Unsatisfied with only ousting Brazil’s President by leaking NSA surveillance to the country’s judiciary, Washington now seeks to break the back of Venezuela by fracturing the powerful Petrocaribe energy alliance.
On Monday, the US began a two-day energy summit in Washington, attended by several Caribbean countries, in an attempt to undermine the Petrocaribe oil alliance between Venezuela and Caribbean nations, in what some see as a bid to break the back of the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro.
The energy summit comes on the heels of a proposed recall referendum against the Venezuelan leader, who was elected following the death of Hugo Chavez. The Maduro government faces flagging public opinion due to economic disruption brought about by dwindling oil prices, now at $35 per barrel.
The Venezuelan economy relies on oil revenues for some 95% of its income. Regional agreements set forth under the Chavez regime allow for Latin American and Caribbean countries to pool resources in markets where they possess a competitive advantage.
With oil prices nearing decade lows, the Venezuelan economy and its populace continue to be ravaged by deep poverty and over 1000% inflation. Dire conditions in the country are a consequence of policies that long pre-date the Maduro government, and have been exacerbated by Western market manipulation and Saudi Arabia’s push to bankrupt competitor countries by artificially deflating oil prices below profitable levels.
In a Wednesday interview with Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker, Francisco Dominguez of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign explained that this is not the first time that the White House has attempted to fracture the Petrocaribe oil alliance. In 2015, Vice President Joe Biden created a fracas by attempting to meet secretly with Caribbean leaders to woo them away from the alliance. The Vice President and the State Department initially denied the meeting before retracting that position.
Dominguez speculated that this week’s energy in summit in Washington revolved around US imperialistic hopes to replace Maduro with an opposition leader more favorable to American oil companies. “I think this whole thing has more to do with the overall policy of the United States seeking to oust the government of Venezuela once and for all,” said Dominguez.
US relations with the Latin American country have long been strained, both under Maduro and under his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Many remember the late-President Chavez stating before the United Nations that he smelt sulfur, a reference to the Christian devil, after walking past then-President George W. Bush. The Chavez regime opposed the Bush administration’s penchant for regime change and US intervention in oil rich countries.
Yet, Dominguez believes that the Venezuelan people have more to fear from Washington Democrats than from a Republican Party led by presumptive nominee Donald Trump. He suggested that this week’s round of meetings was sparked by a positive general election outlook on the side of Democrats, who expect a Clinton presidency that will mirror the policies of Obama.
“It looks good for the Democrats against the Republicans so now they want to take a tougher policy against Venezuela,” said Dominguez.
Dominguez asserts that it remains unlikely that Caribbean states will abandon the Petrocaribe alliance, providing as it does for impoverished countries with stable oil supplies preferential conditions and favorable prices for 25 years. He suggests that at least 13 Caribbean nations have benefited from an arrangement that also contributes to regional unity.
But the Washington-supported opposition in Venezuela includes among their grievances the Petrocaribe energy alliance, which has become increasingly expensive for the country to maintain as oil prices have dropped. The White House is seen to be aiming to fabricate the fear among Caribbean states that Venezuela will not maintain their commitment to Petrocaribe, in a bid to force the smaller nations to accept an arrangement with the United States.
Some see the effort to fracture the Petrocaribe alliance as an attempt by Washington to strike a fatal blow at Chavez’s legacy. The controversial former leader established a number of regional political bodies in an effort to strengthen Latin America against Western corporate interests.
Dominguez recalls that the string of coalitions established by Chavez saw to it that each regional country contributed what they had into a broader pool, expanding the fortunes of all Latin American and Caribbean countries.
“In the case of Venezuela it was oil, in the case of Brazil it was industrial goods, Argentina provided agricultural goods, and Cuba supplied the doctors,” said Dominguez. “Chavez was very successful, if you look at the regional political map.”
That legacy now rests in the hands of the embattled Maduro government, likely facing a recall election following a review of referendum signatures. The opposition will need some 7.5 million votes to oust Maduro, equal to the amount of votes he won when elected. The outcome of the referendum remains unpredictable, and to date the opposition remains divided.
Opposition organizations from Cuba are anxiously expecting President Barack Obama’s visit to the island as they prepare allegations against the Cuban government and demands to the U.S. government in an effort to take advantage of the recent international attention on what has been deemed a historic visit.
