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New dog, old tricks: Obama ratchets up attack on Cuba

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In spring 2010, Cuba came under renewed attack as politicians and the corporate media worldwide portrayed the revolutionary government as a repressive dictatorship struggling to stem a growing tide of discontent. This offensive is orchestrated by the Obama administration which is continuing the 50-year war against Cuban socialism. The strategy is simple but effective: demonise the enemy to win public consent for an intensification of conflict. The backdrop to the current campaign is the global capitalist crisis, Raul Castro’s defence of the socialist system and the growing influence of Cuba in Latin America and around the world. In the face of this intensification of hostility, Cuba and its supporters have continued to fight back and expose the lies, distortions and hypocrisy.[1] HELEN YAFFE provides a framework for understanding the escalation of the attack on Cuban socialism.


By Helen Yaffe (pictured)*

altThe capitalist system is undergoing its most severe structural crisis for 80 years. Meanwhile, socialist Cuba continues to demonstrate the viability and benefits of socialism; state planning and the rational allocation of resources, free from financial speculation or the dictates of capital. Despite 50 years of the US blockade; despite the punitive fines recently imposed on companies around the world for trading with Cuba; despite $10 billion of damage caused by the hurricanes in late 2008; despite the reduction of tourist revenues due to the global recession; despite the fall in export prices and the rise in import prices – despite all this, Cuba continues to experience modest economic growth, to increase social investment and to extend its medical and educational internationalism.

The ‘transition’ from Fidel to Raul Castro has failed to materialise into the ‘liberalisation’ process that the bourgeois media anticipated. Raul Castro has initiated measures to consolidate the strength and efficiency of the Cuban state, in much the same way as he had done at the head of the Cuban military, which, under his leadership became a mass civilian defence force. Since the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, the US military has considered the cost of an invasion to be too high. Cuba’s stability, development and internationalism, particularly against a backdrop of capitalist crisis and the bankruptcy of the neo-liberal model, provide it with growing influence among underdeveloped nations.

In 2009, 41 heads of state and government visited Cuba, including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean, most signing cooperation or trade agreements. In October 2009, for the eighteenth consecutive year, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn the US blockade, with 187 countries in favour, three against and two abstentions. In Obama’s first encounter with the governments of the Americas in April 2009, Cuba’s reinstatement in the Organisation of American States, from which it is was expelled in 1962, was demanded as proof of his claim to want to establish new relations with the region.

Most significantly, Cuba has inspired and established the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Initiated with a set of trade and cooperation agreements between Cuba and Venezuela in 2004, ALBA was extended to seven other countries by mid-2009 (the 28 June 2009 military coup in Honduras removed that country). ALBA is building a barrier to US and European imperialism, providing examples of welfare-based development and the benefits of trade relations based on South-South cooperation. ALBA has allowed Cuba to limit its dependence on the international capitalist economy. Although the economic impact of ALBA remains limited, US government officials have expressed alarm at the influence of Cuba and Venezuela in the region.

This is the context of the renewed attacks on Cuba, alongside attempts to destabilise and discredit the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the military coup in Honduras, the US takeover of seven military bases in Colombia and the re-establishment in 2008 of the US Fourth Fleet to patrol the Caribbean and South American waters for the first time since 1950. Three events in Cuba in the last six months demonstrate that Obama’s administration is intensifying the war against Cuban socialism: the December 2009 arrest in Havana of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) agent, hunger strikes by prisoners Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Guillermo Farinas, and protests by the so-called ‘Ladies in White’.

Private contracts for mercenaries

altOn 4 December 2009, entrepreneur and mercenary Alan Gross (pictured right) was arrested in Havana on a $500,000 mission to promote subversion in Cuba. He was contracted by the private US company Development Alternatives Inc., which in 2008 had won a $6 million contract with USAID to ‘advance democracy’ in Cuba. The Bush administration had secured a 500% increase in funding for such projects, providing a total budget of $45 million. With revelations about the inefficiency and corruption of the tiny opposition groups inside Cuba – ‘groups had come under fire for wasting the money on Godiva chocolates and cashmere sweaters’ (Washington Post, 21 May 2010) – USAID turned to professional contractors (posing as tourists) to take communications equipment, satellite phones and laptops with internet access into Cuba to promote subversion. Gross had previous contracts with USAID to provide satellite internet services to private organisations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the time of Gross’s arrest in Havana, he had travelled to Cuba as a tourist five times in nine months. His target was Cuba’s tiny Jewish community of 1,500, which has good relations with the revolutionary government. The Washington Post noted that: ‘Most Jewish community centres already had desktop computers and email’. There simply is not enough opposition in Cuba for this money to be productive and counter-revolutionaries have no roots in ‘civil society’. ‘Dissent’ in its real sense, is not only legal, but often actively encouraged in Cuba through national debates, popular consultations and discussions in places of work, study or residence. However, it is illegal under Cuban law to give or receive goods under the US programmes designed to overturn the Revolution, or to bring satellite equipment into Cuba without a permit. Gross remains in prison.

