Category Archives: Cuba

Summit of the Americas Flops While Workers Summit Exposes Cracks in the Imperial Façade

Valentín, the man next to us in line as we made our way across the international border, asked what we had been doing in Tijuana. We had been at the Workers Summit of the Americas, organized as an alternative to Biden’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Our summit was as a place where countries besieged by and barred from the US could participate and was held in cooperation with a kindred counter-summit in Los Angeles.

Valentín, who had been born in Mexico and spent most of his working life in the United States, had seen the border from both perspectives. He commented about Biden’s summit that although the US is rich in resources, industry, and agriculture, “it wants it all,” which pretty much sums up what imperialism is about.

Historical debt to Mexico

That border had not always been at Tijuana. As the immigrant rights movement reminds us, “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Texas seceded from Mexico and was annexed to the US in 1845. The following year, the Mexican-American War was provoked by the US in a campaign of conquest. Two years later, Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding nearly half its national territory. The US gained what would become parts or all of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added southern Arizona and New Mexico to the spoils of war.

In all, 55% of Mexico, over half of her sovereign territory, was taken by the Colossus of the North. Consequently, the US owes Mexico a historical debt for the theft of its sovereign territory. This debt should be included with other major US historical debts such as those incurred by the exploitation of African slave labor and the genocide of its original peoples.

Mexican Revolution

Besides acknowledging the theft of Mexican lands, those of us on the left should also recognize Mexico’s considerable political contributions. The Mexican Revolution stands in the pantheon of great 20th century revolutions. Before the Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, and other revolutions, before the many Third World liberation struggles of the last century, came the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910.

As the first of the major 20th century revolutions, the Mexican Revolution guaranteed labor rights, nationalized subsoil rights, secularized the state and curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and granted inalienable land rights to indigenous communities. Women’s rights were advanced, and women fought as soldiers and even commanders in General Emilio Zapata’s revolutionary army.

There was no established path for the Mexicans when they made their revolution. That path was made by walking; they led the way.

Cracks in the imperial façade

For the first time since its 1994 launch in Miami, the US was hosting the Summit of the Americas, convened by the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS). However, as AP News described, Biden’s maneuverings in the lead-up to his summit was a “scramble” to “avoid a flop.”

That was in part because, today, Mexico again led the way challenging imperial hubris. Its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), stood up to Biden’s imperial summons to come to the summit. AMLO would only dignify the event with his presence if all the countries of Our Americas were invited. Even after the US dispatched a team to Mexico City to cajole him to attend – but still refusing to invite the heads of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – AMLO stood by his original principled stand.

Joe Biden surely found it lonely with the presidents of Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines similarly boycotting his summit. The presidents of El Salvador and Uruguay also purposely missed the party, albeit for different reasons.

Biden’s summit took place, but the buzz both inside the meeting and outside was the hypocrisy of the US attempt to try to appear to be promoting a “Summit for Democracy” while its actions have proven the opposite. The US-imposed illegal sanctions and blockades – unilateral coercive measures – on countries whose people fail to elect leaders sufficiently obedient to Washington are, in fact, a denial of democracy.

And speaking of unelected leaders, the Trump-anointed and Biden-supported so-called “interim president of Venezuela,” Juan Guaidó, wasn’t on the guest list for the Los Angeles summit either. Even though the US and a handful of sycophantic allies still embarrassingly recognize the puppet as the Venezuelan head of state, he was closeted.

Inside Biden’s summit, Argentinian President Alberto Fernández delivered what the press called a “damning speech” condemning the US president to his face for excluding other states. Belize, Chile, and a number of Caribbean countries also criticized the exclusions, calling for a realignment of regional institutions.

Outside Biden’s summit, the official Cuban government statement commented: “Arrogance, fear of inconvenient truths being voiced, determination to prevent the meeting from discussing the most pressing and complex issues in the hemisphere, and the contradictions of its own feeble and polarized political system are behind the US government’s decision to once again resort to exclusion in order to hold a meeting with no concrete contributions yet beneficial for imperialism’s image.”

As Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace commented: “For the peoples of our region, the failure of Biden’s Summit of the Americas would be a welcome event.”

Even a corporate press report admitted: “President Joe Biden sought to put on a show of hemispheric unity at a Los Angeles summit this week, but boycotts, bluster and lackluster pledges instead exposed the shaky state of US influence in Latin America.”

Workers’ Summit of the Americas

In contrast, the Workers’ Summit of the Americas in Tijuana called for the unity of grassroots working class, peasant, political, and social movements to create a permanent forum for solidarity and linking of progressive struggles.

Organizers from workers, peace, human rights, and solidarity organizations from north of the Rio Grande included Alliance for Global Justice, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, Fire This Time, Unión del Barrio, Troika Kollective, Black Lives Matter – OKC, the Latino Community Service Organization (CSO), Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the Task Force on the Americas.

Mexican participation included Movimiento Social Por la Tierra, Sindicato Mexicano Electricista, and Frente Popular Revolucionario. Venezuelans included militants with the Plataforma de la Clase Obrera Antiimperialista (PCOA). Among the other participating organizations were Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo de Nicaragua (ATC), and the Haitian MOLEGHAF.

Host Jesús Ruiz Barraza, rector of CUT-University of Tijuana, opened the encuantro on June 10. US political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, via recording, welcomed “the delegates of the excluded” in Tijuana. Former president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, addressed the encuantro, also via recording.

Nelson Herrera of the Venezuelan PCOA, Rosario Rodríguez Remos of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, and Fausto Torres Arauz of the ATC of Nicaragua spoke. Revered Venezuelan campesino leader Braulio Alvarez, who had twice survived assassination attempts and is now a deputy in the National Assembly, addressed the meeting along with Venezuelan union leader Jacobo Torres de Leon.

The second day was devoted to movement building and featured workshops on solidarity with the countries excluded from the Biden summit along with workshops on regional integration.

With flags and banners flapping in the sea breeze, the last day convened on the international border. Speakers from both sides of the border and from throughout Our Americas addressed the crowd.

Standing in front of the border wall, Venezuelan-American activist with the FreeAlexSaab campaign William Camacaro called for the immediate release of the Venezuelan diplomat from a Miami prison. That day, June 12, marked the second year of Alex Saab’s imprisonment for the “crime” of engaging in legal international trade to buy needed food, fuel, and medicine for the Venezuelan people, but in contravention of the illegal US sanctions designed to asphyxiate that independent nation.

The final declaration of the Workers Summit called for a robust internationalism to promote solidarity with the sovereign nations and peoples suffering from sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. Latin America and the Caribbean were proclaimed a zone of peace.

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Summit of the Americas: Isn’t it a dud?

The Empire went to assert its position in the Latin America. But it has flopped. CNN headlined: “Snubs, from key leaders at Summit of the Americas reveal Biden’s struggle to assert US leadership in its neighborhood”. It’s a setback for the Empire!

Today, it’s not an unimaginable development in the region.

The IX Summit of the Americas has kicked off in Los Angeles on June 6, 2022; and US President Mr. Biden has formally inaugurated the summit on June 9, 2022.

“Yet”, CNN said, “the absences of the presidents of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are still notable since the United States has worked to cultivate those leaders as partners on immigration, an issue that looms as a political liability for Biden.”

The summit, since its planning, was under the shadow of failure.

The Empire planned to organize the summit of what it calls the Americas.

But, it began by excluding many, significant parts of the Americas.

Who were excluded? The Empire excluded its old foe – Cuba. And, new foes of the Empire emerged in the continent: Venezuela, Nicaragua.

The Empire didn’t imagine that there would be such a reaction to its exclusion-plan.

The theme of the summit is “Building a sustainable, resilient and equitable future”.

But, with exclusion, with imposition of self-formulated will on others, how far a sustainable, equitable and resilient future can be built? Anything sustainable requires participation of all concerned. Anything equitable requires space for participation of all related parties. Without sustainable and equitable approach nothing can be resilient.

How can a continent or two continents move with an equitable approach if countries are excluded, and dictated? And, in Latin America, having such an approach without participation of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua is beyond imagination.

With dictation, with treating countries as subjects in Latin America, should one today imagine that an all inclusive sustainable path or model be accepted? Lackeys can accept it. But, today’s Latin America is different than half-a-century ago, although many dream to have a Latin America cowed down. But, the reality today is not that.

The summit had to brace its failure: Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denied to be lackey of the Empire. He declined to join the summit. López Obrador said:

I am not going to the summit because not all the countries of America are invited and I believe in the need to change the policy that has been imposed for centuries, exclusion, wanting to dominate for no reason.

What is López Obrador’s position? All countries must have opportunity to join the summit on an equal footing. Is it possible to consider the argument useless, irrational? The Empire’s position turned out as irrational, baseless.

The Mexican President pointed out:

[T]here cannot be a Summit of the Americas if all the countries of the American continent do not participate.

He said there can be a summit excluding many, but that would be “to continue with the old policy of interventionism, of lack of respect for nations and their peoples”.

The Empire’s choice was the second one.

Thus it was none but the Empire that has undercut the initiative.

The summit plans to have an approach on health care. But, the document is full with neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism doesn’t serve people.

In the area of health care, Cuba is exemplary. Does it sound rational that someone plans to have an approach for people’s health, and peoples’ health across Latin America, but excludes Cuba?

Cuba’s public health care system stands as an example. It’s far, far advanced, well-organized, well-managed and people-oriented than many, many countries, many advanced, resourceful countries. Denying this fact today is nothing but making oneself a fool.

The Empire can compare the ways it, the Empire, and Cuba, handled the pandemic. If someone keeps in mind the resource-gap between these two countries, Cuba and the Empire, the failure of the Empire and the success of Cuba will stand as unbelievable fact.

If someone keeps in mind the fact that Cuba was obstructed in procuring syringes and raw materials for Covid-fighting-vaccine, and Cuba has succeeded in facing the pandemic, then, the Cuba-fact may sound mythical. But, the undeniable reality is: Fidel’s Cuba has done it.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canal said:

[I]n no case will I attend. [F]rom the beginning, the United States government conceived that the Summit of the Americas will not be inclusive.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said:

[W]e have a clear path: unity, inclusion, diversity, democracy, and the right to build our own destiny. We reject the claims of excluding and discriminating against peoples at the Summit of the Americas.

Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua, said:

We are not interested in being at that summit.

Luis Arce, President of Bolivia, said:

[A] Summit of the Americas that excludes American countries will not be a full Summit of the Americas.” He reaffirmed: “[I]f the exclusion of sister nations persists, I will not participate in it.

