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Evacuate Guantanamo – It Belongs to Cuba November 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Foreign Policy, History, Latin America, Torture.
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Washington’s illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay is now 111 years old.”

As the world witnesses the latest chapter in Israel’s occupation and blockade of Palestinians, it is important to remember that the United States has also been engaged in many of the same violations of international law against one of its own neighbors – and for an even longer period of time. The U.S. embargo against Cuba is seven years older than the Israeli seizure of the West Bank and Gaza, in 1967, while Washington’s illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay is now 111 years old, predating Israel’s 1948 formation out of Palestinian land by nearly half a century.

Guantanamo Bay was seized by the United States during the Second Cuban War of Independence from Spain, which the Americans prefer to call the Spanish American War. The United States intervened in that war in 1898, with the purpose of making Cuba into a U.S. colony, as it did to Puerto Rico and the Philippines. In 1901, the United States Senate passed the Platt Amendment, which demanded that Cuba lease naval bases to Washington. Guantanamo was signed away in perpetuity under the point of a gun, although it is a principle of international law that treaties concluded under military occupation are not valid. After the Revolution, the Cuban constitution repudiated all agreements made “under conditions of inequality.” But the Americans remained. They turned one of Cuba’s most precious natural resources, Guantanamo Bay, into a curse on the lips of the world, as a prison camp for desperate Haitian refugees, and then as a nexus of American international criminality and torture.

Most Americans know Guantanamo’s recent, shameful notoriety, but few are aware that the U.S. presence there has always been a crime against the Cuban people – a crime that goes back more than twice as far as the 1960 embargo.

In Latin America, it is the United States that has been a direct and constant threat to the sovereignty and dignity of its neighbors.”

But Cuba does not forget. When the United Nations voted 188 to 3, last week, to condemn the U.S. embargo, Cuba submitted to Washington a “draft agenda” aimed at normalizing relations. At the top of the list, of course, is “the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade.” Also included among the “fundamental topics” for any “respectful dialogue” is “return of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base.” The Cubans insist on their removal from the U.S. list of “terrorism-sponsoring countries”; an end to U.S. immigration policies that single out Cuba; compensation for economic and human damages inflicted on Cuba by the United States; a halt to “radio and TV aggressions” against Cuba; and that the U.S. stop financing subversion inside Cuba.

The Cubans say release of the Cuban Five, imprisoned for infiltrating right-wing Cuban exile groups in Florida, is “an essential element” of meaningful talks.

U.S. media pundits worry that Washington has lost its ability to act as a mediator in the Middle East, because it has for generations protected the expansionist, hyper-aggressive and thoroughly racist Israeli regime. And this is true. But in Latin America, it is the United States that has been a direct and constant threat to the sovereignty and dignity of its neighbors, through centuries of gunboat diplomacy, invasions, the colonization of Puerto Rico and the near-colonization of Cuba. The occupation of Guantanamo Bay is part of that imperial legacy – a game in which Israel is a relative – although extremely dangerous – upstart. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Cuba in the Crosshairs: A Near Half-Century of Terror August 15, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, History, Imperialism, Latin America, War on Terror.
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the intelligence assessment eliminated a danger that had been identified by the Mexican ambassador in 1961, when he rejected JFK’s attempt to organize collective action against Cuba on the grounds that “if we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing.”

Monday 15 August 2011
by: Noam Chomsky, TomDispatch                 | News Analysis

Editor’s Note: This excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s book, Hegemony or Survival, was first posted on Tomdispatch.com in October 2003. Tom Engelhardt writes that his decision to repost this in the summer of 2011 is to, “take a little plunge into the world of terror before ‘terror’ became an American byword.” – TO/sg

The Batista dictatorship was overthrown in January 1959 by Castro’s guerrilla forces. In March, the National Security Council (NSC) considered means to institute regime change. In May, the CIA began to arm guerrillas inside Cuba. “During the Winter of 1959-1960, there was a significant increase in CIA-supervised bombing and incendiary raids piloted by

exiled Cubans” based in the US. We need not tarry on what the US or its clients would do under such circumstances.

Cuba, however, did not respond with violent actions within the United States for revenge or deterrence. Rather, it followed the procedure required by international law. In July 1960, Cuba called on the UN for help, providing the Security Council with records of some twenty bombings, including names of pilots, plane registration numbers, unexploded bombs, and other specific details, alleging considerable damage and casualties and calling for resolution of the conflict through diplomatic channels. US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge responded by giving his “assurance [that] the United States has no aggressive purpose against Cuba.” Four months before, in March 1960, his government had made a formal decision in secret to overthrow the Castro government, and preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion were well advanced.

Washington was concerned that Cubans might try to defend themselves. CIA chief Allen Dulles therefore urged Britain not to provide arms to Cuba. His “main reason,” the British ambassador reported to London, “was that this might lead the Cubans to ask for Soviet or Soviet bloc arms,” a move that “would have a tremendous effect,” Dulles pointed out, allowing Washington to portray Cuba as a security threat to the hemisphere, following the script that had worked so well in Guatemala. Dulles was referring to Washington’s successful demolition of Guatemala’s first democratic experiment, a ten-year interlude of hope and progress, greatly feared in Washington because of the enormous popular support reported by US intelligence and the “demonstration effect” of social and economic measures to benefit the large majority. The Soviet threat was routinely invoked, abetted by Guatemala’s appeal to the Soviet bloc for arms after the US had threatened attack and cut off other sources of supply. The result was a half-century of horror, even worse than the US-backed tyranny that came before.

For Cuba, the schemes devised by the doves were similar to those of CIA director Dulles. Warning President Kennedy about the “inevitable political and diplomatic fall-out” from the planned invasion of Cuba by a proxy army, Arthur Schlesinger suggested efforts to trap Castro in some action that could be used as a pretext for invasion: “One can conceive a black operation in, say, Haiti which might in time lure Castro into sending a few boatloads of men on to a Haitian beach in what could be portrayed as an effort to overthrow the Haitian regime,… then the moral issue would be clouded, and the anti-US campaign would be hobbled from the start.” Reference is to the regime of the murderous dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier, which was backed by the US (with some reservations), so that an effort to help Haitians overthrow it would be a crime.

Eisenhower’s March 1960 plan called for the overthrow of Castro in favor of a regime “more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S.,” including support for “military operation on the island” and “development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba.” Intelligence reported that popular support for Castro was high, but the US would determine the “true interests of the Cuban people.” The regime change was to be carried out “in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention,” because of the anticipated reaction in Latin America and the problems of doctrinal management at home.

Operation Mongoose

The Bay of Pigs invasion came a year later, in April 1961, after Kennedy had taken office. It was authorized in an atmosphere of “hysteria” over Cuba in the White House, Robert McNamara later testified before the Senate’s Church Committee. At the first cabinet meeting after the failed invasion, the atmosphere was “almost savage,” Chester Bowles noted privately: “there was an almost frantic reaction for an action program.” At an NSC meeting two days later, Bowles found the atmosphere “almost as emotional” and was struck by “the great lack of moral integrity” that prevailed. The mood was reflected in Kennedy’s public pronouncements: “The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong . . . can possibly survive,” he told the country, sounding a theme that would be used to good effect by the Reaganites during their own terrorist wars. Kennedy was aware that allies “think that we’re slightly demented” on the subject of Cuba, a perception that persists to the present.

Kennedy implemented a crushing embargo that could scarcely be endured by a small country that had become a “virtual colony” of the US in the sixty years following its “liberation” from Spain. He also ordered an intensification of the terrorist campaign: “He asked his brother, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, to lead the top-level interagency group that oversaw Operation Mongoose, a program of paramilitary operations, economic warfare, and sabotage he launched in late 1961 to visit the ‘terrors of the earth’ on Fidel Castro and, more prosaically, to topple him.”

The terrorist campaign was “no laughing matter,” Jorge Dominguez writes in a review of recently declassified materials on operations under Kennedy, materials that are “heavily sanitized” and “only the tip of the iceberg,” Piero Gleijeses adds.