“(Much of the) Cuban opposition is not legitimate because it does not seek the well being of Cubans as they claim and is led by powerful U.S.-backed groups that have always sought to overthrow the socialist government,” said to teleSUR international analyst Ramiro Galarza.
Representatives from groups of the Cuba’s most prominent opposition movements, like “the Ladies in White,” will have a meeting with Obama on Tuesday. They are expected to give him a letter in which they will demand the U.S. intervene in various issues, including the release of prisoners and unmediated access to internet.
However, some opposition leaders have started to show disappointment about Obama’s visit, underlining the same points of disagreement of the most conservative U.S. opponents to the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana.
Cuba’s opposition has never been jointly organized, says Galarza, because different factions and leaders rarely have reached agreement.
“They are only interested in their own cause,” the analyst said. “(Most) people in Cuba are not familiar with opposition leaders and their demands, not even those [who] claim refugee status with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” he added.
During what was known as “Cuba’s Special Period,” which lasted from the late 1980’s till the early 2000’s, the isolated country passed through one of its worst economic crisis, mainly provoked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, ally and sponsor of Cuba, but also largely caused by the U.S. blockade on the island.
Analyst Galarza said during that time, several U.S.-backed organizations, headed by groups of wealthy Cubans abroad, tried to destabilize the government of then President Fidel Castro, using the adverse situation experienced by people to sow dissent.
On August 5, 1994, there was a huge demonstration in Havana, with thousands of people in the streets demanding that the government improve their situation, clashes between protesters and police erupted, the riot became violent and then President Fidel Castro went out and gave a passionate speech to Cubans in an attempt to calm the situation.
He accused the United States of trying to provoke a “bloodbath” in Cuba.
The incident led to the reforms that softened the restrictions on dissident movements while advocating for non-violence. Those reforms have increasingly improved in recent years.
However, recently, attempts by the U.S. government to embolden Cuba’s opposition have not be unheard of.
In 2014, “the Cuba Twitter” controversy caused a stir after the Associated Press reported that the social media platform ZunZuneo, named after Cuban slang for a hummingbird, was allegedly intended to destabilize the Cuban government by advocating for Cuban users to create “smart mobs” and “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
The Cuban Adjustment Act, passed in 1966 by the U.S. Congress, allows any Cuban who enters the United States to gain permanent residency after being present in the U.S. for one year. This law, passed at the height of the Cold War, is unique to Cuban emigrants, with no other migrant group given this special consideration.
Cubans sit aboard a homemade raft, known in Cuba as a balsa.
This Act was passed in order to encourage emigration from Cuba to the United States. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, there was an exodus of Cubans opposed to the revolution who fled to the United States. In his autobiography, Fidel Castro stated that in the first three years after the revolution, more than 270,000 Cubans migrated to the United States.
Many of those who left Cuba were professionals and their exit put a strain on the Cuban economy – a favorable situation for policy makers in the U.S.
Wanting to continue to promote a “brain drain” in Cuba, the Cuban Adjustment Act was passed, which further encouraged Cubans to leave the island and arrive in the U.S. Those opposed to the revolution also facilitated their arrival by providing material support for these so-called refugees.
Cuba and the U.S. did eventually negotiate a deal where the U.S. promised to issue up to 20,000 visas a year so people could migrate legally, but ultimately only some 1,000 were issued yearly.
With the allure of having the right to live and work in the United States legally upon arrival but unable to secure a visa, many Cubans continued to make the journey to the U.S. state of Florida by whatever means they could.
This led to people undertaking various means in an attempt to navigate the strait separating the island from Florida’s southern tip, including hijacking vehicles not apt for long-distance sea travel, such as tug boats. Despite this, the Cuban coast guard had strict orders not to intercept vessels in the water if they had people aboard. This also led to the phenomenon known as the balseros, people who attempt to arrive in the U.S. in homemade rafts, especially during the difficult Special Period.
The influx of Cubans led to more negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba, and in 1995 the U.S. government finally agreed not to admit Cubans found at sea headed for the U.S. Those who did reach the shores of the U.S. would be admitted and be granted residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, hence the reference to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” rule.
The Cuban government considers this rule a provocation, while critics say the policy not only promotes dangerous forms of travel, but is also an incentive for human trafficking by criminal groups.
Cuba is known for sending medical personnel overseas as part of its medical brigade program which was launched during the 1959 Revolution.