Hunger strikers – who benefits?

On 8 December 2009, Orlando Zapata Tamayo began a hunger strike which ended on 23 February 2010 with his death aged 42 years; the first such incident in nearly four decades. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was ‘deeply distressed by his death’ and denounced the oppression of political prisoners in Cuba. The EU demanded the ‘unconditional release of all political prisoners’. In June 2008, the EU, led by Spain, had relaxed sanctions imposed on Cuba through its Common Position in 1996, but Zapata’s death was followed by strong condemnation and the strengthening of sanctions. The news made the front pages of many newspapers and websites, particularly in the US and Spain. Most media outlets referred to Zapata as one of 75 ‘dissidents’ arrested in March 2003 ‘in a crackdown against opposition activists’ (BBC News, 24 February 2010). John and Emily Kirk monitored over 80 articles in the US mainstream press in three months and found:

‘Vocal denunciations of the abuse of human rights in Cuba were sprinkled among the many articles dealing with Zapata. The term “prisoner of conscience” was liberally used to describe his plight, and he was presented as a political activist who was protesting inhuman treatment in prison. In the media rush to show him as a person imprisoned for his political beliefs, little attention was paid to his long criminal record, involving domestic violence (2003), possession of a weapon and assault, including the use of a machete to fracture the cranium of Leonardo Simon (2000), fraud (2000), and public disorder (2002).’[2]

altZapata (pictured) had accrued a serious criminal record between 1990 and his arrest in March 2003, the same month as 75 opposition activists (see below and FRFI 175). Unlike them, Zapata’s name was not included in the UN Human Rights Commission list of political prisoners in Cuba in 2003. He was sentenced to three years as a common criminal in May 2004. Zapata had never carried out any anti-government activities prior to this. His mother, Reyna Luisa Tamayo, approached opposition groups after his imprisonment in 2004. Subsequently, Amnesty International (AI) adopted Zapata among the 55 ‘prisoners of conscience’ they recognise in Cuba. AI recognises that these others were convicted of ‘having received funds or materials from the US government to carry out activities that the authorities consider subversive and damaging to Cuba.’ (AI press release, 18 March 2008). French commentator Salim Lamrani states: ‘Here AI cannot escape an obvious contradiction: on the one hand AI characterises them as “prisoners of conscience” and on the other hand it admits they committed the serious crime of accepting “money or materials from the US government”.’[3]

Zapata’s violent conduct in prison resulted in new charges which increased his sentence to 25 years. He went on hunger strike demanding a stove, telephone and television in his cell. He was treated in hospitals in Camaguey and Havana, initially in open wards before being moved to intensive therapy units, and attended by psychologists. Supporters of the counter-revolution in Cuba persuaded Zapata’s mother to give an interview the day after his death in which she said: ‘They finally murdered my son’. Later, she called for the world to impose sanctions on Cuba. In response, on 1 March 2010, Cuban national news showed footage of Zapata’s mother thanking Cuban medical personnel: ‘thank you very much. We have full confidence; we can see your concern and everything that is being done to save him.’ She referred to ‘the best doctors, trying to save his life.’ The Cuban medics had a kidney for transplant standing by. Raul Castro said the Cuban government regretted the death, but denounced those who made political capital out of it.

In 2009 there were 122 suicides in prisons in France and 60 in England and Wales. How many of their families receive media attention, or official statements from their governments? In the absence of torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Cuba, enemies of the Revolution have to resort to exploiting the suicide of an unstable and violent man as a weapon against Cuban socialism.

