James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another needless disaster ahead

Sadly, we'll have to keep talking about the horrors being perpetrated in the Mideast and about the propaganda machines now in full, intimidating and threatening operation. But it's time to pause and recall that in their madness and venality, the Bush crowd and their allies are doing enormous damage to other people around the world, as well.

It appears that the Bush and the Republican ideologues who control Congress are poised to do something awesomely stupid against Cuba -- with a little help from few empty-headed and/or cowardly Democrats, of course.

And it is certain that if they are allowed to proceed, they will bring considerable suffering to the Cuban people and will create in Latin America the same almost universal, passionate hatred of the United States that they have fostered throughout the Arab world and much of Africa, not to mention the now general distaste, dislike and distrust with which we are regarded throughout most of Europe and large hunks of Asia.

Thus promoting “democracy,” as the Republicans define it, and making us safer, of course.

You know they will say that.

The apparently serious illness of Fidel Castro is the spark, of course. The kindling is being provided by the usual nut cases in Congress, plus a bunch of big-time campaign contributors who control large American-based corporations and a vociferous bloc of Cuban exiles in Florida.

Caught by surprise by Castro's illness and his temporary assignment of his brother, Raul, as head of state, the Congressional crazies and the White House are winging it. So are the Cuban loudmouths in Miami. And that alone is frightening, given the tenuousness of the holds any of them have on reality.

The Associated Press reported Thursday (Aug. 3) that the White House is preparing for “a possible showdown” with Cuba, although they have not thus far given many clues to what passes for thinking in that nest of right wing extremists.

An early suggestion, the AP reported, is to give very large sums of cash to Cuban “dissidents.”

What that is supposed to accomplish no one seems to know.

In Congress, where the least rational ideas sometimes are bipartisan, Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, backed by fellow Floridian Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has introduced a bill to authorize up to $80 million to be given over two years to “dissidents and nongovernmental organizations” in Cuba.

Under the proposed legislation, half of that sum would be handed over to those ghostly, so far unidentified, dissidents almost immediately.

There are crooks and con artists everywhere, and the little island nation is no exception. If the screwball bill passes, some phony will pop up, just as Ahmad Chalabi did in Iraq, and claim to be ready to turn Cuba inside out in a matter of weeks, and this country will plop $40 million or so into his outstretched hand. Just as in Iraq.

But that's just money.

What's really frightening is the passionate love the right wingers in Congress and the White House have for violence –- for trying to force their will on others by means of bombs and other high-tech weapons in the hands of other people's children.

It is a passion shared by the most hate-filled of the Cuban exiles in the Miami area.

A brief review of pertinent history:

In January 1959, young Fidel Castro's rebels took power from a brutal government headed by Fulgencio Batista. Up until it became clear Castro was going to throw the bastards out, Batista had at least the cooperation, if not the whole-hearted support, of the U.S. Government, major U.S. Corporations with holdings in Cuba and the U.S. Mafia, which had turned the country into what was widely and accurately called “America's Whorehouse.”

At the time of the Castro takeover, the great majority of Cubans were illiterate, had no access to health care and no hope of education. They were, in fact, the next things to slaves to the hoods, the big corporations and the small, rich and arrogant Cuban plutocracy. In a matter of a few years, Castro provided universal health care and schooling, including free college education for those who qualified, and sent teachers out into the countryside and kept them there until virtually the entire population, including the aged, learned at least to read and write.

But, of course, Castro was a commooonist. He nationalized the holdings of U.S. corporations -– hotels, industrial plants, sugar and tobacco-producing land and factories, all of the good stuff.

A bunch of Cubans -– the first wave being the rich and powerful who had helped keep their countrymen in ignorance and poverty -– fled to Florida. After the plutocrats came the hoods, then all sorts of people who were frightened or who just didn't think communism, with its tight controls on individual behavior, was too great an idea.

Back to today:

There are a number of U.S. Corporations, perhaps around 200, that still cling to the hope that they can go back to Cuba and reclaim their holdings. No matter that they raped the country when they were there before; they figure they have a right to it all. And ever since 1959, they have pressed their demands on the politicians they support financially. It's kept very quiet, but it's real.

Then there are a substantial number of the exiles in Florida who, even though many of them are U.S. citizens, feel exactly the same way. Some of them have become wealthy, or wealthier, and have acquired great political power in Florida. The state's politicians jump when they say jump.

And there are quite a few perfectly decent folks who left for their own good reasons who simply want to be able to come and go freely, living in Cuba or not, spending time with family members as and when they like.

The latter folks -– I have known some and have talked with them about this -– mostly gave up thoughts of returning to live in Cuba long ago. They just want peace and the freedom to visit relatives and maybe help out with expenses and such. But a great many of them are afraid to express what they feel and believe, because the militants who hope to return and rule the island are loud and hard and often violent.

So now we have those militants actually dancing in the streets in Miami. Various news agencies have reported that they're getting their boats ready. In case you missed it, White House spokesman Tony Snow told them a couple of days ago to “Stay where you are” for the time being.

But the AP reported that Snow also said the White House “has talked about the importance, eventually, of finding an orderly and safe way for people to make transit between two places.”

In English, that means coming up with a way to help those temporary Floridians (and temporary U.S. Citizens, apparently) get back to Cuba and start running things again, along with the corporations, if not the Mafia.

The belief that Cubans will rise en masse to greet the people from Florida and hand over the keys is an incredible pipe dream. Anyone who believes it has lost claim to sanity.

Will Cubans in general welcome reforms? You damned betcha.

An awful lot of them, undoubtedly most, are sick to death of the neighborhood watchdogs keeping an eye on their every move and deciding who can have a new house or a different job. And they badly want a more robust economy. They're tired of rationed shoes and food shortages and lack of paint for their homes and much more.

But they aren't willingly going back to illiteracy and semi-slavery either. And they aren't stupid. They know what the U.S. corporations and the tough guys now in Miami want and they're as unlikely to buy that program as they are to leap into the sea when Fidel dies.

We could have begun a gradual reconciliation with Cuba any time in the past 45 years. We could have successfully encouraged a gradual tempering of its communist government, and opening up to greater democracy. But our leaders chose to play the tough-guy game of the ideologues. We and, especially, the people of Cuba have been paying unnecessarily for that stance all those years.

They know it, if Americans don't.

If we leave the Cubans alone when Castro dies -– or both Castros die -– and open up trade and travel and such, their country will heal and do well. If we try to force our will and a government of our choosing on them, we'll get the disaster I predicted at the top of this piece.

Given who runs this country, disaster is the most likely scenario.

Isn't that pitiful?

(I've been told that I should mention that one of my Pulitzer nominations, the one in which I was in serious running for the prize, came from extensive reporting on Cuba in 1977. So here's the mention. I spent several months doing research on the island and its governments before and after the Castro-led revolution. A photographer colleague and I then were the first U.S. journalists to travel freely and extensively in Cuba in 18 years. And, yes, we met Fidel. I later did some reporting on the Cuban exile community in Florida.)