The Bolivian Health Ministry thanked Cuban doctors and the Cuban government Friday for the solidarity offered to their country as part of Cuba’s medical internationalism over the past 10 years.
Ariana Campero, the head of agency of the decade-long program, congratulated the local partners and conveyed greetings from President Evo Morales. “Thank you very much to Fidel Castro, Commander Raul Castro and the Cuban people. We are sending you all an embrace of solidarity from Bolivia.”
According to Dr. Pavel Noa, the national coordinator of the mission, the most important results that protrude from the mission encompass more than 63 million consultations offered to the Bolivian people, 179,282 surgical interventions performed and a total of 86,983 lives saved.
Medical workers are often believed to be Cuba’s most important export, having served in countries all over the world and in particular in Latin America, Africa and, more recently in Oceania.
Dr. Alina Ochoa, head of Medical Assistance Brigade, stressed the importance of cooperation in the healthcare sector and said the aim was to ensure the health of the Bolivian people. “Cuba has a long and successful history in providing medical staff worldwide, which was ratified in Bolivia with the presence of more than 700 collaborators.”
The representative of the Pan American Health Organization, Luis Fernando Leanes, acknowledged the work of the Cuban mission, which he described as wonderful and very important. “How nice to be in this country and see Cubans and Bolivians working together for peace and welfare”, he said.
Cuba´s efforts in providing medical services to the poor have been acknowledged internationally as it was among the first countries to respond when the World Health Organization called for medical staff to help with the Ebola crisis. Fidel Castro proudly described the 12,000 medical volunteers who signed up as “an army of white coats”.
February 10, 2016
SHOW NOTES AND MP3: https://www.corbettreport.com/?p=17810
Although it gets short shrift in the history textbooks, in many ways the modern American empire can find its origins in the Spanish-American War. Today we talk to James Perloff of JamesPerloff.com about his article on the war, “Trial Run for Interventionism,” and how the bankers used their media and political connections to launch the war and introduce foreign interventionism to the American psyche.
The White House may end a program encouraging Cuban doctors sent abroad to defect and move to the United States.
The program, created under George W. Bush in 2006, is under review as a part of ongoing negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba, reported Reuters on Friday. Cuba considers it a “reprehensible practice” that is designed to “deprive Cuba and many other countries of vital human resources.”
The island sends medical personnel to countries suffering from health crises, including to South Africa in the post-apartheid brain drain and to West Africa to treat patients infected with Ebola.
The dispatches are a significant export and source of income for the country. In exchange for staff Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of oil a year from Venezuela.
Under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, U.S. embassies in over 60 countries have discretionary authority to grant Cuban doctors abroad U.S. visas.
Despite being compared to slaves or prisoners on parole, out of over 40,000 medical workers in third world countries, the program accepted a total of 7,117 applicants. In 2015, 1,663 applicants were approved, a record in its nine-year history.
“It’s not only an issue of quantity, but of the quality of the specialists, the brains that the North American government has been selectively robbing… which is also a source of income for the problems that our people are confronting daily,” Marcos Agustín del Risco, director of Human Capital in the Ministry of Public Health, told Radio Rebelde.
The defectors “seriously affected” Cuba’s own free health care system, causing President Raul Castro to recently announce that the government will re-impose limits on the number of medics leaving the country. Last summer, controversy over Cuban doctors who had fled to Colombia to process U.S. visas became a major question in U.S.-Cuba relations.
“It’s an unusual policy, and I think as we look at the whole totality of the relationship, this is something that we felt was worth being in the list of things that we consider,” Ben Rhodes, a national security adviser that participated in Cuba talks last year, told Reuters.
The United States government could potentially spend up to US$30 million on “democracy development” programs in Cuba in 2016, according to bills waiting for approval at U.S. Congress.
Two draft bills related to U.S. State Department’s budget for foreign spending were approved by the Appropriation Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The draft bill approved by the House Committee on Appropriations states that the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, the State Department and the Agency for International Development would share US$30 million in Cuba democracy funds.
Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘Economic Support Fund, “$30,000,000 shall be made available to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba,” the draft bill said. It was approved by the House’s committee in June 2015.
It added that such funds could not be used “for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship, or any other assistance that is not democracy-building.”
Meanwhile, the draft bill approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations said that US$20 million should be used for Cuba democracy programs, including up to $5 million for “private Cuban entrepreneurs.” This draft was approved by the committee in July last year.
