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.
US Embassy in Havana.
U.S. political leaders are rethinking Cuba. Business leaders have spoken out. Public opinion favors ending hostilities, even among Cuban Americans. Foreign policy specialists hold that fixing relations with Cuba may boost the U.S. image throughout Latin America. But primarily, beating up on Cuba did not work. Or, as President Obama said on December 17, 2014, “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”
Official statements shed light on proposed new methods, but less is said about purpose. The question arises as to whether the ultimate U.S. goal is new or is more of the same. Obama called for “begin[ning] to normalize relations to replace “an outdated approach.” (1) He explained that, “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.” New methods will not “bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight. [Yet] through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves.”
Obama focused as much on the Cuban people as on their political leaders: “We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.” (In an offhand way he is acknowledging past grief visited upon the Cuban people.) But “[t]oday, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.” On July 1, 2015, while announcing that embassies would be opened, Obama noted that, “With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy.” (2)
A press release accompanying Obama’s presentation spells out the new direction: “The U.S. efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (3)
Speaking in Havana on August 14 Secretary of State Kerry added that “Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape. Responsibility for the nature and quality of governance and accountability rests, as it should, not with any outside entity; but solely within the citizens of this country … And just as we are doing our part” – presumably no longer harassing Cubans – Cuba’s government also ought to “make it less difficult for their citizens to start businesses, to engage in trade, access information online.” (4)
Official explanations say little about past grief and suffering in Cuba at U.S. hands, but rather gloss over actual measures invoked against the Cuban people. The term “isolation” crops up as a sort of proxy version of resulting hardships. “Isolation has not worked,” Obama said, and “Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party.” What the United States actually did to accomplish its ends in Cuba evolved from a plan that, on comparison with methods being advanced by the Obama Administration now, serves to clarify differences between then and now.
The subject line of a State Department memo of April 6, 1960, says, “The decline and fall of Castro.” (5) Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Lester D. Mallory writes that: “1.The majority of Cubans support Castro. 2. There is no effective political opposition…. 4. Communist influence is pervading the government … 6. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. If the above are accepted …, it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
Mallory addressed his memo to the “Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (Rubottom)” and asked if it should go to the Secretary of State. He received a green light, according to the record. Later that year President Eisenhower initiated economic sanctions.
In addition to what became an economic blockade for “denying money and supplies,” the United States resorted to military invasion, military incursions, bacteriologic warfare, terror attacks, and the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Obama administration is clearly going to be relying on new methods for achieving U.S. objectives.
Whether or not U.S. purposes are different is the main question. Mallory envisioned the “overthrow of government” and presumably his superiors did likewise. At the Summit of the Americas, in Panama, the President in April assured reporters that “On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change.” Instead, “We are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to participate and shape their own destiny and their own lives, and supporting civil society.” (6)
Regime change implies separating an objectionable political leadership from a population and replacing it with a more friendly leadership. Seemingly the U.S. government now seeks to remove the Cuban people from their leaders. Heaping abuse on them did not accomplish the U. S. counter-revolutionary purpose. Now they will be independent of government, at least according to U. S. rhetoric on care and nurture for the Cuban people.
By forcing the U.S. government to do something different, Cuba scored a victory after 50 years of struggle. Now the United States will be trying to engineer a rift between people and political leaders in Cuba — presumably a short term objective. Silence prevails in regard to what happens later — in the long run. However, that silence and the foregoing words together say that the ultimate U.S. goal is as before, that the Cuban revolution will go away. In gentle words, Obama casts a soft light on U.S. counter-revolutionary resolve: “Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
Cuba has long supported SADR, including sponsoring education initiatives for refugees
A SADR-administered refugee camp in Western Sahara | Photo: Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/ THKW
Cuba’s acting education minister Cira Pineiro Alonso met with Sahrawi ambassador Malainin Etgana Wednesday, and vowed to deepen education ties with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The meeting in Havana, Cuba focused on Cuban investment in education in SADR, including the Simon Bolivar high school. Supported by both Cuba and Venezuela, the institution was the first high school to be constructed in SADR-administered Western Sahara.
According to SADR media, Piniero said Cuba remains willing to continue investing in the school, along with other joint projects in Western Sahara.
A sparsely inhabited territory in North Africa, most of Western Sahara has been occupied by the Moroccan military since 1975. A thin strip of the territory’s east is administered by the indigenous government, SADR. Most of SADR-administered Western Sahara is uninhabited desert, with the population almost entirely living in refugee camps huddled near the Algerian border. The Simon Bolivar school is located in one such camp.
Cuba has long supported Western Saharan independence from Morocco, and backed SADR as the legitimate government of the indigenous Sahrawi people.
Outside countries like Cuba, the drawn out political crisis in Western Sahara rarely hits international headlines, largely due to a media blackout in the disputed territory by Morocco’s occupation forces, which control around 80 percent of the territory.
As the United States moves toward some kind of normal relations with Cuba, it faces a problem: normal is currently illegal. In 1996, Congress, with help from President Bill Clinton, created the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Helms-Burton) Act, which makes it illegal to normalize much of anything. What helped bring that about was a seemingly routine act of lawbreaking by a Miami exile group and the Clinton administration’s muddled response to it.
