When the Cuban revolutionaries took power on January 1, 1959, the political leaders of the United States were initially ambivalent towards the Castro leadership but after the leadership nationalized foreign capital and set about major land reforms for the majority of the population there was total opposition to the Cuban Revolution. The U.S. government launched political, psychological, economic and military warfare against Cuba and vowed to remove the leader — Fidel Castro. As documented in the book, The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer, on March 17, 1960 less than four months after the revolutionaries had come to power, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Allen Dulles presented “A Program of Covert Action Against The Castro Regime” to the U.S. National Security Council. “It proposed a multi-stage operation to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S., in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention…. The CIA would build a covert network inside Cuba, saturate the island with anti-Castro propaganda, infiltrate small teams of guerilla fighters, use them to set off domestic uprising, and provide a ‘responsible, appealing, and unified‘ new regime.”
This plot to remove the Cuban leadership went through many different phases and there was confidence that the strong colossal power 90 miles north of Cuba could topple this revolution. This confidence came from their successes in removing other governments who they claimed were communists. In 1953, the United States government in alliance with oil companies had removed Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister of Iran. He had been an incorruptible leader who wanted to use the oil resources to transform the country to uplift the standard of living of the people. The next year in 1954, the CIA staged a revolt against President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. His crime was that he wanted to redistribute the large landowners to sell the uncultivated part of their holdings to the government for distribution to destitute peasant families. This same United States government had in 1960 allied with the Belgian colonialists to kill the Prime Minister of the Congo Patrice Lumumba, who wanted self-determination for his country.
It was this spirit of intervention that guided the U.S. policies toward Cuba for 55 years.
This effort has failed.
On Wednesday December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his intention to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. For the first time in more than half a century, the United States will have an embassy in Havana. This is a tremendous victory for the Cuban Revolution, for those who want world peace and for those who have been in the trenches struggling for a new social order. This victory of the Cuban Revolution can be added to the other great feats of the struggles against exploitation and racism such as the Cuban support for socialism in the Americas and its role in the victories against imperialism in Angola in 1975 and at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. Not only did the Cubans make tremendous sacrifice in that important struggle in Southern Africa but for the past fifty years the Cuban leadership has been in the forefront of the fight for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and has provided the necessary leadership in the G77. This victory now requires a new strategy to guard against new forms of subversion and ensure the kind of vision that will support the consolidation of the gains of the Cuban experiment. The consolidation of the opening can give courage to the fighters for independence in Puerto Rico, Martinique and the other 20 colonial territories in the Caribbean. More significantly, this victory will have a demonstration effect all over the world that it is possible to stand up to the Barons of Empire and win. Will the progressive forces internationally learn this lesson?
Consolidating the social composition of the alternative order
For the past 55 years, the existence of the Cuban Revolution was a symbol of the struggles against imperialism. Of the revolutionary breakthroughs in the western hemisphere — United States in 1776, Haiti in 1804 and Cuba in 1959 — it is the Cuban Revolution that has been the most tenacious in persitently advancing claims for human emancipation. The liberals of the 1776 revolution in the U.S. soon exposed their genocidal traits in the extermination of the indigenous peoples and the brutal enslavement of Africans. It was the revolutionary C.L. R. James who, in reflecting on the spurts, leaps, and catastrophes associated with revolutionary change in the Caribbean, saw a clear linkage in the search for freedom from Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro. At the dawn of the Cuban process James had noted that “what took place in French San Domingo in 1792–1804 reappeared in Cuba in 1958.”
While the imperial forces had worked hard over 200 years to roll back the Haitian Revolution, the success of imperialism in supporting counter revolution had depended on the fact that the Haitian revolution did not have the space to consolidate the revolution. Despite the fact that the Haitians had supported Simon Bolivar and the independence struggles in Central America and South America, the growth of racism and chauvinism divided the working poor of the Americas so that the Haitian repressive forces were always in collaboration with the racists and capitalists of the Americas.