Xiomara Castro, President of Honduras, said:

I will attend the Summit only if all the countries of the Americas are invited without exception.

The ruptured effort also faced opposition from The Caribbean Community (Caricom), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America-Peoples Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac).

The summit is, thus, standing as a sign of the Empire’s ruptured leadership in the region. It shows that those days are gone, when the Empire was the sole authority. Now, questions are being raised, defiance is being voiced. Countries, not only a single country, Cuba, in Latin America now dare to distance themselves from the Empire. It’s a challenge to the Empire.

It’s not utterances by a number of state-persons. It’s a different dynamics that has grown in the region. Years of peoples’ political struggles in countries in the region are a basic factor behind this dynamic; and peoples in those countries have learned from their experiences: exploitation by the Empire, brutality, assassinations and mass murders, backing rightist groups and coup-masters, interventions, imposition of undemocratic/authoritarian regimes. These experiences were long, and for many decades. Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent is enough to narrate the Empire’s story in Latin America. The rupture thus went on. It went on in the societies and politics in Latin America. Peoples’ politics are getting manifested in a number of state machines there in the continent.

This rupture, a rupture in the Empire’s leadership in the region, is a show of the Empire’s declining influence. This trend, decline in influence, will gather strength, which means people’s struggles will gain strength, and that will hopefully get reflected in states.

The Los Angeles summit will have fora, and documents/declarations, such as Civil Society Forum and Young Americas Forum, and Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, Action Plan on Health and Resilience in the Americas, and Los Angeles Declaration on Migration.

But with neo-liberalism, which is unbridled capitalism, with imperialist interest dominating entire activities and programs, the “civil” society, the “young” group, the “partnership” can bring nothing but expansion of imperialist interest and control. Not dignity, but dictation will prevail; not prosperity but exploitation will expand.

Cuba, the country standing with dignity, has already said: It’s part of effort to apply the Monroe Doctrine.

“What our region demands”, said Cuban Foreign Ministry, “is cooperation, not exclusion; solidarity, not meanness; respect, not arrogance; sovereignty and self-determination, not subordination.”

That’s the problem with imperialist interest – meanness, arrogance, subordination. Imperialism doesn’t allow cooperation, solidarity, respect, dignity, sovereignty, self-determination.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t have planned the summit arbitrarily as if it’s the sole holder of the meterstick of democracy and autocracy. It appears the Empire is the sole master for defining democracy, electoral process, legitimacy. But reality, a much different reality, will emerge tomorrow, as peoples in countries are learning from their experiences, as info on imperialism financed “democracy” programs are getting exposed at an increasing rate, as peoples in countries are increasingly opposing imperialist designs.

For the Empire, this ruptured summit will stand as a symbol of its decreasing power of leadership in the region.

It’s already facing competition from China in the region. It wouldn’t be easy to press out China now. Neither is it a quick task nor a few billion dollars’ job. The summit with assurances of a few billions of dollars, thus, will stand as a symbol of the Empire’s decline in a region which it considers as its backyard.

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For the Peoples of our Region, the Failure of Biden’s Summit of the Americas Would be a Welcome Event

The Summit of the Americas is not the property of the host nation. The U.S. has no right to exclude, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but has done so in disregard of their sovereignty. The U.S. is not fit to judge others or to be responsible for bringing nations together. Every leader in the hemisphere should boycott what has become a farcical event.

I applaud the decision by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador not to attend this week’s so-called Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and hope that by Wednesday a majority of the nations in our region would have joined him. However, I am hoping that unlike President Lopez Obrador who is still sending the Mexican foreign minister, other nations demonstrate that their dignity cannot be coerced and stay away completely. Why do I take this position?

If the threat by the Biden Administration as host of the Summit not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all sovereign nations in the Americas’ region, was not outrageous enough, the announced rationale that the administration did not invite these nations because of their human rights record and authoritarian governance is an absurd indignity that cannot be ignored.

I firmly believe that the U.S. should not be allowed to subvert, degrade, and humiliate nations and the peoples of our region with impunity!  A line of demarcation must be drawn between the nations and peoples who represent democracy and life and the parasitic hegemon to the North which can only offer dependence and death. The U.S. has made its choice that is reflected in its public documents. “Full spectrum dominance,” is its stated goal. In other words – waging war against the peoples of our regions and, indeed, the world to maintain global hegemony. It has chosen war, we must choose resistance – on that, there can be no compromise!

The peoples of our region understand that. It is historically imperative that the representatives of the states in our region come to terms with that and commit to resistance and solidarity with the states that are experiencing the most intense pressure from empire. The rhetorical commitment to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela is not enough. The people want actions that go beyond mere denunciations of imperialism. The people are ready to fight.

And part of this fight includes the ideological war of position. We cannot allow the U.S. to obscure its murderous history by dressing that history up in pretty language about human rights.

The idea that the U.S., or any Western nation for that matter, involved in the ongoing imperialist project, could seriously see itself as a protector of human rights is bizarre and dangerous, and must be countered. The fact that the U.S. will still attempt to advance this fiction reflects either the height of arrogance or a society and administration caught in the grip of a collective national psychosis. I am convinced it is both, but more on that later.

A cognitive rupture from objective reality, the inability to locate oneself in relationship to other human beings individually and collectively in the material world are all symptoms of severe mental derangement. Yet, it appears that this is the condition that structures the psychic make-up of all of the leaders of the U.S. and the collective West.

It is what I have referred to as the psychopathology of white supremacy:

A racialized narcissistic cognitive disorder that centers so-called white people’s and European civilization and renders the afflicted with an inability to perceive objective reality in the same way as others. This affliction is not reducible to the race of so-called whites but can affect all those who have come in contact with the ideological and cultural mechanisms of the Pan-European colonial project.

How else can you explain the self-perceptions of the U.S. and West, responsible for the most horrific crimes against humanity in the annuals of human history from genocide, slavery, world wars, the European, African and Indigenous holocausts, wars and subversion since 1945 that have resulted in over 30 million lives lost – but then assert their innocence, moral superiority and right to define the content and range of human rights?

Aileen Teague of the Quincy Institute points out that the U.S. position on disinviting nations to the Summit of the Americas because of their alleged “authoritarian governance,” is “hypocritical” and “inconsistent,” noting the U.S. historical support for Latin American dictators when convenient for US policy.

Yet is it really hypothetical or inconsistent? I think not. U.S. policymakers are operating from an ethical and philosophical framework that informed Western colonial practice in which racialized humanity became divided between those who were placed into the category of “humans” which was constitutive of the historically expanded category of “white” in relationship to everyone else who was “not white,” and therefore, not fully human.

The “others” during the colonial conquest literally did not have any rights that Europeans were bound to recognize and respect from land rights to their very lives. Consequently, for European colonialists they did not perceive any ethical contradictions in their treatment of the “others” and did not judge themselves as deviating from their principles and values. This is what so many non-Europeans do not understand. When Europeans speak to their “traditional values,” it must be understood that those values mean we – the colonized and exploited non-Europeans are not recognized in our full humanity.

Is there any other way to explain the impressive solidarity among “white peoples” on Ukraine in contrast to the tragedies of Yemen, the six million dead in the Congo, Iraq – the list goes on.

That is why it was so correct for the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) to call for a boycott of the Summit of the Americas by all of the states in our region. BAP argued that the U.S. had no moral or political standing to host this gathering because it has consistently demonstrated that it did not respect the principles of self-determination and national sovereignty in the region. But even more importantly, it did not respect the lives of the people of this region.

A boycott is only the minimum that should be done. However, we understand it will be difficult because we know the vindictiveness of the gringo hegemon and the lengths it will go to assert its vicious domination. In the arrogance that is typical of the colonial white supremacist mindset, the Biden White House asserts that the “summit will be successful no matter who attends.”

Yet, if Biden is sitting there by himself, no manner of will or the power to define, will avoid the obvious conclusion that the world had changed, and with that change, the balance of power away from the U.S.

And the people say – let it be done!

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For Biden’s Summit of the Americas, Obama’s Handshake With Raúl Castro Shows the Way

On May 16, the Biden administration announced new measures to “increase support for the Cuban people.” They included easing travel restrictions and helping Cuban-Americans support and connect with their families. They mark a step forward but a baby step, given that most U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Also in place is a ridiculous Biden administration policy of trying to isolate Cuba, as well as Nicaragua and Venezuela, from the rest of the hemisphere by excluding them from the upcoming Summit of the Americas that will take place in June in Los Angeles.

This is the first time since its inaugural gathering in 1994 that the event, which is held every three years, will take place on U.S. soil. But rather than bringing the Western Hemisphere together, the Biden administration seems intent on pulling it apart by threatening to exclude three nations that are certainly part of the Americas.

For months, the Biden administration has been hinting that these governments would be excluded. So far, they have not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings and the Summit itself is now less than a month away. While former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have repeated that “no decisions” have been made, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview on Colombian TV that countries that “do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.”

Biden’s plan to pick and choose which countries can attend the Summit has set off regional fireworks. Unlike in the past, when the U.S. had an easier time imposing its will on Latin America, nowadays there is a fierce sense of independence, especially with a resurgence of progressive governments. Another factor is China. While the U.S. still has a major economic presence, China has surpassed the U.S. as the number one trading partner, giving Latin American countries more freedom to defy the United States or at least stake out a middle ground between the two superpowers.

The hemispheric reaction to the exclusion of three regional states is a reflection of that independence, even among small Caribbean nations. In fact, the first words of defiance came from members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which threatened to boycott the Summit. Then came regional heavyweight, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, who stunned and delighted people around the continent when he announced that, if all countries were not invited, he would not attend. The presidents of Bolivia and Honduras soon followed with similar statements.

The Biden administration has put itself in a bind. Either it backs down and issues the invitations, tossing red meat to right-wing U.S. politicians like Senator Marco Rubio for being “soft on communism,” or it stands firm and risks sinking the Summit and U.S. influence in the region.

Biden’s failure at regional diplomacy is all the more inexplicable given the lesson he should have learned as vice president when Barack Obama faced a similar dilemma.

That was 2015, when, after two decades of excluding Cuba from these Summits, the countries of the region put down their collective feet and demanded that Cuba be invited. Obama had to decide whether to skip the meeting and lose influence in Latin America, or go and contend with the domestic fallout. He decided to go.

I remember that Summit vividly because I was among the bevy of journalists jostling to get a front seat when President Barack Obama would be forced to greet Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who came into power after his brother Fidel Castro stepped down. The momentous handshake, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades, was the high point of the summit.

