It’s Time to Unblock Cuba – Labour Article
Cuba is a country often misunderstood. A small island of 11 million people in the middle of the Caribbean, it’s rare the country gets talked about, especially here in the UK.
With the recent protests and counter-protests in the country, it is important to understand the history of the people of Cuba and talk about the often overlooked aspects of how the country is engaged with today.
Images that I might be able to conjure in your head mentioning the country may include the old cars driving the colourful streets of Havana, the rare sight of a thick Cuban cigar, or the image of Fidel Castro and one of the last socialist states in the world. These images are all linked by one thing that ultimately shapes our modern picture of Cuba. The US embargo.
A key contention for some of the protestors was the fledgling economy of the nation. This has been hit hard by the lack of tourism and a bad sugar harvest over the previous year. While your average South Florida Republican would be quick to dismiss this as “another reason for the failure of communism”, is that really true? Or could it be the decades-long stranglehold on the island’s economy from Washington?
The embargo is the near-total halt of all trade to Cuba, sanctions for any company that trades with Cuba that operates in the US, and a halt to all foreign aid to any country that trades with the island nation. This results in the near-total economic isolation of Cuba. It has been roundly condemned by the UN as well as human rights groups many times for violating “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention in their internal affairs and freedom of trade”. Very recently, the UN proposed its 29th resolution to end the embargo. The United States and Israel were the only countries in the world to vote against it.
Why does this matter? Well, Cuba has a lot to offer the world. Cuba engages in “Medical Diplomacy” sending thousands of doctors around the world on humanitarian missions backed by Cuba’s socialist cause. In the recent COVID outbreak countries such as Italy, Togo and Peru have all welcomed aid from the country. Furthermore, Cuba has an advanced medical program, having produced a genuine working Lung Cancer vaccine as well as two COVID vaccines. The world has much to benefit from by cooperating with Cuba. In a time where a lot of the world won’t see the first shot of their COVID vaccine until 2023, the US is actively hampering efforts to save lives around the world with the embargo.
Why the hostility? Surely the US’ posture is to restore democracy and human rights to the island right? That is a bald-faced lie. Imperialism does not just come in the form of legally owning another country, it also comes in the form of squandering a foreign people for your own economic interests. Democrats and Republicans are hand in hand united in punishing the Cubans for dreaming a different dream than the American one. The same day protests broke out in Havana, the mayor of Miami was calling for immediate war with the island.
Cuba’s relationship with its northern neighbour is crucial to understanding its position. The US fought a war with Cuba’s Spanish overlords in 1898 and in the years running up to Cuba’s “independence” in 1902 the country was a US colony in all but name. America owned 80% of all mining, sugar, and tobacco production and had the right to intervene in any affairs. They backed brutal regime after brutal regime, all to make sure the profits of the island were flowing back to them and away from the toiling, exploited Cubans.
In 1912, the US helped put down Afro-Cuban’s protesting the US-backed segregation policies, leading to the slaughter of 5,000. In 1921 the US intervened again in order to restructure its economy.
Fast Forward to 1952 when the anti-communist dictator Fulgencio Batista seized power. Did the US stand by its morals and embargo Batista’s regime? No. Of course they didn’t. In fact, aid to the country increased, the CIA gave funds to the creation of an Anti-Communist Bureau to repress citizens.
The island was in a desperate situation. Almost 3 quarters of public funds went to enrich Batista and his cronies and American mobsters had huge monopolies on sectors of the economy. “Over half of owned land was in foreign hands, 400,000 lived in squalor huts with no sanitation, 2 million lacked electricity, there were just 6 technical colleges in the whole country with no jobs, half of the schools in the countryside were empty, 90% of children in the countryside had parasites picked up through walking along mud roads with bare feet, treatment in the public hospital required knowing a local bureaucrat who may turn around and ask for votes for treatment.” This speech from Fidel Castro sums up the aching desire for millions of Cubans for a better life, a fairer society, and real freedom.
