James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, February 22, 2008

U.S. policy on Cuba: Stupidity and cowardice

So, have you heard the bold statements from Democrats about making efforts now to drop our senseless attitude –- one can hardly call it a policy in any real sense -– and reconcile with Cuba?

Oh? You haven't.

Of course not.

The Dems are exactly like the Republicans on this one: There will be no change in our treatment of our little neighbor until the entire Castro family is dead and the country returns all of its wealth to a few U.S. corporations, to organized crime and a very small number of rich Cubans who now live in multi-million dollar compounds in and near Miami.

For about 30 seconds there, I hoped the Democrats would grab the opportunity presented by Fidel Castro's resignation, but it wasn't real hope so much as a dream. Why would anyone expect Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama to put good policy ahead of political expediency?

The door to reconciliation has always been open, of course, but Castro's stepping down offers a way to swing it wide while at the same time countering the negative propaganda that would sprout like Jack's beanstalk from the mouths of the caves where the neocons and their allies dwell.

Firm decisions, bold moves, courage displayed by Democrats?

'Tis but a dream.

What we'll get from Democrats and Republicans at least until Raul Castro becomes incapacitated or dies, and probably until other, younger, allies of the Castros disappear, is more of the same stupidity and cowardice that has prevailed for 50 years.

Why, Cuba is a communist country, doncha know. The Castros are commies and therefore not to be dealt with by honest, God-fearing Americans. We must continue the embargo against travel and trade and diplomatic relations until all signs of commoonism are gone from that isle.

Now and then, a touch of rationality strikes in certain circles in the United States – usually among people who read and think, but sometimes even among those who haven't read a book since a high school English teacher made the effort all but impossible to avoid.

It dawns on quite a few people at odd moments that cutting off Cuba while cozying up to all sorts of butchers, rapists and murders elsewhere on the globe is...let us say, inconsistent.

In truth, the “hate Cuba, hate Castro” blathering of the American right and the former exploiters now mostly living in Florida never did grab the people of this country. Mostly they've been indifferent from the start, and the use-by date is long gone. But what we think doesn't matter. As usual.

George W. Bush regularly and literally embraces leaders of bloodily repressive Arab regimes. Hell, he and his Republican buddies are responsible for the fact that Communist China – far more repressive than Cuba – not only has made a home for much of the industry that our leaders have shipped out of the this country, but also owns about a third of our national debt.

Bush & Co. have been embarrassing in playing tickle-and-slap with Pakistan's brutal and treacherous Pervez Musharraf.

And George made a complete fool of himself –- not a long way to go, obviously -– by hanging on Vladimir Putin like a teenager in love even as Putin worked feverishly and successfully to return Russia to dictatorship.

What's the difference?

The money and political clout of Cuban exiles, primarily in Florida but in some other warm states, too. And the money and political clout of a couple or three dozen American corporations that got the boot from Cuba when Castro ousted the American-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

That's it. Those are the main reasons this country has behaved so stupidly toward Cuba for all these decades, the main reasons we're not now seeking to restore a relationship with that little country.

It remains an article of faith among American “conservatives” that we must not deal with Communist Cuba.

This is the plain truth:

A small number of American corporations continue on an annual basis to press claims against Cuba with our government. Most of those companies, probably all, actively cooperated with the American mobsters –- yes, the mafia -- who ran Cuba's “hospitality industry” before 1959. They were tight as frat brothers with Cuba's very rich elite, and actively engaged in repressing the vast majority of Cubans and stealing the country blind. They still demand to have the property they controlled under Batista returned to them -– and they're dead serious about it.

And a powerful body of Cuban exiles in Florida –- though most now are U.S. citizens -- still hope to go back to Cuba to resume their positions of wealth and authority and do away with all of the reforms made by Castro in the intervening years. They don't even pretend otherwise.

Many of those exiles have real money, and they spread much of it around to politicians who support their stance and the policy of embargo against Cuba. Many now have risen to positions of power, particularly in Florida. They run big banks and other corporations, they're big time lawyers and city and state officials, and they control a lot of votes. And Florida, of course, often can move national elections one way or the other.

And, not to be subtle about it, some of those Cuban exiles are vicious crooks who, when it's useful to them, scare the living hell out of anyone, including politicians, who oppose them.

