By Leni Reeves
Q. So, can I go to Cuba now?
A. Same as before: a tightly scheduled educational or cultural exchange trip according to U.S. government guidelines, now without having to request a license but still subject to penalty if you can’t prove you toed the U.S. line. Or just go. Don’t lie on your customs form on the way back—that’s a felony. The travel ban is still in place, but your chains are just a bit looser now.
Q. But that’s what’s important, right? Old cars, cigars, rum and sunny beaches. It’s not really important that we tried to starve Cuba into submission and are still trying to wreck their economy.
A. Right. When the United States tightened the blockade in 1992, under-nutrition (medicalese for starvation) caused maternal and infant mortality rates to rise, the death rate to rise and thousands of cases of optic neuropathy to occur (and many other horrible things as well). The Cubans may have been able to work their way out of the worst of this, but the blockade is still on. In fact, recently the United States pressured the Bank of Ireland into not doing business with Cuba so they had no international banking services available to pay living expenses for their health workers fighting Ebola in West Africa. I repeat, the blockade is still in place.
Q. But there’s a lot of international support for the blockade, isn’t there? We don’t just economically bludgeon everyone in the world to go along, do we? Don’t they really believe in it?
A. No country supports the blockade except the United States and, by some incredible coincidence, Israel. In the United Nations vote of 2014, out of 193 total countries, 188 countries voted for the resolution “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The only countries that voted against it were the United States and Israel. (The Pacific island nations Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained, showing that they have more guts than Israel though they are also dependent on the United States.)
Q. Why does the United States even care what happens in Cuba? Is it just the Electoral College?
A. Well, the Monroe Doctrine expressed a preexisting profound belief that the hemisphere is ours, all ours, and that we should be able to exploit all of it for our benefit. This belief hasn’t gone away with time. Self-determination, autonomy, using the country’s resources for the benefit of its own citizens—these things interfere with our sacred right to exploit and control. So when a Latin American country chooses a progressive “left-wing” government, the United States has to take prompt action—Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973 are obvious examples, but I count 46 direct invasions and CIA-sponsored coups and attempts in Latin American and Caribbean countries in the 20th and 21st centuries. I may have missed a few. Having a country successfully resist is new to us and upsetting. What if other countries are inspired to resist now that they see it is possible? What about Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua and even St. Vincent-and the Grenadines or Trinidad and Tobago? They seem to be more friendly to Cuba than to the United States; is this becoming a trend?
Q. Is Latin America still under good control?
A. Well, no. The Bolivarian movement toward Latin American unity and cooperation and the election of progressive and socialist governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have tended to isolate the United States. They even make trade agreements without us. CELAC (33 countries), ALBA (11 countries) and MERCOSUR (five countries) are intergovernmental agreements that exclude the United States (how dare they!) and are intended to reduce the overwhelming influence of the United States on the politics and economics of Latin America. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, said, “A union of Latin American countries is a weapon against imperialism.” I’m afraid that last word means us.
Q. Can’t the United States figure out a way to get everyone firmly back under our thumb?
A. Trying hard. The open USAID annual budget for creating problems, oh, sorry, “promoting democracy,” in Cuba is $20 million (2013). The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti) has an annual budget of $26.3 million (2013). The covert budget—almost certainly much larger—we can only guess at. Of course, this is big business for some of the Miami mafia—happy to combine profit with politics. At least someone is making money from all this, even if it isn’t working. These efforts to subvert the Cuban government, which we call “democracy programming,” continue.
Q. But Cuba seems to be too tough to crack. Isn’t there some other angle of attack to stop this impudent independence and solidarity in Latin America?
A. Funny you should ask. On Dec. 9, 2014, shortly before announcing the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama signed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act. In the usual U.S. doublespeak, this means an intensification of the effort to subvert the Venezuelan government, an effort that has even included a failed CIA-sponsored military coup, as well as ongoing sponsorship of attacks on the government and the people. This latest is an attempt to impose sanctions on Venezuela. We’ve got a USAID budget for subversion there as well—at least $7.6 million last year alone, according to WikiLeaks-revealed cables. Venezuela is crucial to the struggle for an independent Latin America, free of U.S. domination. They have a leadership role in the Bolivarian movement and the trade and cooperation agreements. And they have oil. The United States hopes to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela in the name of democracy.
Q. But there’s nothing we can really do about this, is there?
A. Sarcasm ends now. Keep fighting. Stay informed about Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Central America, and keep the pressure on our government. Remember, as my friend Gustavo Mayor Reyes writes from Cuba, “No hay peor guerra que el asedio y no hay peor invasión que la invasión económica” (“There is no form of warfare worse than a siege and no worse invasion than an economic invasion”).
Leni V Reeves, local physician and activist, has traveled to Cuba 14 times, once with a license, and believes that the more you learn the more you realize you still don’t know about the subtle, nuanced, rapidly evolving and somewhat miraculous Cuban reality and revolution. Contact her at email@example.com.