On February 24, 1996, three small surplus US Air Force Cessna Skymasters departed from Opa-locka airport in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The planes were gifts from President George H.W. Bush to Brothers to the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate).
Brothers to the Rescue was a Miami-based anti-Castro organization run by José Basulto and William Schuss, organized in 1991 during a period of immigration chaos. Their first missions were to locate and lend assistance to balseros, Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits trying to reach the United States in makeshift craft.
Basulto and Schuss had received US military training and later belonged to Operation 40, organized by the CIA to prepare for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Basulto later took part in sabotage actions against Cuba along with several well-known anti-Castro terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. In 2005, he said on a Miami TV channel that in 1962, he had taken part in a raid against Cuba, firing a 22 mm canon from offshore at the Hotel Rosita Hornedo in Havana where Russians were thought to be staying. “So far, no one has come to question me,” he said.
Juan Pablo Roque, a Cuban agent who flew with the Brothers but returned to Cuba on the eve of the February 24 flight, told a Cuban interviewer that the organization was set up in the offices of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which was a creature of the Reagan administration. According to Roque,
Specifically, Martin Perez, with substantial economic support from the foundation, put forward the idea with some former CIA agents, José Basulto, Billy Shultz [Schuss], Arnaldo Iglesias. They advanced the idea to create an allegedly, quote, humanitarian organization, unquote, which would save the lives of the men who took to the sea to try to reach the coasts of Florida. 
Basulto filed a flight plan for February 24 that would take the three Cessnas to the Florida Straits where they were going to look for balseros. Instead of following the flight plan, they flew south and entered Cuba’s restricted military air space. 
The pilots were unaware of the intense scrutiny their flight was receiving from federal agencies. They had on many other occasions entered Cuban air space without arousing much federal interest. On previous flights, Basulto buzzed the Cuban capital and dropped leaflets and other anti-Castro debris over the city ignoring Cuban warnings. But this time, the State Department had alerted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it would be dangerous for the Brothers to attempt another flight over Cuba and asked for updates on their activities.
Consequently, an immense network of radar installations focused on Basulto’s tiny propeller planes traveling across the Gulf of Mexico at 150 mph. Even the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) center in Colorado, originally set up as an early-warning system against a Soviet missile attack, was enlisted. It coordinated radar installations around the country including March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida and at Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys, where an aerostat radar balloon was on alert. All of this for three small Cessnas.
The Riverside base had a narcotics interdiction center that usually hunted for flights coming from the south. When Jeffrey Houlihan, a senior detection-system specialist, reported for work there on February 24, the FAA told him to keep an eye on the Brothers, with whom he was familiar because of their frequent flights in the Florida Straits. According to Houlihan, the Southeast Air Defense
… made it very clear to me in briefings … that anything that pops up inside that area, they [the US military] will launch their interceptor aircraft immediately, their assumption being that anything that pops up in that area, heading towards the United States, is coming out of Cuba.
However, the elaborate monitoring of Basulto’s flight was not for his protection and it received none. National security seems not to have been a factor either since no US fighter jets were launched when Cuban MiGs, in pursuit of the Cessnas, headed toward the 24th parallel, the demarcation line between Cuban and US restricted zones.
Houlihan later testified at a federal hearing that a week prior to February 24, he was told to watch for the next Brothers’ flight because Basulto intended “to make a political statement against the Communist Government in Cuba, and we were requested, by the FAA, to watch for that.” 
Houlihan watched his monitors as fast-moving objects he took to be Cuban MiG fighter planes destroyed one of the Cessnas carrying two pilots. Six minutes later, a second air-to-air missile destroyed the second Cessna killing two more pilots. Basulto and three passengers in the third Cessna flew back to Opa-locka.
Clinton immediately declared a state of national emergency and set up a security zone in the waters around the Florida peninsula closing it to unauthorized sea and air traffic. He also demanded an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and a UN condemnation of Cuba. The state of national emergency declared in 1996 is still in effect, one of the long-term consequences of Basulto’s flight.
Amidst the uproar and condemnation of Cuba, Clinton signed Helms-Burton into law, which did more than any other piece of legislation to freeze Cuba policy into perpetual cycles of crisis and stagnation.
How did a miniature air force of three small civilian planes exert such influence on Cuba policy that a president felt compelled to give away most of his control over it to Congress? The shootdown occurred long after Cuba’s ties with the Soviet Union had died along with the Soviet Union itself. None of the old justifications for destroying the Cuban revolution cited in the 1960s seemed relevant in a world without the Soviet Bloc and with Cuba experiencing a serious economic setback after the loss of Soviet trade and aid.
Brothers to the rescue of Helms-Burton
When the number of balseros decreased after the 1994/ 1995 migration agreements, Basulto turned to direct action flying provocatively into Cuban air space. Whether through brilliant tactical calculation or reckless stupidity, the Brothers created counterrevolutionary martyrdom for themselves during the February 24 incursion, turned world opinion against Cuba and made Helms-Burton law.
