Strait Talking (Carlos Martinez/Alborada Magazine)

[Whatever the public face of improved Cuba-US relations may be, US imperialism will not retreat from its basic position of hostility towards the island, writes Carlos Martinez]

Strait Talking

Carlos Martinez Alborada Magazine (Issue 1 - Spring/Summer 2015)

In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung set out his ‘Sunshine Policy’ - a signifi-cant tactical shift by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) away from confrontation and towards meaningful engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Under this policy the two countries achieved an unprecedented level of dialogue, which included a historic summit in Pyongyang between the countries’ lead-ers. In addition, several joint business ventures were set up, humanitarian aid was sent to the north, and meetings were organised in which family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War were finally reunited. The new policy did not indicate a fundamen-tal change in the South Korean ruling elite’s attitude towards North Korea. Rather, it was a recognition that the old methods of anti-communist hysteria, destabilisation and outright hostility had not been successful in laying a basis for reunification on South Korea’s terms and that it was time to try something new.

The sudden announcement in mid-December 2014 that the US and Cuba were working towards the restoration of full diplomatic relations, that the five Cuban political prisoners held in the US (known and the ‘Cuban Five’) had been released, and that the US would be opening an embassy in Havana (for the first time in over 50 years), represents a similar tactical shift on the part of the US government’s policy toward the island. This policy has been dominated by the pursuit of counter-revolution following Fidel Castro’s victory in 1959, and of outright domination since at least 1898, when the US intervened in Cuba’s war of liberation against Spain, barring its independence and wresting (then waning) control from the Spanish.

Today, the seeming thaw in Cuba-US relations advanced still further at the recent OAS (Organisation of American States) Summit of the Americas in Panama, when a historic press conference took place between Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on 11 April 2015. This was the first meeting between the presidents of Cuba and the US for more than 50 years, and Cuba’s attendance at the OAS summit is the first since it was expelled at US insistence in 1962. In fact, historically the OAS has been one of the many instruments the US has used to dominate the region, so Cuba’s reinsertion - de-manded by Latin American governments as a condition for the meeting take place - offers further proof of the extent to which the US’ attempt to isolate Cuba has failed (as well as proof of its own isolation within the region).

A new approach

Whatever the trajectory of developments in this public show of rapprochement between Havana and Washington, US imperialism has not, and nor will it ever, retreat from its basic position of hostility towards Cuba, or indeed any socialist or progressive country. US imperialism is a leopard that doesn’t change its spots, as can be readily seen from the recent decision to label Venezuela as a ‘threat to US national security’. Clearly, the change in US policy is not a marker of some sort of new-found affection for Cuban socialism on the part of Washington; rather, it is a recognition that the strategy of sanc-tions and isolation has been utterly unsuccessful in its bid to starve the Cuban masses into counter-revolution. As Barack Obama put it: ‘These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach'. In the language of Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy (a reference to Aesop’s story of the sun and the north wind), the wind has failed to take off the traveller’s cloak; Obama wants to give the sun a go.

In light of this, many of Cuba’s international supporters have reacted cautiously to the news of ‘normalisation’, emphasising the treacherous nature of the US rather than the potential benefits to Cuba of improved ties with its northern neighbour. As those who have studied history will know, having a US embassy in your capital is dangerous busi-ness. Certainly there are important questions that must be raised: will normalisation make it easier for the US to engage in subversive, anti-revolutionary activities? Will it provide a foothold for cultural imperialism? Would an economic ‘opening up’ lead to domination by US businesses, paving the way for capitalist restoration?

These concerns are valid. However, we must also recognise that the US is changing its policy not through choice but because its strategy has been roundly defeated by the Cuban people. The release of the Cuban Five - for which Cuba and its supporters have campaigned tirelessly for over a decade - is a massive morale boost; and political nor-malisation is a crucial step along the road to ending the US’ economic blockade of Cuba, which has been estimated to have cost the Cuban economy $1.1 trillion since it was imposed in 1960. This criminal blockade remains a major barrier to the develop-ment of the type of socialism Cuba seeks to build.


Cuba deserves credit for what it has achieved. The US would have liked to break the Cuban Revolution through its Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. It would have liked to break the Cuban Revolution through its lengthy string of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro; through its cruel economic blockade; through its insurgency network; through its vast media campaign that works round the clock pumping anti-communist propa-ganda into Cuba; and through its agencies such as USAID scheming to provoke upris-ings on the island. This is just a sample of the past and present in the US’ politics of subversion towards Cuba. Yet all of these strategies have been defeated by the resili-ence and heroism of the Cuban people, guided by a high-calibre political leadership. In the words of Bolivian President Evo Morales, ‘Cuba confronted the blockade and it has won, has triumphed. [...] It's impressive, and therefore 17 December will be recorded in the history of humanity as the day Cuba forced the US to yield’.

The importance of getting rid of the blockade cannot be overstated. The blockade has made life extremely difficult for Cubans. At this point in time, poverty and stagnation are the key threats to the revolution. Although it has low levels of inequality, and probably the most effective and comprehensive social safety net in the world, Cuba is still a poor country with limited natural resources. The blockade makes meaningful economic de-velopment exceedingly difficult; it creates serious shortages of medicine, foodstuffs, raw materials; it is a massive barrier to accessing modern technology and foreign capi-tal; it makes it hugely difficult for Cuba to develop foreign markets for its produce - which makes it difficult to develop diverse local industry and to accumulate foreign cur-rency for imports.

In terms of dismantling the blockade, it is still early days. Some trade and travel re-strictions have been eased since December 2014, but the embargo remains largely in place. Negotiations are proceeding, and after events at the Summit of the Americas Obama has announced Cuba’s removal from the US State Department’s list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’, which has been a major sticking point in terms of normalisation of relations.

Deep divisions

In the US, there are deep divisions within policy circles as to how far the normalisation process should go. Whilst there are the pragmatists, who realise that the blockade isn’t working, who want US businesses to benefit from Cuban markets and products, and who’ve suffered enough embarrassment at lonely General Assembly sessions at the UN where the only countries supportive of the US embargo are Israel and the Marshall Islands, there are also major political factions – including the majority of Republicans and many influential Miami Cubans – who feel that any move towards normalisation ‘undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba’.

Undoubtedly there are those within US ruling circles who think they can better subvert Cuba if they have the level of access that normalisation will give them. Therefore, the need for Cuba and its supporters to maintain and deepen vigilance remains. But the breathing space afforded to Cuba by improved Cuba-US relations will be welcomed and is much-needed on the island. Cuba will survive the dangers of normalisation, using the same strengths with which it has been able to survive the blockade, the ‘Special Period’, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and every other attack US imperialism has thrown at it.

Carlos Martinez is a musician and writer. He edits

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