The Cuba breakthrough and U.S. Latin America policy

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The wonderful breakthrough in Cuba-US relations on December 17 requires that the left in the United States give some thought about how to deal with the relationship of the United States with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

There are some on the left who are expressing unwarranted worries about the new relationship between the United States and Cuba.  To some extent, given the history of imperial interventions, this is understandable, but it also betrays a certain lack of confidence in the Cuban leadership, which has dealt with far worse situations than this with both flexibility and firmness. 

Worry about whether Cuba would extradite Assata Shakur to the United States evaporated when Josefina Vidal, the head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North America section, stated immediately that Cuba has no intention of returning to the United States any of the people to whom Cuba has granted asylum over the years    Nor is the presence in Cuba of U.S. products, investments and tourists going to bring down the revolution.  Cuban beaches are full of European and Asian tourists, and Cuba has numerous economic arrangements with capitalist countries and companies from around the world, and the Revolution has not fallen.   Nor is there any chance that U.S. citizens whose properties were nationalized after the Cuban revolution, including Cuban born people who have since become U.S. citizens, are going to get that property restored to them.  At the time Cuba offered a plan of compensation which the United States rejected. Since then, the United States has run up a bill in Cuba to the tune of billions of dollars in counter claims, not only because of the damage done by the economic blockade but also because of terroristic attacks against Cuba which did vast property damage as well as killing thousands of innocent Cuban citizens.

In short, Cuba has won this round.  In the agreement reached between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, Cuba did not have to give up anything that was a matter of principle, and won, either immediately or potentially, everything it has been asking and fighting for over the last 54 years: Freedom for the Cuban Five, restored diplomatic relations, increased trade, an implied promise to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the promotion of legislation to end the economic blockade and travel sanctions. 

This victory for Cuban solidarity comes in part because of a massive international movement to free the Cuban Five and end the blockade.  For the past 23 consecutive years, there have been lopsided votes in the United Nations General Assembly condemning U.S. Cuba policy.  In November 2014, the vote was 188 for condemning the blockade and only 2 (the United States and Israel) opposed.  Public opinion in the United States has been turning against the blockade, and the New York Times published a series of very useful articles calling for the blockade to end and for the remaining members of the Cuban Five to be freed.

To understand why the Obama administration has decided to radically change its Cuba policy just at this point (or rather, about a year and a half ago when negotiations began in Canada, and helped by Pope Francis, that brought us to this breakthrough), we have to look at developments in the whole Latin America-Caribbean area.

From the election of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela in 1998 until now, Latin America has been slipping away from the grasp of the United States, and has become the site of a new development of mass based socialist politics. 

This leftward movement of the Latin American and Caribbean states, which some call the "pink tide", is called "Bolivarian" by its supporters, because it emphasizes two dreams of the Venezuelan and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar: That the peoples of the area be truly independent of outside imperial powers, including not only Spain and other European monarchies, but also the United States, and that they be integrated into one powerful and united people.  Before Bolivar's death in 1830, it appeared to Bolivar, despondent, betrayed by associates and dying, that this was a losing fight:  "He who serves the revolution plows in the sea"  

At the center of the new Bolivarianism is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America.   This was started by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004 and today includes eleven sovereign states with a total population of 70 million.  At the ALBA summit meeting in Havana this past week, two states were added (Greneda and St. Kitts and Nevis)   The others are Antigua and Barbuda,  Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

A second ring of states with leftist or left-centrist governments is integrated through the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the South American Common Market (MERCOSUR). Not all the states in these organizations have left wing governments, but the Bolivarian influence is predominant.  

After a series of electoral successes this past year, the states in the region which now are governed by left or left-center leaders include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Nicaragua, St  Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Uruguay and Venezuela.  So the total population of countries in the "pink tide" is now about 350 million.  In one country, Panama, the last elections ousted a right wing, anti-communist government.  The Panamanian Peoples Party, which is the communist party there, sees the movement as generally positive. 

To a greater or lesser extent, these governments oppose neo-liberal policies, work together on improving mutual trade and aid, and resist the traditional U.S. economic, political and military domination of the region.  They are trying to create developmental aid mechanisms that are totally unlike the "structural adjustment" deals forced on poor countries by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and developed capitalist countries. Rather than punishing states which invest money in meeting the needs of their people, the Bolivarian governments help each other to achieve improvements in living conditions. The Bank of the South (Bancosur) is being developed as an alternate development financing agency for the region.

 A big part of this strategy includes increasing worldwide trade options, and naturally China looms large in those considerations. 

But it is not just the governments that are different; large mass movements of workers, small farmers, the poor, indigenous and afro-descendent people and others constitute the social base for Bolivarianism.  These are the guarantees of its future also.

