USA turns up the heat


Back on February 24, the Cuban air force shot down two US aircraft belonging to an anti-Castro group operating out of Florida. The US reaction was swift. The USA’s cold war against Cuba has never really ended and the incident was a convenient excuse to whip it up again.

A bill has been approved by both houses of the US Congress, which US President Clinton has now signed. The Helms-Burton Bill, named after its two rightwing Republican sponsors, aims to tighten the trade embargo against Cuba by “applying sanctions on individuals, enterprises and governments of other nations that have business dealings with Cuba”. The bill was already in preparation before the aircraft incident, but the destruction of the planes gave it additional impetus.

The Cuban foreign trade minister, Ricardo Cabrisas, said that the move violates international law and will merely add to the economic damage inflicted by the embargo since the early 1960s, estimated at 40 billion dollars by the Cubans. Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina said the latest moves by the USA had already had the effect of scaring off potential investors from abroad. Business people would have to be “daring” to invest in Cuba now.

European Union countries, Canada and Mexico have criticised the latest attempts at strengthening the trade embargo, but not out of political sympathy with Cuba. Cuba is seen as an investment opportunity and it is assumed, with some justification, that trade and other contact with the outside world is likely to erode the island’s political system. Certainly when I visited Cuba a year ago it was obvious that tourism and some Cubans’ access to US dollars were undermining the more egalitarian sides of Cuban society.

It is hard to gauge the past effectiveness of the US boycott. When I was there foreign products seemed to be making their way into Cuba, often via third countries, although shortages were universal. The US boycott has deprived American companies of opportunities to cash in - Canadian companies have had some success in trying to develop Cuba’s oil resources, for example.

An ironic by-product of the latest American pressure could be to reduce capitalist infiltration of the Cuban economy. Cuba has not tried to imitate North Korea - it has not tried to turn itself into a ‘hermit kingdom’. Any attempt to do so would be a failure. However, foreign investment and business activity can hardly fail to have a political impact, making the island’s system more congenial to capitalism. The Helms-Burton Bill may actually slow down the march of capitalism on Cuban soil.

However, we should not rely on the ability of reactionaries to shoot themselves in the foot. In the long term, the political health of Cuba will depend on the health of the world revolution, though this does not rule out practical solidarity now.

Steve Kay