Even the race card was played by Cuba’s enemies as Zapata was described as an ‘old black worker’ (Cubaencuentro website), ‘a black, opposition Palestinian’ (El Mundo, Spain), ‘a Negro construction worker and victim of Marxist collectivism’ (El Heraldo, Ecuador). A placard in the US read: ‘A black man asked for change and became US president. A black man asked for change and Castro put him in jail.’ What unprecedented and hypocritical concern for the black working class, from a country where black people account for 12% of the population, but 44% of its prisoners, and where more than one in ten black men in their 20s and early 30s are in prison. The US government is pressing for the execution of Mumia Abu Jamal, a black journalist, militant anti-racist and supporter of Cuba, who has been on death row for 27 years.

The day following Zapata’s death, another man, Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, initiated a hunger strike at his own home in Cuba. He has been hospitalised since 11 March (alive at the time of writing), demanding the release of 26 allegedly ill ‘political prisoners’. Farinas also has a record of non-political violent crime. In 1995 he assaulted, battered and threatened to kill a women doctor, director of a hospital. Sentenced to three years and a 600 peso fine, he initiated his first hunger strike and joined the counter-revolution. In 2002, an old woman he attacked with a walking stick needed emergency surgery. Sentenced to five to ten years, Farinas began a second hunger strike. His third hunger strike was to demand a television in the hospital wing where he was recovering from dehydration caused by the second. In December 2003, Cuban authorities released him because of his medical condition, but in 2006 Farinas initiated another hunger strike to demand internet access from his home. This was to assist his work as a reporter for the CIA radio station, Radio Martí (see below). Farinas works closely with the US Interest Section and other European diplomats who direct subversion in Cuba, receiving instructions, money and supplies. If Farinas’ current hunger strike ends in death, he will become another martyr for the imperialist attack on Cuba.

‘Ladies in White’

alt75 opposition activists arrested in March 2003 were tried and imprisoned for breaking the laws of the Cuban constitution – receiving payment from a foreign power to destabilise the government. They were not incarcerated for ‘dissenting’ ideas or ideologies. Ex-CIA agent Philip Agee described them as ‘central to current US government efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution’ (Counter Punch, 9 August 2003). Although more than 20 of the prisoners have since been released due to ill health, the bourgeois media continues to refer to the 75 ‘dissidents’ in prison. As Arnold August points out, under the US Penal Code (Section 2381, under Chapter 115 ‘Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities’) any US citizen who ‘adheres to’ or gives ‘aid and comfort…within the United States or elsewhere’ to a country that US authorities consider to be an enemy ‘is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000.’ Likewise, the constitutions of the European countries which arrogantly denounce Cuba, severely punish citizens for acting in the interests of foreign powers or against the national interest.

Since 2003, female relatives and supporters of the ‘dissidents’ have held monthly parades after Sunday mass through Miramar, an area in Havana where the foreign embassies are concentrated. Calling themselves ‘Ladies in White’ (pictured), their presentation is an insulting attempt to simulate the Argentinian Madres de la Plaza (Mothers of the Square, who demand information about the 30,000 people ‘disappeared’ from 1976 to 1983 under the brutal US-backed dictatorship). For seven years, this parade has proceeded without incident, despite the ‘Ladies’ spokeswomen, Laura Pollan, admitting that they receive thousands of dollars from Rescate Juridico, a US-based opposition group presided over by Miami-Mafia boss and Cuban exile Santiago Alvarez. In November 2006, Alvarez was sentenced to nearly four years’ imprisonment in the US for his part in a conspiracy to stockpile weapons for use against Cuba.

On 9 December 2009, when the ‘Ladies’ paraded through a residential area of Havana they were surrounded by local residents, mainly women, who danced and sang revolutionary chants in a carnival-like atmosphere (see http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=FdiAx-HtLM0). This was a total rejection of the ‘Ladies’ collaboration with US and European imperialism. In March 2010, the ‘Ladies’ planned a month of action to raise their international profile. On Wednesday 17 March, they entered the Parraga neighbourhood to provoke a confrontation for the benefit of the international press and the diplomats who accompany them. Among their regular entourage is Michael Upton, deputy head of the British Embassy in Havana, along with representatives of the US Interest Section and the German and Swedish Embassies, an activity in contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States (Resolution 36/103, 91st Plenary meeting, 9 December 1981). Local residents took to the streets again to oppose the mercenaries. The scenario was repeated twice over the next two weeks, supplying footage for the bourgeois media, which spat out superlatives to describe the ‘repression’ they claimed the women were subjected to, as plainclothes and uniformed police stepped in to protect the mercenaries from the Cuban people, herding them onto a bus to take them home.

