Listening to John McCain pander to Miami over Barack Obama and Raul Castro made me think again about Joan Didion’s book “Miami,” which goes into incredible detail about struggle over Cuba between the exiles who settled here, the cynical US government and Fidel Castro, the dictator who would not die.
McCain bristled and bustled and put on a good show, but it was all crap as usual. Most people don’t take the time to see past the bitterness and anger of the exiles and the United States’ nonsensical policies towards the island nation. But we’ve had an embargo for 50 years and it looks like Fidel is going to die of a happy old age and the country is still communist.
And we’re still mad.
But why do we give a shit? Really? The American government, while genuinely liking Democracy, has some of the most cynical foreign policies in the world. We’ve been BFF’s with some of the skeeviest world leaders (Idi Amin, to name one). Why does Cuba fill us with such righteous indignation?
What makes Cuba more unforgivable than Vietnam, where we lost 58,000 military in a bloody war, yet now have diplomatic relations with them? Or China, our international banker, retail house, one-party-ruled, Communist-in-name-only friend who holds political and religious prisoners and just beat the shit out protesters in Tibet?
And American industry, who usually gets their way on these things, wants a return to better business relations with Cuba, yet everything 90 miles off the coast of Florida remains dead to us.
So really? What gives?
Well, if history tells us anything, what gives is we’re not getting what we think is rightfully ours.
The United States has been obsessed with Cuba since there was an United States. Thomas Jefferson wanted it. John Quincy Adams wanted it and in 1854 a secret proposal was actually drawn up to purchase Cuba, but the thing hit the dust bin of history because of anti-slavery opponents who weren’t interested in a future slave state joining the union.
Then came the Spanish-American War, a war for imperialism and a war to free Cuba.
It was the first “nationalist” war that united the country after a vicious Civil War that nearly destroyed it. The war was started on dubious pretenses — the sinking of The Maine, a US battleship. The Spanish were blamed for it in the press and war fever struck the nation.
The Spanish didn’t want to go to war. Their empire in the Americas was crumbling, but it gave the US ample opportunity to send a relatively green military (save the Buffalo Soldiers who were battle hardened from the Indian Wars) to a swampy island where a lot of them got sick and died of “Yellow Fever.”
The Cuban people (and the Filipinos who were also under Spanish rule) thought the United States’ leadership was purely engaging in this warmongering out of the kindness of their hearts. Newspapers in the US wrote extensively about the Cubans’ suffering under Spanish cruelty and their desire for freedom. America, who’s whole brand name was “Freedom,” seemed like a great ally.
And we were. We drove out the Spanish. We won the war, but we didn’t quite leave the Cubans to their own devices.
Although they were an “independent” country, we still ruled via the military for a few years after the war, leaving only to later return with our troops to quell an Afro-Cuban rebellion in 1912. By 1926, 60 percent of the Cuban sugar cane industry was controlled by US companies.
Then came the rule of General Fulgencio Batista, who came to power in the 1930s. He loved the United States. The United States loved him, but he was also a corrupt asshole who didn’t give a shit about the poor and brown and who let the United States take over Cuba’s entire economy. He also who let the American mob set up shop running extensive casinos and resorts and stayed in power using a military coup.
Batista was often more concerned with getting his cut than taking care of the Cuban people, leaving the door open for a socialist revolutionary, Fidel Castro.
Batista, along with a lot of Cuban educated class, fled to the United States as Castro nationalized everything, locked up dissenters and instituted Communist policies. Batista fall was partially the American’s as some in the US government blocked sending arms to Cuba, prompting this reaction from state department adviser William Wieland:
I know Batista is considered by many as a son of a bitch… but American interests come first… at least he was our son of a bitch.
A few considered working with Castro’s regime, but that whole “communist” thing really wasn’t working. Plus, Castro anti-capitalist policies and vehement hatred the US for its decades of interference in Cuban affairs really made it hard to bridge the gap.
During the 60s there was the Bay of Pigs, multiple assassination attempts of Castro, the Cuban missile crisis and the never ending drip of Cubans fleeing the impoverished country to sanctuary in Florida.
And that’s where we’ve been ever since.
Every four years politicians talk tough on Cuba and another four years goes by where the Cuban people aren’t free, are still poor and the country is still communist. I don’t know who this narrative appeases, perhaps exile hardliners who think collective punishment will bring about change, but more and more this isn’t even about the Cubans. It’s about us.
Our unhealthy obsession with Cuban is a combination of leftover Red Scare angst and the fact that Cuba is supposed to ours. Ever since she was just a twinkle in Thomas Jefferson’s eye. Ours.
Our government has always behaved as if it were ours. Our businesses have always treated
it as if it were ours. Sure, we want there to be Democracy in Cuba, why not, but that’s really not the issue. There was no Democracy in Cuba under Batista, but Cuba was “ours” under Batista just as we’d enjoyed some form of control under previous Cuban leaders.
If the exiles of South Florida think John McCain, or any American politician, actually gives a shit about the “freedom” of the people of Cuba just look at “free” people of Vietnam, Tibet, Egypt, Pakistan and Haiti. We don’t exactly have a history of letting a little dictatorship get in-between American interests.
And our American interests in Cuba is to get the island back into our fold, one way or another. We’re willing to manipulate impassioned exiles and watch people suffer as we wait for a more favorable, malleable, wind to blow.