Is U.S. Foreign Policy Vis - á - Vis Cuba Justifiable?

It is a great pleasure to return to this lovely campus and have the opportunity to exchange views with you. I have been asked to make a brief introductory statement to allow sufficient time to respond to your interests.

The question posed to me is blunt: is the American Cuban policy justifiable? My answer is no.

Allow me to convey my own background position. I was last in Cuba in September 1959 -- nine months after the Revolution's victory. Paramount in this revolution was the unleashing and development of intense sentiments: personalistic, violent politics, and quasi-religious, ideological experiences that were extremely polarized and tumultuous. While many Cubans felt liberated by, and helped construct, a new political and social order, like other opponents – their numbers historically varied -- I considered that my freedom and spiritual and material well being had been shattered, and were incompatible with the emerging totalitarianism. I felt forced to start a new life in a different country with a far more liberal and democratic regime. In these startling problems of democracy and revolution, the United States, of course, and other nations, powerful and less so, played a vital role.

Since I was 13 years-old I had studied on and off in this country. And a fundamental reason for leaving Cuba was my dissatisfaction with the principal path that Fidel Castro determined his regime to follow: militarization, confrontation, war against the United States. Since the very beginning (1959) this was the character and route of the Revolution.

Many years have passed. Since then the United States has been governed by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton –Republicans and Democrats-- but it has been impossible to normalize U.S. -Cuba relations. For one simple reason: Fidel Castro and his core followers have not wished to do so.

Consider the case of Jimmy Carter, who sought a rapprochement with Castro and moved to establish diplomatic relations with him. As a sequel of the liberalization of ties – which included allowing visits from the United States to the island -- in 1980 there was an explosion of Cuban refugees into the United States. Fidel Castro laughed at Carter's noble intentions of receiving over 100,000 refugees in Florida, sending to the U.S. about 15,000 hardened criminals and mental patients among them. I should note that at that time the Soviet Union was alive and strong, and subsidizing the Castro regime with very substantial economic assistance estimated in billions of dollars. In his memoirs Carter interpreted this crisis as a factor that contributed to his non reelection. In any case, it is noteworthy that the Cuban Government supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which took place about this time.

Naturally, during the almost four decades since the Revolution U.S. and Cuban policies have varied. But a turning point was the Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Before then the objective of the United States had been to change the Cuban regime because of its political-military alliance with the Soviet Bloc.

The first milestone in this struggle was the aborted invasion by Cuban émigrés Bay of Pigs April 1961.

Before then, since the revolutionary triumph, Castro had been sending armed expeditions to overthrow other Latin American governments thus breaking the Inter-American Rio Treaty of 1947. It did not matter that some of these governments were incipient social democracies whose leaders had been his allies (for example, Venezuela). For Fidel Castro’s, agenda was to lead Marxist-Leninist oriented, dictatorial revolutions, initially in Latin America, later assisting them in other continents as well.

The Bay of Pigs operation was modeled after the successful overthrow of the Guatemalan Communist-influenced regime (in 1954) with so-called "covert" (quote unquote) American support, as typically everybody knows about the involvement of U.S. agencies in such operations. That same year the Tenth Interamerican Conference of the Organization of American States (the OAS) in Caracas declared that the adoption by any regional country of a Communist regime aligned with that international movement, constitute a threat to the security and peace of this continent and hence calls for the invocation of the mutual defense treaties.

In short, in those Cold War years United States objective was to impede the materialization of satellites or client-states of the Soviet Union in this hemisphere, especially in the areas near us.

A point of reference was the old Monroe Doctrine which had been formally multilateralized in the Rio Treaty of mutual hemispheric defense against foreign interventions.

The historiography by participants in the Bay of Pigs fiasco indicates the concern and impotence of Cuban-exile leaders, who questioned how a few hundred men could succeed in overthrowing the rapidly expanding and arming Cuban army in the thousands. They were, however, caught in the maze of American bureaucratic politics, and John Kennedy's decision not to employ the U.S. military to consolidate a beachhead nor invade the island. In addition to the victims of the operation, Castro took the opportunity to conduct massive arrest of his opponents.

This meant that the anti-Castro movements, outside and inside Cub: assistance or belligerent status, Since the 1960s the U.S. Governm( to overthrow their governments, and has deployed American troops Caribbean and Central America, but not against Fidel Castro.

This meant that the anti -Castro movements, outside and inside Cuba, have not been given assistance or belligerent status. Since the 1960s the U.S. Government has assisted groups seeking to overthrow their governments, and has deployed American troops to change governments in the Caribbean and Central America, but not against Fidel Castro.

