Re-Colonization in the Name of Normalization
Behind the Re-Establishment of U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations
Editor’s note, 11/27/16: With the death of Fidel Castro and the ascension of the fascist Donald Trump to the presidency, U.S.-Cuba relations will be in flux. This article, dealing with Obama's moves to "normalize" those relations, gives a good basic background in why revolution in Cuba was necessary and had to have U.S. imperialist domination as a central target; how and why that revolution did not ultimately succeed in winning liberation from imperialism; and how to understand and see through the self-serving propaganda of U.S. politicians and media on all this and actually get at the truth.
by Raymond Lotta | December 29, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 17, the United States and Cuba announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations. President Obama also announced that the U.S. will ease restrictions on travel, on the amount of cash that can be sent to individuals in Cuba, on the export of telecommunications equipment, and on certain banking activity.
The U.S. had no right to isolate and punish Cuba. Its economic blockade of Cuba was an act of imperialist extortion. But the terms of normalization that the U.S. is imposing are not in the interests of the Cuban people.
U.S. Imperialism and Cuba
For more than 100 years, the United States has caused incalculable misery and suffering for the Cuban people. Cuba came under the domination of U.S. imperialism as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Cuban people had been fighting for their independence from Spain, but the U.S. seized on the situation to bring Cuba under its control. The so-called Platt Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress in 1901, which was incorporated into the Cuban constitution, set the terms for U.S. interference in Cuba’s domestic affairs.
The U.S. landed marines in Cuba four times in the early 20th century. It established a military colony—the Guantánamo naval base—which has been used as a concentration camp and torture chamber in the post-9/11 U.S. war on the world.
By the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuba’s utilities, 90 percent of its mines, close to 100 percent of the country’s oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of its sugar industry. Sugar plantation workers faced incredibly oppressive conditions—slave-like labor punctuated by periods of unemployment. Cuba also became an investor's paradise for U.S. gambling syndicates, real estate operators, hotel owners, and mobsters. U.S. businessmen and travelers would frequent Havana, the capital of Cuba, as a sex tourism center. There were some 100,000 prostitutes in the country! The U.S. gave economic and military backing to one hated regime after another to enforce these political, economic, and social relations.
These horrors were the backdrop for the Cuban revolution that came to power in 1959. This horror show is what has been extolled by Cuban exiles in Miami and the U.S. propaganda machine as the “lost Cuba.”
The Cuban revolution was a just and popular uprising against U.S. imperialism. It did not go on to break the stranglehold of world capitalism-imperialism, nor did it launch a genuine libratory social revolution aimed at uprooting all oppression including patriarchy. Nonetheless, the U.S. imperialists never reconciled themselves to defeat. In 1961, the U.S. carried out the Bay of Pigs invasion, which the Cuban people defeated. The CIA tried several times, employing the Mafia in some cases, to assassinate Fidel Castro. The U.S. imposed an unjust and immoral embargo that still exists—blocking Cuba’s ability to have normal trade with Western countries, to obtain needed medicines and agricultural and industrial goods.
Behind the Shift in Course: Imperialist Economics and Geopolitics
For the last 50 years, ten U.S. presidential administrations have tried to achieve regime change in Cuba by economic strangulation, political destabilization, and active attempts to overthrow the Cuban government. Have the U.S. imperialists given up on the goal of restoring a subordinate, client regime in Cuba? Have they decided to respect the national sovereignty of Cuba? Hardly. The U.S. has indeed shifted course...but what is happening is a change in tactics not in goal.
A decisive section of the U.S. ruling class, with Obama taking the lead, has concluded that the previous tack of diplomatic and economic isolation of Cuba and direct and indirect efforts to topple the Castro regime no longer serves the strategic interests of imperialism. Instead, the U.S. imperialists are aiming to use normalization of relations to achieve regime change from within—to create the conditions to turn Cuba, once again, into a neo-colony of U.S. imperialism. This is the reality that lies beneath the rhetoric of Obama’s “brave” and “bold” stroke to “break with the past.”
The Cuban economy is in serious crisis. The old-line leadership of Raul Castro and Fidel Castro is looking desperately for new props of economic support, and is willing to wheel and deal with the U.S. imperialists. And over the last five years, economic ties, trade, and financial flows, between the U.S. and Cuba have been growing. In these conditions, the U.S. imperialists are making a major move—and they have the upper hand. The Cuban leadership, for its part, is trying to use normalization and opening up to the U.S. as a way to hold on to power as the economic situation deteriorates.
Normalization is very much about U.S. capital sinking its fangs into Cuba—to extract super-profits from the labor of the Cuban people, to tap into its trained professional strata, and to plunder the resources of the island. The financial press is reporting on investment plans and proposals being drawn up by the likes of the agribusiness giant Cargill and Fanjul Corp (owned by a Cuban exile) that controls Domino Sugar. General Motors and Caterpillar have hailed Obama’s announcement.