The Senate version of the bill also authorizes US$50.5 million “for programs to promote Internet freedom globally,” and says a portion of the funds would likely be used “to support Internet freedom in Cuba.”
Neither bill has been approved by any of the corresponding government bodies yet.
Over the years, programs such as the NED or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have received mounting criticism over meddling in other nations political spheres in order to promote U.S. interests, unlike their claim of promoting democracy and aid.
Both programs are funded by the U.S. congress.
Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for the U.S. presidency twice, has argued against such programs. In 2005, he stated that NED has “very little to do with democracy. It is an organization that uses U.S. tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas.”
The NED has been banned in various countries over meddling claims.
Cuba blamed the U.S. on Tuesday for the situation of more than 1,000 Cuban migrants in Central America, pegging the crisis on U.S. Cold War-era immigration policy put in place during the early years of the U.S. blockade on Cuba.
“The Foreign Ministry wishes to emphasize that these citizens are victims of the U.S. government’s politicization of immigration issues,” said a government statement on a Cuban news broadcast.
The Cuban government statements come amid a recent spike in number of Cuban migrants crossing Central America en route to the U.S. Many Cubans, some wishing to reunite with their families, fear that the renewal of U.S.-Cuban relations could bring an end to a decades-old policy allowing landed Cuban migrants to stay in the U.S.
But more than 1,000 Cuban migrants have become stuck in Central America, facing challenges of tightened borders first at the Panama-Costa Rica crossing, then at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. Nicaragua tightened its borders Sunday and accused Costa Rica of fomenting a “humanitarian crisis” in the region.
Under the U.S.’s 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, any Cuban who enters the U.S. is able to gain permanent residency after being present in the U.S. for one year. The act, amended in 1995 to not admit to the U.S. any Cubans found at sea, became known as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” rule.
The Cuban government considers this rule a provocation, while critics say the policy not only promotes dangerous forms of travel, but is also an incentive for human trafficking by criminal groups.
“This policy stimulates irregular emigration from Cuba toward the United States and constitutes a violation of the letter and the spirit of migration accords that are in force and through which both countries assume an obligation to guarantee legal, safe and orderly emigration,” said the Cuban government statement.
Cuba said it has been in contact with Central American countries on the Cuban migration route to discuss how to best remedy the migrant situation.
Fair-and-balanced Fox News reported on Wednesday that “Cuban military operatives reportedly have been spotted in Syria, where sources believe they are advising President Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and may be preparing to man Russian-made tanks to aid Damascus in fighting rebel forces backed by the U.S.” Fox’s claim of an imaginary enemy alliance relies on two sources: the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and an anonymous U.S. official.
The source at the Miami Institute indicated that “An Arab military officer at the Damascus airport reportedly witnessed two Russian planes arrive there with Cuban military personnel on board. When the officer questioned the Cubans, they told him they were there to assist Assad because they are experts at operating Russian tanks.”
It is unclear what nationality the “Arab” officer was. Perhaps, said Arab determined the people aboard the Russian plane were Cubans because he saw them smoking cigars and drinking mojitos. The Cuban soldiers then volunteered – supposedly – they were “there to assist Assad” because of their expertise manning Russian tanks. However improbable this may seem to an unbiased observer, the source from the Miami Institute said that “it doesn’t surprise me.”
The supposed U.S. official – who Fox grants anonymity to without giving a reason why – related “evidence” from “intelligence reports” that Cuban troops “may” have trained in Russia and “may have” come to Syria in Russian planes. Sounds legit.
Despite the thinness of the report’s sourcing and the improbability of its content, other news organizations were quick to parrot its claims. Spanish newspaper ABC noted the next day that media from Germany to Argentina to the Middle East had echoed the Fox News report, while ABC did the same themselves.
By Friday, the story had gained enough traction that it was raised at a White House briefing. In a response that should have been enough to put the story to rest, the White House Press Secretary said “we’ve seen no evidence to indicate that those reports are true.”
But a few hours later, the Daily Beast had definitively declared in a headline that: “Cuba Is Intervening in Syria to Help Russia. It’s Not the First Time Havana’s Assisted Moscow.”
Progressive concern troll James Bloodworth turned Fox’s rumors into fact and wrote that “Not for the first time Cuban forces are doing Russia’s dirty work, this time in Syria… Obama has been holding his hand out in a gesture of goodwill to America’s adversaries only for them to blow him a raspberry back in his face – while standing atop a pile of Syrian corpses.”