Obama was not only obligated to shake Castro’s hand, he also had to listen to a long history lesson. Raúl Castro’s speech was a no-holds-barred recounting of past U.S. attacks on Cuba—including the 1901 Platt Amendment that made Cuba a virtual U.S. protectorate, U.S. support for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the scandalous U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But Castro was also gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

The meeting marked a new era between the U.S. and Cuba, as the two nations began to normalize relations. It was a win-win, with more trade, more cultural exchanges, more resources for the Cuban people, and fewer Cubans migrating to the United States. The handshake led to an actual visit by Obama to Havana, a trip so memorable that it still brings big smiles to the faces of Cubans on the island.

Then came Donald Trump, who skipped the next Summit of the Americas and imposed draconian new sanctions that left the Cuban economy in tatters, especially once COVID hit and dried up the tourist industry.

Until recently, Biden has been following Trump’s slash-and-burn policies that have led to tremendous shortages and a new migration crisis, instead of reverting to Obama’s win-win policy of engagement. The May 16 measures to expand flights to Cuba and resume family reunifications are helpful, but not enough to mark a real change in policy—especially if Biden insists on making the Summit a “limited-invite only.”

Biden needs to move quickly. He should invite all the nations of the Americas to the Summit. He should shake the hands of every head of state and, more importantly, engage in serious discussions on burning hemispheric issues such as the brutal economic recession caused by the pandemic, climate change that is affecting food supplies, and the terrifying gun violence–all of which are fueling the migration crisis. Otherwise, Biden’s #RoadtotheSummit, which is the Summit’s twitter handle, will only lead to a dead end.

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Saratoga Explosion: Stories of Pain and Hope

Rescue workers continue to comb through the rubble for signs of life (Photo:  Bill Hackwell)

Havana — It is Mother’s Day in Cuba, but in Havana there is no music or merriment as usually happens on this date. The city has been in mourning since Friday, when a massive explosion shook the Saratoga Hotel, in Old Havana, collapsing part of its facade and spreading terror among neighbors in the surrounding communities.

The images of the catastrophe hurt: the smoke, the destruction, the fear. The whole city is in shock and follows the news closely with the hope of not recognizing any victim from the list of deceased people, which grows every day and has already reached 30 names.

More than 42 hours after the disaster, firefighters and rescuers continue searching for missing persons while removing tons of debris in the vicinity of the hotel, placed nearby Havana’s Capitol.

The search is a slow process. It is necessary to go little by little, stone by stone, to avoid the collapse of the structures. But there are still relatives and friends of nearby neighbors missing, and authorities will not rest until they are sure that there’s no one left in the Saratoga wreckage.

The grief is shared. The suffering of others is felt as our own. We all saw with a lump in our throats the image of a fireman who could not bear the pain and had to kneel down to cry amidst so much horror. It shows us that even the bravest, the ones who save lives, also break down, cry, and need to take a deep breath.

He got up afterwards, supported by his comrades, and went on with more strength, but he had to cry to release that deep weight he felt.

All Havana also follows closely the story of a young man, a medical student, son of the Saratoga storekeeper. Since May 6, he has been sitting in front of the hotel without moving anywhere, not even to get some sleep. He is also a hero and does not lose hope of finding his father alive.

His dad enters the hotel every day at the same time, very early in the morning. He works in the basement because that’s where his storeroom is. “I know he’s in there. That’s why I don’t move from here, because I hope to hug him one more time,” he told a reporter.

But there are stories that give hope amid the pain, like that about the feat of the Cuban doctors who saved from the death a two-year-old boy who got injured during the explosion. They managed to extract a splinter of wood that had almost completely penetrated his skull.

“The wood splinter was about a quarter of the way in maybe a little less, but only a few centimeters were visible outside the skull. The rest had penetrated the baby’s head. Now he is awake and with no signs of brain damage,” said Dr. Marlon Ortiz Machín, a neurosurgery specialist at the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital.

Today, ten other children injured by the explosion, were discharged from the Juan Manuel Márquez pediatric hospital in the capital.

This Sunday, it was also reported that two puppies, Sultan and Chuza, were rescued alive from the rubble and are now receiving veterinary attention. Although they are not physically injured, they are very nervous and scared. An animal protection team has already reached the scene to take care of them.

We are alive! Repeat it over and over again was the exclamation of the 70 people evacuated from the buildings next to the Saratoga hotel, which are in danger of collapse due to the explosion. They were taken to another small hotel nearby and will remain there until their homes are repaired with the local government’s resources.

“We couldn’t take anything of value, more than a couple of items of clothing. Everything stayed there. But I am thankful that my daughter, my mother, and I were able to survive this tragic accident. We are alive thanks to the quick action of the authorities,” said Sila Suarez, a neighbor of 508 Zulueta Street, a few meters from the Saratoga.

Meanwhile, Manuel Beber, the head of the construction team in charge of repairing the Dona Concepcion elementary school that was severely damaged by the explosion, assured that by May 28 it will be ready to receive students once again.

The headquarters of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Havana was closed today but that did not stop an unsolicited steady stream of people who brought by donations of usable items for the people who have been displaced by the explosion.

Little by little, Havana will resume its daily tranquility, although the pain of the deaths will remain intact. But hopeful stories will also prevail, as well as the tranquility that Cubans are not alone, because their leaders are always in the front line. We won’t forget the courage of the rescuers and of ordinary citizens, who were the first heroes, the first ones to start saving lives from the rubble. This wound will heal.

• First published at Resumen Latinoamericano (English)

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Cubans Pull Together after Enormous Blast Rocks Old Havana

Dona Concepcion Primary School Classroom. (Photo: Bill Hackwell)

For any Havana resident, the Paseo del Prado is part of his or her identity. Walking along this immense avenue and enjoying the architecture and cultural diversity of this area is a pleasure that many of us enjoy, while for others, it is so common that it becomes barely imperceptible. However, walking around this place will never be the same again because one of the most emblematic images of Havana was the scene of a real tragedy.

Shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday the area was rocked by an explosion in one of the most symbolic hotels in the city: the Saratoga Hotel. While the horrific event remains under investigation Cuban officials are saying the source of the blast was from a mixture of liquefied propane and butane that leaked from a connection between the truck delivering the fuel and the kitchen of the hotel.

The blast also damaged 23 buildings in the area including an apartment building next door, the building of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, the Baptist Church and the Dona Concepcion Primary School.

Right after the initial shock of the blast hundreds of people in the vicinity rushed to the scene of the accident. The recordings of the first minutes have immortalized the details of the first response, which is genuinely humane and allows us to see the essence of people. Police and bystanders rushed to give aid to those in need. It was one of those moments in which the initial paralysis generated by the catastrophe is overcome by the desire to help people you don’t know without thinking about your own safety.

The response of Havana authorities was immediate, high-ranking officials and the President himself came as soon as they were informed. Diaz-Canel was there right away, just meters from the explosion site, side by side with all those working to pull the injured from the debris. For Cubans this was reminiscent of the explosion of the steamship La Coubre in 1960, and reminds us how similar Fidel and Che acted.

The Saratoga’s shock waves were nothing compared to the explosion of love and human care following the moment. Students from the University of Havana, workers from nearby areas, and CDRs flocked to donate blood for their brothers and sisters. Over 1,500 donations were registered in the closest two blood banks in little more than 10 hours. The response was so massive that the population was asked not to go for 24 hours when more blood will surely be needed. No Cuban had to be summoned to donate their blood. They just came from the collective nature that is in the DNA of the revolutionary Cuban people. Commenting on this outpouring of support Gerardo Hernandez, national co coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) said, “Its been an amazing response by the Cuban people: young people, older, students, workers, everybody. I witnessed people crying because they were not allowed to donate blood for a number of reasons such as having eaten before they came.”

Others who have given their best are the rescuers. They are working tirelessly, hoping to arrive in time to save one more life. They and the doctors are the heroes in the shade, whose only reward is the happiness of a family. We also heard about the heroic act of the principal of the elementary school near the hotel. He refused to leave the school until all the students and teachers were safe. Those are the stories that make these people so especial.

During his visit to the Calixto Garcia Hospital, President Miguel Diaz-Canel encouraged the doctors to give their best. “Stay strong. We have to save our people,” he said. Subsequently, the Health Ministry informed that the public health facilities have all the resources to fulfill their duty to fight for the lives of all those affected until the last second. Meanwhile, sources from the Interior Ministry and other agencies continue to evaluate the technical state of the affected buildings and define the exact causes of the accident beyond what is known so far about the gas explosion.

As of this morning, 27 people had died, while 60 were receiving the best medical treatment available to save their lives. Some people may think that this is few for the magnitude of the accident and how crowded the area is, but in a country where every person matters, 27 is a huge number. This is not about numbers, but the suffering of Cuban families, mothers, fathers, children, and friends who will never see their loved ones again. Sadly, the numbers could increase in the coming hours as another 15 people are fighting for their lives with the help of the health professionals.

There has been an avalanche of solidarity received from inside and outside the country. Amid the country’s harsh economic situation, mass organizations, the Young Communist Union along with many people are gathering donations to help those who have lost everything. Cubans are still a big family.

Today we were able to survey and photograph the damage on the site of the explosion, the smell of gas was still thick in the air as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble for any possible sign of life. From the 3rd floor of the Dona Concepcion Primary School directly across the street from the Saratoga Hotel a young mother picked up things to take from the classroom. We asked her how her child was handling such a dramatic moment and she replied, “He is fine the only thing he was concerned about was the well-being of his classmates.”