According to journalist and historian Richard Gott, Helms-Burton had little to do with Cuban liberty and democratic solidarity:
Helms-Burton was aimed at investment and was originally drafted because of the success of the Cuban recovery and the concern that US business might take second place to European, Canadian and Japanese investors. Its underlying purpose was to scare off foreign investors at a time when Cuba’s economic survival depended on its ability to open up to the outside word — to seek markets, investors and managerial expertise in Europe, Canada, Japan and Latin America.
By this time, there was growing interest in opening up trade with Cuba. Farm-state representatives, including conservatives like John Ashcroft (R-MO) pressured the White House for change. Cuba had survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and had begun to show economic growth without any help from US farm states. The Cuban economy grew by 2.5% in 1995, with 5% projected for 1996.
This was bad news for some exile groups because it appeared that the opportunity to finally dispose of the revolution through economic sanctions and sabotage was slipping away. Exile groups like Basulto’s were determined to provoke new tensions and force the Cuban government to overreact. 
It was also bad news that Clinton rejected Helms-Burton. He said in 1995, that he could not support the bill because “it would affect our capacity to promote the transition to democracy in Cuba.” 
If he was concerned about giving up some executive control over Cuba policy, he might have considered that his and previous administrations had already ceded much of it to private groups in Miami, some of them created and encouraged by Washington. No effective measures had been taken against private commando raiders, filibusterers and terrorists. It was also becoming apparent that agencies in the executive branch were, by inaction or tacit approval, relaxing federal control over the civil aviation adventures of José Basulto.
Crises and the art of learned helplessness
After months of warnings from Cuba that it would not tolerate continued provocations by Basulto, there was no effective US government action to prevent as opposed to simply monitoring the events of February 24. It is true that in October 1995, the US Interests Section in Havana had looked into the matter in languid bureaucratic fashion, asking Cuba for evidence the FAA could use against Basulto even though evidence was piling up in the Miami FAA offices of Basulto’s flagrant violations of FAA rules. The FAA was still going over Cuba’s evidence when the shootdown occurred four months later.
Of particular concern to Cuba, were flights into restricted military areas identified internationally as part of a nation’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Cuba’s ADIZ extends 26 miles toward the Florida Keys and is demarcated by latitude 24. These restricted military spaces extend beyond the traditional 12-nautical mile (22.2 km) maritime limit.
US agencies kept track of Basulto in the weeks before the shootdown, concerned about how Cuba might react to another overflight. After a January 20, 1996 overflight, FAA chief Cecilia Capestany wrote a letter to the Miami FAA office:
State is increasingly concerned about Cuban reactions to these flagrant violations. They are also asking from the FAA what is this agency doing to prevent/deter these actions. As a matter of fact, the Undersecretary of State called Secretary Pena last week to check on our case against Basulto. Worst case scenario is that one of these days the Cubans will shoot down one of these planes and the FAA better have all its ducks in a row.
But an unnamed official said that by the fall of 1995, the government had given up trying to control Basulto because he was “so agitated that we were more likely to provoke him than to quiet him down. He was going ballistic every time we talked about it.” 
The attitude was that, short of restricting airspace between Florida and Cuba, little could be done since the Brothers, whose leader was apparently treated as a rebellious teenager, would probably disobey any FAA orders.
Charles Smith, FAA administrator in Miami, had warned Basulto against making a July 13, 1995 flight over Cuba, but Basulto had said, “Chuck, you know I always play by the rules, but you must understand I have a mission in life to perform.”  When the FAA finally went after Basulto’s license, it was for flying too low over water.
Election: Running on Two Tracks
Meanwhile, Clinton was making regular incursions into Florida — looking for votes. It is difficult not to conclude that the shootdown was bound up with a risky electoral strategy by which Clinton advanced along two tracks.
On Track One, the White House would emit periodic signals to anti-Castro leaders in Miami that Clinton would stick doggedly to tough sanctions against Cuba and negotiate nothing with Castro. Track One led straight to the election and support from the Cuban American National Foundation.
Track Two was strewn with obstacles left over from building Track One. It required Clinton to listen privately to Cuban warnings about the incursions and privately to reassure Havana that something or other was being done about it. This track led nowhere because any action taken to shut down these exile operations might wreck the Clinton political express barreling down track number one.
When leaders of Movimiento Democracia planned to take a flotilla of small boats with air support from Basulto on a taunting mission to the Cuban coast, Clinton’s Cuba expert Richard Nuccio was sent to head off a train wreck. The exiles said they had the right, as Cubans, to engage in protests off Cuba’s coast, and the White House agreed. While the government could not do much for the flotilla and its air cover if they entered Cuban territory, the Coast Guard would set up a command post and escort them toward Cuba.
The State Department did not seem to take seriously the possibility that the flotilla might enter Cuban waters or that Basulto might fly too near Havana. This is where the two tracks – one publically belligerent toward Cuba and the other privately conciliatory – could intersect with dangerous results.
In Track Two fashion, the administration sent a discrete note to Cuba about perhaps investigating something. In stark contrast, Clinton’s Track One action was to issue a loud public announcement aligning Washington with Basulto and the flotilla.