After the Missile Crisis the American Cuban policy, with exceptional departures, had these components:

(A) Avoid other Cubas.
(B) Generously give residence to Cubans wishing to settle in the United States
(C) Economic embargo.

A brief reference to the latter. On November 27 (1962) aware of this turn of events the Consejo Revolucionario de Cuba, the entity that had been formed with U.S. Government backing to lead in the liberation of Cuba, after the end of the U. S. naval blockade of the island stated:

We warn again that the diplomatic isolation and economic embargo, by themselves, won't overthrow the Communist regime of Cuba, nor reduce its expansive force of perturbation and contagion… The crisis of Cuba can only be resolved by armed force, exercised by Cuban democrats and those [foreigners] who desire the survival of freedom in the Americas.

Five months later José Miró Cardona, upon resigning as president of the just mentioned Consejo or Council, wrote about the isolationism and the economic embargo:

I have sustained and sustain that the goal of isolating proposed [Cuba] proposed by those who fear armed action is criminal. The economic suffocation that is exercised by … embargo, prolonging without day the suffering of a people that has arrived at the unbearable limits of its resistance, to provoke an internal rebellion, can not be justified if the moment of its ending is not preestablished. To promote or intent an insurrectional movement determined by the desperation, without coordinating it with armed action project from abroad, of a people dominated by terror would lead: 1) to relive the dark page of Budapest [i.e., Hungary 1956] ; 2) to create the myth of Fidel Castro's invincibility, 3) to promote negotiations for a coexistence that has just been repudiated in the Americas.

These words have been forgotten by a Cuban-exile community that blindly seeks revenge, and doesn't know better in its frustration vis-á-vis the collective madness of the clique that rules Cuba.

It is well known that economic embargoes are usually, relatively ineffective tools—their success depends partly on their psychological impact on the targeted rulers, and Fidel Castro obviously feels that he is above yielding.

I must remind you that the U.S. embargo is not a blockade. When still alive, the Soviet Union yearly subsidized the Cuban economy, estimated by experts to range from $3 to $6 billion annually. Other countries have maintained economic ties with Cuba all along. In fact, the purpose of the Helms-Burton recent act is to tighten an ineffective embargo.

Obviously, the U.S. embargo has posed costs: it is more expensive to bring merchandise from China or England than Miami; it was more disruptive when American spare parts were hard to obtain and U.S. equipment prevailed in Cuba; the Cuban economy could benefit from added American investment, etc.

Cuba's economic problems, however, do not rest on these partial economics shortcoming, rather on the nature of its economic regime, which has proved unviable in all continents of this world when the balance has been made.

It is indeed ironic that when the troubles started, Castroites claimed that the cause of Cuba’s underdevelopment was its economic ties with the United States; now it is their absence the source of the problem!

In sum, a total embargo -- an economic blockade of Cuba, is unviable. But given its existence, the U.S. embargo could be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations with the Castro regime. Hence, after the fact and recall since 1962, the embargo has acquired a "reasonableness" own.

The other item of the agenda is the refugee policy, a latent problem for all U.S. administrations. Recently, under Bill Clinton, the privileged position of Cubans with a virtual automatic acceptance in the United States was changed.

This has been the humanitarian side of the U.S. policy: welcome the dissatisfied with conditions in Cuba. You must understand the state of despair of so many Cubans who undertake the risks of crossing waters to come to this country. Illegal immigrants take risk – those from Mexico, Haiti -- but they don't compare with the spectacular character of the Cuba exodus: so many boat people have perished. At the same time, politically, the migration option has contributed to defuse the spirit of internal protest, as hopes are placed on an alternative future in foreign lands already densely populated by Cuban contacts.

The problems continued. On December of that same 1961 Castro declared: "I am a Marxist Leninist, and I will be one until the last days of my life" what he had hidden in order to achieve power. Month earlier the OAS meeting in Costa Rica had asked him to break away from his political / military ties with the "Soviet - Chinese Bloc", as it was called, to no avail.

As if the Communist Bloc had been emboldened by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, in August 1961 the Berlin Wal came up. That same month to meet the Castro - Soviet challenge, the U.S. Government launched the Alliance for Progress, a pledge by it of $20 billion over 10 years to assist the socioeconomic and democratic development of Latin America. The Cuban quagmire was proving costly.

It was absolutely obvious that talks with Cuba would not dissuade it to play any other role than the export of Marxist - Leninist, pro- Soviet revolution: violence, totalitarian or authoritarian rule.

