investment aimed at undermining and underselling Cuba’s largely nationalized economy, is the best way to proceed. Clinton’s view is clearly stated in her new book, “Hard Choices.”

A Dec. 18 Bloomberg View article entitled “Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years” notes: “Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.”

The Bloomberg article continues, “From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation.”

While Obama officials asserted that the secret negotiations with the Cuban government that resulted in the present agreement were facilitated by Pope Francis and Canadian diplomats, presumably those with interests in exploiting Cuba’s significant nickel resources, ruling-class debates over the effectiveness of the Cuban embargo/blockade have been underway for decades.

Today, with the same intentions, the Obama administration has come on board. The president made clear in a Dec. 19 press conference that “the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government.” That “influence” includes U.S. corporate intentions to penetrate Cuban markets with an ongoing flow of cheap commodities aimed at undermining Cuban government enterprises.

U.S. imperialism’s relations with Cuba, and all other poor nations, always include such economic penetration based on imperialism’s capacity to set prices for vital resources far cheaper than their actual value. U.S. imperialism, for example, was able to effectively reduce the world market price of nickel, previously an important component of Cuba’s income, by 50 percent.

This kind of economic robbery is inherent in the imperialist system, wherein the nation that employs the highest levels of technology in the production of any commodity effectively devalues competing products produced with considerably more labor input. U.S. agri-business, utilizing the most advanced technologies in the world and very few workers, regularly produces rice more cheaply than any nation on earth. In every instance, the threat or actual export of rice in significant quantities has the effect of undermining the national rice markets worldwide.

The “liberal” advocates of opening Cuba to U.S. economic investments and commodity exports often cite the great economic gains obtained by U.S. multi-national corporations in China and Russia as a prime example. They have found a regular voice in the editorial pages of The New York Times, which repeatedly champions an end to the embargo in order to advance U.S. economic penetration of Cuba as the most effective way to bring down the Cuban workers’ state.

The more hard-bitten sectors of the U.S. ruling class prefer the traditional stick to Obama’s carrot. They remain in accord with the 1960 State Department memo—continuing in essence to this day—to “bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of [the Cuban] government.”

The National Lawyers Guild statement also noted that “under the current [Obama] administration, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had secretly attempted to build an opposition movement in Cuba which it acknowledged had no significant support from within the island. These covert actions as documented several months ago by the Associated Press include: (1) sending undercover Latin American youth to Cuba posing as health workers; (2) establishing a fake “Cuban Twitter” program, [the now-abandoned ZunZuneo (the sound of the hummingbird) program], the collecting the data of 50,000 unsuspecting Cubans; and (3) infiltrating the underground hip-hop scene and co-opting artists.”

These more “subtle” programs were, of course, accompanied by the ongoing and illegal 52-year U.S. embargo/blockade that has caused Cuba billions of dollars in lost revenue and has been central to the U.S.-imposed misery inflicted on the Cuban people. Despite the embargo/blockade and all other illegal measures employed by U.S. imperialism, revolutionary Cuba has persevered, including maintaining one of the world’s finest and free systems of health care, public education, and other vital social services that are universally admired.

In recent years, and following a massive consultation process with the Cuban people, Cuba has implemented series of reforms, within the context of maintaining its socialist ideals, aimed at improving the efficiency of the Cuban economy. These include granting licenses for the operation of small businesses that involve just a few people, usually family members, in their operation. In 2013, these enterprises employed some 400,000 Cubans.

This fall, the government announced 246 projects that will be added to the number of industries that are open to foreign investment. This effort focuses on the special development zone that is being developed in an expanded Port of Mariel. The new zone will offer the possibility of 100 percent private ownership, although enterprises will be subject to government, labor, and other regulation.

Additionally, modest parcels of state land have been distributed on a renewable-lease basis to Cuban workers and agricultural laborers. Here again, the objective was to improve efficiency and avoid bureaucratic abuse. The latter has been periodically and publically noted and condemned by the Cuban leadership, especially with regard to the state agriculture system, where theft and corruption have been rampant. In cases of imperialist-imposed and massive shortages of basic necessities, bureaucratic abuse is well known. Combating this abuse was been a critical part of the legacy of the Castro team.

But unlike the process of capitalist restoration that has been completed in Russia and China, no significant portion of Cuba’s economy has been granted to any section of the Cuban leadership or to international corporations. Indeed, before implementation, the proposed economic reforms were presented for discussion, debate, and modification to well-organized and massive assemblies of workers and farmers that included millions of Cubans.