There is no logical consistency to *who* the US supports abroad to protect its economic interests. From liberal democratic regimes in Western Europe, military dictatorships such as Guatemala, apartheid states such as South Africa, Autocratic Monarchies such as Iran, and fascist rebels such as in Italy. However, these countries all have one thing in common. Dogmatic commitment to destroying socialism with no regard for human rights.
The Cuban regime has a problem with authoritarianism, a problem I believe is not inherent to socialism itself. However having a neighbour that has; tried to invade you, funded terror attacks, tried 600 times to assassinate your leader, constantly spread misinformation about your country, and poured millions of tax dollars into news stations to destabilise your country is far from ideal. It’s an unfortunate side effect that the government has a tight hold on the country. In tough times protesting for more food on your plate can wind up making you a geopolitical pawn in a decades-long game. The Cubans and their state deserve to have a place in the international community and have their economic freedoms respected, just as much as any other country.
Despite the blockades and the countless attempts to undermine the system, Cuban’s enjoy a longer life expectancy, lower unemployment, lower child mortality rate than the US and one of the lowest poverty rates in the developing world. All while still engaging on the world stage to aid other developing countries with its doctors’ program. Furthermore, as recently as 2019 the Cubans overwhelmingly voted in favour of the countries constitution.
The story of Cuba matters. It shows us that in a system of global economic integration it is near-impossible to secure your own national interests. In a world where the United States will coup your government for redistributing the wealth, it shakes the notion that capitalism is a voluntary system. Furthermore, it shows us that the antidote to global capitalism isn’t nationalist capitalism, as many right-wing populists would say, but socialist internationalism.
We need to rethink our view on foreign policy and understand the crucial role wealth plays in how we engage on the global stage. If we are truly to commit to an international policy of human rights then we must question the actions of our supposed allies to end the unlawful and undemocratic blockade on Cuba. Whatever future the Cubans choose, it should be the people’s choice, not America’s choice.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Joseph Mclaughlin
Point of Information
A Dangerous Misunderstanding of Cuban History – A Conservative Response
What my colleague writes about Fidel makes for a dangerous representation of facts. Defending America’s imperialism throughout the Cold War period would be close to impossible. However, I can’t believe that Fidel has been defended here, and all of his dictatorial faults put down to the USA. I think my colleague needs to read up on his Cuban history. My colleague calls Fidel’s authoritarianism an “unfortunate side effect”, which is ridiculous and simply wrong.
Firstly then, yes, Batista was an autocrat. That is no lie. But Castro’s dictatorship was purely his fault, not America’s. It was he who implemented a hugely repressive state. There was no political or personal freedom, and people who tried to speak out were arrested in inhuman prisons or executed, making a lie of the freedoms Castro professed to give. In the 1960s, 166 Cubans, civilians and military alike, had pints of blood taken from them and sold to Communist Vietnam for $50 a pint. Castro was not elected once through his nearly fifty-year control in Cuba. I don’t know how this is simply an “unfortunate side effect” and not a disgusting fact of history. State surveillance was implemented, which meant incarcerations and crackdowns on the civilian population.
In 2003 for example, 75 people were arrested for supposed crimes against national unity, receiving sentences of 6-28 years in reportedly inhuman cells. Shortly after, three people were executed. Their crime? Trying to peacefully flee Cuba. Killing your own people because they dare try and leave is not the result of American policy, but a system of terror.
Portraying Castro’s horrific policies as a side effect of American influence is flat-out false. My colleague wants Cubans to have economic freedoms, but he doesn’t call for the government to give them basic political ones. While there are things wrong with capitalism, it’s important to remember that if Point Of Information were established in Cuba, its debate simply couldn’t take place. That is the reality that is completely ignored by my colleague, and it’s really sad to see.
This is not uncommon in other socialist countries either. In Venezuela, the socialist leader Nicolas Maduro was found to have committed several crimes in defence of his socialist dictatorship: extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, unfair trials, repression of dissent, and consistent denial of freedom of expression and assembly. China as well is another socialist country that shows the horror of the model. Most recently, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and the genocide of the Uyghur Muslims show the horror. In other areas, restrictive government policies on families have destroyed China’s demography. The socialist party of Vietnam is sliding into the grips of authoritarianism, amid failure to achieve socio-economic goals. Authoritarianism, then, seems to be a common part of socialism.