Operation Mongoose was “the centerpiece of American policy toward Cuba from late 1961 until the onset of the 1962 missile crisis,” Mark White reports, the program on which the Kennedy brothers “came to pin their hopes.” Robert Kennedy informed the CIA that the Cuban problem carries “the top priority in the United States Government — all else is secondary — no time, no effort, or manpower is to be spared” in the effort to overthrow the Castro regime. The chief of Mongoose operations, Edward Lansdale, provided a timetable leading to “open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime” in October 1962. The “final definition” of the program recognized that “final success will require decisive U.S. military intervention,” after terrorism and subversion had laid the basis. The implication is that US military intervention would take place in October 1962 — when the missile crisis erupted.

In February 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a plan more extreme than Schlesinger’s: to use “covert means . . . to lure or provoke Castro, or an uncontrollable subordinate, into an overt hostile reaction against the United States; a reaction which would in turn create the justification for the US to not only retaliate but destroy Castro with speed, force and determination.” In March, at the request of the DOD Cuba Project, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted a memorandum to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara outlining “pretexts which they would consider would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba.” The plan would be undertaken if “a credible internal revolt is impossible of attainment during the next 9-10 months,” but before Cuba could establish relations with Russia that might “directly involve the Soviet Union.”

A prudent resort to terror should avoid risk to the perpetrator.

The March plan was to construct “seemingly unrelated events to camouflage the ultimate objective and create the necessary impression of Cuban rashness and responsibility on a large scale, directed at other countries as well as the United States,” placing the US “in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances [and developing] an international image of Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.” Proposed measures included blowing up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay to create “a ‘Remember the Maine’ incident,” publishing casualty lists in US newspapers to “cause a helpful wave of national indignation,” portraying Cuban investigations as “fairly compelling evidence that the ship was taken under attack,” developing a “Communist Cuban terror campaign [in Florida] and even in Washington,” using Soviet bloc incendiaries for cane-burning raids in neighboring countries, shooting down a drone aircraft with a pretense that it was a charter flight carrying college students on a holiday, and other similarly ingenious schemes — not implemented, but another sign of the “frantic” and “savage” atmosphere that prevailed.

On August 23 the president issued National Security Memorandum No. 181, “a directive to engineer an internal revolt that would be followed by U.S. military intervention,” involving “significant U.S. military plans, maneuvers, and movement of forces and equipment” that were surely known to Cuba and Russia. Also in August, terrorist attacks were intensified, including speedboat strafing attacks on a Cuban seaside hotel “where Soviet military technicians were known to congregate, killing a score of Russians and Cubans”; attacks on British and Cuban cargo ships; the contamination of sugar shipments; and other atrocities and sabotage, mostly carried out by Cuban exile organizations permitted to operate freely in Florida. A few weeks later came “the most dangerous moment in human history.”

“A Bad Press in Some Friendly Countries”

Terrorist operations continued through the tensest moments of the missile crisis. They were formally canceled on October 30, several days after the Kennedy and Khrushchev agreement, but went on nonetheless. On November 8, “a Cuban covert action sabotage team dispatched from the United States successfully blew up a Cuban industrial facility,” killing 400 workers, according to the Cuban government. Raymond Garthoff writes that “the Soviets could only see [the attack] as an effort to backpedal on what was, for them, the key question remaining: American assurances not to attack Cuba.” These and other actions reveal again, he concludes, “that the risk and danger to both sides could have been extreme, and catastrophe not excluded.”

After the crisis ended, Kennedy renewed the terrorist campaign. Ten days before his assassination he approved a CIA plan for “destruction operations” by US proxy forces “against a large oil refinery and storage facilities, a large electric plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities, and underwater demolition of docks and ships.” A plot to kill Castro was initiated on the day of the Kennedy assassination. The campaign was called off in 1965, but “one of Nixon’s first acts in office in 1969 was to direct the CIA to intensify covert operations against Cuba.”

Of particular interest are the perceptions of the planners. In his review of recently released documents on Kennedy-era terror, Dominguez observes that “only once in these nearly thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S.-government sponsored terrorism”: a member of the NSC staff suggested that it might lead to some Russian reaction, and raids that are “haphazard and kill innocents… might mean a bad press in some friendly countries.” The same attitudes prevail throughout the internal discussions, as when Robert Kennedy warned that a full-scale invasion of Cuba would “kill an awful lot of people, and we’re going to take an awful lot of heat on it.”

Terrorist activities continued under Nixon, peaking in the mid-1970s, with attacks on fishing boats, embassies, and Cuban offices overseas, and the bombing of a Cubana airliner, killing all seventy-three passengers. These and subsequent terrorist operations were carried out from US territory, though by then they were regarded as criminal acts by the FBI.

So matters proceeded, while Castro was condemned by editors for maintaining an “armed camp, despite the security from attack promised by Washington in 1962.” The promise should have sufficed, despite what followed; not to speak of the promises that preceded, by then well documented, along with information about how well they could be trusted: e.g., the “Lodge moment” of July 1960.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the missile crisis, Cuba protested a machine-gun attack against a Spanish-Cuban tourist hotel; responsibility was claimed by a group in Miami. Bombings in Cuba in 1997, which killed an Italian tourist, were traced back to Miami. The perpetrators were Salvadoran criminals operating under the direction of Luis Posada Carriles and financed in Miami. One of the most notorious international terrorists, Posada had escaped from a Venezuelan prison, where he had been held for the Cubana airliner bombing, with the aid of Jorge Mas Canosa, a Miami businessman who was the head of the tax-exempt Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF). Posada went from Venezuela to El Salvador, where he was put to work at the Ilopango military air base to help organize US terrorist attacks against Nicaragua under Oliver North’s direction.

Posada has described in detail his terrorist activities and the funding for them from exiles and CANF in Miami, but felt secure that he would not be investigated by the FBI. He was a Bay of Pigs veteran, and his subsequent operations in the 1960s were directed by the CIA. When he later joined Venezuelan intelligence with CIA help, he was able to arrange for Orlando Bosch, an associate from his CIA days who had been convicted in the US for a bomb attack on a Cuba-bound freighter, to join him in Venezuela to organize further attacks against Cuba. An ex-CIA official familiar with the Cubana bombing identifies Posada and Bosch as the only suspects in the bombing, which Bosch defended as “a legitimate act of war.” Generally considered the “mastermind” of the airline bombing, Bosch was responsible for thirty other acts of terrorism, according to the FBI. He was granted a presidential pardon in 1989 by the incoming Bush I administration after intense lobbying by Jeb Bush and South Florida Cuban-American leaders, overruling the Justice Department, which had found the conclusion “inescapable that it would be prejudicial to the public interest for the United States to provide a safe haven for Bosch [because] the security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credibly other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists.”

Economic Warfare

Cuban offers to cooperate in intelligence-sharing to prevent terrorist attacks have been rejected by Washington, though some did lead to US actions. “Senior members of the FBI visited Cuba in 1998 to meet their Cuban counterparts, who gave [the FBI] dossiers about what they suggested was a Miami-based terrorist network: information which had been compiled in part by Cubans who had infiltrated exile groups.” Three months later the FBI arrested Cubans who had infiltrated the US-based terrorist groups. Five were sentenced to long terms in prison.

The national security pretext lost whatever shreds of credibility it might have had after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, though it was not until 1998 that US intelligence officially informed the country that Cuba no longer posed a threat to US national security. The Clinton administration, however, insisted that the military threat posed by Cuba be reduced to “negligible,” but not completely removed. Even with this qualification, the intelligence assessment eliminated a danger that had been identified by the Mexican ambassador in 1961, when he rejected JFK’s attempt to organize collective action against Cuba on the grounds that “if we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing.”

In fairness, however, it should be recognized that missiles in Cuba did pose a threat. In private discussions the Kennedy brothers expressed their fears that the presence of Russian missiles in Cuba might deter a US invasion of Venezuela. So “the Bay of Pigs was really right,” JFK concluded.

The Bush I administration reacted to the elimination of the security pretext by making the embargo much harsher, under pressure from Clinton, who outflanked Bush from the right during the 1992 election campaign. Economic warfare was made still more stringent in 1996, causing a furor even among the closest US allies. The embargo came under considerable domestic criticism as well, on the grounds that it harms US exporters and investors — the embargo’s only victims, according to the standard picture in the US; Cubans are unaffected. Investigations by US specialists tell a different story. Thus, a detailed study by the American Association for World Health concluded that the embargo had severe health effects, and only Cuba’s remarkable health care system had prevented a “humanitarian catastrophe”; this has received virtually no mention in the US.