Meanwhile, in late March, thousands of Cuban exiles and counter-revolutionaries, dressed in white and led by celebrities, paraded through several US cities and in Madrid. In Miami, the event was headed by pop star Gloria Estefan and joined by Luis Posada Carriles, another beneficiary of Alvarez’s sponsorship, who, despite 73 outstanding first-degree murder charges against him for blowing up a Cuban civilian aeroplane in 1976 and an extradition order from Venezuela, enjoys freedom of movement in the US. In Los Angeles, the protest led by actor Andy Garcia soon degenerated when a man overlooking the rally was attacked for waving a Cuban flag nearby with an image of Che Guevara.

New dog, old tricks

altObama may be a new dog, but the attacks on Cuba are old tricks, as Eva Golinger commented: ‘the same tactics of espionage, infiltration and subversion are still being actively employed against one of Washington’s oldest adversaries.’ (13 December 2009). Salim Lamrani cites evidence of the official US policy to generate and finance an international opposition in Cuba: Section 1705 of the Torricelli Law of 1992 (‘the United States will provide assistance to non-governmental organizations suitable for support to individuals and organizations which promote democratic and non-violent change in Cuba’.), Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Law of 1996 (‘The President [of the United States] is authorized to offer assistance and to offer all kinds of support to individuals and non-governmental independent organizations to organize forces with a view towards constructing a democracy in Cuba’), and the two reports of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba of May 2004 and July 2006 (2004, $36 million in financing to ‘support the democratic opposition and the strengthening of the emerging civil society’; 2006, $31 million to finance internal opposition, plus $20 million annually for the following years ‘until the dictatorship ceases to exist’). A communiqué from the US Interest Section in Havana said: ‘The US policy, for a long time now, is that of providing humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, particularly the families of political prisoners. We also allow private organizations to do the same.’[4]

Since 1959, the US government has promoted and financed subversive radio broadcasts against Cuba with clandestine radio stations located in Miami. Radio Marti began broadcasting in May 1985, falsifying and distorting information and jamming national radio space in violation of the International Telecommunications Union and the International Space Laws. Since 1983, Radio and TV Martí (broadcasting since 1990) have received some $700 million of taxpayer’s money (Angel Rodriguez, ACN, 19 May 2010), leading to numerous scandals and imprisonment for corruption. In 2009, the two stations had 170 employees and a budget of $34.8 million. The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has now recommended that they be relocated from Miami to Washington to join the propaganda apparatus of Voice of America. The Committee said Radio and TV Marti ‘have been broadcasting for decades against Cuba, with low journalistic level, negligible audience and lack of support of the Congress. The fact that Radio and TV Marti haven’t been able to penetrate the Cuban society or influence its government is disappointing.’

USAID disseminates dirty propaganda against Cuba and finances ‘independent journalists’ on the island to influence international opinion. CubaNet was one of the first websites established in 1994 to generate internet propaganda against Cuba. With access to recently declassified documents, Eva Golinger (Cuba Debate, 15 May 2010) reveals that in 1999 CubaNet signed a one-year contract with USAID worth $98,000, ‘to support a programme to expand a website on the internet for independent journalists within Cuba’. USAID funds to CubaNet increased to $245,000 in 2000, $500,000 in 2003 (the year of the imprisonment of the 75 mercenaries), and $360,000 in 2007 – phenomenal sums allocated to subvert a country where the average wage is around $20 a month. In April 2005, a document authorised ‘private funds’, which do not come from USAID or other US agencies, to be sent to Cuba to ‘advance the objectives’ of the Cooperation Agreement between USAID and CubaNet. The website was to continue disseminating reports to the US and international mainstream media, in clear violation of US law which prohibits the use of government-financed propaganda as media ‘information’.