Clinton was making moves in matching pairs. He threatened a veto of the Miami-backed Helms-Burton bill, simultaneously suggesting that he was going to crack down on Basulto through the FAA. Then, to head off an angry reaction from the hardliners for that, he relaxed travel rules for family visits to Cuba by Cuban-Americans, reversing restrictions he had ordered the previous year.
Conspiracy theories and excuses
After the shootdown, the administration and the media advanced a version of the shootdown that was carefully limited to the events of February 24 — as Dickens might have put it, to create a harvest that had never been sown.
Basulto also confined his telling of the shootdown to the day it happened. Despite the limited historical perspective, Basulto managed to raise questions about that day that have never been satisfactorily answered.
“No one, not one of the many agencies that were monitoring our flights that day, called to inform us we were being hunted down,” Basulto claimed. He even suggested that Clinton and Castro had conspired to bring the planes down and cover up unexplained discrepancies. This, said Basulto, was to insure Clinton’s reelection, which Castro presumably favored. 
At a congressional hearing, Basulto said that after the two Cessnas were shot down, his plane was chased by MiG fighters for 53 minutes as he raced back to Opa-locka. While the scene was being observed by the great radar network, no US fighter planes were scrambled even though, he claimed, evidence showed that the MiGs came within three nautical miles of Florida.
After Clinton’s re-election, which included a victory in Florida, Cuba policy seemed to drift with congressional currents. In January 1997, he sent Congress a report called “Support for a Democratic Transition in Cuba,” which discharged his obligation under Helms-Burton to tell Congress how the United States was to assist Cuba in its transition to democracy.
The report outlined a fanciful scenario in which the Cuban government would wondrously start dismantling its socialist economy and sack Fidel Castro. The reward for making this transition would be millions of dollars in aid, the possible return of the Guantánamo Bay territory, resumption of normal bilateral relations and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the IMF and World Bank and thereby be eligible to take part in that destroyer of economies, the structural adjustment programs.
Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who played a role in requiring the report, said the intention was to create seeds of ferment in Cuba by showing that the United States was committed to the welfare of the Cuban people.  Two years earlier, CANF and Clinton acted together to sow seeds of ferment by convincing Cubans they would get no help from Clinton. Whatever the gestation properties of seeds in federal reports are, the “Support for a Democratic Transition” initiative was clearly not a serious step toward normalization.
They made me do it
In his second term and after he left office, Clinton portrayed Helms-Burton and the shootdown as things that happened in a space beyond his reach where other people were at fault. In a 2000 radio interview he said, “I believe if Castro hadn’t shot those planes down, and the Congress hadn’t passed a law which prohibits me from doing anything with the embargo, that we might have made some real progress there.”
At a 1997 gathering in Argentina, he said the Miami exiles were responsible for Helms-Burton because of pressure from them. He said that he was forced to sign the bill to prevent a stronger piece of legislation coming before Congress. 
In his memoirs, Clinton dropped the part about preventing a worse bill from coming to his desk. “Supporting the bill,” he wrote, “was good election-year politics in Florida… but it did undermine whatever chance I might have had, if I won a second term to lift the embargo in return for positive changes in Cuba.” 
Perhaps the simplest explanation for why Basulto was able to fly that day in spite of all the radar surveillance, the FAA handwringing and the State Department warnings was this from Clinton’s memoirs: “My main target was the election.” 
After all, he had worked hard throughout his first term to win the Florida vote. He did favors for Florida: he held the Summit of the Americas in Miami; he relocated the Southern Command there from Panama; and he made “inroads” in the Cuban-American community. He might have added that Basulto was free to fly.
The handling of the Brothers little war against Cuba and the shootdown had driven the administration into an election-based myopia. By signing the Helms-Burton Act, Clinton was reduced to sending reports mandated by Congress. Cuba policy was to be decided primarily by congressional committees responding to concessions or lack of them from Cuba. By hitching policy to fictional scenarios of a Cuban surrender of its sovereignty, Congress and Clinton, with considerable help from Brothers to the Rescue, ensured that little would change far into the future.
1 Roque interview, Tele Rebelde, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 02/27/9.
2 Miami Herald, 02/16/97.
4 Richard Gott, Cuba: A New History, New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2005, p.278.
5 Agencia EFE, 11/21/95.
6 Agencia EFE, 03/29/95.
7 Miami Herald, 02/16/97.
8 Miami Herald, 03/01/01.
9 El Nuevo Herald (Miami), 12/24/98.
10 Miami Herald, 01/28/97.
11 Miami Herald, 10/17/97.
12 Bill Clinton, My Life, New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 700.
13 Ibid. p.727
Robert Sandels writes on Cuba and Mexico. Nelson P. Valdés is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of New Mexico.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961. Fifty-four years later, on Monday the 20th of July, the United States and Cuba will advance toward normalization of diplomatic relations. Presumably, the US will no longer treat Cuba as its enemy and treat the island simply as its next-door neighbor. Maybe …
The raising of the flags at the embassies on the 20th of July is much anticipated. But what does this all really mean? After more than 56 years of trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution through US sponsored terrorism, an invasion organized and launched by the CIA, biological warfare, an economic and commercial blockade, clandestine infiltrations and a permanent propaganda campaign against Cuba, what would constitute “normal” relations between Washington and La Habana?