The embargo has effectively barred even food and medicine. In 1999 the Clinton administration eased such sanctions for all countries on the official list of “terrorist states,” apart from Cuba, singled out for unique punishment. Nevertheless, Cuba is not entirely alone in this regard. After a hurricane devastated West Indian islands in August 1980, President Carter refused to allow any aid unless Grenada was excluded, as punishment for some unspecified initiatives of the reformist Maurice Bishop government. When the stricken countries refused to agree to Grenada’s exclusion, having failed to perceive the threat to survival posed by the nutmeg capital of the world, Carter withheld all aid. Similarly, when Nicaragua was struck by a hurricane in October 1988, bringing starvation and causing severe ecological damage, the current incumbents in Washington recognized that their terrorist war could benefit from the disaster, and therefore refused aid, even to the Atlantic Coast area with close links to the US and deep resentment against the Sandinistas. They followed suit when a tidal wave wiped out Nicaraguan fishing villages, leaving hundreds dead and missing in September 1992. In this case, there was a show of aid, but hidden in the small print was the fact that apart from an impressive donation of $25,000, the aid was deducted from assistance already scheduled. Congress was assured, however, that the pittance of aid would not affect the administration’s suspension of over $100 million of aid because the US-backed Nicaraguan government had failed to demonstrate a sufficient degree of subservience.

US economic warfare against Cuba has been strongly condemned in virtually every relevant international forum, even declared illegal by the Judicial Commission of the normally compliant Organization of American States. The European Union called on the World Trade Organization to condemn the embargo. The response of the Clinton administration was that “Europe is challenging ‘three decades of American Cuba policy that goes back to the Kennedy Administration,’ and is aimed entirely at forcing a change of government in Havana.” The administration also declared that the WTO has no competence to rule on US national security or to compel the US to change its laws. Washington then withdrew from the proceedings, rendering the matter moot.

Successful Defiance

The reasons for the international terrorist attacks against Cuba and the illegal economic embargo are spelled out in the internal record. And no one should be surprised to discover that they fit a familiar pattern — that of Guatemala a few years earlier, for example.

From the timing alone, it is clear that concern over a Russian threat could not have been a major factor. The plans for forceful regime change were drawn up and implemented before there was any significant Russian connection, and punishment was intensified after the Russians disappeared from the scene. True, a Russian threat did develop, but that was more a consequence than a cause of US terrorism and economic warfare.

In July 1961 the CIA warned that “the extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power. . . . Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,” for which Castro’s Cuba provided a model. Earlier, Arthur Schlesinger had transmitted to the incoming President Kennedy his Latin American Mission report, which warned of the susceptibility of Latin Americans to “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands.” The report did identify a Kremlin connection: the Soviet Union “hovers in the wings, flourishing large development loans and presenting itself as the model for achieving modernization in a single generation.” The dangers of the “Castro idea” are particularly grave, Schlesinger later elaborated, when “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes” and “the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” Kennedy feared that Russian aid might make Cuba a “showcase” for development, giving the Soviets the upper hand throughout Latin America.

In early 1964, the State Department Policy Planning Council expanded on these concerns: “The primary danger we face in Castro is . . . in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries. . . . The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half.” To put it simply, Thomas Paterson writes, “Cuba, as symbol and reality, challenged U.S. hegemony in Latin America.” International terrorism and economic warfare to bring about regime change are justified not by what Cuba does, but by its “very existence,” its “successful defiance” of the proper master of the hemisphere. Defiance may justify even more violent actions, as in Serbia, as quietly conceded after the fact; or Iraq, as also recognized when pretexts had collapsed.

Outrage over defiance goes far back in American history. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson bitterly condemned France for its “attitude of defiance” in holding New Orleans, which he coveted. Jefferson warned that France’s “character [is] placed in a point of eternal friction with our character, which though loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded.” France’s “defiance [requires us to] marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation,” Jefferson advised, reversing his earlier attitudes, which reflected France’s crucial contribution to the liberation of the colonies from British rule. Thanks to Haiti’s liberation struggle, unaided and almost universally opposed, France’s defiance soon ended, but the guiding principles remain in force, determining friend and foe.

[Note that this passage (pages 80-90) is fully footnoted in Hegemony or Survival. Chomsky's discussion of the Cuban missile crisis itself can be found elsewhere in the same chapter of the book.]

Reprinted by permission of Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Copyright C by Aviva Chomsky, Diane Chomsky, and Harry Chomsky. All rights reserved.

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Noam Chomsky’s most recent book, with co-author Ilan Pappe, is “Gaza in Crisis.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

 


Roger’s note: with two friends and a rented Lada, I set off to Playa Girón (what the Americans call the Bay of Pigs) in the early 80s.  The previous year I had had the good fortune to be vacationing in Cuba at the same time and on the same beach that the Cuban veterans of the battle were celebrating its 20th anniversary.  Driving through miles of banana groves the first sign that you have arrived at Playa Girón is a huge billboard that exclaims: “Playa Girón: primer derrota de imperialismo en las Americas” (Playa Girón: first defeat of imperialism in the Americas).  Our goal was a visit to the museum, and you can imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the museum was closed on Mondays.  We managed to contact the caretaker and told him that we were three socialists who came all the way from Canada to visit the museum.  Thanks to this little white lie (the appelation socialist applied only to one of the three of us) we were given a personal tour by the guardian.  What I remember most from that visit is a plaque with the names of the Miami based, US trained and armed Cubans who were captured during the aborted invasion.  Next to each name was the person’s “affiliation.”  These, it turns out, were the brothers, sons, cousins, and uncles of the owners of the Barcardi’s and other corporations, who along with the Mafia and Batista’s henchmen, had for generation carried out a regime of terror and repression against the Cuban people.

 

By Mimi Whitefield  | The Miami Herald

Freshly released CIA documents on the Bay of Pigs  invasion provide new details on the confusion, mixed messages and last-minute  changes in plans that ultimately doomed the mission.

The documents also underscore the extremes the United  States went to maintain “plausible denial’’ of Washington’s role in the April  1961 invasion by CIA-trained Cuban exiles.

“These documents go to the heart of what runs through the whole official  history of the Bay of Pigs — the issue of plausible deniability,’’ said Peter  Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a Washington-based  nonprofit research organization that had sought the documents for years and was  instrumental in gaining their release.

Concerned that Washington’s hands could be traced to the invasion, the  Kennedy administration kept scaling it back, said Kornbluh. It cut back on  planned air raids on Cuban airfields and insisted on a problematic night-time  landing of the invasion force.

The result: the defeat of the exile brigade in less than 72 hours, 114 men  killed and another 1,100 captured.

Previously released documents show that while Kennedy never abandoned the  notion that the Bay of Pigs invasion should remain covert, planners of the  operations had begun to have their doubts about the operation’s success as a  secret mission at least five months before the April invasion.

The declassified documents are among a set of five volumes on the invasion  prepared by Jack Pfeiffer, a CIA historian who died in 1997.

Among the revelations:

Grayston Lynch, a CIA operative who had helped mark Playa Giron for the  landing of Brigade 2506, reported an instance of friendly fire. After marking  the beach, Lynch returned to the Blagar, a U.S. transport boat that was under  attack by Cuban aircraft off and on until late on the afternoon of April 17.

The Blagar was equipped with eleven .50 caliber machine guns and two 75 mm  recoilless rifles but because the U.S. planes had been painted with the insignia  of Cuban aircraft, Lynch and the exiles aboard were having trouble  distinguishing their targets.

“We sent a message very early on the first morning… [asking] those planes to  stay away from us, because we couldn’t tell them from the Castro planes,’’ according to Lynch’s account. “We ended up shooting at two or three of them. We  hit some of them…’’

The U.S. aircraft were supposed to be painted with blue stripes around the  wings, Lynch said, but “they were impossible to see when they were coming at  you.’’

Juan Clark, a paratrooper during the invasion and now a professor emeritus of  sociology at Miami Dade College, remembers a green stripe on the underside of  the U.S. planes.

