A few weeks have passed since President Obama’s trip to Cuba, where he gave a historic speech that was broadcast throughout the country, and the next day appeared at an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and an American team from Tampa, Florida. Cubans, who for years had been instructed to yell anti-American slogans, now were told to show up, cheer the American president, and hold both Cuban and American flags.
Obama’s trip was heralded throughout the United States for initiating a historic turn in America’s policy towards Cuba which until now has been hostile since the Revolution’s radical turn in 1961. Since then, as the Council on Foreign Relations notes, “successive U.S. administrations have maintained a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation of Cuba.” Now, full diplomatic status exists between the two countries, and the United States has its embassy functioning at full speed on the banks of the Malecon on Havana’s waterfront.
President Obama has said this change in U.S. policy will be in the interests of both countries, and hopefully will lead to major reforms by the Castro regime. Unfortunately, Obama’s rapprochement was made without asking for or receiving any concrete signs of liberalization in advance of the restoration of diplomatic relations. Indeed, it was the U.S. that gave in to Raul and Fidel Catro’s demands.
As I have previously written, Obama did make some good points in his speech, including his championing of America democracy and the free market system. Yet, his critics are correct when they say that he could have done more, especially like calling for the freedom of all political prisoners and then mentioning specific names that had been provided him by various human rights groups.
Obama had plenty of information about the true situation in the prison island, and by the very gesture of being buddy-buddy with Raul Castro the day after his speech he made it appear that he approved of and was giving legitimacy to the regime. Indeed, he also publicly said that the United States was not in the business of regime change. And by praising Cuba’s health and education systems — especially since the health system is hardly functional when it comes to treating the average Cuban, and the education system is a mechanism for producing loyal communists — and equating them with the free political system that the U.S. has, he was making a morally equivalent comparison between American democracy and Cuban communism.
As for human rights, they are actually far worse today than they were in Batista’s time. Human Rights Watch, hardly a right-wing organization, portrays the situation in Cuba in these words:
Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress.
Today, as Humberto Fontova has noted, “Cubans are suffering a wave of terror –involving everything from thousands, upon thousands of arbitrary arrests by KGB-trained secret police to machete attacks by regime-paid mobs against peaceful women dissidents—surpassing anything seen in decades.”
Indeed, the vile treatment of prisoners has been confirmed by the recently released Cuban prisoner, the American aid worker Alan Gross, who had travelled there under a U.S. government contract to help the small Jewish community with internet access. In his recent interview with Politico, Gross revealed more details about the inhumane treatment he suffered in the Castro brothers’ prison system. Gross, who supports Obama’s policy of reconciliation, called Fidel and Raul Castro “‘fascists’ fit to be brought up on international human rights charges.”
Nor did Obama raise the issue with Raul Castro about the return of U.S. radicals who engaged in acts of murder and terror and then fled to Cuba, where they live freely protected by the Castro regime. One would think that the return of these four individuals to the United States, listed on the website of the New Jersey State Police, would be a priority of any U.S. leader. Like the first escapee listed, Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, the other three have all been convicted of murder by American juries in fair trials in which they were judged by their peers.
And what did Obama get in return for his efforts? Immediately after his departure, Fidel Castro himself attacked Obama in the pages of Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee. Referring to the president of the United States as “Brother Obama,” Castro went on to stress that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything.” Then he complained that Obama did not honestly talk about all of Cuba’s achievements after the Revolution:
The native populations don’t exist at all in Obama’s mind. Nor does he say that the Revolution swept away racial discrimination, or that pensions and salaries for all Cubans were decreed by it before Mr. Barack Obama was 10 years old. The hateful, racist bourgeois custom of hiring strongmen to expel Black citizens from recreational centers was swept away by the Cuban Revolution – that which would go down in history for the battle against apartheid that liberated Angola, putting an end to the presence of nuclear weapons on a continent of more than a billion inhabitants. This was not the objective of our solidarity, but rather to help the peoples of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and others under the fascist colonial domination of Portugal.
Of course, Castro forgot to mention that blacks living in Cuba today are treated as second-class citizens and subjected to the equivalent of the old system of segregation in the American South. Next Castro blasted the U.S. for the Bay of Pigs invasion conducted by John F. Kennedy’s administration. His anger is as great as it was when it happened, half a century ago. Then there was the fact of “the weapons and the assistance that racist South Africa had received from Reagan and Israel.” “The Maximum Leader” clearly wants the U.S. to apologize for all these supposed slights before the two countries move closer together.