The word normal derives from the Latin normalis. In the context of US-Cuba relations it refers to civilized diplomatic behavior, according to historically established philosophical precepts: norms or rules of peaceful conduct between nations.
What rules of peaceful conduct by the United States towards Cuba may we expect from now on? Which normative rules could be considered normal and which abnormal?
It’s normal for two neighboring countries, separated by a mere 90 miles of water, to have diplomatic relations. It’s not normal for the United States to impose an economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.
It’s normal for the US to have an embassy in Havana and for Cuba an embassy in Washington. It’s not normal for the US embassy in Cuba to function without an ambassador, simply because some in the Senate oppose it.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but it´s not normal to prohibit tourists from the US to travel to the island.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage in “people to people” contact, but it’s not normal that the Office of Finance and Assets Control (OFAC) limit it to only group-travel through licensed organizations, thus making travel to Cuba prohibitively expensive and inconvenient for many Americans.
It’s normal for Washington to permit businesses in the US to engage in commerce with private individuals in Cuba, but it’s not normal to make it illegal to do business with state enterprises on the island.
It’s normal for the United States to want a second consulate in Cuba to better serve the public, but it’s not normal that it uses its diplomats to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs.
It’s normal for the United States to support a process of legal and orderly immigration from Cuba, but it’s not normal for Washington to maintain a Cuban Adjustment Act as a tool to stimulate an illegal, dangerous and disorderly immigration of Cubans to the United States.
It’s normal for the United States Embassy in Havana to provide an open-door policy for Cubans. It’s not normal for its diplomats to organize, direct and employ as salaried dissidents a few Cubans of their choosing.
It’s normal for Washington to contribute to the entertainment of the Cuban people with radio and television programs. It’s not normal for it to maintain a multi-million dollar budget to fund Radio and TV Marti as propaganda instruments.
It’s normal for Washington to want a reputation as a great defender of human rights. It’s not normal for the United States to imprison without due process or civil rights dozens of persons in Guantánamo, as well as torturing them in Cuba.
It’s normal for the United States to have an embassy in Cuba, even a large one, located in prime real estate on the famous Malecón overlooking the bay in Havana. It’s not normal for the United States to occupy, against the wishes of the Cuban people, a large swath of Cuban territory in the province of Guantánamo.
It’s normal for the Pentagon not to invade or send military drones to Cuba. It’s not normal that Washington earmarks a $30 million budget for fiscal year 2016 for a project whose declared purpose is to remove the government of Cuba from power.
It’s normal for Mississippi to be one of the 50 states of the US. It’s not normal for Washington to assume that it has jurisdiction in Cuba as well.
It’s normal for the US to do business with Cuba, but it’s not normal for the US to intervene in her internal affairs.
It’s normal for Washington to condemn terrorism. It’s not normal that it protect in Miami dozens of terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles, who have committed heinous crimes against civilians in Cuba.
The US blockade against Cuba is a relic of the Cold War whose days are numbered. President Obama’s new Cuba policy, announced on the 17th of December, is a chronicle of the blockade’s death foretold. And it unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm from American businessmen who want to make money by investing there. Businessmen will pressure the Congress to lift the Helms-Burton law that codified parts of the blockade.
But let’s not be naïve. In order to truly say that relations between the US and Cuba are normal, Washington must understand that Cuba does not belong to it, that it is a violation of international law for the US to try and foment regime change in a foreign country and that Cuba must and ought be respected for what it is: a sovereign nation.
President Obama’s Cuba policy is a seismic shift in strategy for the United States. “The old policy did not work. It is long past its expiration date”, said Obama, in his most recent State of the Union speech before Congress. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”
What is the end game for the United States regarding Cuba? What is it that US Presidents wished had worked? Clearly, the major premise of Washington’s Cuba policy was always regime change. It failed, and the Cuban Revolution remains strong. That is why President Obama said that Washington should “try something new.” Perhaps business can do what isolation could not. Engagement is the new strategy to try and topple the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba is ready for Washington’s policy of engagement. Just as she learned to build trenches to defend the island from invasion, terrorism, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, Cuba will now help the bridges that American businesses will cross to invest there. But Cuba will also be wary. To be sure, Cuba knows that Washington’s end game remains regime change. Cuban laws have always regulated foreign business ventures, and American investment in Cuba will be no different.
Cuba welcomes better relations with the United States and hopes to advance toward normalization. But unless and until the government of the United States has a political metanoia and cancels its desire to dominate Cuba, as if she were its vassal state, normal relations in the true sense of the word will not come to pass.
José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.
Later this month the outcome is expected of the completely unjust and incompetent show trials held in Libya over the last year or so of around 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya. If that outcome is reported at all in North American and European media, its real meaning will be completely hidden in self-serving apologetics for NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2011.
The same psy-warfare framework that justified NATO’s campaign of terrorist aggression will falsely present the show trials’ outcome as rough justice dealt out to individuals who deserve no better.
