New era for Cuba?
Will Havana embark on a Chinese road, asks Peter Manson
The April 11 talks between the presidents of the USA and Cuba, which were followed by a joint press conference, represent a highly significant step towards the ending of the US blockade and the ‘normalisation’ of relations between Washington and Havana.
The meeting between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro took place during last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, held in Panama. Two days earlier US secretary of state John Kerry had met Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez - the first such meeting between top state representatives since Richard Nixon (then vice-president) met Fidel Castro, Raúl’s older brother, in 1959.
This in turn followed the December 2014 announcement that the two countries would seek to re-establish diplomatic relations. But, according to The Daily Telegraph, agreement on the necessary concrete steps had not progressed, because Cuba is “still raising other issues, such as demands for the closure of America’s Guantánamo Bay naval base on the island”.1 How unreasonable!
Prior to the summit, there had been speculation that Cuba was about to be removed from the list of four countries - the others being Iran, Syria and Sudan - said to be a “state sponsor of terrorism”, as recommended by the US state department. However, the widely predicted announcement to that effect did not take place in Panama, but was made three days later on April 14.
According to Obama, “This shift in US policy represents a turning point for the entire region” - although, paradoxically, Venezuela was declared in March to be an “extraordinary and unusual threat to US security”. But on April 7 the White House declared that this was not actually the case - apparently it was all down to a faulty template, upon which the statement announcing sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials had been drawn (their assets in US territory have been frozen).
So, leaving aside the limited sanctions imposed on Venezuela, the latest moves do signify a marked change in US policy. As Obama himself explained, “The cold war’s been over for a long time. I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born.” He added that the days are over when “our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity”. And now he was abandoning the “failed policies” of previous administrations.
Those “failed policies” actually date back to 1960, when US sanctions were first imposed. Over the following half-century Washington did everything in its power to weaken, undermine and overthrow the Cuban regime - the most notorious action being the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 - a CIA operation that president John F Kennedy claimed was a rebellion by Cuban anti-communist patriots.
Then there were the numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In 1975, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities substantiated no fewer than eight of them between 1960 and 1965. They involved poisoned or exploding cigars, an infected scuba-diving suit, a booby-trapped conch, a poisoned ballpoint pen … Castro is said to have remarked: “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.”
But now a substantial section of the US ruling class wants to put all that behind them - much to the fury of the Republican right. According to them, the US does not “meddle” in the business of others states, but merely acts to further its own vital interests. Didn’t Obama know that Cuba was still a dictatorship? Florida Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the move will “only undermine US national security and send a signal to the Cuban people that, instead of disapproving of the Castro regime’s methods, the US is rushing to embrace two decrepit tyrants in their twilight”.
Another Republican representative, Scott Garrett, called Obama’s move “misguided, dangerous and offensive to the families who have been torn apart because of Cuba’s active participation in terrorist activities”. The Castro regime is harbouring a number of “terrorists”, many of them fugitives from the United States, claimed Garrett. They include Joanne Chesimard (aka Assata Shakur), who was granted asylum by Havana in 1979 after escaping from prison, where she was serving a sentence for first-degree murder. Shakur, a supporter of the Black Liberation Army, was found guilty of killing a state trooper in 1973 following a shootout. She claimed she had her arms raised in surrender when the trooper was shot and that the trial was a set-up. But, according to the FBI, Shakur espoused “revolution and terrorism against the United States”.
In reality, however, the complete ending of the blockade (which would actually require the repeal of cold war-inspired legislation before it can be implemented) is in the interests of US capital. This largest of the Caribbean islands offers enticing investment prospects - not least in relation to tourism, not to mention the tobacco and rum industries. And Cuba is a low-wage economy, controlled by a dictatorial regime.
At present there is a two-tier currency system - the humble peso for ordinary Cubans and the convertible peso (CUC) for tourists. Both circulate freely, but the imported goods available in special shops can only be purchased using CUC - which the government now intends to withdraw and then float the peso against the major currencies.
In other words, none of this should come as a surprise. As we pointed out three years ago,
… the embargo is an increasingly embarrassing anachronism. It is a relic from the cold war days, when Cuba represented an agent of the Soviet Union just a few miles off the coast of the USA. Soviet dominance and the concomitant rule of Castro’s Communist Party of Cuba was broadly accepted by a Cuban populace sick of being an American plaything.
The Soviet Union, however, is gone. To any sensible American policymaker, the political threat posed by a small and impoverished island state is negligible. To an American bourgeois, with half an eye on China, Vietnam and the other extant Stalinist countries, the embargo is basically an obstacle to otherwise lucrative business opportunities - opportunities that look even more attractive with the ascendancy of Fidel’s ‘reformer’ brother, Raúl.2
For the pro-Cuban left, however, “socialist Cuba” has won a tremendous victory, thanks to the dogged determination of its government and people. The comrades from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign were so overcome that they enthused not only about the “historic talks”, but also the “historic handshake” and “historic press conference” within the first two lines of their April 14 emailed circular.
For the Revolutionary Communist Group and its Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism paper, “These developments represent a victory for the Cuban revolution” and its “revolutionary government”.3 Mind you, that was written in response to earlier US moves and published in the February-March edition of FRFI. The RCG, like those other, equally dozy, Castro fans, the comrades from Socialist Action, have yet to comment on the latest developments, as I write.
Strangely enough, the same applies to the Morning Star and its Communist Party of Britain. The Star has made no editorial comment and its only feature article on the Panama summit was taken directly from the US Communist Party’s People’s World. Even though this article was published in the Star four days after the summit ended, it was written before it took place and so does not even mention the Obama-Castro talks.4
It goes without saying that the ending of the blockade will be something to celebrate. Just like the imperialist sanctions on Iran, the blockade has imposed untold suffering on ordinary citizens, while the elite has been largely unaffected - in the case of Iran, at any rate, some at the top of the regime have actually gained substantially from their ability to influence the black market.
But, if anything, US-Cuban normalisation is likely to result in a speed-up of Chinese-style developments: ie, the coming into being of a thriving capitalist and state-capitalist sector. Cuba never was, and cannot be, “socialist”. The Castro regime can rightly claim some achievements, not least in health and education, but many of these resulted from the huge subsidies poured in by the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war and are characterised by numerous bureaucratic defects. Genuine socialism can only be international - it can only result from the democratic action of the global proletariat, first and foremost in the advanced capitalist countries.
1. The Daily Telegraph April 11.
2. Weekly Worker February 2 2012.
3. ‘US opens talks with socialist Cuba’ FRFI February-March 2015: www.revolutionarycommunist.org/americas/cuba/3891-us120215.
4. ‘Panama summit is no place for Che’s killers’ Morning Star April 15.