Cuba, the 51st State

Havana, Cuba and its capitol building meant to resemble our capitol in Washington, DC, a marker of once friendlier times.

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.

9 thoughts on “Cuba, the 51st State

  1. Blame Kennedy. He was the fanatic who was DETERMINED to topple Castro. ANYWAY, I really don’t get the argument for lifting the embargo. WHY should Cuba be dependent on the US? That’s what it would lead to – domination by US corporations. McDonalds everywhere. As far as I’m concerned they can do what they want. They trade with Canada and Europe but they still can’t provide their people with the basics.

  2. Personally I think the embargo should be lifted.The only people who are being spared of the blight of a Starbucks or McDonalds on every corner are the white European and Canadian tourists who come to the resorts.The Cuban people don’t benefit from that “trade”.Shit look at all the Che Guevara t-shirts you can find on the backs of comfortable (usually white) kids worldwide. The perfect accessory for kids who want to seem radical without actually having to sacrifice something.Cubans, their history, culture, etc. are already exploited without us having to lift a finger either way.I’m not trying to say that when the embargo is lifted it won’t be for some no good capitalist reason but at least we can stop pretending that average Cuban isn’t caught between a rock and a hard place.Whether Fidel is alive or dead or the embargo exists or not they are always going to be screwed.

  3. Israel is the 51st State.You can believe me or not..But, the next President of the United States is lifting that embargo. They’ve found OIL in Cuba, and no way are American Oil Companies going to be left out 90 miles off the coast.

  4. anonymous 8:17 PM: Kennedy was unhealthily obsessed with Castro. Largely because of how messed up The Bay of Pigs went (although that was Kennedy’s fault. Castro didn’t leave an exile army out to die trying to retake the island.) Kennedy was worried about being perceived as weak and inexperienced in international affairs. Then Bobby Kennedy ordered all those failed assassination attempts afterwards.baltogeek: I’d, personally, like to see it lifted so that families can travel back and forth. We don’t have to set up shop commercially. If it’s really about helping the Cuban people the best thing we can do is stop shutting the people off from the world and their families in the states. That’s why everyone is so full of it. How does it “reward” Castro to let Cuban Americans visit their dying old relatives back home? How does it reward the regime to exchange education, health care and food with the individual citizenry through their relatives? If anything, connections with the Democratic families and their American dollars could do more to topple the regime than waiting for a bunch of poor, starving people do it themselves.starrie: I wish I knew more about why Puerto Rico became a formal US territory and Cuba didn’t at the end of the Spanish-American War. In the war the US “freed” Cuba and gained control of Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippines. Hawaii became a state. The Philippines were, eventually, emancipated from us. But Puerto Rico became a US territory where its people are citizens, but they retain much of their autonomy, their flag and still get to compete as a separate country in the Olympics.I’d have to research it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what the US wanted in Cuba, only the Cuban people weren’t interested in trading one overlord for another.rikyrah: Considering the amount of money we give Israel (and to its historic enemies, Egypt and Jordan to NOT fight it), one could conclude that they were US territory. But while every US president since Harry Truman has been friendly or favoring towards Israel, George W. took it to a whole, crazy new level. Mostly because after Sept. 11th our government changed the rules of engagement on how to treat and handle terrorists. We no longer had the moral authority to get Israel to stop doing things like assassinations and bringing tanks to a rock fight.It’s in a stark contrast to Bush 41, who threatened to cut off some of Israel’s cash when he felt the country was trying to wag the American dog. But Bush 43 thought getting ever more extreme on the Palestinians and engaging in collective punishment was a great idea, while at the same time pushing for a separate state.Hence, an already fucked up situation just continues to turn different shades of fucked up as every move and counter-move has some horrid, unseen consequence. It’s pretty much an impossible situation. I can’t even pretend to know how to solve it as it boils down some Jews wanted to reclaim their ancestral homeland. Their ancestral homeland happened to belong to Jordan and Egypt at the time and the Palestinians were living there. Since no one was giving up shit, those Jews emancipate Israel for themselves, forcing the Palestinians off, pissing off all parties. And for 60 years we’re still arguing over it. The Egyptians, the Lebanese and the Jordanians, who never liked the Palestinians, have huge exiled populations still living in “temporary” camps because they don’t want them taking over their populace. And after hundreds of years of Jews living in all parts of the Middle East under relative peace, hatred of Israel’s independence forced them to either few and move to Israel or go underground, often converting.But I’m sorry for going on a tear there, but I will never get over how impossible this situation is. And I haven’t even touched on the psychology of the Israelis, many of whom came to the country after surviving genocide during WWII, where millions died appealing to the rest of the world for help, causing many to vow that they would never again allow themselves to be in a place of weakness.Hence why they have the bomb.Impossible situation! How do you fix that! How do you tell a nation of people who think everyone’s out to kill them to call down when, seriously, everyone is out to kill them.How do you un-ring a bell and give the Palestinians their home back? Because they don’t want half their home back. They still remember when it was all their home. They still have relatives buried there and they want to be buried there.It’s just a fucking impossible situation made worst by the international community who let the shit get this bad in the first place and unless something magical happens, like Abraham sprouts back to life and gives a “kids, cut it out” speech to both sides causing them both to be able to coexist, worship, work and intermarry without someone blowing up a cafe or assassinating a political party chief.

  5. Has anyone forgotten about Assata Shakur who is in exile there. She’s not the only one either. I read an interview with her that said an offer was made to the Cuban elect a few years ago that the embargo would be lifted if they released her to the US. Isn’t it funny how we’ve lifted our embargo against Libya.Jaycee

  6. Cuba is already supported by the US. Cuban Americans can already visit their families and now President Bush just made it possible for Cuban Americans to send cell phone to the island. Its tough to say don’t send money to your family but when you do that Cuban Americans are also supporting the Castro regime because the state owns all the shops where they spend that money.I’ll post some of what I wrote a few months ago on my blog. We support Cuba in four major ways:1. Travel: According to Andres Oppenheimer, U.S. travelers are believed to spend about $200 million a year in Cuba. Way to cut off the money. And the violators are punished is in single digits. At one point during Clinton’s administration is was 3%, at one point under Bush it went up to 8%.2. Remittances (sending money back home to the family): US rule states you can only send $300 every four months back to immediate family. Thats, of course, not happening. In net terms, remittances are the biggest source of foreign exchange for the country, more than tourism and sugar. Some estimates say approximately a billion dollars a year are sent to Cuba in remittances. But you’re helping family not Castro. Not true, they spend that money in ‘dollar stores’ which are owned by the Cuban government.3. US food sales to Cuba: Basically the US sells (cash on delivery) food to Cuba. Cuba has signed contracts with 85 U.S.-based firms from 24 different U.S. states. Cuba takes some of the food, marks it up by 240% and sells it in the 100% Cuban government-owned dollar stores. And there are many states who have farmers and companies selling a lot of food staples to Cuba. 4. US indirect investments: This is hard to control. US companies are invested in foreign companies that do business with Cuba. The U.S. Department of the Treasury authorizes individuals and firmssubject to United States law to invest in a third country company that has commercial activities in Cuba, as long as they do not acquire a controlling interest of that company and provided that a majority of the revenues ofthe third country company are not produced from operations within Cuba. American Airlines, GM, and Carnival fall under this.The US embargo doesn’t work because its full of loop holes. Sanctions aren’t about the will of the country who faces them, whether or not they work depends on the will of the nation that levies the sanctions. Our will is weak.

  7. Interesting theory. Something does need to be done about changing US/Cuban relations, I just dont know whos going to have the balls to do it. Obama perhaps…?L

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