• First published at Resumen Latinoamericano (English)

The post Cubans Pull Together after Enormous Blast Rocks Old Havana first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Between Crosshairs, a Man, and His Revolution

Imperial proprietorship over the small Caribbean Island of Cuba, from the United States’ perspective, has been from its earliest founding understood as a foredrawn conclusion, a predetermined inexorable; a geographical inevitable. Heads of State, from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe to John Quincy Adams et al. shared a similar conviction, “[that Cuba’s] proximity did indeed seem to suggest destiny, a destiny unanimously assumed to be manifest.”i Through the mid 19th century, US opinion toward Cuba was made jingoistically evident by Secretary of State John Clayton, “This Government,” he advised, “is resolutely determined that the island of Cuba, shall never be ceded by Spain to any other power than the United States.”ii The Secretary went on to define his nation’s hardened and inalterable commitment to the possession of the island, “The news of the cession of Cuba to any foreign power would, in the United States, be the instant signal for war.”iii These assertions were now foundational, as reiterated by Indiana Senator (and historian) Albert J. Beveridge in 1901,“Cuba ‘[is] an object of transcendent importance to the political and commercial interests of our Union’ and ‘[is] indispensable to the continuance and integrity of the Union itself,’”iv sentiments that were (later) codified into the Cuban Constitution by the US (after the Spanish/American war of 1898) in the form of the Platt Amendmentv ratified in 1903. Which Louis A. Perez soberly describes as, “[An] Amendment [that] deprived the [Cuban] republic of the essential properties of sovereignty while preserving its appearance, permitting self-government but precluding self-determination,”vi in contradiction to (Cuba’s heroic bard of national emancipation) José Martí’s 19th century grand-vision of a truly liberated and self-governing island nation. In fact, this historic outlook permeates US strategy toward Cuba for the next century; merged in a complex web of amicable approbation combined with antagonistic condemnation, defiance, resentment, and ruin – all converging at a flashpoint called the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which not only shocked and bewildered US policymakers, but, for the first time, challenged their historic preconceptions of US hegemonic (i.e., imperial hemispheric) dominance. One man stood at the center of their bewilderment, criticism, disdain, and resentment: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. Thus, US policy then directed at Cuba, by the early 1960s, was designed to punish this man, the small island nation, and its people, for his disobedience and defiance; and, as such, was intentionally aimed at destabilizing all efforts of rapprochement, as long as he (Castro) remained alive.

Although US intelligence (throughout the 1950s) provided the Eisenhower administration with a thorough history delineating the dangers of instability looming throughout the island, commanded by then military despot and “strong-man” Fulgencio Batista (who seized his return to power in an army-coup in 1952), the US foolishly continued to provide economic, logistical and materiel support to the unpopular and graft-driven dictatorship.vii US intelligence understood the potential danger posed by “[this] young reformist leader”viii Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries. Castro and the 26th of July movement were a defiant response to what they considered a foreign controlled reactionary government.ix This response stood as a direct threat to the natural order of things, i.e., the US’s historic prohibition (beyond legalistic euphemisms and platitudes)x of any genuine vestige of national sovereignty and self-determination by the Cuban people – which undergirded a belief that, like most Latin American states, the Cuban people were innately “child-like,” incapable of true self-governance.xi Beyond that, after the ousting of Batista, and “flush with victory,” a young Fidel Castro, on January 2, 1959 (in Santiago de Cuba), assertively threw down the gauntlet, “this time, fortunately for Cuba, the revolution will not be thwarted. It won’t be as in 1895, when the Americans came in at the last hour ‘and made themselves masters of the country.’”xii Hence, as Jeffery J. Safford makes evident, this existential risk, in the minds of US policymakers, would have to be dealt with, embraced, evaluated, and analyzed (at least initially)xiii in order to maintain the desired outcome – i.e., evading Communist influence and maintaining economic “stability” through the protection of US interests on the island of Cuba no matter the cost.

In March of 1960, while naively underestimating Castro’s success and support on the island, “the Eisenhower administration secretly made a formal decision to re-conquer Cuba … with a proviso: it had to be done in such a way that the US hand would not be evident.”xiv Ultimately, US policymakers wanted to avoid a broader “backlash of instability” throughout the hemisphere by overtly invading the small island nation. That said, Castro and his revolutionaries understood the stark realities and nefarious possibilities cast over them, given the US’s history of flagrant regime change throughout the region. Castro’s accusations as presented at the United Nations, on 26 September 1960, which declared that US leaders were (intending if not) preparing to invade Cuba, were dismissed by the New York Times as “shrill with … anti-American propaganda.”xv Furthermore, Castro was ridiculed, by US representative James J. Wadsworth, as having “Alice in Wonderland fantasies”xvi of an invasion. But Castro’s committed revolutionary coterie knew better, “In Guatemala in 1954 [Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara witnessed] the first U.S. Cold War intervention [in the region] as U.S.-trained and backed counter-revolutionary forces overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz…”xvii In fact, similarly, the imminent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated assault, known as the Bay of Pigs (BOPs) invasion, under the Kennedy administration in April 1961, was heavily reliant upon anti-revolutionary factions, the Cuban people, and the military, rising up to join the invadersxviii – which as history proves, and journalist/author David Talbot underscores, did not come to pass:

To avoid Arbenz’s fate, Castro and Guevara would do everything he had not: put the hard-cored thugs of the old regime up against a wall, run the CIA’s agents out of the country, purge the armed forces, and mobilize the Cuban people … Fidel and Che became an audacious threat to the American empire. They represented the most dangerous revolutionary idea of all – the one that refused to be crushed.xix

This became an epic ideological battle in the myopic mind of US officials: the possible proliferation of an assortment of “despotic” Communist controlled fiefdoms vs. the-free-world! Indeed, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., special aide and historian to President John F. Kennedy in 1961-63, ominously warned the Executive, that “the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands,xx had great appeal in Cuba (and throughout Latin America), i.e., everywhere that, “distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favor[ed] the propertied classes … [thus] the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, [were] now demanding opportunities for a decent living.”xxi This was the urgent and fundamental threat (or challenge) Fidel Castro and his movement posed to US hemispheric rule.

US media focused heavily on the plight of the “majority middleclass” Cuban exiles, that chose to leave the island as a result of the revolution’s redistributive polices.xxii Cubans, particularly the initial waves, were dispossessed of substantial wealth and position and often arrived Stateside in chiefly worse conditions.xxiii But the essential question as to, “why the [majority of] Cuban people [stood] by the Castro ‘dictatorship’?,”xxiv as Michael Parenti contends, was ignored by public officials and the press alike:

Not a word appeared in the U.S. press about the advances made by ordinary Cubans under the Revolution, the millions who for the first time had access to education, literacy, medical care, decent housing [and] jobs … offering a better life than the free-market misery endured under the U.S.-Batista ancient régime.xxv

Castro’s revolutionary ideals based on José Martí’s patriotic theme of national sovereignty and self-determination, effectively armed the Cuban people through a stratagem of socialist ideology and wealth redistribution meshed in a formula of land reform and social services (i.e., education, healthcare, jobs and housing) which included the nationalization of foreign owned businesses; as such, US policymakers believed, “His continued presence within the hemispheric community as a dangerously effective exponent of ‘Communism’ and Anti-Americanism constitutes a real menace capable of eventually overthrowing the elected governments in any one or more ‘weak’ Latin American republics.”xxvi Fidel Castro was thus wantonly placed within the crosshairs of US covert-action.

American officials assumed that the elimination of Castro was central to the suppression of his socialist principles, as Alan McPherson demonstrates, “In fall 1961, after the [BOPs] disaster, [JFK] gave the order to resume covert plans to get rid of Castro, if not explicitly to assassinate him.”xxvii Earlier in 1960, then CIA director, Allen Dulles’ hardline that Castro was a devoted Communist and threat to US security “mirrored [those] of the business world such as, William Pawley, the globetrotting millionaire entrepreneur whose major investments in Cuban sugar plantations and Havana’s municipal transportation system were wiped out by Castro’s revolution.”xxviii Thus, US officials, the Security State and US business-interests were unified, “After Fidel rode into Havana on a tank in January 1959, Pawley [a capitalist scion] who was gripped by what Eisenhower called a ‘pathological hatred for Castro,’ even volunteered to pay for his assassination.”xxix Countless attempts followed, thus, killing Castro became vital to the idea of US hemispheric “stability,” i.e., capitalist economic and ideological control; and as such, Intelligence Services believed, “[The] political vulnerability of the regime lies in the person of Castro himself…”xxx Hence, the purging of Fidel Castro and the cessation of his ideas, through the punishment of the Cuban people, became not only the strategy of choice for the US, but its incessant authoritative doctrine. Accordingly, as longtime US diplomat to Cuba, Wayne Smith verifies, the US’s two overarching obsessive qualms which it believed required the eradication of Fidel Castro were: the long-term influence of his revolutionary socialist ideals in Latin America and beyond; and, the possible establishment of a successful Communist state on the island which would diminish US security, stature, image, influence and prestige in the hemisphere; and, in the eyes of the world.xxxi

Through 1960-64, Castro had good reason to be on guard, “…the fact that the Kennedy administration was acutely embarrassed by the unmitigated defeat [at the BOPs] -indeed because of it- a campaign of smaller-scale attacks upon Cuba was initiated almost immediately.”xxxii Then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stated unequivocally, as Schlesinger reveals, that his goal, “was to bring the terrors of the Earth to Cuba.”xxxiii RFK went on to emphasize the point that the eradication of the Castro “regime” was the US’s central policy concern, “He informed the CIA that the Cuban problem carries, ‘…top priority in the United States Government -all else is secondary- no time, no effort, or manpower is to be spared.’”xxxiv Beyond the multifaceted covert actions directed at Cuba under Operation Mongoose, RFK and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, aided by the CIA et al., implemented a long-term multi-pronged plan of punishment, focused on Cuba through Latin America, which included disinformation campaigns, subversion and sabotage (they called hemispheric-defense-policies) that comprised a Military Assistance Program (MAP), which included economic support, subversive tactical training and materiel, devised to terminate “the threat” (i.e., Castro and his ideas) by establishing an Inter-American-Security-Force (of obedient states) under US control.xxxv

With Cuba now in the crosshairs, in the early 1960s, “the CIA … played savior to the [anti-Castro] émigrés, building a massive training station in Miami, known as JMWave, that became the agency’s second largest after Langley, Virginia. In fact, it coordinated the training of what became known as the disastrous landing … in 1961.”xxxvi Conversely, historian Daniel A. Sjursen focuses more on JFK (than the CIA) as the culprit behind the heightened tensions amongst the three principal players. By 1962, with Cuba in the middle, both superpowers (the US and the USSR) stood at a standstill amid the very real possibility of a global conflagration which, Sjursen states, was primarily due to US bravado on behalf of a “military obsessed” young President, “In preparing for a May 1961 summit meeting with Khrushchev [Kennedy stated] ‘I’ll have to show him that we can be as though as he is….’”xxxvii Sjursen argues, “This flawed and simplistic thinking grounded just about every Kennedy decision in world affairs from 1961 to 1963 … and would eventually bring the world to the brink of destruction with the Cuban Missile Crisis; and, suck the US military into a disastrous unwinnable war in Vietnam.”xxxviii And yet, as Smith contends, Kennedy was certainly not without bravado, but ultimately, did make attempts to “defuse” the situation. Kennedy, Smith discloses, ruffled-feathers within the Security State by, 1) his desire to end the Cold War, 2) his starting of a rapprochement with Castro (who was desirous of such — even if indirectly) and, 3) his goal to pull-out of Vietnam.xxxix In fact, with the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations finalized by JFK’s promise not to invade Cuba if Soviet warheads were removed from the island – Khrushchev acquiesced, to Castro’s dismay, but tensions did diminish.xl

