The real Cuban storyMonday, July 26, 2021
Small nations are like indecently dressed women. They tempt the evil-minded — Julius K Nyerere, 1964
THE day of Michael Manley's funeral was a bright, beautiful, sunny Sunday. Kingston seemed to be on lockdown. That is, until you approached North Street, where Cathedral of the most Holy Trinity is located. Everyone seemed to be there. Crowds lined the sidewalks. They filled all the open spaces. People were sitting or standing on walls and when you looked up, some were in the trees.
Inside, the church was almost full of prime ministers, presidents, diplomats, and other dignitaries. They were winking, waving, and whispering greetings. Shortly before the scheduled start of the service, as if in response to a military command, all heads turned to the same spot. Bright smiles lit up their faces, they sprang to their feet, cheered, and clapped. The applause was thunderous. Spontaneous. Sustained. A tall figure with a venerable beard had darkened the main entrance to the cathedral — Fidel Castro had arrived.
Perhaps I should not have used the word, 'everyone'. There was a lone figure in the cathedral who seemed to be blind and deaf to what was taking place. He was the United States ambassador.
Cuba is separated from the United States coastline by just 90 miles of water. American slave owners in the South had always had their eyes on Cuba. With its 12 months of summer, the island would be the ideal location to expand their operations. And, so far, anywhere the US saw something it wanted, if the owner was small or weak, it was taken.
The native “Indians” they encountered, with their feeble bows and arrows, were a pushover. So they pushed them from the fertile soils of their homeland on the deadly “Trail of tears”, where many died in the snow, to poor-quality lands. Then they discovered there were huge deposits of oil below those lands. So they pushed them again until those that survived ended up on “reservations” where they are today.
They also set their eyes on the Louisiana territory, and acquired 870,000 square miles of that territory for $15 million. They wanted Mexico's Yucatan and, of course, Cuba would make the ideal slave state. But Cuba was a colony of Spain, so some amount of respect was due. Several presidents grappled with developing a strategy to own Cuba.
After the Spanish left, Cuba was ruled by several men who were friendly to the United States. In the 1940s Fulgensio Batista ruled before going to reside in Florida. In the 1950s, however, he decided to return to Cuban politics. Facing certain defeat, he sought and received financial, military, and logistical support from the US and led a successful military coup against the president.
As president, Batista suspended the constitution, aligned himself with the wealthiest landowners, and presided over a stagnating economy. Soon, most of the sugar industry was in US hands and foreigners owned 70 per cent of the arable land. His Government then started to profit from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests. He negotiated lucrative arrangements with the American Mafia who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution business in Havana. The media was censored, and widespread torture and public executions were the order of the day. As the murders mounted to about 20,000, so did socialist ideas. These were the conditions that spawned Fidel Castro's July 26 movement, which culminated in Batista's defeat.
Castro's ascendancy upset the apple cart. American interests were furious. Cuban lands were restored to Cubans. The drugs, the casinos, and the prostitutes were disappearing. This gave birth to The Cuban Project also known as Operation Mongoose, which was an extensive campaign of terrorist attacks against civilians and covert operations carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Cuba. It was officially authorised on November 30, 1961 by President John F Kennedy.
October 1962 was the deadline set for a CIA-financed revolt to take place in Cuba. An official report from the CIA states that by March 1960, the United States had already decided that Fidel Castro must be displaced. The US feared repercussions from the United Nations, however, so plans were kept at the highest level of secrecy, allowing US officials and even the presidents to plausibly deny having knowledge of any illegal or aggressive acts against foreign territories.
One attempt at destabilising the Fidel Castro-led Government was the Bay of Pigs. What was supposed to be a surprise attack turned into a humiliating defeat as the invading US forces were surprised to find that Castro was waiting for them. I am reliably informed that the Bay was red with blood for several days.
Developing strategies to destabilise Cuba became a primary preoccupation of the US in ensuing years. The Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, stated that it substantiated eight attempts by the CIA to assassinate Castro between 1960 to 1965. Fabian Escalante, a retired chief of Cuba's counter-intelligence, estimated the number of assassination schemes or actual attempts by the CIA to be 634, under a project code-named Executive Action. He split them among US administrations as follows: Dwight D Eisenhower, 38; John F Kennedy, 42; Lyndon B Johnson, 72; Richard Nixon, 184; Jimmy Carter, 64; Ronald Reagan, 197; George H W Bush, 16; and Bill Clinton, 21.
On October 6, 1976, a Cubana plane travelling from Barbados to Jamaica was blown up in mid-air 11 minutes after take-off. The 73 victims, mostly Cubans, included all 24 members of the 1975 national fencing team — gold medalists in the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games. Many were teenagers. Several CIA-linked anti-Castro Cuban exiles were implicated by evidence. CIA documents released in 2005 indicate that the agency “had concrete advance intelligence as early as June” that year. The alleged mastermind of the project, Louis Carilles, worked for the CIA. Incidentally, he died two years ago at the age of 90 in a government home for veterans in Florida. He was never charged.
The attempts continued — some ridiculous, some near misses. For example, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allegedly persuaded Castro's mistress to poison him. She agreed, but again, Castro was a step ahead of the game.
For the past 30 years, delegates in the General Assembly have been urging an immediate repeal of the embargo on Cuba. Every year, the vote is 184 (Yes) to two (no). The two? The US and Israel. The resolution? “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (document A/75/L 97).
Many delegates have highlighted the incalculable damage of the sanctions, in place since 1962, including restrictions that have prevented critical medicines and supplies from reaching Cuba during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Cuba's foreign affairs minister said that “…nobody can overlook the fact that the blockade is the primary obstacle to his country's quest for prosperity and well-being”.
It is perhaps instructive that the US continues to ignore successive assembly resolutions on the matter. The embargo denies Cuba access to markets, remains the main impediment to Internet access, and has caused more than $147.8 billion in damage since it was imposed, including $9.1 billion last year.
Barack Obama, arguably the most enlightened American president in our lifetime, attempted to reverse these sanctions. He made some inroads before demitting office. But Donald Trump, arguably the most 'backward' president in our lifetime, reversed these gains and made life even harder for Cubans.
Cruise ship visits — a great source of foreign exchange — have been halted as were remittances, which have dried up by US$3.5 billion. This, coupled with the effects of the pandemic, spelt disaster for the Cuban Government. So, predictably, 60 years of US efforts at destabilisation — embargo, assassination attempts, terrorist attacks, etc — have finally started to pay off. Demonstrations have started.
Despite the worst, continuous, relentless attack that the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen has levelled on a poor country, 8,770 per cent smaller than itself, Cuba has persisted. It has provided its citizens with world-class education and health care. Its medical diplomacy — providing medical personnel to needy countries — has earned the respect of the world.
Some claim that the Government has failed to manage the economy, hence the shortages and discontent. But, it is impossible to manage without money. And the mighty United States has managed, through foul means, to deprive this small, poor country the ability to provide honestly for its people for more than 60 years. Which country could withstand this sustained cruelty?
The visitor to Cuba may find something perplexing. Castro ruled for 50 years; he has been dead for 10. Yet, there is not one statue, one plaque in his name or extolling his virtues.
The demonstrators in Cuba do not know their history. Their ire is directed at the wrong Government.
“I asked Tom if countries always apologised when they had done wrong, and he says: 'Yes, the little ones does.' “ (Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, 1894)
Glenn Tucker is a former president of the Mico Historical Society. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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