Going back to Cuba, the protests there have once again shown the true depravity of the government. Despite voting in high proportions to the Cuban Constitution, thousands have taken to the street to protest. While the trade embargo certainly has worsened the situation in Cuba, it’s also important to note another cause and the government response.
COVID-19 has been the catalyst for revolt. My colleague is quick to heap praise on the Cuban government for their international efforts and for creating a vaccine. But what use are these if people at home are still suffering? Infections and deaths have exploded across the island, pushing health centres to collapse, and despite Cuba having its own vaccine, it hasn’t shared data on it to the WHO, and nor does it have enough to curb this latest round of infections. Shouldn’t there be more internationalism in this regard? And so, the people have gone out to protest against the government.
The government has been quite authoritarian in its response. The internet—the very thing that has enabled key freedoms in Cuba, like that of expression and organising protest—was shut off and blackouts ensued. This was done by the state-owned telecommunications network, in an obvious attempt to stifle dissent. This has also affected families, who can’t get in contact with loved ones to find out if they are safe.
At least 140 Cubans have disappeared or have been arrested by the Cuban authorities. While there has certainly been looting and violence, peaceful protestors have also been detained and seized from their homes. A journalist for the Spanish network ABC has been arrested, prompting Spain’s Foreign Minister to rightfully demand her release. Again, so much for internationalism.
Overall, this article portrays a dangerous view of Castro’s repressive rule. The current Cuban protests are also largely skipped over, and the repressive government action both historically and current is dismissed as an “unfortunate side effect”. Truly a harrowing read, and all for the wrong reasons.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
The Embargo of Cuba is Overstated – A Liberal Response
Joseph hits the right note, but with the wrong pitch. The embargo imposed by the USA is limited in effect. In fact, it is only one of the causes of these protests. Kieran is absolutely correct. The people are primarily rebelling against an oppressive ‘Communist’ regime. We should not block out the tyranny of the Cuban government and rely on its favourite excuse.
True, the embargo has hampered Cuban society quite significantly, as Joseph has demonstrated well. It ostracized Cuba not only from US trade but also from Latin America dominated by America’s hegemony. Trump’s harsher restrictions in 2016 further crippled an already struggling economy. The embargo has undoubtedly had its toll.
Before 1991, the Cuban government was able to exist off its close contact with the Soviets, regardless of the embargo. Even when the USSR fell, the Cuban government did not simply nose-dive into bankruptcy. Cuba continued to receive foreign investment from private firms, as Lillian Guerra, a specialist in Cuban history, notes. Foreign investment continues to flow into the country, and relations with other Western economies are also softening in a post-Cold-War world.
But what is happening with all this cash? Truth be told, the government has placed a noose around the neck of all entrepreneurs in Cuba. The initial profit generated from their upstarts after the collapse of the USSR upset the Communists and their top-down economic structure. Unrelenting market forces are not the solution, but Cuba’s government must prioritise its concerns. A degree of economic freedom is crucial for a healthy society.
That’s to say nothing of the political restrictions that the Castros and Diaz-Canel enforced on their ‘utopian paradise’, which Kieran has nicely summarised. The depravity which faces a Cuban every day is not solely the fault of the USA. No blockade would justify the absolute neglect which political corruption has left. Censorship of speech, technology, and even the internet are not the results of an embargo but an oppressive system.
It is time we listen to the protesters. They are making a direct attack on their government for the first time in Cuban history. These are no foreign-backed demonstrators either, but genuinely grassroots dissenters. The permanence of the directly anti-Castro chant ‘Patria y vida’ is a testament to this. Do not forget the repressive violence that has met them either. The Cuban government is in deep trouble. Good. Let’s hope something finally changes. Give the Cuban people the freedom they are pining for.
The US embargo is a classic reflexive excuse for an ideal that never was. Whether you think this ideal is fundamentally flawed or has been hijacked, we need to face tyranny head-on regardless. We should stop apologising for authoritarian dictatorships. A real left-winger will stand with the protesters, not the government.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.