Be that as it may, Philip Brenner maintains, the crisis did not go-away on 28 October 1962 for either the US or the USSR. The Kennedy-Khrushchev arrangements had to be implemented. On 20 November, the US Strategic Air Command was still on high alert: full readiness for war – with the naval quarantine (i.e., blockade) firmly in place.xli As a result, Castro stayed open to negotiations with the US, but at the same time purposefully cautious. “At this point Castro, like Kennedy and Khrushchev, was circumventing his own more bellicose government in order to dialog with the enemy. Castro, too, was struggling, [but willing,] to transcend his Cold War ideology for the sake of peace. Like Kennedy and Khrushchev both, [he knew,] he had to walk softly.”xlii Nevertheless, Castro stressed the fact that the Soviet Union had no right to negotiate with the US per inspections or the return of the bombers, “Instead, he announced, Cuba would be willing to comply based on [specific] demands: that the United States end the economic embargo; stop subversive activities … cease violations of Cuban airspace; and, return Guantanamo Naval Base.”xliii Of course, the United States security apparatus was arrogantly steadfast in its refusal to agree or even negotiate the matter.xliv

In spite of that, a reproachment (devised by Kennedy diplomat, William Attwood, and, Castro representative to the UN Carlos Lechuga) was surreptitiously endeavored through a liaison, journalist Jean Daniel of the New Republic, who stated that, Kennedy, retrospectively, criticized the pro-Batista policies of the fifties for “economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation” of the island and added that, “we shall have to pay for those sins….”xlv Which may be considered one of the most brazenly honest statements, regarding the island, on behalf of an American President, in the long and complex history of US/Cuban relations. Daniel then wrote, “I could see plainly that John Kennedy had doubts [about the government’s policies toward Cuba] and was seeking a way out.”xlvi In spite of JFK’s pugnacious rhetoric directed at Cuba, during his 1960 Presidential campaign, Castro remained open and accommodating, he understood the forces arrayed upon the President, in fact, he saw Kennedy’s position as an unenviable one:

I don’t think a President of the United States is ever really free … and I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled.xlvii …I know that for Khrushchev, Kennedy is a man you can talk with….xlviii

While in the middle of (an Attwood arranged and Kennedy sanctioned) clandestine meeting with Castro, Daniel reported, that (at 2pm Cuban-time) the news arrived that JFK was dead (shot in Dallas, Texas, on that very same day, 22 November 1963, at 12:30pm), “Castro stood-up , looked at me [dismayed], and said ‘Everything is going to change,…’”xlix and he was spot-on. Consequently, with (newly sworn-in) President Lyndon Baines Johnson mindful of the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was “proclaimed” a Castro devotee, accommodations with the Cuban government would be much more difficult. As such, the Attwood-Lechuga connection was terminated.l Julian Borger, journalist for the Guardian, maintains that “Castro saw Kennedy’s killing as a setback, [he] tried to restart a dialogue with the next administration, but LBJ was … too concerned [with] appearing soft on communism,”li meaning opinion polls, and their consequences, trumped keeping channels of communication open with the Cuban government. Which obliquely implies the notion that relations with Cuba might have been different if JFK had not been murdered.

With the Johnson administration bogged down in an “unwinnable war” in Southeast Asia and Civil Rights battles occurring on the streets of the US, Cuba and its revolution began to fall off the radar. By 1964, the Johnson administration, concerned with public opinion, as mentioned, took swift and immediate action to stop the deliberate terror perpetrated on the Cuban people. LBJ, in April of that year, called for a cessation of sabotage attacks. Johnson openly admitted, “we had been operating a damned Murder, Inc., in the Caribbean.’”lii Nonetheless, the national security apparatus (i.e., the CIA, the Joint-Chiefs and military intelligence) along with US policymakers (and US based exile groups), remained obstinate, steadfast and consistent in their goal – to punish (if not kill) Fidel Castro and his revolution, by maintaining a punitive program of economic strangulation with the hopes that Castro would be, not only isolated on the world stage, but condemned by his own people who would rise up and eradicate the man and his socialist regime – which did not occur. Of course, the termination of hostilities directive ordered by Johnson did not include economic enmity – which persisted throughout the 1960s and beyond. In fact, a CIA field-agent appointed to anti-Castro operations detailed the agency’s sadistic objectives as expressed through author John Marks, by explaining:

Agency officials reasoned, … that it would be easier to overthrow Castro if Cubans could be made unhappy with their standard of living. ‘We wanted to keep bread out of the stores so people were hungry … We wanted to keep rationing in effect….’”liii

The purpose of the economic blockade remained fixed from the early 60s onward: to contain, defame, discredit and destroy Castro and his experimentation with, what the US considered, subversive Communist ideals.

Finally, the US’s belligerent, if not insidious, hardline-stance toward this small island nation reignited at the end of the 1960s, which included not only an economic strangle-hold, but full-blown underground sabotage operations. The 37th president of the United States, Richard M. “Nixon’s first acts in office in 1969 was to direct the CIA to intensify its covert [Hybrid War] operations against Cuba.”liv Nixon and his then National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, still believed, callously, that military aggression, violence, brutality and intimidation (coalesced by vicious economic sanctions) were the answers to America’s woes abroad. US policy toward Cuba for more than sixty-years is reminiscent of a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” Hence, Castro’s Cuba (not only America’s nemesis, but also the model of an uncompromising US global order) was the consequence of an even longer and persistent imperial US foreign policy: If the United States had not impeded Cuba’s push for national sovereignty and self-determination in the initial part of the 20th century; if it had not sustained a sequence of tyrannical despots on the island; and, if it had not been complicit in the termination and manipulation of the 1952 election, an ineradicable character such as the young reformist, and socialist, Fidel Castro may never have materialized.lv Ultimately, the headstrong US stratagem of assassination and suffocation of Castro and his socialist revolution failed, not only by bolstering his image on the island, but abroad as well. Ironically, the US helped to create its own oppositional exemplar of resistance, in the image of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Cuban people, i.e., the revolution – two men and a small island nation that stood up defiantly to the US led global-capitalist-order and would not relent. The US feared the Revolution of 1959’s challenge to class-power, colonialization; and, its popularity with the multitudes – thus, it had to be forcefully restricted through malicious policies of trade-embargoes, threats of violence and ideological-isolation. In fact, the Cuban rebellion courageously and tenaciously stood up to, and resisted, specific contrivances (or designs) by which the US had customarily, boastfully and self-admiringly delineated its dominant status through the forceful protection of its exploitative-business-practices (aka, the “Yankee boot”) on the backs of the Cuban people, for which, Fidel Castro and his bottom-up-populist-crusade were held ominously, insidiously and interminably responsible….

Image credit: Left Voice

ENDNOTES

i ##Louis A. Pérez, “Between Meanings and Memories of 1898,” Orbis 42, no. 4 (September 1, 1998): 501.#

ii ##William R. Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860 (Washington, 1932), 70.#

iii ##Ibid.#

iv ##Albert J. Beveridge, “Cuba and Congress,” The North American Review 172, no. 533 (1901): 536.#

v ##The Platt Amendment, May 22, 1903.#

vi ##Pérez, “Meanings and Memories,” 513.#

vii ##Allen Dulles, Political Stability In Central America and The Caribbean Through 1958 (CIA: FOIA Reading Room, April 23, 1957), 4–5.#

viii ##Ibid., 4.#

ix ##Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” 1953.#

x ##The Platt Amendment.#

xi ##Lars Schoultz, That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution (Chapel Hill, 2009), 58.#

xii ##Pérez, “Meanings and Memories,” 514.#

xiii ##Jeffrey J. Safford, “The Nixon-Castro Meeting of 19 April 1959,” Diplomatic History 4, no. 4 (1980): 425–431.#

xiv ##Noam Chomsky, Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (London, 2000), 89.#

xv ##“Cuba vs. U.S.,” New York Times (1923-), January 8, 1961, 1.#

xvi ##Ibid.#

xvii ##Aviva Chomsky, A History of the Cuban Revolution (Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Malden, MA, 2011), 98.#

xviii ##“Official Inside Story Of the Cuba Invasion,” U.S. News & World Report, August 13, 1979.#

xix ##David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (New York, 2016), 338.#

xx ##“7. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to President Kennedy,” in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963.#

xxi ##“15. Summary Guidelines Paper: United States Policy Toward Latin America,” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

xxii ##“Cuba: The Breaking Point,” Time, January 13, 1961.#

xxiii ##Maria de los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States (Ann Arbor, 2001), 75.#

xxiv ##Michael Parenti, “Aggression and Propaganda against Cuba,” in Superpower Principles U.S. Terrorism against Cuba, ed. Salim Lamrani (Monroe, Maine, 2005), 70.#

xxv ##Ibid.#

xxvi ##Philip Buchen, Castro (National Archives: JFK Assassination Collection, 1975), 4–5.#

xxvii ##Alan McPherson, “Cuba,” in A Companion to John F. Kennedy, ed. Marc J. Selverstone (Hoboken, 2014), 235.#

xxviii ##Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard, 340.#

xxix ##Ibid.#

xxxPhilip Buchen, docid-32112987.pdf, JFK Assassination Records – 2018 Additional Documents Release, The National Archives Castro, 7.#

xxxi ##Wayne S. Smith, “Shackled to the Past: The United States and Cuba,” Current History 95 (1996).#

xxxii ##William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (London, 2014), 186.#

xxxiii ##Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. quoted in Noam Chomsky and Marv Waterstone, Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance (Chicago, 2021), 147.#

xxxiv ##Ibid.#

xxxv ##The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Efforts to Contain Castro, 1960-64, April 1981, 3, Learn.#

xxxvi ##Alan McPherson, “Caribbean Taliban: Cuban American Terrorism in the 1970s,” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 2 (March 4, 2019): 393.#

xxxvii ##Daniel A. Sjursen, A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism, and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2021), 479.#

xxxviii ##Ibid.#

xxxix ##Hampshire College TV, 2015 • Eqbal Ahmad Lecture • Louis Perez • Wayne Smith • Hampshire College, 2016, accessed October 30, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuBdKB8jX3I.#

xl ##Philip Brenner, “Kennedy and Khrushchev on Cuba: Two Stages, Three Parties,” Problems of Communism 41, no. Special Issue (1992): 24–27.#

xli ##Philip Brenner, “Cuba and the Missile Crisis,” Journal of Latin American Studies 22, no. 1 (1990): 133.#

xlii ##James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (New York, 2010), 84.#

xliii ##Brenner, “Cuba and the Missile Crisis,” 133.#

xliv ##“332. Letter From Acting Director of Central Intelligence Carter to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy),” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

xlv ##Jean Daniel, “Unofficial Envoy: An Historic Report from Two Capitals,” New Republic 149, no. 24 (December 14, 1963): 15–20.####

xlvi ##Ibid.#

xlvii Ibid.