“I had heard of friendly fire during the invasion,’’ he said Monday, “but not  in that context.’’ Instead, he said, it was a Brigade combatant injured by  friendly fire.

The CIA, with the support of the Pentagon, requested a series of large-scale  sonic booms over Havana that would coincide with a preliminary air strike on  April 14.

The rationale, according to Richard D. Drain, a top-level CIA invasion  planner: “We were trying to create confusion and so on. I thought a sonic boom  would be a helluva swell thing, you know…. Let’s see what it does…. Break all  the windows in downtown Havana… distract Castro.’’

But, Drain said in an interview with Pfeiffer that Assistant Secretary of  State Wymberly Coerr rejected the plan. Drain said he wasn’t sure why. Another  State Dept. official later said that Coerr could not approve the operation  because it was “too obviously U.S.’’

During the fighting, American pilots were authorized to fly planes over Cuba  but secret instructions warned that such flights must not be traced to the  United States. “American crews must not fall into enemy hands,’’ according to  the instructions. In the event they did, the instructions said, the “U.S. will  deny any knowledge.’’ Four American pilots and their crews were killed when  their planes were shot down over Cuba.

On April 14, the 50th anniversary of the invasion, the National Security  Archive filed suit asking for the declassification of all five volumes on the  invasion prepared by Pfeiffer. In response, earlier this month the CIA released  four of the five volumes in the Pfeiffer report and made them available on its  Freedom of Information Electronic Reading Room. The National Security Archive  posted the documents on its website Monday.

A box containing hundreds of pages from Volumes I, II and IV of Pfeiffer’s  report also arrived at The Miami Herald, which had filed a Freedom of  Information request in August 2005 to obtain them.

Volume III was released in 1998 and arrived at the National Archives Kennedy  Assassination collection and sat around for seven years before Richard Barrett,  a Villanova University political scientist, discovered it in 2005.

He found it in a box marked “CIA miscellaneous.’’

“It’s important for the study of the Bay of Pigs that these are available,’’ Barrett said. But he was disappointed there weren’t new revelations on  high-level White House interactions with the CIA.

The fifth volume in the Pfeiffer report remains classified. Kornbluh said the  National Security Archive planned to be in court in September arguing for  release of Volume V.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/08/16/120829/more-bay-of-pigs-documents-declassified.html#ixzz1VFovNr8O

Voices From The Other Side: An Oral History Of Terrorism Against Cuba April 10, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, War on Terror.
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Posted on Apr 8, 2011

By Karen Lee Wald

I first learned of Keith Bolender’s book “Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba” when the author reached out to me after reading an article I’d written on Luis Posada Carriles in The Rag blog. The article, “The Puppies That Got Away,” was based on an interview with a woman who almost became a victim, along with three children she was caring for, in one of the hotels Posada’s thugs bombed in 1997. The title came from the coded message used by one of Posada’s hired killers in an earlier bombing that destroyed a passenger plane in flight, killing all aboard. The telephone message was “A bus with 73 dogs went over a cliff and all perished.”

Bolender thought I might be interested in his book, an oral history, like mine, taken from many of the survivors of the 50-plus years of terrorism against Cuba waged by the United States and Cuba’s former ruling class.

I was.

I thought it would be helpful if people who are always hearing and reading about the “repression of dissidents” in Cuba and jump to their defense could also hear the other side: what happened to the thousands of people whose lives were affected by the actions of terrorists from inside and outside the country. I thought it would put a human face on the statistics regarding the material and human damage caused by counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries who are euphemistically called “dissidents” or “anti-Castro militants.”

“Voices From the Other Side” does this. But it also does a great deal more.

As expected, the first chapter gives an overview of the multiple forms of terrorism carried out against Cuba in what Bolender calls “the unknown war.”

 He talks about “the bombs have that destroyed department stores, hotel lobbies, theatres, famous restaurants and bars—people’s lives.” He talks about the first airline bombing in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and also reminds readers of “the explosion aboard a ship in Havana Harbor, killing and injuring hundreds.” He tells readers about the 1960s attacks on defenseless rural villages and homes, of “teenagers tortured and murdered for teaching farmers to read and write.” He reminds us of the biological terrorism (the dengue fever epidemic) “that caused the deaths of more than 100 children.” And he adds new elements for those of us used to thinking of terrorism solely as shooting and bombing by referring to the “psychological horror that drove thousands of parents to willingly send their children to an unknown fate in a foreign country” (Operation Peter Pan).

This kind of overview has been done before by authors such as Jane Franklin. What Bolender adds here is the lifelong effect terrorist activities have had on the survivors—those left with hearing loss, stitched-up wounds and such, but, even worse, lifelong emotional scars. Survivors who tell of being nervous and jumpy 20, 30 or more years after being in a room where a bomb went off. And the other kinds of “survivors”: mothers and fathers who for decades mourn the needless deaths of their children; siblings and children of those who were cut up, castrated and lynched by “anti-Castro militants,” or went screaming to their fiery deaths in an airplane that was already in pieces before it crashed into the sea.

I want these stories to be in the hands of those well-meaning people who ask, “Why does the Castro government repress dissidents?” I want these people to understand what terrorists have done that makes Cubans today so unable to give them the free rein they demand to carry out their actions.

Bolender explains in the very beginning:

Since the earliest days of the revolution, Cuba has been fighting its own war on terrorism. The victims have been overwhelmingly innocent civilians. The accused have been primarily Cuban-American counter-revolutionaries—many allegedly trained, financed and supported by various American government agencies.

And he explains that throughout the island of Cuba “it is hard not to find someone who doesn’t have a story to tell of a relative or friend who has been a victim of terrorism. The personal toll has been calculated at 3,478 dead and 2,099 injured.” This, of course, is something few on the outside realize, and he talks about why we don’t hear or read about it, about the political/ideological justification for so much cruelty. But he also talks about the real reasons—acknowledged by numerous U.S. administrations—for U.S.-backed and -financed terrorist acts against the island, information that is every bit as important as the humanization of the victims.

Preceded by a well-researched and evocative introduction by Noam Chomsky dealing with the history of and reasons for U.S. policy toward this upstart island nation that would dare to remain outside the grasp of U.S. hegemony, Bolender goes on to give readers a better understanding of Washington’s Machiavellian policies toward Cuba.
He starts off simply, with the well-known fact that “[s]ince the earliest days of Fidel’s victory, America has obsessed over this relatively insignificant third-world country, determined to eliminate the radically different social-economic order” that Castro’s revolution brought about. He describes the various excuses Washington has used since the earliest days of the Republic to justify its attempts to maintain dominance over the island nation.

“America at various times has portrayed Cuba as a helpless woman, a defenceless baby, a child in need of direction, an incompetent freedom fighter, an ignorant farmer, an ignoble ingrate, an ill-bred revolutionary, a viral communist” during the two centuries of the Monroe Doctrine. This history in and of itself is useful for those not already familiar with it.

Where the history gets more interesting is when this researcher uses quotes from U.S. leaders to show both why and how Washington attempted to get rid of Fidel’s revolution:

Richard Nixon, who, Bolender notes, “was one of the first to promote the theme of preventing the revolution from infecting others,” commented in 1962 on the need to “eradicate this cancer in our own hemisphere.” Nixon’s comment reminded me of an explanation offered years ago by a Cuban-American friend of mine, Tony Llanso: “The Cuban Revolution is like crab grass growing in your back yard. You have to pick crab grass because it spreads.”

But it was one particular “how” that I found intriguing. Bolender shows the vicious cycle of increasing repressive measures by the U.S. as Cuba increased its reforms on behalf of the poor majority of its citizens. This quickly—and intentionally—escalated to terrorism on the part of the United States against its tiny but audacious neighbor. And here Bolender is worth quoting at length:

As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out. In partial response to the terror and other hostilities, the revolution became increasingly radicalized.

From the start, policy makers knew terrorism would put a strain politically and economically on the nascent Cuban government, forcing it to use precious resources to protect itself and its citizens. It was to be part of the overarching strategy of making things so bad that the Cubans might rise up and overthrow their government. Terrorism was the dirty piece of the scheme, along with the economic embargo, international isolation and unrelenting approbation.

American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism. These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics.