Two countries that had governments aligned with Bolivarianism were overthrown with US support:  Honduras and Paraguay.  Living standards and especially personal security have declined sharply, and there is widespread opposition to the right wing governments in both countries.

The pinnacle of the Western Hemisphere integration process is CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, which includes every single Western Hemisphere country except the United States and Canada.  This is threatening to displace the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), which is seen by many as an instrument of U.S. imperial control.   The exclusion of Cuba from the O.A.S. is now viewed negatively even by right wing governments who perceive that the United States is being isolated in the hemisphere and don't want to be isolated with it.  Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos told the United States that if Cuba were excluded from O.A.S. sponsored Summit of the Americas in Panama in April of 2015, other governments would not participate.  So now the Obama administration has dropped its objection to Cuba's inclusion.

To counter this leftward movement, the U.S. has been supporting the "Pacific Alliance", which bases itself on a neo-liberal trade and economic model.  The Pacific Alliance now includes Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, with a total of about 206 million inhabitants.  Early in 2014, the right wing governments of Costa Rica and Panama had signed agreements to become part of the Pacific Alliance, but these governments were defeated in subsequent elections, so the future of those pacts is yet to be seen.  Guatemala and Honduras may also join. Chile became part of the Pacific Alliance under right wing president Sebastian Piñera, before the election of socialist Michelle Bachelet in March of 2014.  Chile, Costa Rica and Panama all are friendly to socialist Cuba, so within the Pacific Alliance (if they stay in it) they would be strong opponents of using of the group for anti-Cuba and other right wing purposes.

With the exception of Cuba, all the Bolivarian governments could be characterized as social democratic, often with an admixture of nationalism and populism. In almost all cases where a communist party exists, it is allied with the Bolivarian government, sometimes with legislative representation and even seats in the cabinet.  And in all countries in the region, Cuba is a hero nation and an inspiration.

The Bolivarian governments can all point to improvements in the lives of workers, small farmers, indigenous people, women and youth.  Advances in health care and education are significant.   Also, the Bolivarian movement has destroyed the prospects of a neo-liberal "Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)" in which previous U.S. administrations invested such efforts.

The non-Bolivarian countries can boast of no such record.  Mexico's economy is underperforming and there is a shocking level of corruption and violence.  In Peru, although most of the left had supported the election of President Ollanta Humala in 2012, there is now bitter disappointment at the continuation of neo-liberal policies, and much conflict between the government and the large indigenous population, over issues of mining and land rights.  Colombia continues to have a very high rate of violence, although center-right president Juan Manuel Santos is credited with sincerely trying to reach a peaceful settlement with the FARC (Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution), with negotiations going on in Havana mediated by the Cuban and Norwegian governments.  In Guatemala, the continued influence of right wing military figures (such as current President Otto Perez Molina), big landowners and foreign based monopolies have kept both workers and small farmers suppressed and controlled, often by bloody violence.

The Bolivarian states have their problems.  The current drastic worldwide drop in oil prices is having a negative effect in oil producing Venezuela, which has also been plagued by inflation, scarcity and violence this year.  As many of the Bolivarian countries are tied into PETROCARIBE, a system whereby they can access Venezuelan oil on very favorable credit terms, they are also likely to be affected too. Some other Bolivarian countries are also suffering from inflation and other ills. Internally, a number of countries have to figure out a way to balance the needs of urban workers for development and jobs, with the need to protect the environment and the land rights of indigenous populations. 

But for now, the Bolivarian "pink tide" is here to stay. It is likely that popular pressure will lead some or all of the countries who have not yet done so to move with the tide.

U.S. political leaders and government agents have not yet let this lesson sink in.  There are still efforts to use government funds, often channeled through USAID via non governmental organizations, to destabilize countries of the Bolivarian group.  The US Congress has just passed, and president Obama signed, legislation imposing sanctions on officials of the Venezuelan government.   How this will be implemented by the Obama administration is yet to be seen. 

Most of the left, worldwide and regionally, sees the advance of Bolivarianism as hugely positive. While only Cuba can be considered a socialist state at this point, it seems clear to most leftists that Bolivarianism is improving the lives of workers, farmers and the poor and at the same time building a platform from which further left advances, including socialism itself, can be achieved. 

A very small number of left wing parties do not agree with this and see no difference between Bolivarian ruled states and states ruled by right wing parties.

What is the task of the left in the United States at this point?

First, we have to educate the U.S. population that the growth of the Bolivarian movement is not a threat to working people in the United States.  On the contrary, as the wages and living standards of people in the Bolivarian countries improve, it becomes more difficult for capital to play off workers in the poorer countries against U.S. workers.  

