By Anton L. Allahar
Anton Allahar is a Trinidadian who lives in Canada. He is a professor of sociology at Western University and wrote his doctoral dissertation on Cuba 34 years ago. He holds 2 honorary professorships from the University of Havana in Havana, and the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba. Professor Allahar is former president of the Caribbean Studies Association.
Following the news of a possible Cuban-US rapprochement last Wednesday (December 17) there has been a flurry of emails, tweets, facebook postings and other forms of social media communication as millions of people over the world reached out to express either their delight or their disgust at the decision of President Obama to re-establish diplomatic relations with the sovereign, though beleaguered Caribbean nation. Though new, the decision was over one year in the making, and it is perhaps not coincidental that Canada would play the central role as facilitator. I say it is not coincidental for during the entire period of the Cold War stand-off between the two nations, Canada was one of only two countries (Mexico being the other) that never caved in to US pressure to isolate Cuba and sever all political and economic relations. In the Caribbean, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago announced that they would open diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972.
Canada’s role may be understood as that country exercising its sovereignty but there are many who will have their doubts, for with a few exceptions, Canada’s foreign policy has most often been in lock step with that of the United States. But its Cuba policy has been somewhat more independent. Canada never broke relations with Cuba, although depending on which government was in charge in Ottawa, those relations could vary between warm (Trudeau and Chrétien) to cool (Mulroney and Harper). My take is a bit more cynical. I do not think the US ever threatened Canada with reprisals for retaining links with Cuba. Instead, I think the US welcomed or even encouraged such links for it meant that the US could speak to Cuba through Canada. In the contemporary cases of North Korea and until recently, Iran, there is no broker so engagement has tended to follow the unproductive lines of condemnations, threats, embargoes, invasions and espionage.
When the revolution triumphed in January 1959 Eisenhower was president of the US and between him and Obama there have been nine other US presidents, six Republican and five Democrats. In spite of that, however, US policy toward Cuba has remained fairly consistent. That policy is embodied in the commercial, economic and financial blockade that was imposed in 1960 and extended by President Kennedy in 1962 to cover such things as exports of food and medicine. The idea was to impose starvation and sickness on the Cuban population in the hope that they would rise up against the government in an act of desperation. In the calculated ensuing confrontation, the thinking was that US would be justified if they intervened, as they have done so many times before, ostensibly in a humanitarian gesture to save innocent lives. Yet for over 50 years the blockade has remained firmly in place only to be strengthened by the Cuban Democracy Act put forward by Congressman Robert Torricelli in 1992, and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Because of the human and economic suffering occasioned by the blockade for over half a century, the Cubans today refer to the blockade as the world’s longest lasting genocide.
This is the background against which President Obama has declared the fifty-plus years of diplomatic isolation of Cuba a failure. He says it has been tried and the Cuban government is still viable and the bulk of the Cuban people are still behind it. The blockade, the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), the Missile Crisis (1962), numerous attempts at assassination of the leadership of the revolution, US sponsored terrorism against Cuban targets inside and outside of Cuba have all failed to unseat the government. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different outcome. For fifty-plus years the US has been doing the same thing over and over and over again, and not much has changed. Sure the hardships on the average Cuban person have been multiplied, but the government is still in place. So whom are the Americans really trying to punish? They claim theirs is a war against “communism” yet they trade with Russia and China, and although they went to war in Vietnam and lost over 58,000 American lives, 15 years later Vietnam became their friend and trading partner. What has Cuba done to the US that could possibly explain the prolonged economic, political, cultural and military hostility?
Obama has not said he will lift the blockade, but many feel that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations is a step in that direction. I think he is a good, bright and progressive man, but he has not been free to do the right thing, whether by the innocent, young black men who are gunned down by the police on the streets of his country, by the long-suffering Palestinians, or by the equally long-suffering Cubans. But he is now determined to redefine the term “lame duck” and the Republicans have pushed him over the edge and he is finally prepared to deliver on the “yes we can” campaign promise.
As the right wing Miami opportunists protest Obama’s decision as playing into the hands of what they call “the Castro dictatorship” let us not forget that among those in Miami there walk the likes of terrorists such as former CIA agent, Luis Posada Carriles, and former CIA-backed operative, Orlando Bosch. The new wave of opportunists like Marco Rubio and José Diaz Balart, while passionate in their opposition to any rapprochement, are conveniently oblivious of the fact that Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was an American creation. In assessing the gains of the Cuban revolution, even in the face of the crippling five-decade old blockade, I ask them to do two simple comparisons: (a) Cuba before and after the Revolution, and (b) Cuba with its fellow Latin American and Caribbean neighbours. Looking at such indicators as infant mortality rates, hospital beds per capita, doctor-patient ratios, educational achievements, world beating accomplishments in science, literature, culture, music, artistic performance and sport, how could they diminish the gains of the Revolution, and what neighbouring country can boast a more enviable track record? And let us not forget that countries like Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti and all those others in South and Central America, are capitalist countries. Sure there are problems of socialism in Cuba, but why are the problems of dependent capitalism and bourgeois democracy in Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti etc., explained away as somehow unrelated to their capitalist structures?
But enough of this! I wish to applaud President Obama and I must also mention that in this historic gesture he is matched equally by a President Raúl Castro, who has surprised so many with his considerable diplomatic skills, his profound political sabiduría (wisdom) tempered in the fires of revolution, and his unswerving dedication to his people. It is easy for those of us who are not under the constant scrutiny of the world’s cynical gaze to be judgemental, but in the end history will decide, some will be absolved, others will be condemned.
¡Qué viva el pueblo heróico, qué viva la revolución cubana!