Troubled about what to think about Cuba? Don’t be. Just roll-over, like so many did with Iraq. 

And like it! (Well, until it blows up in your face.) Don’t you get it?  Cuba is ours! Or haven’t you been listening for the last 120 years or so? 

Cuba, a sovereign country? Maybe. But remember Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State (that’s the supposed Department for Peace, not, as it seemed, Secretary for War)? He gloated: “the aim of U.S. policy is to starve the island, to bring down the regime!”  

Still not tough enough for you? Then listen to more recent battle cry of Franciso Suarez, current Mayor of Miami, Florida: “The U.S. should consider air strikes!” (Editorial, “People Deserve Better,” The Guardian, 14 Jul 21). And why, you may ask? Why, to “help” the poor people clamoring in the streets of Havana.

OK, so you haven’t been paying attention. But, really, then, (for those who are supposed to pay attention on our behalf) where are you, main-stream media? Where are you, supposedly liberal politicians, and/or ostensibly liberal individuals? You are now ready to repeat the Iraqi roll-over? Really? You are satisfied in joining right wing Cubans in Florida? Racist politicos in the South? OK, I get it; liberals, you worry about elections in 2022 and 2024. Democrats need Florida. Biden gets that. You support Biden in his pragmatism. But . . .  

You are not fearful, in the least, of being caught? Caught in the self-perpetuating echo chamber of media hype/politicians’ hype/then media re-”reporting” their own previous hype about the “poor people” of Cuba. Yes, those people “deserve better” from both their own government and from the US. Yes, this liberal speaking to you, author of this column, usually reads and believes (most) of their reporting; viz: New York Times, WAPO. In this case, however, I choose to move with more caution. 

Start with geography: Cuba, the US only 90 miles from its beautiful shores, is about 80% the size of Florida; it has 11 million people (Florida, 15 million). Now, history: The US took over Cuba from Spain in 1898 (we had already taken half of Mexico). During that continued period of “Manifest Destiny,” a whole series of take-overs (Kinzer, Steven, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change, New York Books, 2006).

Actually, it started in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, continuing through intervention, overthrow, occupation in Nicaragua and Panama, stolen from Colombia.  As a condition of release, Cuba was forced to adopt the Platt Amendment, inserted into their own Constitution, which included a guaranteed naval base (Guantanamo) and the right of the US to dictate governments and policies. So much for Cuban sovereignty

Platt was rescinded in 1934, via Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy; but that was only on paper. The US continued to impose and support corrupt Cuban leaders, such as Batista. See the chilling scene in Godfather II, on a balcony in La Havana: mafiosos celebrating, literally cutting a Cuba-replica cake, handing slices of drug or prostitution action to each capo.

Americans exploded in admiration and support for the Revolution against that regime in 1959; admiration quickly turned into belligerent hostility. The “offer you can’t refuse” was the assertion that the Caribbean was “our lake.” That mythology dies hard.

Fidel and followers, after establishing their right of sovereignty, began to develop not only a world class health system, with education free for all; but they also chose a socialist economy, suspicious—with good reason—of the entanglements of past governments with US capitalism. Capitalism reacted in ugly ways. Can you forget? (yes, you can, but please don’t.) First, armed invasion–Playa Girón/”Bay of Pigs.” (I saw the remains, on the beach of US planes, CIA weapons.)

Thereafter, a steady cycle of “asymmetrical warfare;” dozens of assassination attempts;  commando attacks against strategic installations; debilitating economic sanctions (Kinzer). The pressure persists today, through continuation of the essentials of the sixty year embargo, punishing US and other private business entities if they dare trade with Cuba, preventing American farmers and fishermen from selling to Cuba. I see (and taught, for years) the history, the current geo-political situation (combined with our unique domestic political moment, its dilemmas). But, I have friends, family who see the situation quite differently. I love them, they love me, but . . . 

They see me as the aging, retired professor, surrounded by his books and his FDR/liberal ideology, who studied, published about Cuba, but who hasn’t been back for years, who—they say–doesn’t know about Cubans’ daily life, “in the streets.” They too quickly downplay the impressive statistics—99% literacy rate, low infant mortality, high life expectancy, the famous health system, exporting doctors and medicines. 

You might fit nicely into that group. They hear Marco Rubio, covered by MSNBC, featured by Fox, touting the vast trade he alleges Cuba has with other nations, as he tries to deny the negative effects of embargo and more sanctions. It is true; many nations still trade with Cuba—Spain, Canada, China, Venezuela, Mexico (who graciously just sent aid to Cuba in its troubled times). 

Many nations need Cuba’s zinc, nickel, and pharmaceuticals, as well as traditional products such as tobacco, sugar, and rum. Cuba sends us all great art, film, music, dance and spirited people. Other nations bring to Cuba wheat and soybeans (that American farmers could sell, if/when policies change). President Obama opened the door; the recent, former U.S. president who followed him, slammed the door shut again (Settles, Gabreille, “U.S. Embargo,” PoliFact). 

Actually, the “embargo” is controversial. Some say it hurts; others question its efficacy. President Obama relaxed the embargo in 2015; food and medicines—and tourism–could get through. President Carter had also created a progressive opening earlier (that’s when I first traveled to Cuba). Reagan stopped that progress. 

The past president (twice-impeached, defeated for re-election), at the end of his term, bitterly imposed more sanctions. He hoped to appeal to his right wing Cuban American base (Settles). We all still live with that fall-out; some still live with those lies and fake promises–waiting for him to magically re-appear in August. Now, what is to be done? 

What does or can the average, moderate American, desirous to avoid a disastrous invasion, yet hoping to aid the development of more democracy in Cuba, think? Or do? For one thing, yes, I agree: “demonstrators should be heard—but not exploited” (The Guardian). These current protests, largest in decades, are serious and based on real grievances—slow movement of food and medicines, lack of openness in government, hope for change, increasingly diminished. 

Specifics regarding grievances are hard to reference. One can “hear” (from personal sources) 101+ complaints. It is also understandable Cuban Americans, with their island ties, are more upset for their relatives than others might be; I have empathy for both. But we must be careful not to let the (Florida) “tail wag the dog.” We need more information and more specific “behind the scenes” reporting, if/when US and/or Cuban authorities allow. But the attention, the pressure should be on the US for its continued embargo, not on the Cuban people.

The protests reveal reasons for the challenges. The status of civil and human rights in Cuba is in jeopardy. Cuba’s famous health and education systems are under stress. Tension is building. There must be (and, I predict, will be) changes, improvements. But whether current President Miguel Diaz-Canel remains Cuba’s leader, or another, that is for Cuba and Cubans to decide. Remember sovereignty?

The Cuban economy, contracted by 11% in the past years, will not be helped by Biden’s sanctions. Nor will the burgeoning Covid rate, abetted by such pressure, be subdued (The Guardian). It is akin to “kicking a man while he’s down,” more Trumpy than true to Biden’s nature. Cuba’s government may “become more repressive” in response (The Guardian). 

Who made these policies toward Cuba? We must ask: is Blinken, current Secretary of State, the new Pompeo? If so, for shame! Resign! Meanwhile, “liberal” media, shine your spotlight on our own faults. Those are the only ones we can or should change. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Valley-based writer and educator Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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