In reality, Obama’s “gesture of goodwill” is little more than behaving less overtly hostile after decades of American aggression against Cuba and Iran. If you are choking someone unprovoked and you loosen your grip, it is far from a gesture of goodwill.
Bloodworth also tries to make an historical argument that Cuba’s (imaginary) military actions in Syria are consistent with their “bloody” interventions elsewhere. He decries “Cuban terror in Ethiopia” that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being killed. “The tragedy was largely a consequence of the policies pursued by the Communist dictatorship that ruled Ethiopia at the time – a regime propped up by Cuba and the Soviet Union.”
In 1977, Somalia had invaded Ethiopia in an attack that “had been encouraged by ambivalent signals from Washington,” according to historian Piero Gleijeses in his book Visions of Freedom.  Initially reluctant to become involved, Fidel Castro finally agreed to Ethiopian requests to send troops to repel the Somali invasion.
Gleijeses found in his extensive review of formerly classified military documents that Cuba’s motives in aiding Ethiopia were sincere:
With hindsight, we know that Mengistu’s policies resulted in disaster, but this was not clear in 1977: though the process was undeniably bloody, the Ethiopian junta had decreed a radical agrarian reform and taken unprecedented steps to foster the cultural rights of the non-Amhara population… The evidence indicates that the Cubans intervened because they believed, as Cuban intelligence stated in March 1977, that ‘the social and economic measures adopted by Ethiopia’s leadership are the most progressive we have seen in any underdeveloped country since the triumph of the Cuban revolution.’  In addition to correcting the record on Ethiopia, Gleijeses’ study also serves to set the record straight on Cuba’s historical modus operandi in its military interventions abroad. Cuba did maintain a large military presence in Angola for nearly 15 years, starting in 1975.
Castro first sent troops in November 1975 after Angolan President Agostinho Neto warned of a South African invasion of the country already underway which would inevitably topple the nascent government without outside support. Cuba agreed to send soldiers to Angola right away. Several months later, they would repel the apartheid army back to Pretoria. They remained in Angola at Neto’s bequest to prevent further incursions from the racist South African army into the country’s sovereign territory.
At the same time, there was an ongoing civil war between Neto’s MPLA, the largest and most popular of the guerilla groups, and the South African and American-backed UNITA guerillas led by former Portuguese collaborator Jonas Savimbi.
Castro was adamant that Cuban troops would be responsible for preventing a South African invasion, while Angolan troops should deal with their own internal conflict. In meetings with Neto, Castro “kept hammering away on the need to fight the bandits … He explained to us that the fight against the bandits was necessarily and without question the responsibility of the Angolans, that we could not wage this war, that it was their war.” 
Cuba’s position during the Angolan conflict is consistent with the diplomatic approach they have repeatedly espoused in Syria, that the Syrian conflict is a domestic problem for the Syrian people and government to resolve themselves, while the international community works to achieve a peaceful solution.
“Cuba reiterates that international cooperation, based on the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity, is the only way to effectively promote and protect all human rights,” Cuban representative to the UN Human Rights Council Rodolfo Reyes said at a meeting in Switzerland. He added that “Cuba is confident of the capacity of the Syrian people and government to solve their domestic problems without foreign interference.”
That the Fox News could cause such a stir is a testament to the refusal of mainstream news organizations to verify sources. In all of the iterations of the “Cuban troops in Syria” fantasy, there are no new sources cited. The original Fox News report cites one anonymous U.S. official who may, or may not, even exist. The only source on record with their incredulous claims is someone from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.
ICCAS is notorious for its reactionary, anti-Communist politics revered among the fanatically right-wing Cuban and Cuban-American population in Miami. Their academic research includes a conspiracy theory that appears to implicate Fidel Castro in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Another ICCAS report claims “the often-repeated view in many countries that the United States is an evil power, guilty for much of the problems and sufferings of the developing world, is owed in great part to the propaganda efforts of Fidel Castro” – not, rather, to decades of direct U.S. military intervention; profligate support to fascist military dictatorships; and predatory, neo-colonial lending policies that demand neoliberal structural adjustment programs which funnel public assets and resources to creditor interests, at the expense of the employment, health and well-being of the vast majority of local populations.