But there are bigger strategic issues involved. The U.S.’s new stance towards Cuba serves broader geopolitical objectives: to reassert and tighten U.S. dominance over Latin America—what they have historically and arrogantly considered their “back yard.”
In waging their “war on terror,” their war on the world, since 9/11, the U.S. imperialists have not paid as much attention to Latin America as they have to the Middle East and Central Asia. In these circumstances, Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez and now Nicholas Maduro, was able to stake out more independent positions from the U.S. It has become Cuba’s most important source of economic support—and a thorn in the side of U.S. imperialism.
At the same time, capitalist China has emerged as a major economic rival to the U.S. in Latin America. China is now the second largest investor (behind the U.S.) in Latin America. It is the largest trading partner of several Latin American countries, including Brazil, which is the largest economy in Latin America. China has negotiated an agreement with Nicaragua to finance and construct a canal that will be longer and deeper than the Panama Canal.
All of this is of concern to the U.S. imperialists. Their change in course towards Cuba, to bring Cuba back into its imperial network through normalization of ties, is part of maneuvering to reassert U.S. hegemony in the Western hemisphere.
Clarity About Cuban Society: It Is Not Socialist
The Cuban leadership uses Marxist phrases. The Cuban economy has certain formal features that make it appear to be socialist: state-owned enterprises and extensive state-financed social programs. But this is not the essence of socialism, and Cuba is not a socialist society. Socialism is the momentous revolutionary leap away from capitalism towards communism. The socialist revolution is about putting an end to all exploitation and oppression. It is about empowering the masses of people, through the creation of a radically new and different state power, to increasingly take responsibility for running society, to ever more consciously change the world and change themselves—with the goal of creating a world community of humanity, where there are no longer class divisions and social inequalities, no longer social antagonism.
The achievement of communism requires visionary vanguard leadership basing itself on a scientific understanding of reality and how society and the world can be transformed in the interests of emancipating all of humanity. This is not Cuba. The revolution that Fidel Castro led did not break Cuba out of the bounds of bourgeois economic, political, and social relations.
Before 1959, Cuba had been a “monoculture”: an economy based on sugar production for the world market, dominated by U.S. imperialism. Castro did not lead and mobilize the Cuban people to radically restructure this economic legacy. Instead, the Cuban leadership sought a “quick fix.” Sugar would remain king of the Cuban economy, and the Cuban economy would remain hostage to the world market. But in place of the United States, Castro looked to the social-imperialist Soviet Union as its market for sugar and its chief source of credit. (The Soviet Union had ceased being a socialist society in the mid-1950s.)
The Cuban economy remained dependent and distorted. It was unable to provide for its own food requirements. Most importantly, the labor and energies of the Cuban people were not being applied to the all-around transformation of society and advance of world revolution but rather to the reproduction of relations of dependency and exploitation. Cuba became a kind of repressive welfare state in which the masses are kept powerless and economically chained to the logic of world capitalism. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cuban leadership has looked for new fixes. Tourism was expanded on a large scale. Prostitution reappeared as a social phenomenon. Foreign investment was welcomed in to exploit natural resources. Venezuela provided Cuba with cheap oil—and this has helped keep the economy afloat. But the collapse of world oil prices is sending the Venezuelan economy into a tailspin—and putting new pressures on the Cuban economy. This is not socialism.
Clarity About Bullshit: “U.S.-Style Freedoms”
A narrative is pumped out by imperial ideologues and the media about the great benefits that “U.S.-style freedoms” will supposedly bring to the Cuban people. It is obscene:
- Open and free access to information through the web and social media? Yes, the United States offers “internet freedom”—while the NSA surveils and spies on citizens on a scale unmatched by any society in the world or in history.
- The “rule of law” instead of “Castro’s repressive police state.” Tell that to a generation of Black and Latino youth for whom the justice system is legalized police brutality and murder and mass incarceration. Talk about the U.S’s respect for the “sanctity of human rights” to the prisoners at Guantánamo—held indefinitely without trial, water boarded, sleep-deprived, and force fed.
- The market as an “empowering tool” unleashing the “entrepreneurial spirit”? Go to Haiti, and see how local subsistence agriculture, rice and pig production, was undermined and destroyed by U.S. political and economic power. Go to Honduras, to Guatemala, or Bangladesh and ask the women workers about the great benefits of sweatshop exploitation—factories run like prison compounds that are death traps.
The Cuban people have suffered from direct domination by U.S. imperialism from 1898 until 1959, and then 50 years of U.S. economic blockade, military invasion and threat, and interference. The U.S. has no right to diplomatically and economic isolate Cuba. But the resumption of relations between Cuba and the U.S. on the terms being dictated by U.S. imperialism does not represent anything positive for the Cuban people.
What is needed in Cuba and the whole world is genuine revolution.—an emancipatory revolution that aims to uproot all exploitation and oppression, all oppressive relations and ideas, where intellectual ferment and dissent are fostered, where the conditions are being created for human beings to truly flourish. This revolution is a monumental and complex challenge in today’s world. But it is the only alternative to the madness of this system. And it is possible.
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