While Cuba still lacks formal and vitally necessary institutions of workers’ democracy, such as the soviet (council) system under the revolutionary leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in the early period of the Russian Revolution, the present Cuban leadership has not developed into a hardened caste whose interests can only be preserved by repression. To the contrary, despite the incredible hardships imposed on Cuba by U.S. and world imperialism, the Castro team has struggled valiantly to maintain the social gains of the 1959 revolution and to foster social equality to a greater extent than anywhere on earth.

The Cuban example in sending hundreds of doctors and medical workers to fight the scourge of ebola in Africa and similar humanitarian efforts across the globe is testimony to its ongoing revolutionary and socialist orientation.

The heinous U.S. embargo/blockade of Cuba has been annually condemned as illegal in United Nations General Assembly resolutions in each of the past 23 years. The most recent vote on this issue was 188-2, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against.

Commenting on the embargo/blockade and the new U.S.-Cuba agreement, and reaffirming Cuba’s socialist course, Raul Castro stated emphatically, “An important step has been taken, but the essential thing remains—the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, which has grown in recent years particularly in terms of financial transactions.” In short, Cuba, unlike virtually every nation on earth, has been denied credit from almost all of the world’s major banking institutions.

While Obama declined to lift the embargo, with the assertion that this required congressional action—that is, rescinding the Helms-Burton Law and other anti-Cuba legislation—what will soon become clear is that the U.S. government will seek to use its embargo leverage to extract important concessions.

Similarly, after a century of colonial occupation, including torture of so-called terrorists captured in the course of U.S. wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Obama made no reference to the U.S.-occupied naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Cuban government continues to demand an end to this colonial occupation, a product of the 1898 American war and occupation of Cuba based on the infamous “Remember the Maine!” pretext, when Spanish authorities were charged with blowing up the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor.

Obama’s press conference also announced several additional executive orders aimed softening relations with Cuba.

Dependent on expected new and soon to be enacted Treasury and Commerce Department revisions of current policy and their formal publication in the Federal Register, Obama and his administration officials indicated that rules on visits to Cuba by Americans will be liberalized to allow for travel in categories that have in the past required special licenses. These include family visits, as well as travel regarding official U.S. or foreign government business, journalism, research and professional meetings, educational and religious activities, performances workshops, competitions, expeditions, and humanitarian support. Specific licenses will no longer be required for business related to telecommunications and Internet linkages with Cuba.

Further, remittances by Americans with family members in Cuba will now increase to $2000 every three months, up from $500. Americans visiting Cuba will be allowed to legally import merchandise bought there with a value of up to $400, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol purchases.

In the same vein, Obama—declaring the U.S. approach to Cuba “outdated” and stating that “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked”—proclaimed that his objective was the normalization of relations with Cuba, including the construction and establishment of a U.S. embassy in Havana and an Obama administration effort to remove Cuba from the U.S. terrorist list. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated his intention to pay a formal visit to Cuba along with other top administration officials.

Liberal apologists for U.S. imperialism have been effusive with praise for Obama’s recent policy initiatives, characterizing them as sincere efforts to portray his “legacy” as that of a progressive, liberal-minded—if not humanistic—head of state.

Mindful of the need to attract to its 2016 electoral efforts the unprecedented millions who did not vote in the recent mid-term elections—two-thirds of the eligible electorate and especially Blacks, Latinos, and youth who saw no significant difference between the twin parties of the ruling rich—the president has engaged in a flurry of executive pronouncements aimed at burnishing his tattered image. These include his fraudulent immigration reforms, his “success” in negotiating the new $1.1 trillion congressional funding bill (that granted additional billions to the corporate elite), his tepid criticisms of the now internationally exposed CIA torture practices, and his most recent release/transfer of four Guantanamo prisoners who had been held for decades without charges or legal representation.

All these measures, as with Obama’s “new” Cuba policies, are in their essence the dressing of the government’s ongoing reactionary policies in more presentable garb. They are aimed at maintaining and advancing the interests of the U.S. rulers at the expense of the world’s people, including the American working class.

The classic maxim of over 3000 years past applies with full force today: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!” Obama’s Trojan Horse belies wicked intentions. Nevertheless, the hard-fought winning of the freedom of the Cuban Five, and all other measures aimed at ending the monstrous imperialist embargo/blockade, are important victories for revolutionary Cuba and all humanity.

Jeff Mackler is a staff writer for Socialist Action. SocialistAction.org. He can be reached at SocialistAction@lmi.net

Jeff Mackler is a staffwriter for Socialist Action. He can be reached at jmackler@lmi.net  socialist action.org