Created: Wednesday, 17 December 2014 22:10
Written by Sam Mcgill
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015
In an unprecedented move, the New York Times (NYT) has published a series of editorials demanding the US take bold steps to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.1 Throughout October and November, six editorials under the title of ‘Cuba: a new start’ praise Cuba’s role in fighting Ebola, detail US subversion against Cuba and demand Obama lift the US blockade and negotiate a prisoner swap, releasing the remaining three Cuban anti-terrorist prisoners in return for imprisoned subcontractor Alan Gross. This is a public emergence of serious divisions in the US ruling class on Cuba policy as sections push for their economic interests over political interests. NICA EVANS and SAM MCGILL report.
The NYT highlights Cuba’s ‘impressive’ medical response to the Ebola crisis, where over 250 Cuban medical personnel are already working to confine the virus in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea with another 450 preparing to join them. The editorial laments that the US ‘is diplomatically estranged from Havana’ in the fight against Ebola, a division which ‘has life-or-death consequences’. It asserts that ‘This should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks.’ Whilst US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, and Secretary of State, John Kerry, are happy to praise Cuba’s efforts against Ebola, a further editorial criticises the divisive US ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments’. The programme attacks one of socialist Cuba’s most recognised achievements, yet these defectors, fast-tracked to US citizenship, make up a surprisingly small fraction of Cuba’s 50,000 health care professionals currently working across 66 countries in three continents.
The editorials are peppered with accusations about ‘the Castro Regime’, ‘police state’ and a Cuban population which has ‘suffered enormously’. The NYT clearly does not support Cuba’s socialist revolution. However, it does expose the failure and hypocrisy of US imperialist strategy. In ‘Misadventures in regime change’, the NYT details the $264m the US has spent in its quest to overthrow the Cuban revolution. This policy has been a catalogue of expensive embarrassments, with one contractor using the ‘pro-democracy money’ to buy luxury goods including ‘cashmere sweaters, crab meat and Godiva chocolates’.
USAID financed Alan Gross on a $500,000 mission to smuggle and install communications equipment, satellite phones and laptops with internet access in a ‘reckless strategy’ to promote subversion. He was caught and tried by the Cuban government in 2011, and imprisoned for 15 years for crimes against the integrity of the state. The NYT suggests that ‘the only plausible way’ for Gross to be released is the exchange of the three remaining ‘Cuban Five’ prisoners held since 1998 by the US. Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino, remain in US gaols for infiltrating Miami terrorist networks and exposing terrorist plots against Cuba. The NYT notes Judge Phyllis Kravitch’s findings that Gerardo Hernandez’s murder-conspiracy conviction was unfounded, detailing that the US Court of Appeals 2005 overturned the convictions of the Cuban Five, ‘ruling that a “perfect storm” of factors deprived the five defendants of a fair trial’. The NYT notes that media-fuelled hostility to Cuba ‘made it impossible to impanel an impartial jury’. What it does not acknowledge however is that this was directed by the state. Evidence has emerged that the US government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors was secretly paying prominent Miami journalists to saturate the media with a smear campaign against the Cuban Five.2 However, that the NYT has drawn attention to the case of the Five, in the words of former President of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, is ‘an event of transcendental importance. The wall of silence surrounding the case of the Five has received a devastating blow which hopefully is final’.
That the NYT, a major news corporation, pushed the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba in the run-up to November’s US Senate elections, is remarkable. This reflects deepening divisions within the US ruling class, and gives expression to certain capitalist interests which do not want to miss out. Sections such as agribusiness interests in southern states, have been arguing against the blockade – which is not in their interest – for years. Others are now joining them to pursue new opportunities. The NYT argues that investment will enable the US to undermine Cuban socialism from within. Cuba now seeks to attract $2.5bn of foreign capital annually after the implementation of its new foreign direct investment law (see FRFI 240). November also saw Havana’s 32nd International Trade Fair featuring nearly 5,000 exhibitors from 62 countries, with China, Russia, Spain and Germany playing a central role. Brazil is funding Cuba’s new deep-water Mariel port, ideally placed for transhipment with the Panama canal. The NYT warns that ‘Failing to engage with Cuba now will likely cede this market to competitors.’ Russia recently cancelled 90% of Cuba’s Soviet era debt. Bilateral trade with China now totals around $2bn.
Yet while sections of the ruling class demands investment in Cuba, US lawmakers have sought to tighten the blockade, pursuing French bank BNP Paribas $9bn for ‘violating’ trade sanctions in processing Cuban payments and forcing the Irish Bank to suspend transactions with Cuba. In October, the UN General Assembly condemned the US blockade of Cuba for the 23rd consecutive time, yet the US vetoed the resolution, with only Israel joining it in voting against.
As the NYT identifies, fully lifting the blockade will require Congressional approval, however Obama could restore diplomatic ties, negotiate a prisoner swap and open up some investment opportunities without approval. The April 2015 Organisation of American States ‘Summit of the Americas’ in Panama will be the acid test. With Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador threatening to boycott the summit and 20 countries voicing their support, Panama has invited Cuba to attend for the first time in 52 years following US insistence on its exclusion. Obama has yet to commit to attend, whether he does so will depend on which force wins out as the US ruling class clings to global hegemony.
1. All quotes from editorials at www.nytimes.com: 19 October, 2, 9 and
2. National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, ‘Miami reporters on the US government payroll and their role in helping to convict the Cuban Five’, www.freethefive.org