One day later after Castro’s open letter, a writer for Granma, Dario Machad0, castigated Obama for speaking nice words but failing to do anything except “very little” gestures. It didn’t really matter that Obama called for ending the embargo — or “blockade,” as the Cuban Communists refer to U.S. policy. Obama spoke for a nation made up of a “warmongering and expansionist military apparatus of which Mexico and Cuba – to take just two examples from our region – have been nearby victims.” After all, the writer reminds Cuban readers that the United States is a nation with an “imperialist state machinery” that demands “human rights of others and least respects them itself…[America is] a society in which violence serves as the guiding principle throughout its history.”
Mr. Machado has evidently read his Howard Zinn. That is why he argues that the rapprochement is a result of the needs of American big business, which wants profit from American interests in Cuba. Furthermore, he writes that the president is only a “career politician” who “has always been and continues to be functional to the strategic interests of the powers that govern the U.S.” Obama may call for an end to the “blockade,” but Cubans know that he supported it during his entire administration. As Machado puts it:
There is no doubt: Obama is the gentle and seductive face of the same danger. He made no apology for crimes against Cuba, he did not mention the Guantánamo Naval Base, he did not speak of the Cuban Adjustment Act, he did not explain why he hasn’t done more to dismantle the blockade, given the powers he possesses to do so, and there were many other incredible omissions.
Why did the ossified regime’s leaders wage an attack on Obama the minute he left? The answer is that they wanted the Cuban people to understand that Cuba will not change. Desperate and at the brink of economic collapse, the Cuban leaders were forced by the harsh circumstances, including Venezuela’s economic collapse, to make nice with the U.S. They know that a new American policy will mean new money flowing to the military and Communist Party, who control the hotels and the businesses and who will use these funds to prop up the Communist regime. (Just what the Cuban regime gets out of new investment and trade has been explained to Congress by Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates. One must read the text of his testimony before a Senate committee to get all the details.)
Many argue that liberalization will occur as scores of new American tourists arrive on the island. Their presence will reveal, so it is argued, how prosperous the U.S. is and how unfree and poor their own country is after decades of Communist rule. The Cuban people, however, already know this. That is why the attempts to flee are escalating, before the U.S. possibly changes its policy and sends back those reaching the U.S. from Cuba. Moreover, tourists from Europe and Canada have already come in droves, and European countries have traded with and invested in Cuba for a long time. None of this has changed anything in Cuba or weakened the regime one drop.
Observers should have learned the lesson of the old Soviet Union. In the 1920s, after a fierce civil war that virtually destroyed Russia, Lenin announced “the New Economic Policy,” or NEP. As in Cuba today, the regime halted the move to extreme measures such as nationalization of all industry and reversed itself, letting some Russians establish small businesses, such as individually owned restaurants. What they did is parallel to what the Cuban regime is doing on a rather small basis, as American tourists find out when they eat in individually owned paladars. The Soviet Union also sought foreign investment, such as that undertaken by Henry Ford in 1929. Ford sent American workers to Russia and helped build its automotive industry, including an American style assembly line factory.
In other words, like the measures adopted by the Castro regime today, NEP was meant to be a strategic retreat of a temporary nature. As Lenin famously put it, they were taking “two steps backward” in order to take “one step forward” at a more suitable moment. In addition, because the policy created a new entrepreneurial and more wealthy class of business owners, the Soviet regime intensified repression against the populace. They did not want any forced economic measures to let the people assume that they would be accompanied by political liberalization.
As in Russia in the 1920’, where the Bolshevik leadership adhered to the new “science of Marxism-Leninism,” Fidel Castro makes it quite clear that the Communist leaders of Cuba are Leninists. That is why on May 8, 2015, he penned an article for Granma titled “Our Right to be Marxist-Leninists,” and why can still praise those he calls “the heroic Soviet people, who provided humankind an enormous service.” Russian troops in World War II, Castro wrote, were not fighting simply in defense of their invaded motherland. They were fighting, he claimed—which would be news to Joseph Stalin were he alive—“for the right to think and be socialists, to be Marxist-Leninists, communists, and [to] leave the dark ages behind.”
Ultimately, the Soviet communist system failed, and the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist. Fidel and Raul Castro will try their best to see that a similar fate is not in Cuba’s future. Sadly, at present the United States is helping them achieve their goal.