The victory of the Cuban process in 1959 brought with it the lessons of Haiti with the added vigilance of social forces who grasped the need to build strong bases among the people. Younger readers of this piece will need to re-acquaint themselves with the tremendous breakthroughs made by the Cubans in their efforts to build a new system. These efforts took on greater significance after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. At the time of the Revolution in 1959, the Cuban leaders changed the property relations and nationalized the assets of the foreign capitalists and the big land owners.
These forms of expropriation of the top oligarchy of the Cuban society were supported because by 1961, the leadership of the revolution had declared for socialism. In the following year the USA instituted an economic blockade against Cuba. It was this political climate that forced the alternative paths for the Cuban experiment and the leadership worked hard to deliver social services for the people. The impressive gains in the areas of the delivery of social services such as health care and education ensured that the social content of the alternative was acknowledged by international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). These transformations of education and health services have been associated with the kind of popular leadership that can mobilize a society for defensive purposes. It was in the society’s defense against natural disasters such as hurricanes where the full importance of the committees for the defense of the revolution emerged. These committees were associated with organizations of workers, students, women, cultural artists, writers, and small-scale agricultural workers. Pitted against these social elements were the expropriated Cuban elements who had retreated to Florida and parts of Latin America and who for fifty years worked with the CIA to undermine the Cuban experiment. In the Caribbean there were many instances of this counter revolutionary activity and the downing of the Cubana airliner over Barbados in 1976, killing 73 exposed the U.S. support for terrorism in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
Attacking the Cuban Revolution
The successful mobilization of the poor in a society was a threat to international capitalism and imperialism. Less than ten years after the independence struggle by the Cubans in 1896, the Cuban space was turned into a playground for the rich and powerful in the United States.. After the independence struggles of the Cubans in 1896, the U.S. had repeatedly occupied Cuba militarily under the guise of protecting United States interests, stabilizing Cuba and other justifications for imperial interventions. With the intervention of the USA after 1902, the Southern code of conduct of Jim Crow was introduced into Cuban society to super exploit the African descendants who formed the overwhelming majority of the population.
After the successful removal of the hated Batista dictatorship in 1959 under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Juan Almeida and Che Guevara (along with others), the U.S. capitalists led by the Dulles brothers worked hand in glove with corporate elements, the mafia and assorted dictators in Central America to reverse the Cuban experiment. Under the Eisenhower administration when John Foster Dulles was the Secretary of State, his brother at the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, launched numerous plans for invasions and assassinations. The debacle of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 had demonstrated the popular strength of the Cuban revolution and the U.S. capitalists never gave up their commitment to remove the political leadership in Cuba. Under the direction of these conservative forces the plotting against the Cuban revolution reached the high point of the integration between capitalists, the intelligence services and the mafia. The book JFK and the Unspeakable has documented the deep integration of the plotting with the anti Cuban forces to eliminate John F. Kennedy.
Younger readers of the struggles for socialism will in future grasp the role of operatives such as James Jesus Angleton and the fixation of the U.S. system to remove the political leadership of Cuba. The U.S. intelligence services hunted down and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 while it intensified its plots to kill Fidel Castro and the Revolution. In 2006 a British TV documentary revealed the more than 638 ways that the various agencies in the USA devised to kill Fidel Castro. Henry Kissinger, while Secretary of State in the 1970s carried forward the fixation with the elimination of the revolution after the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975 to repel the three-pronged South African invasion. In the aftermath of the Cuban intervention, there was an unexpected outbreak of Dengue fever in Cuba. Bioterrorism had been added to the attack against the Cuban Revolution. The recent book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana by William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh outlined in depth the machinations of Henry Kissinger to invade Cuba and destroy the revolution.