That outcome should put on high alert anyone defending the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas against very similar psychological warfare and terrorist subversion supported by NATO governments of the US and its allies. Not for nothing did Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega speak out in defense of Muammar al Gaddhafi and Libya against NATO’s terrorist war. They had already learned long ago the very same lessons to have emerged more recently from the utterly depressing human, moral and political catastrophe of Libya’s destruction.
In 2013, a study by a distinguished Harvard University academic acknowledged that the failure in Libya of the US government’s ostensible avowed policy in Libya and in North and West Africa was based on serial falsehoods. That fact-based, acerbic policy criticism from a source generally supportive of US government foreign policy should give much pause for thought. Along with support for Libya from outstanding revolutionary leaders like Ortega, Chavez and Nelson Mandela it amounts to a categorical indictment of received Western opinion about Libya which, across virtually the entire Western political spectrum, sided either openly or indirectly with NATO’s 2011 war.
No one genuinely concerned to defend progress towards an equitable, peaceful multi-polar world based on mutual respect between sovereign, autonomous nations and peoples should underestimate or forget the horror of what NATO did to Libya. Tens of thousands were killed and wounded in attacks by the bombers and helicopters of many NATO countries. Millions were displaced or forced into exile. Cities like Sirte and Bani Walid were devastated. Schools, universities, hospitals, factories producing food products and other essential civilian infrastructure were targeted and severely damaged or destroyed.
The destruction of Libya marked the categorical abandonment of whatever vestigial moral authority may still have remained to the European Union and its member governments.
It demonstrated in the most humiliating way the impotence and irrelevance of the African Union.
It put hard questions about the anti-imperialism of the Iranian and Syrian governments as well as highlighting the race supremacism of the governments of the Arab League and the already damaged integrity of the Palestinian authorities.
Almost all of them quickly recognized the overtly racist renegade Libyan CNT junta. For their part, the then governments of Russia and China weakly accepted NATO country assurances about the defensive nature of the air exclusion zone.
The only governments to emerge with any real credit from the destruction of Libya were the governments of the ALBA countries and a few African governments like Zimbabwe.
Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have all been victims of comprehensive disinformation campaigns of demonization and caricature, although perhaps not so extreme as the final campaign against Libya’s Jamahiriya and Muammar al Gaddhafi.
It is worth considering the basic component of that disinformation war against Libya. What is sometimes called 4th generation warfare is as old as warfare itself. Like Athens versus Sparta, or Rome versus Carthage the fundamental objective of NATO governments and their allies is to make their chosen target seem Other, creating a despised, outcast doppelganger anti-image of the West’s own phony self-image.
So Libya’s Jamahiriya was tagged as undemocratic by hypocritical Western governments, most of whom came to power with around just 20% to 25% of the vote of their electorates, thanks overwhelmingly to elite corporate funding. Libya’s democratic process was one that recognized its society’s contradictions and attempted continual self-renewal.
By contrast, the Western corporate oligarchies offer virtually meaningless periodic elections obfuscated by public relations and organized on a yes-or-yes basis to favor politicians groomed and bankrolled by their countries’ anti-democratic elites. Muammar al Ghaddafi was labeled a dictator even though his policy initiatives were not infrequently rejected within Libya’s system of popular congresses.
In 2009, during a policy conflict between Muammar al Gaddhafi and pro-Western so-called reformers, these could not get their way in Libya’s popular assemblies so they chose staging a violent putsch to achieve the regime change their Western government backers wanted. Venezuela’s experience has been almost identical, although, to date, the country has avoided the kind of coup d’état and subsequent NATO driven war that destroyed Libya Libya was portrayed as a systematic human rights violator.
But Libya’s response to the constant terrorist attacks and subversion it suffered from the very start of its Revolution in 1969 was no different to that of any Western government faced with a similar threat. The British government tortured and murdered alleged subversives all through the Irish war, colluding with sectarian paramilitary death squads. The same pattern of torture and extrajudicial murder also consistently marked the Spanish authorities’ campaign against Basque separatists. Guantanamo’s torture camp symbolizes the brutality and illegality of the US government’s response to terrorist threats.
Libya’s Jamahiriya probably conformed as closely to international human rights norms in relation to fighting terrorism as the three Western governments that led NATO’s war of destruction. Human rights protection in Libya was certainly superior to Western allies like Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the other quasi-feudal Gulf State tyrannies.
All the pretexts for the Western assault on Libya’s legitimate government were completely bogus. In any case, as Gerald Perreira points out, the fundamental objective achieved by the destruction of Libya was to shut down the decisive impetus towards African integration led by Muammar al Gaddhafi.
CNT leaders like Mustafa Abdul Jalil were Arab supremacists who fiercely resisted the Pan-African policies advocated by Muammar al Gaddhafi. Arab supremacism, phony neoliberal reformism and the treachery of repressive human rights abusers like Mahmoud Jibril made a lethal reactionary cocktail perfectly suited to ruthless NATO government manipulation. On cue, Western corporate and alternative media presented the corrupt political project of these viciously reactionary elements as a “revolution”, part of the absurdly hyped “Arab Spring”. As if NATO country governments, dedicated to the service of their countries’ corporate elites, have ever promoted genuine democracy or comprehensive human rights around the world.