And as most of us have seen, this has been a very successful tactic. Bolender goes on:

CIA officials admitted early on in the war of terrorism that the goal was not the military defeat of Fidel Castro, but to force the regime into applying increased amount of civil restrictions, with the resultant pressures on the Cuban public. This was outlined in a May 1961 agency report stating the objective was to “plan, implement and sustain a program of covert actions designed to exploit the economic, political and psychological vulnerabilities of the Castro regime. It is neither expected nor argued that the successful execution of this covert program will in itself result in the overthrow of the Castro regime,” only to accelerate the “moral and physical disintegration of the Castro government.” The CIA acknowledged that in response to the terrorist acts the government would be “stepping up internal security controls and defense capabilities.” It was not projected the acts of terror would directly result in Castro’s downfall, (although that was a policy aim) but only to promote the sense of vulnerability among the [populace] and compel the government into increasingly radical steps in order to ensure national security.

 

book cover

Voices From The Other Side: An Oral History Of Terrorism Against Cuba

 

By Keith Bolender

Pluto Press, 224 pages

Bolender’s book constantly uses direct U.S. sources for his analysis that the terrorism and other aggressive measures against Cuba were designed, at least in part, to force the Cuban government into a “state of siege mentality” that would simultaneously alienate part of the Cuban population, weaken liberal support abroad and serve as an easy target for most U.S. attempts to demonize the Cuban government.

“Former [CIA] Director Richard Helms,” Bolender tells us, “confirmed American strategy when he testified before the United States Senate in 1978; ‘We had task forces that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy.’ ”

Most of us who’ve followed Cuba closely have long known the U.S. government did those things. What is more interesting is the “why.”

American experts were hoping the terrorist war would drive the Cuban government to increasingly restrictive security measures; implicit in this was to prove how incapable the regime leaders were. These terrorist acts would not be publicized, recognized nor acknowledged outside of Cuba, so national security policies were portrayed as paranoia, totalitarian and evidence of the repressiveness of Fidel’s regime. To this day the unknown war remains that way. …

Here Bolender delves into the psychological warfare aspect of U.S. policy—and its effects:

c“In the early years Cuban officials faced the problem where they couldn’t tell which citizens supported the revolution, and which were inclined to assist the terrorist organizations or to commit terrorist acts. Everyone was treated as a potential threat. The consequence, besides the enormous amount of economic resources diverted to combat this war […] is a society that in the majority has accepted certain civil restrictions in order to ensure domestic security. It is the way the Cuban government has tried to identify the terrorists and to keep its citizens protected. It is the way the government has fought its war on terror.”

Bolender reiterates that while the focus of his book is on the victims and their stories, he also wants to show “how these acts of terror changed the psyche of the young revolutionary government, struggling to maintain itself in the face of the destructive actions of its former citizens, directed and financed by the most powerful nation in the world. Traumatized by these acts, this small island nation took drastic steps in the face of constant acts of violence. Those reactions to the terrorists, and the measures taken to protect the Cuban people, continue to influence national government policies to this day, and have greatly shaped how Cuba is perceived to the outside world. It is the price that has been paid by a society under siege for almost 50 years. A siege in part the result of the hundreds of acts of terrorism.”

His analysis goes on to explain that “[t]he key element of Cuban policy against terrorism has been the need of unity for the sake of security, manifesting in a demand for social and political conformity. The consequence has been extensive surveillance systems, arrests for political crimes, a low tolerance for organized criticism or public displays of opposition, suppression of dissidents seen to have accepted material or financial aid from the United States, cases of institutionalized pettiness, travel restrictions, a state controlled press and the rejection of a more pluralistic society.”

And we’ve all seen the effectiveness of the tactic that forced Cuba into this position—it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The tight control the Cuban government has adopted as a means of survival, Bolender tells us, does in fact destroy much of its liberal support abroad.

The Canadian author still has hope, however. “The termination of American hostility, including the absolute guarantee of the end to any further terrorist attacks from counter-revolutionary exile organizations,” he believes, could “offer the Cuban government the chance to breathe, to manoeuvre without a knife at its throat, as Fidel Castro once remarked, and to attempt to develop Cuban society that was hoped for.” 

Put in this context, Bolender’s book achieves far more than the important goal of putting a human face on the victims of terrorist acts and an understanding of why so many of the Cuban people hate the traitors within their midst who work hand in glove with those from Washington, Miami and New Jersey who fund and carry out these actions. It gives us a new understanding of the psychological warfare the U.S. has been carrying out parallel to its economic and military war.

This is a book that should be in every library and on every progressive bookshelf. I urge people to buy it, read it, pass it on to others.

The Costs of the Embargo March 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Economic Crisis, Foreign Policy.
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The 47-year-old blockade now costs the United States far more than it costs Cuba.

By Margot Pepper

March 7, 2009 www.dollarsandsense.org

On January 1, Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. For 47 of those years, Cuba has suffered under what U.S. officials call an “embargo” against the Caribbean nation. Cubans’ name for the embargo—el bloqueo (the blockade)—is arguably more apt, given that the U.S. policy also aims to restrict other countries from engaging in business with Cuba.

What’s surprising is that while the blockade continues to take a considerable toll on the Cuban people, it costs the United States far more, and the gap is widening. Given the economic meltdown, it is only fitting that a growing chorus of diverse voices is calling for an end to the costly vendetta.

The original justification for the embargo was Cuba’s expropriation of “some $1.8 billion worth of U.S.-owned property,” according to the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. In turn, Cubans argue that early in the century, the United States had seized control of 70% of Cuban land and three-quarters of Cuba’s primary industry. By the 1950s, as a result of U.S. colonialism and preceding Spanish rule, five out of six Cubans lived in shacks or were homeless, 80% of Havana suffered from hunger and unemployment, and two out of three Cuban children didn’t attend school. Cubans say such conditions left them no recourse but to expel the Yanquis, just as the Yankees had expelled the British in 1776.

Today, U.S. public opinion is turning against the embargo. A majority—52%—wants the embargo to be lifted, with 67% favoring an immediate end to the travel restrictions, according to the Cuba Policy Foundation (CPF), a nonprofit run by a former U.S. ambassador. Recent polls have even shown that a majority of Miami Cubans now support lifting the embargo.

These percentages might be even higher if the U.S. public were aware that the blockade is actually costing them more than the Cubans, something that is finally beginning to dawn on the U.S. business community. Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.

The U. S. government also spends $27 million each year to broadcast Radio and TV Martí, even though the television signal is effectively blocked by the Cuban government. The largely futile propaganda effort has cost U.S. taxpayers half a billion dollars over the last twenty years, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Beyond the economic costs, the blockade has deprived U.S. citizens of Cuba’s medical breakthroughs. Cuba has developed the first meningitis B vaccine; treatments for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa; a preservative for un-refrigerated milk; and PPG, a cholesterol-reducing drug gobbled up by foreigners for its side effect: increased sexual potency. And last summer Cuba released CimaVax EGF, the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer. The drug triggers an immune response that extends life in lung cancer patients and can ease breathing and restore appetite.

The blockade has always cost the United States more, but the gap has widened considerably. By 1992, U.S. businesses had lost over $30 billion in trade over the previous thirty years, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. At that time, Cuba’s loss for the same period was smaller, but not by much: $28.6 billion, according to Cuba’s Institute of Economic Research. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s diversification and increased trade with other countries has widened the gap between the costs to Cuba and the costs to the United States.

While the dollar cost to the United States may be higher, Cuba has suffered a greater economic hit relative to its size and resources. Although lifting the blockade will inevitably boost Cubans’ living standard, the Cuban economy will still be saddled with its colonial legacy as a mono-crop producer. Unequal trade terms enforced by treaties and organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund maintain formerly colonized countries as underdeveloped purveyors of raw materials, subsidizing the high standard of living in industrialized countries. It is useful to remember this uneven playing field whenever making U.S.-Cuba comparisons.