Cuba and the black liberation movement
“I would like to say that we have always been in solidarity with the struggle of the Black people, the minorities, and all the poor people in the United States. We have always been in solidarity with them and they have always been in solidarity with us.” Fidel Castro, 1990
This statement by Fidel Castro in 1990 was an acknowledgment that one of the pillars for the defense of the Cuban Revolution was the black liberation movement in the USA. The ruling class in the USA understood this reality and the very conservative anti-Castro lobby in South Florida intensified their work to strengthen the networks of white racism across the USA. From the start of the revolution there were open and clear linkages between the black liberation movement in the USA and the Cuban leadership. Every respected revolutionary from the Black Liberation movement made their alliance with the revolution so that today it is not by accident that even while there is talk about the normalization of relationship, the Cubans will not entertain the arguments of the neo-conservatives of the USA to hand over Assata Shakur, the black revolutionary who has received political asylum in Cuba.
The Cuban leadership understood very early from the years of Eisenhower that the Black movement provided a base for the progressive and anti-imperialist forces to neutralize the draconian plans of the intelligence agencies. In his first major visit to the United Nations in 1960, Fidel Castro had repaired to Harlem – to the Hotel Theresa under the support of Malcolm X. Rosemary Mealy, herself one of the leading revolutionary figures from that period, had documented this diplomatic and political tie between Malcolm X and Fidel in the book, Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting.
In November 1964, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Abdurrahman Babu met in New York City on the sidelines of the United Nations to plan for the liberation of the Congo. Four months later Malcolm X was assassinated and the U.S. system intensified its plans to eliminate Che Guevara.
Fidel’s base in Harlem and the Black Community became even clearer after the collapse of the USSR when Fidel traveled to the USA for the UN Millennium Summit. At the meeting of Fidel Castro in Harlem, the lines of peoples who wanted to attend stretched for blocks. This was at a moment when the counter revolutionary forces such as those associated with Posada Carilles and elements such as Brothers to the Rescue were carrying out provocative acts to ensnare the USA and Cuba in overt and direct military confrontations.
Quifangondo and Cuito Cuanavale
Quifangondo and Cuito Cuanavale are two sites in Angola which now bear historical testaments that the Cuban revolution was internationalist and anti-racist. In 1975, Henry Kissinger and the U.S. security services had urged the South African racist regime to invade Angola to prevent the MPLA from coming to power. South Africa had embarked on a three-pronged attack by air, sea and land to take Luanda. Troops of the FNLA supported by the Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and CIA were coming from the North to seize Luanda. Fidel Castro personally oversaw the dispatch and supervision of the Cuban forces that arrived just in time to repel the South Africans and to stop the imperial forces at Quifangondo, the main reservoir for Luanda just outside the capital. Angolan independence in November 1975 was celebrated under the cloud of military, political and diplomatic intrigue where the U.S. launched an all-out effort to change the political balance of forces in Southern Africa. When the Nigerian President Murtala Mohammed made the decisive decision to support African liberation and the MPLA in 1976, he lost his life. Nigeria has not yet recovered from that assassination.
The most decisive action of Cuba in Africa was the intervention to defeat the racist South African armed forces at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987-1988. As in 1975, the South African military forces had taken the initiative to seek the military defeat of the ruling MPLA and roll back the gains of the African liberation process. When Ronald Reagan had come to power in 1981, the State Department and the intelligence services mobilized conservatives in all parts of the world to oppose the African National Congress and to stop the path of independence of Namibia. Chester Crocker, who had worked on the staff of Henry Kissinger, carried the diplomatic war while the CIA under Bill Casey carried forward the covert funding of anti-liberation forces. Fighting from occupied Namibia (which was in 1987 one of the most militarized spaces on earth), the South Africans launched an invasion of Southern Angola in 1987 to reverse the pace of African liberation.