From Ukraine and Greece, to Yemen and Syria, to Haiti and Honduras, what the Western powers and their allies want is access to natural resources, control of strategically important territories and decisive advantages for their trade and finance. Destroying Libya effectively removed a real threat to Western control and domination in Africa.
Currently, the NATO country elites’ political sales staff, for the moment President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, are battering Greece into submission. But those leaders and their allies are using economic and psychological warfare to attack many other targets, not just Greece. They do so against Venezuela and other stubbornly independent countries around the world.
That is why the leaders of Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela very publicly welcomed the No vote in the Greek referendum. Unlike Libya, in their different regions Syria and Venezuela are part of regional alliances backed at long last by firm leaders in Russia and China, strong enough to face down any likely economic or military threat from the United States and its allies.
But it would be a mistake to forget Libya. Defending the people of Libya represents an important self-defense measure against Western predators in their global psychological warfare assault on the free, anti-imperialist world.
As a leading force in that free world, ALBA country governments should urgently consider challenging the governments of North America and Europe to protect the thousands of political prisoners in Libya who have been tortured and denied due process.
The ALBA country governments and their allies have infinitely more moral and political authority than Western leaders to speak out in defense of fundamental human rights. They should make outspoken use of that authority now to expose the sadism and hypocrisy of Western governments in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
In Libya, they may perhaps yet help to save the lives of as many as 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya at risk from quasi-judicial murder by the West’s corrupt terrorist proxies in a country they have devastated with merciless cynicism.
After a little more than six months since President Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that the United States and Cuba would begin to re-establish diplomatic relations, a crucial step has been taken to usher both nations down the path of normalization. The formal establishment of embassies in both countries, announced July 1st and beginning July 20th with the official opening of the embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington, will be the first time in 54 years that the two countries will have formal diplomatic relations.
This rapprochement that has transpired over a little more than half a year has been universally lauded and a number of foreign dignitaries have been quick to act. In May, France’s President François Hollande visited Cuba and expressed Europe’s desire to normalize relations as soon as possible and called upon the United States to end the embargo. During Dilma Roussef’s visit to the White House last week both she and Obama released a joint communique saying:
President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.
American citizens have been in overwhelming support of ending the embargo for years and the latest results of last month’s Chicago Council’s poll indicates that 67% want an end to the embargo. Even a majority of Republicans (59%) think it’s time for an end to the extraterritorial anomaly that is the United States’ policy of economic strangulation.
The Cuban American community has also demonstrated in various polls, including electoral, that there is an ever-increasing majority of those who want normalization between the two nations. Since Obama’s change of Cuba policy started Cuban Americans have taken advantage of executive actions directed at them that gave the right to unlimited travel and send remittances to the island in 2009. In his 2012 re-election bid, Obama won the Cuban American vote in Florida and, emboldened, has continued to open up inroads within this powerful voting block in Southern Florida with his calls for normalization of relations.
As in most aspects, politicians usually lag behind society.
While the president has shown leadership it is up to Congress to dismantle the odious embargo codified in the Helms-Burton Act and also repeal other legislation that are aimed at punishing Cuba like the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Although several measures that would chip away at the embargo have been introduced in both chambers, there are still many Congress members who take the word of a few “representatives” who espouse to champion the aspirations of Cubans and Cuban Americans as if they truly spoke for these citizens as a whole. This cabal of recalcitrant hardliners is tragically failing their constituencies and the people on the island, whose misery is perpetuated by the pro-embargo stance of these hypocritical, self-serving opportunists. Their continued presence in Congress is something that the 1.8 million Cuban Americans who reside in southern Florida are going to have to reckon with in upcoming election cycles.
Indeed, even when Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) S. 299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has garnered 44 cosponsors and bipartisan support, the odds that it get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes is still low as reflected by govtrack.com having put the bill’s chances of passing at 11%. It would need that to avoid the histrionics of Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Each of these legislators have sworn through clenched teeth that they will not allow any gains made by Obama’s overtures towards Cuba to continue and, in Cruz and Rubio’s case, have vowed to reverse all progress made with the island if elected to the White House.
Travel to Cuba has been a hot topic and since December 17th’s announcements there has been a 36% uptick in Americans visiting the island. Celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and curious Americans have flocked to the island. Airbnb’s fastest growing market is Cuba. Even White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told a reporter that the president “would relish the opportunity” to visit Havana in 2016.
However, this past June 18th the House Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2016 Financial Services Appropriations bill. It contains three “Cuba-specific” prohibitions that were drafted by one of the most out-of-touch members of Congress – Mario Diaz-Balart. These prohibitions are a threat to the advancements in U.S.-Cuba relations and seek to effectively end president Obama’s highly successful “people-to-people” policy that has generated interest among all Americans to go to Cuba and see for themselves the devastating effects of the embargo. These measures will also hurt Cubans on the island who have benefited by the influx of tourism and those Cuban Americans who have invested in family businesses and enterprises in a nascent market economy. What will Diaz-Balart be facing on Election Day when a majority of his constituents have already voted against him and his draconian legislation with their feet by going to Cuba in the thousands and with their pocketbooks by sending money millions to loved ones on the island?