Not all of the Cuban exiles now living in this country are crooks or moneyed aristocrats, of course. Quite a few – I've known some – would be happy to see this country establish normal relations with Cuba. They'd like to visit back and forth freely and to help out poorer family members in Cuba.

But some of them even up here in the cold regions, far from the stomping grounds of the tough guys, are afraid to openly oppose those who want to go back and turn Cuba into what it was in the 1950s. They fear social reprisals and worse. I know this because a few have told me so, after I assured them I would never identify them in connection with such statements.

Our politicians, almost all of them, are afraid, too -– if not of tough guys, then of losing the campaign money and the votes of the exiles.

Then, too, arrogance and hubris are characteristics taught to Americans from the crib on. It's easy to persuade a majority of people here that it is our right to declare how Cuba, or any western hemisphere country, should be ruled. We're not passionate about it, but we'll go along with the politicians on that.

We believe, almost all of us, that western hemisphere countries must be “friendly.” To our leaders, that means open to control of their resources by U.S.-based corporations. They must be willing to live for our economic benefit.

And then there is the unspoken issue that keeps American business leaders, the wealthy elite and corporate moguls genuinely passionate in their opposition to Cuba as it now exists. It grinds their guts and, though neither the corporate executives nor the the captive news media will ever mention it, it seriously disturbs their minds.

That issue is this: Castro did what China and Russia and other communist nations never did: He actually, powerfully improved the lives of Cuba's citizens.

His regime is repressive of freedoms, yes, to a degree none of us think we would tolerate. (We'll see.)

But in a country in which a large majority of the population was illiterate, and where a great majority had no -– repeat, no -– access to health care, never in all their lives saw a doctor or a dentist, everybody now can read, everyone can go to school, and even to college if he or she has the smarts, and all have access to very good health care on a routine basis. (On several standard measurements of health care, Cuba does better than this country.)

That success, so close to our shores, is what really rankles our right wing elite.

The politicians never get so far as to figure those things out, of course. They just know about all those campaign dollars and political clout and, to a probably diminishing degree, the scary guys in Miami.

A true story:

In 1978, I went to Miami to accept an award from the InterAmerican Press Association, an organization of Western Hemisphere newspaper publishers and editors, for a book-length series of articles I wrote about Cuba the year before. I extended the trip to see what I could learn of the Cuban exile community there.

At one point, with the help of a Miami Herald reporter who was himself a Cuban exile, I arranged to interview a man who reportedly was a very important “leader” of the exile community. In fact, his reputation was as something akin to a warlord. He reportedly controlled a big portion of Miami's Little Havana section, and a lot of people voted and otherwise acted as he ordered. He also was supposed to have played a part in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other armed attacks on Cuba and on people in this country who were deemed insufficiently anti-Castro. The Herald reporter was inordinately nervous about making the arrangements for me.

I showed up a little early at the address in Little Havana. It was a structure that reminds me now more of rural compounds in Morocco than of any houses I saw in Cuba. There were buildings on three sides, a wall right up against the sidewalk on the fourth side. The big, heavy wooden door to the enclosed compound was in that wall.

When I knocked the first time, someone shouted at me to go away. I identified myself and was told I was early and should go away until the appointed time. So I went across the street and stood until exactly the time of the appointment.

I knocked on the door, was admitted by two men, both armed, one with a pistol, the other with some sort of automatic weapon. Or maybe they both had automatic weapons; my memory is a little fuzzy on that one detail. A third man stood nearby. He led me up a flight of stairs that opened on to the courtyard, while the two armed guys, working very hard at looking tough, followed me.

A door at the top of the stairs opened into a large, very bare room. Da boss, the guy I was to interview, sat at a bare wooden table on a plain, armless wooden chair. Two more men with automatic weapons stood three or feet behind him and slightly to either side. My escorts remained behind me. I was directed to the only other chair, also wooden and armless, and sat about six or eight feet from Mr. Big, facing him.

I asked my questions. He snarled or laughed nastily at each one, and didn't give me a straight answer to a single one. After about 15 minutes of that charade, I got up and said I was leaving, which I did. The armed geezers followed me to the gate, opened it for me and shut it behind me, and that was that.

It was an act designed to intimidate and frighten me, obviously, though I will never know why that jackass thought it would be worthwhile to do that. And, in any case, all it did was make me angry.

On reflection, though, I'll bet that kind of stagecraft scared plenty of ill-educated, poor folks who, by the nature of that society, had to avoid getting on the wrong side of that fool.