First, thanks to the organizers for inviting me; it’s an honor and a privilege.
Last December, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio gave a major speech in Havana analyzing United States-Cuban relations. After listing the areas of cooperation between the Cuban government and that of Joseph Biden, the Deputy Foreign Minister then did a reality check.
“Based on this analysis, the application of the blockade and its impact today, it can be said with sufficient confidence that the current government of the United States, that of Joseph Biden, is the one that has applied the blockade most aggressively and effectively . . . . It is the one that punishes the most, the one that most harms the daily life of Cubans and the economy as a whole. Here I include all the Administrations from Eisenhower to date. That is what characterizes today the Government of the United States and its current policy towards Cuba. I insist, the one that most aggressively and effectively applies the economic blockade. . . In practice, Biden is applying with utter and surprising loyalty, not just the blockade as it existed before, but the policy of maximum economic pressure that was designed by his predecessor, Donald Trump.”
The Minister’s analysis should have prepared us for what happened on February 27. We had every right to be outraged by the Biden administration’s reissuance of the State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism with Cuba’s name on it, but we should not have been surprised. We had on February 27 one of the best examples of what it means to say that Washington and Wall Street’s policy toward Cuba is thoroughly bipartisan and has been that way from the very beginning. We should use that day in infamy, Feb. 27, as an opportunity for those of us who do Cuba solidarity work to go back to basics.
The number one task of Washington is to promote and defend the interests of U.S. capital—what the government in Havana also did before January 1, 1959. And US capital has never forgiven the Cuban people for getting rid of Washington’s loyal agent in Havana and replacing it with a government that serves and advances for the first time ever the interests of the Cuban people. And the fact that that overturn was done ninety miles from the shores of the empire—“right under their noses” as Comandante Fidel once said—was especially galling, an unpardonable sin.
For this most shameful reason, Washington is committed to put an end to the Cuban Revolution regardless of which of the two capitalist parties is in office. There should be no doubt that the Democratic Party is, like the Republicans, a capitalist party. Both Biden and Pelosi have reiterated that fact in recent moments for those who might think or wish otherwise.
But there is another reason, more important, for Washington’s and Wall Street’s hatred on the Cuban Revolution—it’s very existence. A state department official in the new Democratic Party Johnson administration explained it this way, as Piero Gleijeses reports in his wonderful book Conflicting Missions. He said, look, even we could work out something with Havana, some kind of peaceful coexistence as we have with the Soviet Union, our problem is that the Revolution’s existence gives everyone in Latin America who might want to emulate Cuba “stronge heart,” that is encouragement to do the same. In other words, Cuba is a bad example—a bad example if your interests are in protecting the interests of capital, not the interests of the working masses elsewhere.
Yes, there have been differences between the two capitalist parties about US policy toward Cuba. But those differences are about how to get rid of the Cuban revolution not whether it should be gotten rid of. The long held and predominant method is to squeeze the Revolution to death, to make things as difficult as possible for the Cuban people so that they might rise up and overthrow their Revolution. For a brief moment, the alternative strategy was in place, what some of us call, the hug-the-revolution-to-death strategy—what the Obama initiative was about. In hindsight, we now know that was the exception to the rule.
With the Cuban Revolution facing its greatest challenges ever or at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we should not be surprised that the squeeze-the-revolution-to-death strategy has returned, what Deputy Foreign Minister Fernandez de Cossio was no doubt referring to. From Washington’s perspective, why give the Cuban government a break if it looks like it is on the ropes. This is exactly, they say, what we’ve been looking forward to for the last six decades. Why play nice with the Cubans.
This doesn’t mean that Washington’s foreign policy can’t occasionally act in a way that serves the interests of the working class. There is no better example of that fact than what the South African anti-apartheid movement was able to accomplish, work I had the privilege of doing for more than two decades. But we were successful because of all the local level grassroots work we did, in churches, in the labor movement, in educational centers and civic organizations. Reaching out to and educating working people of all skin colors in the U.S. eventually paid off. That’s what motivated Congress to do the right thing in 1986 in overriding the Reagan administration veto of the Congressional Anti-Apartheid Act.
Thus, getting our unions, local and state governments to pass resolutions to end the embargo is enormously important. As we just learned there have been 76 different resolutions passed so far and that they represent 44 million constituents of the elected officials who voted for them. But it’s only the beginning of that work. Even more important, in my opinion, is the publicizing of the resolutions—to make sure that they truly represent 44 million citizens. Just as you have done here in the NYC/NJ area we have had some successes in Minnesota in getting local and state governments to pass our resolutions but we have not often—and I include myself in this shortcoming—done enough to make sure the resolutions are publicized as widely as possible among the working class, in their work places, their neighborhoods, to use them as tools for mobilizing. Can those resolutions be of significance if the members of the unions and constituents of the legislators don’t know about them?
Let me give an example of what I think is open to us. I think the people of East Palestine, Ohio, whose lives have been upended by the train derailment, a disaster made possible by capital, would welcome hearing news about a government that actually looks out for the welfare of its citizens and not prioritize the interests of corporations that threaten their lives for the sake of making profits. I think that they would welcome news about how a government can promote the development of medicines and vaccines without having to use the profit motive to do so. A government only ninety miles from their shores. A government that does this despite Washington doing everything it can to prevent them from serving not only their own citizens but those in far off places owing to the nobility of their selfless proletarian internationalism.
Those are the audiences we should reach out more to because they are the ones who would benefit the most from having the kind of government that exists in Cuba, a government that represents working people unlike what exists in the U.S. They are the audiences that have an inherent class interest, I argue, in wanting to end the embargo.
Again, I thank the organizers of the conference for inviting me to be on this panel, to be able to share these ideas and I look forward to the discussion.
by August Nimtz