With all that has been accomplished in the past several months it should be noted that any or all of it could be sabotaged by the misguided efforts of a few delusional congressional members who have done very little in their undistinguished careers except perpetuate the pro-embargo industry. All the bills and measures for free travel and more commerce can be introduced but as long as these obstructionists remain in office full normalization will be a delayed longer than it should. Repealing the embargo will probably only happen if some, hopefully all, of these politicians are removed from office.
Normalization = Normal
Every day a new group or coalition appears that is in favor of travel and commerce with the island. James A. Williams, director of Engage Cuba and the New Cuba PAC, expressed this in an interview on June 16th on CNBC’s Squawk Box with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.
MCC: “… There’s really nothing left to the embargo. What you’re calling for is an end to the embargo, essentially, right? Is there really anything left?”
JW: “Yeah, well, there are pieces of.., it depends on what you call the embargo. I mean, what I think we’re saying is we’re not interested in the debate around the democracy programs and some of these other issues that I think, you know, are still contentious and deserve a full debate, but I think we can all agree that trade and travel restrictions need to be lifted immediately.
MCC: “I’m confused, so when it comes to the democracy programs you just don’t want to talk about them? You don’t support them? You do support them?
JW: “It’s just not an issue we’re focusing on. You know our campaign is led by the private sector on its ability to travel freely, trade freely, uh, and have the opportunity for Americans to compete.”
I’d like to thank James Williams for graciously ceding the floor to those of us who have been “focusing on” these “contentious issues” for more than a few months. During the Obama era, it has been imperative for moderate Cuban American voices to defend the President’s actions and to call for the normalization of relations. A number of organizations, with which I have had the pleasure and honor of working, have been at the forefront of the U.S-Cuba conversation within the Cuban American community, denouncing U.S. policy that includes “democracy promotion”, and not working “behind the scenes” as Williams claims to have been doing these years.
The so-called “democracy promotion” programs have ham-handedly put the lives of Cubans and Americans in danger because of the illegal nature of said programs. Alarmingly, these programs have seen their budget increased to $30 million for FY 2016- a fifty percent increase from the $20 million in 2015. Alan Gross’ five-year imprisonment was the result of his activities as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a benefactor of this increase. His wife sued the American government in 2013 for more than $60 million dollars for having sent him “on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection, or understanding of Cuban laws.” The case was eventually settled for $3.2 million a week after the historic announcements that released him on December 17th of last year. When Engage Cuba launched it did so in the residence of Scott Gilbert, Gross’ lawyer, with Gross present as a spokesperson for the endeavor. Using Gross as a spokesperson and then not wanting to talk about “democracy programs” defies credulity.
Some of Williams’ newfound friends (read backers), Cuban Americans who represent the Miami power base and until just recently had poured millions into the pro-embargo lobby, also didn’t want to focus on “contentious” issues like Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism these past six years. So it’s no surprise that Engage Cuba doesn’t want to talk about the “democracy programs”. Nor do they want to broach the topic of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo and the violation of Cuban sovereignty that it represents. Nor do they have much to say about the recent immigration crisis brought upon by Cubans realizing that they won’t be able to take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act much longer if relations are truly normalized. The United States unfair policy encourages Cubans to test their fate with the swirling currents of the Straits of Florida on homemade rafts and this perilous exodus will persist as long as U.S. law encourages it. Will it also be left to “others” to call for the immediate closure and abandonment of Radio and TV Marti, a $28 million taxpayer footed boondoggle that doesn’t even reach Cuban audiences? In short, if it’s not travel and trade Engage Cuba isn’t interested in commenting on it, for now.
Whether or not these supposed champions of “engagement” want to address the myriad obstacles that still stand in the way of full normalization, the Cuban government has, and will continue to call for an end to these hostile policies that violate Cuban law and international norms established in the Vienna Convention and the 1970 Declaration of the United Nations General Assembly on principles of international law concerning friendly relations of cooperation among states.
In an official statement by the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba on July 1st, the Cubans delineated a number of issues that would need to be rectified in order to fully normalize relations:
“There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained, it is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.
To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms are harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
So no, it’s not just as easy as saying that restrictions on travel and trade need to be lifted immediately. The Cubans want a normalization that is actually “normal” and not just an influx of tourists and businessmen who either come to the island led by the perverse American provincial thought that Cuba needs to “be seen before it’s ruined” or by the repugnant philosophy that American dollars will fix every Cuban’s problems.
Besides, as long as the embargo exists there will always effectively be a travel ban because there is no infrastructure for all the Americans who suddenly want to go to visit. And, if Cuba cannot receive the international financing that it needs to truly make the recent economic reforms function, then no American business is going to be willing to invest any significant amount in a country where it can still be penalized by Uncle Sam.
After more than 50 years of animosity both nations are going to need diplomatic corps that aren’t hindered by extraterritorial legislation that puts them at odds. There is much work to be done in order for the United States and Cuba to trust each other and if there is a pre-ordained policy for regime change then that trust will never fully be forged.
Benjamin Willis is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and Co-Director of the United States Cuba Now PAC. http://www.uscubanowpac.com