xlviii ##Jean Daniel, “When Castro Heard the News,” New Republic 149, no. 23 (December 7, 1963): 7–9.#

xlix ##Ibid.#

l ##“378. Memorandum From Gordon Chase of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy),” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

li ##Julian Borger, “Revealed: How Kennedy’s Assassination Thwarted Hopes of Cuba Reconciliation,” Guardian, November 26, 2003.#

lii ##Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counter-Insurgency, Counter-Terrorism, 1940-1990 (New York, 1992), 205.#

liii ##John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (London, 1979), 198.#

liv ##Raymond Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, DC, 1985), 76n.#

lv ##Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York, 2007), 91.#

The post Between Crosshairs, a Man, and His Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Oliver Stone Documents the Past to Illuminate the Present

The timing of the March 2022 release of this digital streaming documentary could not be more auspicious.  For anyone wanting to understand how we arrived at a new Cold War with the second Irish-Catholic Democratic president in U.S. history, Joseph Biden, spewing belligerent absurdities about Ukraine, Russia, and Vladimir Putin, and leading a charge toward a World War III that could easily turn nuclear, the aggregated factual details in this series of why President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA and its minions is essential history that illuminates current events.

While Kennedy was the last U.S. president to genuinely seek peace at the cost of his life, his successors have all been lackeys in love with war and in full awareness  that the promotion of war and the military industrial complex were at the top of their job description.  They have gladly served the god of war and ravaged countries around the world with the glee of sadists and madmen.  Pusillanimous in the extreme, they have sought the presidency knowing they would never oppose the gunmen in the shadows who demanded their obedience.  They heard the message from the streets of Dallas loud and clear and followed orders as required.

Their long history of provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe and Ukraine that has resulted in the current Russian attack on Ukraine is a most frightening case in point.  While Kennedy embraced dialogue and negotiations that recognized the humanity and validity of other countries leaders’ viewpoints – e.g. Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, et al. – and was cognizant, as he said, that genuine peace had to exclude a Pax Americana, his replacements have demanded U.S. dominance and the growth of empire.

It is therefore essential to understand why JFK was assassinated by the U.S. national security state; it is a fundamental requisite for piercing the miasma of lies that have been used over the decades to conceal the true nature of U.S. foreign policy and intense anti-Russia hatred.

JFK: Destiny Betrayed, a four-hour, four-part follow-up to Oliver Stone’s two hour feature film JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass (11/22/21), does precisely that.  While JFK Revisited is by the nature of its shorter and undivided length a better film as film, JFK: Destiny Betrayed is the deeper history lesson because of its more extensive documentation.  It is largely based on the scriptwriter, James DiEugenio’s masterful book, Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, which draws on hundreds of thousands of documents released by the Assassination Records Review Board, which was formed as a result of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK.  As such, the book, and the new film, hoist the U.S. government by its own petard, and thus the film’s powerful indictment can only be dismissed by ignoramuses, propagandists, or sensibilities too tender to accept factual truth.  At an Orwellian time when “fictionalized documentaries” are being promoted, and the difference between fact and fiction is being scrambled to scramble brains, that, regrettably, may be many people.  But for anyone who takes history and facts seriously, this is a dazzling and deeply disturbing film whose implications are enormous.

It is divided into four parts, each approximately an hour.  This allows the viewer to space out their viewing to allow each section to sink in.  I think this is a good idea, for there is much to comprehend, especially for one not well-versed in this history.

Chapter One opens with an emphatic point: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tells how his father immediately suspected that the CIA was involved in the murder of President Kennedy and that when the Warren Commission Report (WC) was released he didn’t believe it.  The WC had been pushed by people such as Eugene Rostow, Joseph Alsop, et al., no friends to Kennedy; was controlled by Allen Dulles, the CIA Director whom Kennedy had fired following the Bay of Pigs treachery; and was promoted by The New York Times upon its release with the claim that the commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president was supported by all its documents when, in fact, those documents were not released for many months following.  Thus the N.Y. Times lied to serve the coverup as it has done ever since. This was typical of mainstream media then and now.

The first part of the documentary informs the viewer of many such lies of commission and omission:

  • That the CIA lied to Kennedy about the Bay of Pigs.
  • That Allen Dulles never told the Warren Commission that the CIA had tried repeatedly to kill Fidel Castro.
  • That the CIA lied to JFK about its attempts to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle.
  • That the CIA lied to him about the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, another Kennedy ally.
  • That the CIA lied to Robert Kennedy when he learned of its attempts to assassinate Castro by telling him they had stopped when they had not.

Lies piled upon lies on every side.

Sandwiched between, in a deft placement that says “try to lie about this,” is the Zapruder film that graphically refutes the lie that the president was not shot from the front; it confirms witness testimony that the kill shot came from the right front and a large back portion of the back of his head was blown out by a gunman who wasn’t Oswald.  Presto: a conspiracy.

And then the viewer learns how years later the Church Committee Hearings uncovered many more lies.  How Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald, was a confidential FBI informer; how, contrary to press lies, JFK never authorized the plots to assassinate Castro, etc.

And when the lies became more known, The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979) sealed half-a-million records until 2029, many of which were only released due to Oliver Stone’s 1991 film.  Still, in 2022 records are still being held back against the law.

Chapter Two opens with the absurd deceptions involving Kennedy’s autopsy.  Brief but powerful and a preliminary introduction to an extensive analysis in Chapter 3, this section presents evidence that doctors were pressured to lie about the frontal wounds, that Captain James Humes, the doctor in charge of the autopsy, had never done a gunshot autopsy and was part of the coverup – literally with JFK’s head, that the president’s personal doctor, George Burkley, disappeared crucial evidence, etc.

Then, in a creative switch used throughout the four parts, we learn some more of why Kennedy was killed.  How as a young U.S. Representatives in 1951 he went to Vietnam with his brother Robert and became convinced that the French war there was wrong and also unwinnable, and that Vietnam should be free of colonial domination.  How years later as a Senator he spoke out against Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ advice to use nuclear weapons at Diên Bên Phù to help the beleaguered French (one of many times he opposed the use of nuclear weapons).  How he gave a famous Senate speech in 1957 opposing colonialism and was attacked by both parties for it.  How he supported the non-aligned nations movement, including Sukarno in Indonesia and many leaders throughout Africa.

Then we are returned to Dallas and the assassination where we learn about the conflicting number of shots, the “magic bullet that allegedly and comically was claimed to have created seven wounds in Kennedy and Gov. John Connally, the failure of the chain of custody for the bullets, and the various anomalies associated with Oswald’s alleged rifle that are revealed with multiple photos.  A viewer’s ears would no doubt particularly perk up when learning that the rifle the government says Oswald used that he ordered through mail order under the alias A. Hidell and was sent to his post office box registered under the name Lee Oswald, could not be picked up by Oswald since it was sent to the name Hidell.  And so… ?

Before moving on to the third section, I would like to note the book-like quality of this streaming film documentary.  The sections are called chapters and its title and much of its contents are taken from DiEugenio’s book.  So you could say it is similar to a novel that is converted into a screenplay, but in this case it is a carefully sourced and researched non-fiction (I prefer the word “fact”) book with fifty-four pages of notes.  Watching it is like reading a book in that the viewer needs to slowly evaluate not only the narrative drive of the presentation but also the quality of the filmed notes that buttress the telling from beginning to end.  As one who has read the book very carefully two times, always noting sources, and as one who has researched, written about, and taught university courses on the JFK and other political assassinations, I can attest to the solidity of the film’s sources.  I can think of none that are not accurate.  Like the earlier JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, the collaboration between Stone, a filmmaker of genius, and DiEugenio, a supremely talented researcher, has produced two remarkable films, slightly different in style and substance, but achieving the same clarification of purpose: Factual truth about who killed President Kennedy and why, and why it matters today.

Chapter Three is perhaps the most devastating of the four.  Much of it is spent on showing the evil treachery involved in the autopsy of the president at Bethesda Naval Hospital that is central to the coverup of the truth. This coverup was carried out within the higher reaches of the government, and its only purpose could be to protect the killers within that government.  It is very hard to stomach such truth, but it is necessary.

Only one person was present both at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and at the autopsy: Dr. George Burkley, JFK’s White House physician.  Deeply involved in the coverup, Burkley changed his statements from inadvertent truth to falsehoods like a jumping bean, finally firmly supporting the lies of Dr. Humes, who performed the autopsy under the direction of military/intelligence higher-ups and then incredibly destroyed his notes.  Burkley also backed the lies of those others involved in replacing Kennedy’s brain with another, and then patching up the back of his head to conceal his large wound in order to deny the fatal head shot came from the front.  He supported Robert Knudsen, the White House photographer who took photos of JFK’s fraudulently repaired head. All these men conspired to cover up the truth by literally covering up of the hole in the back of the president’s head.  This was betrayal of the highest order.  Treachery close to home.

Yet to learn in detail that Kennedy’s brain was replaced and that his badly damaged brain is missing is matched in depravity with learning that JFK’s arch-enemy, General Curtis LeMay, made sure to quickly return from Canada to attend the autopsy where he sat with others in bleachers, puffing a cigar as Kennedy was cut up and patched like a show piece.  As Kennedy’s most belligerent foe and the real life Dr. Strangelove, one who hated the president and who advocated dropping nuclear weapons on Cuba, Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and using terrorism against the American people to blame on Cuba (Operation Northwoods) – all emphatically repudiated by JFK who thought such suggestions insane and evil – the image of the sadistic LeMay in the autopsy room is haunting.

This chapter also tells us of a National Security Meeting on July 20, 1961 when Allen Dulles and the military urged Kennedy to do a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, one of many such attempts that the president rebuffed without hesitation.  Watching this, one cannot help thinking of what is taking place with President Biden, unlike Kennedy, a lifetime war hawk and clearly not in his right mind.  We have been warned.