Secondly, we need to convince the U.S. government that efforts to destabilize and undermine the left wing Bolivarian governments are doomed to fail; that U.S. corporations and politicians are going to have to learn to live with the existence of this large bloc of left and left-center ruled countries who have to be treated as equals and sovereign states, not as puppets or people to be bullied into submission. 

Thirdly, the worst elements of our corporate "one percent" increase their power by exploiting people in the poorer countries.  A defeat for them in Latin America is a victory for workers in the United States.

U.S. capitalists, whose interests the anti-Cuba policy was supposed to benefit, have ended up lobbying for a change in that policy because they are losing out on the opportunity to trade with Cuba: to China, to Europe and everybody.    But the people of the United States also won, because their economic interests are served by the new policy and because their right to travel to Cuba is being restored. Working people in the United States can take inspiration from the Latin American developments to help guide our own struggles, including the struggle for socialism.

If the Obama administration will follow up with a rapprochement with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and the other Bolivarian states, it will come out a winner too, and the only losers will be right wingers everywhere. Imperialism will not disappear, but the people will have won an important victory for internationalist solidarity.


Photo: Raul Castro with then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil January 2008      Agencia Brazil/Creative Commons 3.0







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  • Cuba as ‘Hero Nation:’
    The article defines the ‘pink tide’ movements as Bolivarian revolutions to unite the peoples of the Americas against outside exploitation and imperial conquest and control. Cuba was the first nation in the Americas to achieve a Bolivarian revolution. For over 50 years the U.S. has done all it can to destabilize, impoverish, delegitimize, and destroy the Cuban Revolution. These policies have been a failure and have only made Cuba a hero nation for the vast underclass constituencies of ‘pink tide’ governments. The positive attitude that most black Americans have towards Cuba and her revolution hints at the positive attitude held by communities of color, workers, peasants, women, youth, the poor, and indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. Count also the good will generated by Cuba’s policy of international solidarity, whether sending medical teams to fight Ebola or helping earthquake victims in Haiti. Confronting Latin American developments that will free the region from Western imperialism, capitalism, racism, IMF debt slavery, and economic austerity, the U.S. has to change radically it Cuba policy. It is a policy change of necessity, not choice. It was either that or lose out to its capitalist competitors from Europe, Canada, and China who will invest in Latin America with no strings attached. On the other hand, the U.S. would like to create a so-called ‘free trade zone’ for Latin America to better exploit and plunder its riches, natural resources, and peoples. But that is not going to happen as the Latin American countries establish independent self-help regional organizations (e.g. ALBA or CELAC). The ‘pink tide’ governments are developing new strategies to end the plunder by Western capitalism, and are developing new models of economic growth and social welfare for their peoples. While Europe and the U.S. stagnate, decay, and decline under austerity economics, Latin Americans will enjoy prosperous independent growth and development. And they can thank the Cubans and Venezuelans for leading the way forward towards Simon Bolivar’s dream. NT

    Posted by Nat Turner, 01/28/2015 7:04am (9 years ago)

  • Christ said to Satan-in Matthew 4-man does not live by bread only-but does live by bread and a free and equal trade status for Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador with the U. S. , will help all countries involved, their respective working class, and its allies to eat bread in peace, freedom, abundance and prosperity, each helping the other's.
    So when we contact our congress persons, we do so in peace, love and freedom for the hemisphere's well-being.
    Let's eat the bread of life for peace.
    Let's do it.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/06/2015 12:48pm (9 years ago)

  • I'm happy for the Cuban people that they may now have access to a wider range of food and other essentials but I do worry that western corporate imperialism may erode some of the great things about Cuban culture and life.

    Posted by Peter Jenner, 01/03/2015 11:23am (9 years ago)

  • An outstanding expose' about the breakthrough in Cuba-US relations combining truth with fact that I found fascinating to read. The problem with most US policy toward Cuba has been the interventionist intent to violate the right to self-determination and sovereignty of the Cuban people.
    For example, Vicki Huddleston, USIS chief in Havana, 1999-2002 and retired US Ambassador, with skill and craftiness, pointed out unless Cubans are willing to cast off fear and demand their voices be heard, "no lasting change can take place".
    In my opinion, this stems from fear that US policy lost its grip in the Western Hemisphere to contain popular determination toward independence based upon false anti-communist assumptions and US economic dominance. As the agreement to work out a new relationship is negotiated, we must be vigilant that real progress is made to end the US blockade and return respect to the Cuban people where it belongs.

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 12/31/2014 12:34pm (9 years ago)

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