One year earlier, in 1986, the conservative forces had conspired to bring down the plane and kill President Samora Machel of Mozambique. The neo cons had launched economic, psychological, political and military warfare across the region of Southern Africa. For good measure, the U.S. Congress labelled Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and the ANC as terrorist organizations. Margaret Thatcher was given the task of mobilizing forces far afield as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and sections of Nigeria to support this anti -liberation front. The decisive intervention of the Cuban forces to support the Angolans, the Namibian and the South African freedom fighters ended with the withdrawal of Apartheid South African troops in 1988.
At one point, the siege of Cuito Cuanavale had become so tense that the President of South Africa, P.W. Botha flew to the front of the war when the military generals requested tactical nuclear weapons for attacking the Angolans and the Cubans. At that time the international climate of sanctions and divestment had been so strong against South Africa that the Apartheid South African generals were ordered to press on with conventional weapons. This battle, which raged between October 1987 and June 1988, brought about a decisive stage in the liberation of Africa. The South African military was routed and the South African forces ran on foot out on Angola. Although in the West, Chester Crocker has taken credit for the “diplomatic openings” that led to the independence of Namibia and the release of Nelson Mandela, the decisive victory of Cuba and Angola at Cuito Cuanavale changed the history of African liberation. Fidel Castro noted that Cuba had staked everything, including the existence of the revolution itself in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
How far we slaves have come
The book, How Far We Slaves Have Come, by Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro has now chronicled for posterity some of the sacrifices of the Cuban revolution for the liberation of all peoples. Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and the Zapatistas are the well-known freedom fighters that are associated with the Cuban process. With the successful defense of the revolution, for fifty years Cuba became a base to expose what was possible for revolutionaries. This society became a beacon for revolutionaries and Fidel Castro had made a special point to link himself to the revolutionary traditions of humanity.
Castro while welcoming Nelson Mandela to Cuba stated clearly, “Where did injustice come from? Where did poverty come from? Where did underdevelopment come from? Where did all these calamities come from? If not from Capitalism?”
Imperialism grasped the role of Cuba as the forerunner for socialism in the Americas and doubled down on seeking to subvert the independence of Cuba. The more than 600 plots to kill Castro were shelved in favor of the more modern form of subversion which involved the mobilization of sections of so called “civil society” and NGOs through the Office of Transition Alternatives. Earlier this year, I wrote on the role of U.S. State Department and the top “development” contractors for the USAID in planning for regime change in Cuba and Venezuela. Alan Gross who had been caught in this web of subversion had been arrested in Cuba in 2009 for smuggling broadband satellite communications equipment.
Gross was released in December as part of the exchange of prisoners between Cuba and the United States when Barack Obama declared that the USA would resume diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The Cuban opening and the victory for progressive forces
In July 2014, after the BRICS summit in Brazil, President Xi Jinping of China visited Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. This visit, along with the meetings of numerous heads of state from Latin America in Brazil, exposed the deep isolation of the United States in Latin America. This isolation was further on display after the October 2014 UN General Assembly debate for the USA to lift the economic blockade against Cuba. “The General Assembly adopted a resolution which for the twenty-third year in a row called for an end to the United States economic, commercial and financial blockade on Cuba.
Exposing an intractable demarcation of the international community, 188 Member States voted in favour and, as in previous years, the United States and Israel voted against. Three small island States — Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau — abstained from the vote.
In Latin America and the Caribbean China had been making great strides in building new economic relations. The major infrastructural projects of China all over the region were crowned with the launch of the $50 billion canal across Nicaragua.
This isolation of the USA provides the context for understanding the announcement of President Barack Obama on December 17. Alan Gross was swapped for the U.S. intelligence agent Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for the CIA and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years. Both had been incarcerated in Cuba.
In his announcement, President Obama stated that, “The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 Cubans identified as political prisoners by the United States.” Although the blockade will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting it, which would require an act of Congress.”