ICCAS is also home to the Cuba Transition Project whose mission is “to study and make recommendations for the reconstruction of Cuba once the post-Castro transition begins in earnest.” CTP acknowledges on its Web site that “the project was established in 2002 and supported by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) until 2010.” It’s funding indicates it is at least indirectly an arm of the U.S. government’s destabilization and subversion efforts dedicated to regime change of the politically and economically independent Cuban government.
Cuban Prensa Latina reporter in Syria Miguel Fernández noted that ICCAS has reported six or seven times since 2006 that Fidel Castro has died. He suggested reports such as those originating with ICCAS about Cuban troops in Syria were part of the campaigns of reactionary groups opposed to normalization to tarnish the new relations between Cuba and the United States.
The Cuban Embassy in Damascus reportedly “laughed” at the report of Cuban troops in Syria, and told Sputnik News : “It’s pure lunacy. It is as if they were claiming that Russia had sent its troops to Madagascar to protect lemurs.”
Despite claims of Cuban troops in Syria contradicting Cuba’s stated policy and historical modus operandi, and the fact that now four days have passed without a single piece of corroborating evidence to the laughable Fox News report, the imaginary Cuban troops in Syria are likely to morph into more outrageous fantasies of media who have shown themselves primarily interested in fabricating tales of intrigue about America’s evil enemies rather than reporting actual verifiable facts.
 Gleijeses, Piero. Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991. The University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Kindle edition.
 as quoted in Gleijeses, 2013
The practice of imposing unilateral coercive measures, taken by one state to force a change in the policy of another, violates the UN Charter and must be stopped, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a UN summit on sustainable development, adding that the Cuba embargo needs to end.
“Such illegitimate restrictive actions, which among other things undermine basic market principles in the areas of trade, finance, technology and investment, must be stopped. This includes the need to lift the embargo against Cuba and other sanctions imposed arbitrarily, bypassing the UN Security Council,” Lavrov said on Sunday.
A US-brokered carrot-and-stick policy in regard to Russia has long been condemned by Moscow. The US has imposed a number of sanctions on Russia since August 2014 over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, accusing Moscow of being a protagonist and participant in the ongoing hostilities. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations. It responded with counter-measures, banning imports from the EU, US and others. In June, Moscow extended its embargo on food imports from Western countries until August 2016 due to the prolonged anti-Russia sanctions.
“Russia advocates the creation of a fair global economic order, with the global development more manageable. We call for action backed by universally recognized norms of international law, in the spirit of collective decision-making,” Lavrov told the United Nations summit on Sunday.
Russia said earlier this month that it has no illusion about sanctions being lifted and expects them to be stiffened in future, regardless of developments in Eastern Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Moscow can live under continuous Western pressure.
Speaking at the United Nations for the first time on Saturday, Cuba’s President Raul Castro publicly slammed the US trade embargo, lasting for over five decades, describing it as the key obstacle to Havana’s development.
The embargo is “the main obstacle to our country’s economic development while affecting other nations due to its extraterritorial scope, and hurting the interests of American citizens and companies,” Castro told a UN summit on sustainable development.
“Such policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member states that demand its removal,” he added, referring to an annual UN General Assembly resolution that has denounced the US embargo.
Cuba, which estimates the embargo has caused its economy $121 billion in damages, has launched a campaign for the General Assembly to adopt the resolution again, calling for the embargo to be lifted. Adoption of the resolution has already become an annual ritual.
While the General Assembly’s vote is nonbinding and symbolic, it has served to demonstrate Washington’s isolation regarding Havana. UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Washington may abstain from the UN vote on the resolution, if the draft text is amended from previous years to soften the criticism of the US.
U.S. and Cuban delegations met in Havana Friday to “focus on setting priorities for the next steps in the normalization process,” according to the Miami Herald. They set up a “steering committee in the rapprochement process” expected to hold regular meetings. The process was laid out last month after the American flag was raised at the newly-opened U.S. embassy in Havana. Secretary of State John Kerry noted on the occasion that “the road of mutual isolation that the United States and Cuba have been travelling is not the right one, and that the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction.” The Obama administration has since announced loosening of restrictions that would permit American citizens to travel to Cuba on both commercial flights and cruise ships.
Superficially, it would seem that U.S. policy has moved away from a half-century of economic warfare, terrorism, subversion, and interference in the internal affairs of the nation American politicians have long considered a “natural appendage” of the United States, which would fall into the U.S. orbit like an apple from a tree, as John Quincy Adams once said.