Regardless of all these obstacles, the socialist island has managed to provide its inhabitants with what the United States, one of the most affluent countries in the world, so far has not: free top-notch health care, free university and graduate school education, and subsidized food and utilities. Meanwhile, 36.2 million people go hungry in the United States and 47 million lack health coverage. Indeed, Cuba compares favorably to the United States on a number of basic social factors:

  • Housing: There is virtually no homelessness in Cuba. Thanks to the 1960 Urban Reform law, 85% of Cubans own their own homes and pay no property taxes or interest on their mortgages. Mortgage payments can’t exceed 10% of the combined household income.
  • Employment: Cuba’s unemployment rate is only 1.8% according to CIA data, compared with 7.6% (and rising) in the United States. One factor contributing to Cuba’s low unemployment is undoubtedly the 350,000 jobs that have been recently created by the burgeoning sustainable urban agriculture program, one of the most successful in the world, according to U.S.-based economist Sinan Koont.
  • Literacy: The adult literacy rate in Cuba (99.8%) is higher than the United States’ rate (97%), according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • Infant mortality: Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate (4.7 per 1000 live births) than the United States’ (6.0).
  • Prisons: Cuba even does better on prisons. Its rate of incarceration—estimated at around 487 per 100,000 by the UNDP—is among the highest in the world, yet it is considerably lower than the U.S. rate of 738 per 100,000. Now that the number of political prisoners Cuba locks up is in decline, according to a February Associated Press news release, there is even less justification for the blockade.

 

The fact that a poor, formerly colonized country can meet its citizens’ basic needs, while outperforming the United States on key measures, underscores how inexpensively the United States could follow suit. Cuba’s example could prove instructive to President Obama and his constituents as the United States faces economic collapse. And herein may lie the real motivation of the blockade, and its most significant cost: it keeps people from making such comparisons first-hand. If the only concrete threat the Cuban Revolution poses to the United States these days is the threat of a good example, isn’t it high time we bury the blockade?

Margot Pepper is the Mexican-born author of Through the Wall: A Year in Havana, a memoir about working in Cuba during the “Special Period.” Her work has appeared in the Utne Reader and Monthly Review and on Z-net, Counterpunch, and elsewhere, and can be found at margotpepper.com and at freedomvoices.org.

Sources: Anita Snow, “Reported Number of Cuban Political Prisoners Dips,” Associated Press, February 2, 2009; Brendan Sainsbury, “Cuba—Health Without Wealth.” Dan Griswold, Cuba and the United States in the 21st Century, speech at Rice University, Houston, October 12, 2005; Teddy Kapur and Alastair Smith, Housing Policy in Castro’s Cuba, May 16, 2002, housingfinance.org; Cuba Vs. Bloqueo website; Jill Hamberg, “Cuban Housing Policy”, Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, ed. Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, New York, 1990; Larry Luxner, “Sally Cowal: from ambassador to anti-embargo activist”, BNET Business Network, September. 2002; Patricia, Grogg, “Health-Cuba: Lung Cancer Vaccine Available”, IPS, June 26, 2008 (ipsnews.net); Rory Carroll, “Cuba approves first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer”, The Guardian, June 26, 2008; Sinan Koont, “The Urban Agriculture of Havana,” Monthly Review, January 2009; reports from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the U.N. Development Programme.

The Seeds of Latin America’s Rebirth Were Sown in Cuba January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Cuba, Latin America, Venezuela.
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by Seumas Milne

On 9 October 1967, Che Guevara faced a shaking sergeant Mario Teran, ordered to murder him by the Bolivian president and CIA, and declared: “Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.” The climax of Stephen Soderbergh’s two-part epic, Che, in real life this final act of heroic defiance marked the defeat of multiple attempts to spread the Cuban revolution to the rest of Latin America.

But 40 years later, the long-retired executioner, now a reviled old man, had his sight restored by Cuban doctors, an operation paid for by revolutionary Venezuela in the radicalised Bolivia of Evo Morales. Teran was treated as part of a programme which has seen 1.4 million free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors in 33 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is an emblem both of the humanity of Fidel Castro and Guevara’s legacy, but also of the transformation of Latin America which has made such extraordinary co-operation possible.

The 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this month has already been the occasion for a regurgitation of western media tropes about pickled totalitarian misery, while next week’s 10th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela will undoubtedly trigger a parallel outburst of hostility, ridicule and unfounded accusations of dictatorship. The fact that Chávez, still commanding close to 60% popular support, is again trying to convince the Venezuelan people to overturn the US-style two-term limit on his job will only intensify such charges, even though the change would merely bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain.

But it is a response which also utterly fails to grasp the significance of the wave of progressive change that has swept away the old elites and brought a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments to power across the continent, from Ecuador to Brazil, Paraguay to Argentina: challenging US domination and neoliberal orthodoxy, breaking down social and racial inequality, building regional integration and taking back strategic resources from corporate control.

That is the process which this week saw Bolivians vote, in the land where Guevara was hunted down, to adopt a sweeping new constitution empowering the country’s long-suppressed indigenous majority and entrenching land reform and public control of natural resources – after months of violent resistance sponsored by the traditional white ruling class. It’s also seen Cuba finally brought into the heart of regional structures from which Washington has strained every nerve to exclude it.

The seeds of this Latin American rebirth were sown half a century ago in Cuba. But it is also more directly rooted in the region’s disastrous experience of neoliberalism, first implemented by the bloody Pinochet regime in the 1970s – before being adopted with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and duly enforced across the world.

The wave of privatisation, deregulation and mass pauperisation it unleashed in Latin America first led to mass unrest in Venezuela in 1989, savagely repressed in the Caracazo massacre of more than 1,000 barrio dwellers and protesters. The impact of the 1998 financial crisis unleashed a far wider rejection of the new market order, the politics of which are still being played out across the continent. And the international significance of this first revolt against neoliberalism on the periphery of the US empire now could not be clearer, as the global meltdown has rapidly discredited the free-market model first rejected in South America.

Hopes are naturally high that Barack Obama will recognise the powerful national, social and ethnic roots of Latin America’s reawakening – the election of an Aymara president was as unthinkable in Bolivia as an African American president – and start to build a new relationship of mutual respect. The signs so far are mixed. The new US president has made some positive noises about Cuba, promising to lift the Bush administration’s travel and remittances ban for US citizens – though not to end the stifling 47-year-old trade embargo.

But on Venezuela it seemed to be business as usual earlier this month, when Obama insisted that the Venezuelan president had been a “force that has interrupted progress” and claimed Venezuela was “supporting terrorist activities” in Colombia, apparently based on spurious computer disc evidence produced by the Colombian military.

If this is intended as political cover for an opening to Cuba then perhaps it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But if it is an attempt to isolate Venezuela and divide and rule in America’s backyard, it’s unlikely to work. Venezuela is a powerful regional player and while Chávez may have lost five out of 22 states in November’s regional elections on the back of discontent over crime and corruption, his supporters still won 54% of the popular vote to the opposition’s 42%.

That is based on a decade of unprecedented mobilisation of oil revenues to achieve impressive social gains, including the near halving of poverty rates, the elimination of illiteracy and a massive expansion of free health and education. The same and more is true of Cuba, famous for first world health and education standards – with better infant mortality rates than the US – in an economically blockaded developing country.

Less well known is the country’s success in diversifying its economy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just into tourism and biotechnology, but the export of medical services and affordable vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. Anyone who seriously cares about social justice cannot but recognise the scale of these achievements – just as the greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about lack of freedom and democracy in Cuba can make is to help get the US off the Cubans’ backs.

None of that means the global crisis now engulfing Latin America isn’t potentially a threat to all its radical governments, with falling commodity prices cutting revenues and credit markets drying up. Revolutions can’t stand still, and the deflation of the oil cushion that allowed Chávez to leave the interests of the traditional Venezuelan ruling elite untouched means pressure for more radical solutions is likely to grow. Meanwhile, the common sense about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism first recognised in Latin America has now gone global. Whether it generates the same kind of radicalism elsewhere remains to be seen.

Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor.

The Two Sides of Rafael Correa’s Government January 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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“From the Equator, from this territory that harbored the Bolivarian struggles, we have come to the Ciudad Libertad to express our jubilation at these past fifty years. And we do so with the same conviction that led us to establish, in our own land, one of the most advanced constitutions in Latin America.

“We have come from this continent reinforced and revived by the social memory that is permitting us to settle the scores of history.