This statement that it will require an act of Congress to lift the blockade against Cuba is a reminder of the nature of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Helms Burton Act of 1996. Under this act foreign companies were penalized for trading with Cuba. Progressives internationally will have to work harder to pressure the Republican controlled Congress to repeal the Helms Burton Act of 1996. Here, the role of Pope Francis in the future struggles will be invaluable. After the cooperation between the neo conservatives of the USA and the anticommunists of Eastern Europe in places such as Poland, the intervention of Pape Francis in writing to both Raul Castro and Barack Obama and the proactive role of the Catholic Church in playing a mediating role has created a new moment in Latin American politics.
The future of socialism in Cuba
Three days after the announcement of President Obama and Raul Castro on the reopening of diplomatic relations, Raul Castro reaffirmed the goals of the struggle for a new social order when he declared that Cuba would not abandon its socialist ideas. Speaking at the National Assembly in Havana in December, Castro said he is open to discussing a wide range of issues with Washington, but added his country would not bow to pressure to change its core political principles:
“Just as we have never proposed to the United States to change its political system, we will demand respect for ours…. There are profound differences between the governments of the United States and Cuba that include, among others, differing concepts about exercising national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations."
Despite this clear position, progressives everywhere will need to reflect on the opening up of China and Vietnam to global capital to see what possibilities lay ahead for the Cuban people. What the CIA and the varying intelligence services failed to achieve in their attempts to roll back the Cuban experiment will now be engaged with zeal by U.S. corporations. U.S. corporations in agriculture, automobiles, heavy machinery, hospitality industry and biotechnology are eagerly waiting to get into the Cuban market to flood the consciousness of the Cuban peoples with the consumerism and waste of the current form of capitalism. The role of Western corporate interests in the destabilization of Libya offers a critical lesson for Cuba.
Ralph Nader drew out the implications of the coming onslaught when he noted that, “Cuba needs to significantly improve its infrastructure and expand the manufacturing of household goods. … It is not likely that Cubans can hold true to their principles in the face of an unimpeded flood of U.S. junk food, credit gouging, deceptive TV advertising, one-sided fine-print contracts, over-promotion of drugs, commercialization of childhood with incessant and often violent programming and other forms of harmful corporate marketing. …Few societies can absorb the sensual seduction of Western corporate/commercial culture’s onslaught and not succumb to becoming a mimicking society. If it can happen to China – the Middle Kingdom – it can happen to any country.”
The Castro brothers may be looking at Vietnam as a model. There the Communist Party is still strictly in charge, but there is a burgeoning “capitalist” economy expanding quite rapidly. In addition, Vietnam has seen the expansion of public corruption, pollution, profiteering, inequality, a painful generation gap and upheaval of cultural traditions.”
The announcement by Barack Obama came in a moment when the mobilization of the anti-racist forces had reached new heights in the United State in the wake of demonstrations affirming that #BlackLivesMatter. The very same racist forces in the USA are linked to the anti-Cuba forces of South Florida and New Jersey. These forces are in turn tied up with the Barons of Wall Street who are fleecing humanity.
Cuba is confronting the crossroads of global capitalist invasion at a later period than China and Vietnam and can learn from the positive and negative lessons of the opening up of these economies. One of the negative consequences of the expanded relationships between China and Western capitalism has been the intensification of exploitation of Chinese workers, ecological destruction and the deep alienation of the youth. In Cuba it will be crucial for the organization of workers, small farmers, students and cultural workers to strengthen their organizations and institutions so that the working poor are not offered up as cheap labor to Global Capital as in China.
Cuba has for the past sixty years maintained relationships with the anti-racist and anti-imperialist forces in the USA and the Cuban position on Assata Shakur is a reminder that Cuban stands with Black Revolutionaries. However, this needs to be taken further so that Cuba continues to engage with the Durban Declaration and Program of Action for the intensified global fight against capitalism, sexism, racism and xenophobia. In his address, President Obama declared that he would like to see Cuban doctors working beside U.S. doctors in the fights against Ebola. This is another example where progressives will have to demand that the U.S. government come forward to renounce the use of biological and chemical weapons and for the U.S. to sign the United Nations Convention on Biological weapons.