If U.S. policy makers had indeed abandoned this attitude and actually moved in a more promising direction, it would mean they finally decided to engage their counterpart as Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez stated his government was willing to with the United States itself: “through a dialogue based on mutual respect and sovereign equality, to a civilized coexistence, even despite the differences that exist between both governments, which makes it possible to solve bilateral problems and promote cooperation and development of mutually beneficial relations, just as both peoples desire and deserve.”
But despite extending formal diplomatic courtesies and speaking in a more conciliatory tone, the Obama administration has demonstrated behind the scenes that it does not intend to demonstrate mutual respect or recognize sovereign equality.
As the delegations met on Friday, Obama quietly renewed Cuba’s status as an “enemy” under the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA) of 1917. Under this Act, utilized against Cuba by every President since John F. Kennedy in 1962, the government issues the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to set the terms of the embargo (more accurately described by Cuba and the United Nations as a blockade).
By extending this enemy designation, the Obama administration is reserving the right to dictate the terms of the embargo, rather than allowing Congress to do so under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. While Obama has shown himself more willing than Congress to relax some punitive and illegal aspects of the embargo than the current Congress, by continuing to define Cuba as an enemy he is both sending an hostile signal to Cuba and employing a transparent legal fiction.
An “enemy” in the TWEA is specified as a government with which the U.S. is at war, as declared by Congress. Congress has never declared war on Cuba. They have not declared war on any country since Japan in 1941.
While it may be true that renewing the TWEA against Cuba may be more beneficial to Cuba by granting the executive branch greater flexibility, the fraudulent nature of the continued imposition of legal sanctions against Cuba should be emphasized. Though Obama has said U.S. policy against Cuba “has been rooted in the best of intentions,” it has in reality been rooted in vindictiveness and shrouded in legal distortions that continue to this day.
At the same time, the flood of U.S. taxpayer dollars earmarked with the express purpose of regime change in Havana continues unabated. The fiscal year 2016 budget contains $30 million for this purpose.
One use of these funds is for a US propaganda agency to hire mercenaries to denigrate Cuban civil and political personalities. As Tracey Eaton notes in his blog Along the Malecón : “The U.S. government wants to hire entertainers who would produce ‘uniquely funny, ironic, satirical and entertaining’ comedy shows targeting Cuban officials, politicians and others on the island. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs Radio & TV Martí, is looking for a team that would produce 10 30-minute comedy sketch shows.”
The infamous Radio Martí has been broadcasting John Birch Society type propaganda from Miami into Cuba since the 1980s. The U.S. has continued to fund the station, despite its being declared illegal by the Cuban government. One wonders how the U.S. government itself would react if the Russian or Chinese government financed a program lambasting Obama, Kerry, and other Americans for political gain while disguising it as organically developed entertainment? It is not likely they would view a strategic attack created and financed abroad, rather than being a homegrown political expression of dissent, as protected free speech.
USAID, after being exposed for its subversive Cuban Twitter program “ZunZuneo“, which sought to sow discontent and stir unrest among the Cuban population, and its effort to co-opt Cuban hip hop artists, announced last week that it is seeking three program managers to be awarded six-figure salaries.
Eaton writes that the job description calls for “experience in the areas of democracy promotion, human rights, civil society development” and that candidates must obtain a “secret” security clearance. It is not hard to imagine that these highly compensated program managers would likely be implementing similar covert programs to destabilize Cuban society and attempt to turn its citizens away from the Revolution.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – an arm of US foreign policy that overtly carries out programs that previously were undertaken covertly by the CIA – is also hiring a Program Officer to work on NED’s “Cuba grants program” and “developing the Endowment’s strategy for Cuba.” Unlike the USAID positions, which are indicated to be in Washington, this position would require “regular field visits.”
Cuban blogger and former State Security Agent Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy writes that the position is for “someone in charge of mounting all types of subversion against the Cuban government on behalf of the NED… completely illegal, meddlesome, and violative of our sovereignty and, therefore, will not admit any of his activity in our territory.”
It is clear that the U.S. continues to act towards Cuba with utter disregard for mutual respect and sovereign equality despite the formalities uncritically accepted by mainstream media as true normalization. By looking beyond the face value of the words of American officials, one can’t help but recognize that relations are anything but normal. Until the U.S. government recognizes that normal cannot include sanctioning, illegally occupying, and spending tens of millions of dollars on subversion and interference in another country’s internal affairs, “normalization” remains nothing more than a vacuous abstraction.