“This settling of scores begins with the genuine vindication of the indigenous population, pillaged, exploited, humiliated, offended and, paradoxically, also used and manipulated. For that reason, today, the Ecuadorian state is pluri-national, it is intercultural, and pursues equality in its diversity; in other words, the most authentic execution of true democracy…In the same way, with the African-Ecuadorian people which, like the Cuban people, are the drum and the flag of our homeland.”

Excerpt from speech by His Excellency Mr. Rafael Correa Delgado, president of the Republic of Ecuador, at the commemoration event for the 50th anniversary of the entry of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro into Havana, at Ciudad Libertad, January 8

and

Ecuador Anti-Mining Blockades Met With Repression, National Mobilization Called for January 20

Written by Daniel Denvir for UpsideDownWorld, Photographs by Ximena Warnaars
Friday, 09 January 2009

ImageThe ongoing conflict over mining in Ecuador escalated this week as blockades shut down highways throughout the country’s Southern Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest, while nationwide protests have been called for January 20.

The government of President Rafael Correa has assumed an aggressive posture, insulting indigenous and environmental activists and pledging to secure approval for a controversial new Mining Law. Canadian companies hold the majority of mining concessions in Ecuador and are pressing for a new law that would allow for large-scale, open pit metal mining.

ImageA number of leaders have been arrested and other protesters were beaten and shot at by police. Campesino and indigenous protesters, who depend on clean water to farm and for drinking water, are demanding that the government shelve President Rafael Correa’s proposed Mining Law, saying that it would be a social and environmental disaster. The rural blockades follow months of regular protests in Quito and other parts of the country.

Protesters also argue that the law contradicts important provisions of the new constitution protecting water, the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights. The document drew international attention for awarding legal rights to nature. The new constitution, approved by popular referendum in September, is the centerpiece of Correa’s first term.

After emergency meetings on January 7, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) called for a national mobilization on January 20, calling the government “dictatorial.” It is unclear whether the January 20 mobilization will spread road blockades to other provinces in central and northern Ecuador. Protesters are demanding a dialogue with central government leaders and for a broad national discussion on mining before any legislation is passed.

Some protesters in the Southern provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago suspended their blockades for 24 hours in response to the provincial governor’s promise to reach out to Francisco Cordero, the President of the Congresillo, Ecuador’s interim legislature. Other blockades were suspended in anticipation of the nationwide actions.

The blockades began on Monday January 5 in the Southern province of Azuay, cutting off much of the traffic into and out of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. Over the next few days, the protests spread to the neighboring Andean province of Loja and to the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago.

ImageIn Giron, Molleturo, Tarqui (Azuay), Limon Indanza (Morona Santiago) and in El Pangui (Zamora Chinchipe) protestors have been beaten or shot by police. Police officials and journalists were released after being briefly detained by campesinos.

On January 6, campesino leader Vicente Zhunio Samaniego was arrested in the Southern province of Morona Santiago, showing up 16 hours later in a hospital with bullet wounds to the head. On January 7, protest leader Miguel Ángel Criollo and his son Orlando were arrested in an early morning raid on the village of Pueblo Nuevo in Azuay province. The newspaper El Universo reports that over fifty police officers from the Special Operations Group (GOE) took part in the raid. When villagers tried to defend the Criollos from arrest, police fired tear gas, forcing the evacuation of a local school.

In the city of Cuenca, police violently repressed protests at the Court of Justice. As six leaders began a hunger strike inside the building, the police attacked a press conference taking place outside the building, arresting Water Board leader Carlos Pérez Guartambel. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to defend Pérez. Police then forced hunger strikers and four women supporting them out of the Court building, dragging them by their necks. The governor of Azuay denied that Pérez was arrested, and he was freed later that day. The six hunger strikers are now in Cuenca’s San Roque Church.

According to the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios said that the government would push forward with the Mining Law. Palacios said that Ecuador “was a poor country that could not afford to just sit on these large resources.” He added that protests were the result of manipulation by indigenous leaders who mislead community members by claiming that mining would harm their access to clean water. Palacios said that the new law would ensure that water sources are protected. Congresillo President Cordero told El Comercio that protesters were using the demonstrations to advance electoral ambitions.

The CONAIE condemned the government’s description of protesters as “criminals and subversive terrorists,” saying that “the only thing we are fighting for is life and dignity for all of Ecuador’s citizens.” The CONAIE that such comments are aimed “to stigmatize [protesters] and prepare public opinion for even more severe repression.”

Correa is coming into increasing conflict with social and indigenous movement activists. On Thursday January 8, the United Labor Front (FUT), Ecuador’s largest labor federation, announced mass protests for a higher minimum wage increase for January 15. They say that Correa’s proposed increase of $18 a month, to $218, is a step back and fails to meet provisions in the new constitution ensuring that all Ecuadorians are paid a living wage.


Ximena Warnaars is an anthropologist and PhD student from the University of Manchester, UK living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Daniel Denvir is a Quito, Ecuador based journalist in the process of moving to Philadelphia, and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is an editor at www.caterwaulquarterly.com.

 

 

Socialsim in the Andes? October 30, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Latin America.
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Note to the reader: I am by profession a political scientist and Latin American specialist (BA, Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1962), a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights and United Farm Worker struggles, a former elected Toronto City Councillor, and a long time resident of Ecuador.  For over thirty years I have been a student of the school of Marxist Humanism, founded by Raya Dunayevskaya, Leon Trotsky’s Russian language secretary during his exile in Mexico, who broke with Trotskyism over its continued support of the Soviet Union as a socialist state.  She was also one of the founders of the notion of state capitalism.  My political views and analysis, therefore, is clearly influenced by Marxist Humanist thinking (if you wish to learn more about MH, you can go to www.newsandletters.org).  The piece below is an early draft.  If you should wish to correspond apart from leaving a comment on the Blog, you can write to me at rogerholla@aol.com).  Your thoughts would be most welcome.

 

Roger Hollander

 

The governments of three of the five Andean nations – Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia – under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, are perhaps the most to the “left” in all of Latin America. They use the word “socialist” to describe themselves, and are openly defiant of U.S. influence.

 

North American media in general and much of local media as well have characterized these leaders and governments as dictatorial and anti-democratic.  Since these media are owned and operated by the same corporate interests that are at risk from the policies of said governments, their opinions, while not to be summarily dismissed, need to be taken with vast quantities of granulated salt.  That these three governments are supported by substantial majorities of the citizenry certainly calls into question the allegation that they are anti-democratic; and although I recognize that democratically governments are often autocratic in practice, and I recognize as well that the Chávez, Correa, and Morales governments have been tenacious in driving through what they consider to be necessary structural changes, what I believe we are seeing here is a simple question of the tables being turned.  That is, for the first time in recent memory, the governments of these countries have been wrenched from the hands of local elites, who have acted with near impunity and joined with foreign counterparts to exploit the human and material resources of the country.

 

Some have argued that a certain amount of expedient measures are necessary in order to confront the enormous economic and entrenched political might of those who have traditionally been in power.  While I concur in general with such a proposition, I am not unaware of possible dangers that can arise when governments that begin with progressive intentions begin to sacrifice principle to expediency.

 

I hold it to be true that these governments came to power on waves of popular sentiment that reflect a profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, one in which so-called neoliberal economic policies have exacerbated already serious problems of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, hunger, etc.  While opposition to the status quo per se does not necessarily yield policies that in fact address in a practical manner such historic political, social and economic injustices; in the case of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the three governments in power have demonstrated both qualitative and quantitative differences with previous self declared “populist” governments (such as that of Abdalá Bucaram in Ecuador and Alberto Fujimori in Peru), with respect to the provision of social services and attempts to protect or restore national sovereignty over natural resources.  It can be argued, I believe, that the Chávez, Correa and Morales governments do in fact propose genuine progressive alternatives to the status quo. 

 

Apart from criticisms that have emerged from an even more radical left, I am not aware of constructive criticism coming from the existing opposition to these governments. For example, in Ecuador a new progressive constitution was recently put before the citizenry in a popular referendum (September 28, 2008), where the vote to approve was 64% and the vote against approval was 26% (the balance were null and blank ballots).  The “No” campaign, which was centered in the major port city of Guayaquil (where it did not achieve a majority and only a miniscule plurality over the “Yes” vote), was almost entirely based upon Karl Rovian style negative propaganda that played upon fear and prejudice and which suggested that the new constitution was pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, dictatorial and anti-Christian.