The concluding chapter is “Fingerprints of Intelligence” and confirms what the first three parts make obvious: that the CIA and its minions killed their own president to prevent him from seeking peace and reconciliation in a world on the edge of nuclear destruction.  We learn all about the CIA’s running of Oswald as a false defector to the Soviet Union and a patsy in JFK’s murder.  We learn how the agency lied repeatedly about its connections to him.  We learn about parallel plots to assassinate Kennedy in Chicago and Tampa with fall guys similar to Oswald waiting in the wings.  We learn how Lyndon Johnson changed Kennedy’s policies in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Congo, etc. immediately after his death and how the military industrial complex won the day.

Oliver Stone tells us this.  And he tells us JFK’s ghost won’t rest.

This documentary makes that clear, but ghosts only have a way of sometimes disturbing consciences when they also know the facts.  JFK: Destiny Betrayed has all the facts one needs to rile one’s conscience, if one watches it, and if one can see through today’s repetition of history as the old Cold War has become the new old Cold War and betrayal rules the day as the CIA has been rehabilitated through insidious propaganda, as if nothing happened in 1963, or it doesn’t matter.

Yet nothing could be more untrue.

Ukraine is no anomaly; it fits the propaganda neatly. President Biden’s 813 billion dollar military budget request does likewise.  As the film makes clear, President John F. Kennedy was killed by the national security state for seeking peace, while our leaders are seeking war.  It’s still the same old story.  The warfare state rules.  That has not changed from the day John Kennedy died.

The only thing that can possibly change is people’s knowledge of the truth and how that can change their consciences to oppose the war promoters.  This film can do the former.  As for the latter, only time will tell.

JFK: Destiny Betrayed is a powerful corrective to the historical amnesia that has settled over the United States.  It is an incandescent example of how the marriage of film and scholarship can produce popular history at its best.  For anyone who wants to understand the new Cold War that is verging on going nuclear, this film is  essential viewing.

The post Oliver Stone Documents the Past to Illuminate the Present first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Cuba Prepares for Disaster

The September 2021 Scientific American included a description by the editors of the deplorable state of disaster relief in the US. They traced the root cause of problems with relief programs as their “focus on restoring private property,” which results in little attention to those “with the least capacity to deal with disasters.” The book Disaster Preparedness and Climate Change in Cuba: Adaptation and Management (2021) comes out the next month. It traced the highly successful source of the island nation’s efforts to the way it put human welfare above property. This collection of 14 essays by Emily J. Kirk, Isabel Story, and Anna Clayfield is an extraordinary assemblage of articles, each addressing specific issues.

Writers are well aware that Cuban approaches are adapted to the unique geography and history of the island. What readers should take away is not so much the specific actions of Cuba as its method of studying a wide array of approaches and actually putting the best into effect (as opposed to merely talking about their strengths and weaknesses). The book traces Cuba’s preparedness from the threat of a US invasion following its revolution through its resistance to hurricanes and diseases, which all laid the foundation for current adaptions to climate change.

Only four years after the revolution, in 1963, Hurricane Flora hit the Caribbean, killing 7000-8000. Cubans who are old enough remember homes being washed away by waters carrying rotten food, animal carcasses and human bodies. It sparked a complete redesign of health systems, intensifying their integration from the highest decision-making bodies to local health centers. Construction standards were strengthened, requiring houses to have reinforced concrete and metal roofs to resist strong winds.

Decades of re-designing proved successful. In September 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, leading to 2975 deaths. The same month, Irma, also a Category 5 Hurricane, arrived in Cuba, causing 10 deaths. The dedication to actually preparing the country for a hurricane (as opposed to merely talking about preparedness) became a model for coping with climate change. Projecting potential future damage led Cubans to to realize that by 2050, rising water levels could destroy 122 coastal towns. By 2017, Cuba had become the only country with a government-led plan (Project Life, or Tarea Vida) to combat climate change which includes a 100 year projection.

Disaster Planning

Several aspects merged to form the core of Cuban disaster planning. They included education, the military, and social relationships. During 1961, Cuba’s signature campaign raised literacy to 96%, one of the world’s highest rates. This has been central to every aspect of disaster preparation – government officials and educators travel throughout the island, explaining consequences of inaction and everyone’s role in avoiding catastrophe.

Less obvious is the critical role of the military. From the first days they took power, leaders such as Fidel and Che explained that the only way the revolution could defend itself from overwhelming US force would be to become a “nation in arms.” Soon self-defense from hurricanes combined with self-defense from attack and Cuban armed forces became a permanent part of fighting natural disasters. By 1980, exercises called Bastión (bulwark) fused natural disaster management with defense rehearsals.

As many as 4 million Cubans (in a population of 11 million) were involved in activities to practice and carry out food production, disease control, sanitation and safeguarding medical supplies. A culture based on understanding the need to create a new society has glued these actions together. When a policy change is introduced, government representatives go to each community, including the most remote rural ones, to make sure that everyone knows the threats that climate change poses to their lives and how they can alter behaviors to minimize them. Developing a sense of responsibility for ecosystems includes such diverse actions as conserving energy, saving water, preventing fires and using medical products sparingly.

Contradictions

One aspect of the book may confuse readers. Some authors refer to the Cuban disaster prevention system as “centralized;” others refer to it as “decentralized;” and some describe it as both “centralized” and “decentralized” on different pages of their essay. The collection reflects a methodology of “dialectical materialism” which often employs the unity of opposite processes (“heads” and “tails” are opposite static states united in the concept of “coin”). As multiple authors have explained, including Ross Danielson in his classic Cuban Medicine (1979), centralization and decentralization of medicine have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the revolution. This may appear as centralization of inpatient care and decentralization of outpatient care (p. 165) but more often as centralization at the highest level of norms and decentralization of ways to implement care to the local level. The decision to create doctor-nurse offices was made by the ministry which provided guidelines for each area to implement according to local conditions.

A national plan for coping with Covid-19 was developed before the first Cuban died of the affliction and each area designed ways to to get needed medicines, vaccines and other necessities to their communities. Proposals for preventing water salinization in coastal areas will be very different from schemas for coping with rises in temperature in inland communities.

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Good

As non-stop use of fossil fuels renders the continued existence of humanity questionable, the issue of how to obtain energy rationally looms as a core problem of the twenty-first century. Disaster Preparedness explores an intriguing variety of energy sources. Some of them are outstandingly good; a few are bad; and, many provoke closer examination.

Raúl Castro proposed in 1980 that it was necessary to protect the countryside from impacts of nickel mining. What was critical in this early approach was an understanding that every type of metal extraction has negatives that must be weighed against its usefulness in order to minimize those negatives. What did not appear in his approach was making a virtue of necessity, which would have read “Cuba needs nickel for trade; therefore, extracting Cuban nickel is good; and, thus, problems with producing nickel should be ignored or trivialized.”

In 1991, when the USSR collapsed and Cuba lost its subsidies and many of its trading partners, its economy was devastated, adult males lost an average of 20 pounds, and health problems became widespread. This was Cuba’s “Special Period.” Not having oil meant that Cuba had to abandon machine-intensive agriculture for agroecology and urban farming.

Laws prohibited use of agrochemicals in urban gardens. Vegetable and herb production exploded from 4000 tons in 1994 to over 4 million tons by 2006. By 2019, Jason Hickel’s Sustainable Development Index rated Cuba’s ecological efficiency as the best in the world.

By far the most important part of Cuba’s energy program was using less energy via conservation, an idea abandoned by Western “environmentalists” who began endorsing unlimited expansion of energy produced by “alternative” sources. In 2005, Fidel began pushing conservation policies projected to reduce Cuba’s energy consumption by two-thirds. Ideas such these had blossomed during the first few years of the revolution.

What one author refers to as “bioclimatic architecture” is not clear, but it could include tile vaulting, which was studied extensively by the Cuban government in the early 1960s. It is based on arched ceilings formed by lightweight terra cotta tiles. The technique is low-carbon because it does not require expensive machinery and uses mainly local material such as terra cotta tiles from Camagüey province. Though used to construct buildings throughout the island, it was abandoned due to its need for skilled and specialized labor.

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Bad

Though there are negative aspects to Cuba’s energy perspectives, it is important to consider one which is anything but negative: energy efficiency (EE). Ever since Stanley Jevons predicted in 1865 that a more efficient steam engine design would result in more (not less) coal being used, it has been widely understood that if the price of energy (such as burning coal) is cheaper, then people will use more energy.

A considerable amount of research verifies that, at the level of the entire economy, efficiency makes energy cheaper and its use goes up. Some claim that if an individual uses a more EE option, then that person will use less energy. But that is not necessarily so. Someone buying a car might look for one that is more EE. If the person replaces a non-EE sedan with an EE SUV, the fact that SUVs use more energy than sedans would mean that the person is using more energy to get around. Similarly, rich people use money saved from EE devices to buy more gadgets while poor people might not buy anything additional or buy low-energy necessities.

This is why Cuba, a poor country with a planned economy, can design policies to reduce energy use. Whatever is saved from EE can lead to less or low-energy production, resulting in a spiraling down of energy usage. In contrast, competition drives capitalist economies toward investing funds saved from EE toward economic expansion, resulting in perpetual growth.

Though a planned economy allows for decisions that are healthier for people and ecosystems, bad choices can be made. One consideration in Cuba is the goal to “efficiently apply pesticides” (p. 171). The focus should actually be on how to farm without pesticides. Also under consideration is “solid waste energy capacities,” which is typically a euphemism for burning waste in incinerators. Incinerators are a terrible way to produce energy since they merely reduce the volume of trash to 10% of its original size while releasing poisonous gases, heavy metals (such as mercury and lead), and cancer-causing dioxins and furans.

The worst energy alternative was favored by Fidel, who supported a nuclear power plant which would supposedly “greatly reduce the cost of producing electricity.” (p. 187) Had the Soviets built a Chernobyl-type nuclear reactor, an explosion or two would not have contributed to disaster prevention. Once when I was discussing the suffering following the USSR collapse with a friend who writes technical documents for the Cuban government, he suddenly blurted out, “The only good thing coming out of the Special Period was that, without the Soviets, Fidel could not build his damned nuclear plant!”

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Uncertain

Between the poles of positive and negative lies a vast array of alternatives mentioned in Disaster Preparedness that most are unfamiliar with. There are probably few who know of bagasse, which is left over sugar cane stalks that have been squeezed for juice. Burning it for fuel might arouse concern because it is not plowed into soil like what should be done for wheat stems and corn stalks. Sugar cane is different because the entire plant is hauled away – it would waste fuel to transport it to squeezing machinery and then haul it back to the farm.