In 2010, USAID has a budget of $20 million to finance groups within and outside Cuba to promote Washington’s agenda. The new star of the Cuban opposition, Yoanni Sanchez is a blogger, recipient of international prizes and world rankings. Her return to Cuba from a comfortable exile in Switzerland in 2004 coincided with the first Plan Bush for regime change and, as Salim Lamrani pointed out in a revealing interview with Sanchez, her objectives coincide with those of imperialism.[5]

Whose human rights?

altIn late 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published New Castro, Same Cuba, a report condemning the Cuban government as abusive and repressive. Tim Anderson notes that unlike the National Endowment for Democracy, set up by the US government, or France-based Reporters Without Borders, funded directly by the US State Department for some of its anti-Cuba campaigns, HRW claims autonomy. However, most of HRW funds are from foundations which are funded by US corporations. They often tie their contributions to particular projects. In 2009, more than 90% of HRW’s $100 million budget was ‘restricted’ in this way. ‘In other words, HRW offers a privatised, wealthy, US-based selection of rights issues’ (Tim Anderson, http://links. org.au/node/1506).

In Honduras, the brutal and illegitimate regime established after the military coup of June 2009, with support from the Obama administration, has murdered over 150 political and social activists. Five journalists were killed in March alone. Six months ago in Colombia about 2,000 bodies were found in one of the largest mass grave in history. Evidence points to them being victims of state terrorism. The international corporate media has wasted little ink on these stories. These victims were not champions of capitalism, private property and market forces, so they are to be quietly forgotten – along with the 50,000 murdered, 30,000 ‘disappeared’ and 400,000 incarcerated under Operation Condor established in the mid-1970s between US-backed military dictatorships to wipe out the left in South America.

The US, British and EU governments are silent about the human rights of the million Iraqi civilians killed by imperialist war and occupation since 2003 or the thousands killed in Afghanistan since 2001. What about the Palestinians in Gaza; 1,400 murdered by Israeli bombs between December 2008 and January 2009, and the survivors blockaded and under siege. Do the thousands incarcerated and tortured in the CIA’s secret prisons and concentration camps around the world have human rights?

No country in the world has suffered more state-sponsored terrorism than Cuba. Terrorism and sabotage against the Revolution have killed more than 3,400 Cubans. With astonishing hypocrisy, the US government has for nearly 12 years incarcerated the Cuban Five who were working to prevent terrorist attacks against their people (see FRFI 209 or www.freethefive.org).

Obama’s concern about the human rights of the Cuban people does not stretch to lifting the illegal US blockade, which fits the definition of ‘genocidal’ under the Geneva Conventions, and has cost the country more than the equivalent of two Marshall Plans (Atilio Boron, Cubainformacion, spring 2010). In May 2010, Hillary Clinton declared that Fidel and Raul Castro do not want the US blockade to be lifted because they would no longer be able to blame the US for their country’s problems. President of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon replied: ‘It’s very simple for her to ask Congress to lift the blockade’, and suggested they do so for one year to see what happens.

No nation makes more effort than Cuba to save lives around the world, or provide the right to education and knowledge. Cuba has nearly 40,000 medical professionals providing free health care to poor people around the world. Its educators bring literacy to millions of people. Its emergency brigades have recently saved thousands of lives in Haiti, Pakistan and Central America. Thousands of poor people receive free medical training in Cuba. These are human rights which the Cubans have fought hard to establish and which they will fight hard to preserve and extend. The more Cuba resists, the more it is respected, and Cuba is ready to win the respect of the world!

[1] This article draws from material circulated on websites such as Rebelion (www.rebelion.org), Cuba Debate (www.cubadebate.cu) and Cuba Informacion (www.cubainformacion.tv), and from
commentators outside Cuba, including Salim Lamrani, John and Emily Kirk, Eva Golinger and Arnold August.
[2] John M Kirk and Emily J Kirk, ‘Human Rights in Cuba and Honduras, 2010: The Spring of Discontent’, Cuba Analysis, 19 May 2010.
[3] Salim Lamrani, 18 March 2010, http://www.voltairenet.org/article164489.html
[4] Salim Lamrani, interview with Yoanni Sanchez, 17 April 2010.
[5] The excellent interview can be found in English via http://ratbnews.blogspot.com /2010/05/cuban-counter-revolutionary-exposed.htm

*Helen Yaffe is the author of “Che Guevara, The Economics of Revolution”.

This article was published in Helen Yaffe’s page.

palgrave.typepad.com/yaffe/index.html


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