 

To conclude this preamble, I am, in general, favourable though certainly not in an uncritical manner towards these three governments.  For the most part the opposition to them has come from the representatives of the privileged few, who rightly see themselves threatened by what potentially lies ahead.

 

My thesis is that these governments, while for the most part well-intentioned, are not genuinely “socialist” as I understand socialism; rather they are social democratic in nature and nationalistic in outlook.  I want to propose that social democracy, in the long run, does not solve the problems presented by the capitalist economic reality that is universal in our world today; and that nationalism (or anti-imperialism) may be a necessary but not sufficient path to social, political and economic justice.

 

I want to do this by considering both analytic and historic arguments.

 

Although there is more or less a consensus of what the so-called neo-Liberal agenda has been and why it has failed, there is considerable vagueness and misunderstanding about the nature of capitalist economy and how to deal with it.  The major error, which is virtually universal on both the left and the right, is that capitalism and free markets (or market economy) are synonymous.  By defining capitalism solely with respect to the process of distribution we miss its very essence, which is the relationship in production between those who own and manage accumulated wealth (capital), and living labor.  It is axiomatic that only living human labor can add value to what already exists and that in a capitalist economy the relation between capital and labor is hierarchical and despotic (i.e., undemocratic).  As a result of this fundamental disparity between capital and living labor, those who create value receive far less as recompense than what they create, with the balance going to their capitalist overseers (this we refer to as profit or surplus value).  Capitalist production, therefore, is based upon exchange value as opposed to use value (what is socially useful), which is usually referred to in the popular idiom as “profits over people.”

 

As long as this inherent economic injustice prevails in any economy, whether it calls itself capitalist, social-democratic or even socialist, the sought for end of social, political and economic justice is beyond reach.  We have nearly 100 years of post-Russian Revolution history to attest to this fact.      

 

It took nearly twenty years of Stalinist dictatorial oppression of Soviet labor for leftist intellectuals to finally come up with an analytic notion that separates the Soviet experience from philosophic socialism (which is inherently democratic).  This came in the form of characterizing the Soviet regime and subsequently every other regime that called itself either socialist or Communist as being, in reality, state capitalist.  Somewhere between the two poles of capitalism – private and public – lie every single government of the face of the earth.  Nowhere does capitalism exit in its pure form.  The Scandinavian social democracies and to a lesser extent England, France, Germany and Canada have somewhat mitigated the deleterious effects of capitalism through what we call the “social safety net.”  This has been achieved via somewhat progressive taxation and the institution of social programs in the areas of health, education, unemployment insurance, etc.  In no instance, however, have any of these countries been able to eliminate poverty and economic injustice (and on a worldwide basis, these social gains are under ferocious attack and almost everywhere being rolled back, including the U.S. and Canada).

 

The United States, which in recent history has possessed the greatest amount of economic resources to ameliorate the negative effects of capitalist economy, has for whatever reasons achieved far less in terms of social relief than its Western allies, which is perhaps most dramatically symbolized in the area of health care.  Nevertheless, in particular with respect to the institution of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the United States too has come a long way from pure capitalism.  The recent “nationalization” of the greater part of the world of finance capital takes the U.S. even further in the direction of state capitalism.

 

In Latin America, the two countries that best demonstrate the failure of state capitalism are the two which experienced genuine social and political revolutions (as opposed to mere regime changes) in the twentieth century: Mexico and Cuba.

 

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 brought wide ranging changes to the country including nationalization of its natural resources, oil being one of the most important.  Although the emerging political system allowed for elections, Mexico became, in effect, a single party state.  The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled virtually uncontested until 2000, when the National Action Party (PAN) finally ended PRI’s total dominance over Mexican government by winning the presidency.

 

Like the Soviet Communist Party, PRI evolved into an elite bureaucratic organization, ruthless in smothering any opposition that arose to challenge it.  Also, as with the Soviet Revolution, many social and political gains were achieved in the early years, not the least of which was the recovering of sovereignty over its natural resources.  But a hierarchical single party state run from the top down is the very antithesis of democracy.  In the Soviet Union during the early years of the Revolution, the notion prevailed that since it was a “worker’s state,” by definition it was a true representative of worker interest.  As Stalin gradually took iron-fisted control of the Party bureaucracy, the political and economic interest of the State soon took precedence and eventually completely over-rode the interests of Soviet workers.  It eventually became clear, as first enunciated by those who developed the notion of state capitalism, that state ownership and control of the means of production and private ownership and control are in effect, no different in terms of the interests of working people.  Where the rule of capital, whether public or private or mixed, continues to dominate the government and the economy, then what Marx called “the law of value” (production for exchange) is not confronted and those who create value (those who work for wages) continue to be exploited.

 

A rose by any other name is still a rose.  Capitalism is capitalism is capitalism no matter what you call it.  Vulgar communists argue that there is a dichotomy between individual and social interests, and that under socialism the imperative if for individuals to sacrifice freedom for the “good” of society.  In practice, of course, “society” always turns out to be the elite party bureaucracy.  Any form of socialism that does not have as its ultimate aim the freedom from exploitation of each and every individual in society, is suspect.

 

The Cuban Revolution, while making significant advances for the Cuban people, especially in the areas of health and education (not to mention eliminating the corruption that, under Batista, had turned the Island into a casino and whorehouse for North American consumption), followed much the same path as had Mexican “revolutionaries.”  A single party state ruled by a dictator and with an elite military and political bureaucracy that characterizes democratic reform as anti-socialist.  Cubophiles argue that Cuba’s problems are a result of the U.S. embargo, which certainly has been a major factor.  However, there is no denying the political Stalinization that has kept Cuba politically underdeveloped and perpetuates class divisions.

 

The simple truth is that capitalist and socialist economies are opposites, mutually exclusive.  Either the law of value dominates, with resultant “surplus value” going to the state bureaucracy and worker inequality/alienation remains firmly in place as it has in countries that call themselves Communist; or the capitalist relation between capital and living labor is destroyed and replaced with a democratic form of socialism, which can be best described as “worker democracy.”  For those who argue that this is impossibly idealistic, for historical precedent one can look to the Paris Commune of 1871 and the early years of the Soviet, Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions.

 

What Chávez, Correa, and Morales are attempting to do in the name of socialism is “top down,” which always results in ultimate failure.  Genuine revolutionary socialism can only come from the bottom up.  This is something that vanguardists have always refused to recognize.  As I said in the beginning, nationalization of natural resources may be a necessary but certainly not sufficient measure to develop true democratic socialism.  Diverting monies from the hands of foreign private capital and into government treasuries can lead to greater state spending in social areas such as health and education.  But, as is the case with both Venezuela and Ecuador as we speak, when the value of natural resources such as petroleum depends on the volatility of international capitalist markets, this capacity lacks reliability.  This is exactly what we are seeing today with the dramatic drop in the world price of oil.

 

The taking of power in any country basically involves becoming either a minor or major co-manager of economic capital.  Managing a capitalist economy is no way to achieve democratic socialism.  Chávez, Correa and Morales will inevitably learn that they will not be able to erase poverty and hunger and achieve economic justice in the face of staunch opposition from commercial and financial capital, which in turn is backed up by U.S. military imperialism. In addition, given the mutual hostility with the United States, their governments will (and already have) begin to look to authoritarian (anti-democratic) regimes such a China and Iran with respect to trade and diplomatic relations (which mirrors Cuban support for Soviet despotism in the Soviet Union and support for the Soviet Union in suppressing democratic socialist revolt, for example, in Czechoslovakia in 1968).  Forming friendly relations with foreign despots is hardly conducive to democratic socialist solidarity.

 

The Zapatistas in Mexico seem to have learned the lessons of the Cuban and Nicaraguan (Sandinista) Revolutions, and they have consciously opted to work to build autonomous anti-government, anti-capitalist enclaves as opposed to attempting to take over state power.  If I were an advisor to the Venezuelan or Ecuadorian government, I would be telling them that, in addition to providing enhanced social programs, they need to promote community development at the local level in preparation for an eventual struggle to destroy capitalist exploitation in the workplace.  Only then, will the grounds be created for genuine democratic socialism.

 

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