While fuel from bagasse is an overall environmental plus, the same cannot be said for oilseeds such as Jatropha curcas. Despite the book suggesting the they might be researched more, they are a dead end for energy production.

Another energy positive being expanded in Cuba is farms being run entirely on agroecology principles. The book claims that such farms can produce 12 times the energy they consume, which might seem like a lot. Yet, similar findings occur in other countries, notably Sweden. In contrast, at least one author holds out hope of obtaining energy from microalgae, almost certainly another dead end.

Potentially, a very promising source for energy is the use of biogas from biodigesters. Biodigesters break down manure and other biomass to create biogas which is used for tractors or transportation. Leftover solid waste material can be used as a (non-fossil fuel) fertilizer. On the other hand, an energy source which one author lists as viable is highly dubious: “solar cells built with gallum arsenide.” Compounds with arsenic are cancer-causing and not healthy for humans and other living species.

The word “biomass” is highly charged because it is one of Europe’s “clean, green” energy sources despite the fact that burning wood pellets is leading to deforestation in Estonia and the US. This does not seem to be the case in Cuba, where “biomass” refers to sawdust and weedy marabú trees. It remains important to distinguish positive biomass from highly destructive biomass.

Many other forms of alternative energy could be covered and there is a critical point applying to all of them. Each source of energy must be analyzed separately without ever assuming that if energy does not come from fossil fuels it is therefore useful and safe.

Depending on How You Get It

The three major sources of alternative energy – hydroturbines (dams), solar, and wind – share the characteristic that how positive or negative they are depends on the way they are obtained.

The simplest form of hydro power is the paddle wheel, which probably causes zero environmental damage and produces very little energy. At the other extreme is hydro-electric dams which cross entire rivers and are incredibly destructive towards human cultures and aquatic and terrestrial species. In between are methods such as diverting a portion of the river to harness its power. The book mentions pico-hydroturbines which affect only a portion of a river, generating less than 5kW and are extremely useful for remote areas. They have minimal environmental effects. But if a large number of these turbines were placed together in a river, that would be a different matter. The general rule for water power is that causing less environmental damage means producing less energy.

Many ways to produce energy start with the sun. Cuba uses passive solar techniques, which do not have toxic processes associated with electricity. A passivehaus design provides warmth largely via insulation and placement of windows. Extremely important is body heat. This makes a passivhaus difficult for Americans, whose homes typically have much more space per person than other countries. But the design could work better in Cuba, where having three generations living together in a smaller space would contribute to heating quite well.

At the negative extreme of solar energy are the land-hungry electricity-generating arrays. In between these poles is low-intensity solar power, also being studied by Cuba.

The vast majority of Cubans heat their water for bathing. Water heaters can depend on solar panels which turn sunlight into electricity. An even better non-electric design would be to use a box with glass doors and a black tank to collect heat, or to use “flat plate collectors” and then pipe the heated water to an indoor storage tank. As with hydro-power, simpler designs produce fewer problems but generate less energy.

Wind power is highly similar. Centuries ago, windmills were constructed with materials from the surrounding area and did not rely on or produce toxins. Today’s industrial wind turbines are toxic in every phase of their existence. In the ambiguous category are small wind turbines and wind pumps, both of which Cuba is exploring. What hydro, solar and wind power have in common is that non-destructive forms exist but produce less energy. The more energy-producing a system is, the more problematic it becomes.

Scuttling the Fetish

Since hydro, solar and wind power have reputations as “renewable, clean, green” sources of energy, it is necessary to examine them closely. Hydro, solar and wind power each require destructive extraction of materials such as lithium, cobalt, silver, aluminum, cadmium, indium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, neodymium, and dysprosium. All three lead to mountains of toxic waste that vastly exceed the amount obtained for use. And all require withdrawal of immense amounts of water (a rapidly vanishing substance) during the mining and construction.

Hydro-power also disrupts aquatic species (as well as several terrestrial ones), causes large releases of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from reservoirs, increases mercury poisoning, pushes people out of their homes during construction, intensifies international conflicts, and have killed up to 26,000 people from breakage. Silicon-based solar panels involves an additional list of toxic chemicals that can poison workers during manufacture, gargantuan loss of farm and forest land for installing “arrays” (which rapidly increases over time), and still more land loss for disposal after their 25-30 year life spans. Industrial wind turbines require loss of forest land for roads to haul 160 foot blades to mountain tops, land loss for depositing those mammoth blades after use, and energy-intensive storage capacity when there is no wind.

Hydro, solar and wind power are definitely NOT renewable, since they all are based on heavy usage of materials that are exhausted following continuous mining. Neither are they “carbon neutral” because all use fossil fuels for extraction of necessary building materials and end-of-life demolition. The most important point is that the issues listed here are a tiny fraction of total problems, which would require a very thick book to enumerate.

Why use the word “fetish” for approaches to hydro, solar and wind power? A “fetish” can be described as “a material object regarded with extravagant trust or reverence” These sources of energy have positive characteristics, but nothing like the reverence often bestowed upon them.

Cuba’s approach to alternative energy is quite different. Helen Yaffe wrote two of the major articles in Disaster Preparedness. She also put together the 2021 documentary, Cuba’s life task: Combatting climate change, which includes the following from advisor Orlando Rey Santos:

“One problem today is that you cannot convert the world’s energy matrix, with current consumption levels, from fossil fuels to renewable energies. There are not enough resources for the panels and wind turbines, nor the space for them. There are insufficient resources for all this. If you automatically made all transportation electric tomorrow, you will continue to have the same problems of congestion, parking, highways, heavy consumption of steel and cement.”

Cuba maps out many different outlines for energy in order to focus on those that are the most productive while causing the least damage. A genuine environmental approach requires a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA, also known as cradle-to-grave accounting) which includes all mining, milling, construction and transport of materials; the energy-gathering process itself (including environmental disruption); along with after-effects such as continuing environmental damage and disposal of waste. To these must be added social effects such as relocating people, injury and death of those resisting relocation, destruction of sacred cites and disruption of affected cultures.

A “fetish” on a specific energy source denotes tunnel-visioning on its use phase while ignoring preparatory and end-of-life phases and social disruption. While LCAs are often propounded by corporations, they are typically nothing but window-dressing, to be pitched out of window during actual decision-making. With an eternal growth dynamic, capitalism has a built-in tendency to downplay negatives when there is an opportunity to add new energy sources to the mix of fossil fuels.

Is It an Obscene Word?

Cuba has no such internal dynamics forcing it to expand the economy if it can provide better lives for all. The island could be a case study of degrowth economics. Since “degrowth” is shunned as a quasi-obscenity by many who insist that it would cause immeasurable suffering for the world’s poor, it is necessary to state what it would be. The best definition is that Global Economic Degrowth means (a) reduction of unnecessary and destructive production by and for rich countries (and people), (b) which exceeds the (c) growth of production of necessities by and for poor countries (and people).

This might not be as economically difficult as some imagine because …

1. The rich world spends such gargantuan wealth on that which is useless and deadly, including war toys, chemical poisons, planned obsolescence, creative destruction of goods, insurance, automobile addiction, among a mass of examples; and,

2. Providing the basic necessities of life can often be relatively cheap, such as health care in Cuba being less than 10% of US expenses (with Cubans having a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate).

Some mischaracterize degrowth, claiming that “Cuba experienced ‘degrowth’ during its ‘Special Period’ and it was horrible.” Wrong! Degrowth did not immiserate Cuba – the US embargo did. US sanctions (or embargo or blockade) of Cuba creates barriers to trade which force absurdly high prices for many goods. One small example: If Cubans need a spare part manufactured in the US, it cannot be merely shipped from the US, but more likely, arrives via Europe. That means its cost will reflect: [manufacture] + [cost of shipping to Europe] + [cost of shipping from Europe to Cuba].

What is amazing is that Cuba has developed so many techniques of medical care and disaster management for hurricanes and climate change, despite its double impoverishment from colonial days and neo-colonial attacks from the US.

Daydreaming

Cuba realizes the responsibility it has to protect its extraordinary biodiversity. Its extensive coral reefs are more resistant to bleaching than most and must be investigated to discover why. They are accompanied by healthy marine systems which include mangroves and seagrass beds. Its flora and fauna boast 3022 distinct plant species plus dozens of reptiles, amphibians and bird species which exist only on the island.

For Cuba to implement global environmental protection and degrowth policies it would need to receive financing both to research new techniques and to train the world’s poor in how to develop their own ways to live better. Such financial support would include …

1. Reparations for centuries of colonial plunder;

2. Reparations for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, multiple attacks which killed Cuban citizens, hundreds of attempts on Fidel’s life, and decades of slanderous propaganda; and,

3. At least $1 trillion in reparations for losses due to the embargo since 1962.

Why reparations? It is far more than the fact that Cuba has been harmed intensely by the US. Cuba has a track record proving that it could develop amazing technologies if it were left alone and received the money it deserves.

Like all poor countries, Cuba is forced to employ dubious methods of producing energy in order to survive. It is unacceptable for rich countries to tell poor countries that they must not use energy techniques which have historically been employed to obtain what is necessary for living. It is unconscionable for rich countries to fail to forewarn poor countries that repeating practices which we now know are dangerous will leave horrible legacies for their descendants.

Cuba has acknowledged past misdirections including an economy based on sugar, a belief in the need of humanity to dominate nature, support for the “Green Revolution” with its reliance on toxic chemicals, tobacco in food rations, and the repression of homosexuals. Unless it is sidetracked by by advocates of infinite economic growth, its pattern suggests that it will recognize problems with alternative energy and seek to avoid them.

In the video Cuba’s Life Task, Orlando Rey also observes that “There must be a change in the way of life, in our aspirations. This is a part of Che Guevara’s ideas on the ‘new man.’ Without forming that new human, it is very difficult to confront the climate issue.”

Integration of poor countries into the global market has meant that areas which were once able to feed themselves are are now unable to do so. Neo-liberalism forces them to use energy sources that are life-preservers in the short run but are death machines for their descendants. The world must remember that Che’s “new man” will not clamor for frivolous luxuries while others starve. For humanity to survive, a global epiphany rejecting consumer capitalism must become a material force in energy production. Was Che only dreaming? If so, then keep that dream alive!

Don Fitz (moc.loanull@nodztif)is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, where a version of this article originally appeared. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. His articles on politics and the environment have appeared in Monthly Review, Z Magazine, and Green Social Thought, as well as multiple online publications. His book, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution, has been available since June 2020. Thoughts from Stan Cox and John Som de Cerff were very helpful for technical aspects of this review.

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