In January 1962 – that same year of the October Missile Crisis – the Eight Meeting of Consultation of OAS Ministers of Foreigner Affair met in Uruguay, and adopted an unprecedented resolution: it excluded Castro from the regional body, and authorized member states to take those steps that they may consider appropriate for their individual or collective defense, and to counteract threats or acts of aggression, subversion, etc. in short, the regional body gave the green light to any of the member states, including the United States, to overthrow the government of Cuba.

The American response was to decree a suspension of commercial relations with Cuba declaring an economic embargo in February 1962. (In January of the previous year after Castro ordered the U.S. embassy to reduce staff to eleven, diplomatic relations were suspended, and during 1960 already economic relations had started to break down – for example, confiscation of all American property by Cuba and partial embargo of trade by the U.S. Government.)

The zenith if this escalated confrontation was the joint resolution of the U.S. Congress signed by Mr. Kennedy October 3, 1962 authorizing the use of force against Cuba, the prelude to the Missile Crisis.

The result of the latter direct United States - Soviet Union confrontation was very significant for Cuban history: part of the crisis resolution consisted of the acceptance of the continuation of Castro rule by the American government. And although this was contingent upon conditions, in fact, since then Democratic and Republican administration have considered this the U.S. policy.

Finally, the "avoidance of other Cubans" has lost relevance with the On September, under United Nations auspices, the government of ( signed a peace agreement billed ending 36 years of war with over I desaparecido (unaccounted for individuals); I million displaced persons. Only in Colombia and Peru other large guerrilla movements operate at this time. Other issues of U.S. national or security interests have gained paramount importance -- for instance, the drug traffic…

Does this mean that U.S.-Cuba relations can be normalized? As long as Fidel Castro is the political sovereign I am skeptical.

We have recalled that after the Missile Crisis the United States followed a policy of coexistence with the Cuban regime, combined with a suspension of economic ties with it, and the ineffective objective of Cuba’s diplomatic isolation from other Latin American countries. Since then relations with Cuba have turned friendlier (as initially with Carter) and more hostile(as under Reagan). But never the path to normalize, stabilize, them has been sustained.

A principal impediment to achieve it is Castro’s self-identity as a warrior who most perpetually fight and hold power against his enemies: the United States of America and his countrymen who happen to disagree with him.

Naturally, when the Soviet Union/Cold War existed Castro was provided handsome resources to pursue his chosen career. But other obstacles remain.

As long as Castro is in power there will be Cuban-American and Cuban lobbies seeking a U.S. policy to assist in the change of regime: its overthrow given its dictatorial nature. Judging from the past, any American initiative disliked by Castro will tend to openly produce acts of "piracy" unacceptable to civilized people (remember his sending of criminals to friendly Jimmy Carter).

Cuba is not China: it is a small island with about 11 million people next to the United States.

Consider the kind of regime for American investment that would be acceptable to the Cuban Government. Or consider the regime of travel to Cuba. What investment and people will be accepted and rejected? What about the regime involving the American mass media and journalists? How would U.S. opinion leaders and public regard such regimes, including the human rights abuses in Cuba?

The Cuban people are highly polarized, Castro himself is a principal polarizer; the escalation of conflict is always latent.

Frankly, I cannot envision in Cuba the kind of regime for the international movement of capital and people that characterizes the other neighbors of the United States. In fact, such freedoms would naturally result in social movements within Cuba to change its form of government: its personalistic/messianic/totalitarian regime. And the regime – Fidel Castro – will not tolerate this; in the past he has done what he could to repress any opposition to his continuance to rule Cuba. It is true that within Cuba movements to peacefully change the form of government have been developing. But they are at the mercy of Castro, who gives no sign of willingness to give them the space, nor of negotiating conditions, for a peaceable democratization.

To conclude, many well-intentioned individuals have wished to normalize relations with the Cuban Government. But there are very serious impediments.

We do not know what would have happened if Richard Nixon, not Kennedy, had been elected President of the United States November 1960. Strong sentiment still persists among Cubans in favor of U.S. invasion/pacification of Cuba, such feelings are heightened when this takes place in Cuba's neighbors, such as Haiti 1994.

The fact is that starting with Kennedy no American Administration has been willing to engage in such enterprise. One can imagine why it would be deemed too costly in lives and resources. How long would it take for American soldiers to capture Fidel Castro and company? How long would Cuba have to be occupied by U.S. troops to pacify the country and sustain a new government? Presently there is no organized opposition in the country ready to form a government…

We return to the crux of the problem: Fidel Castro, the indomitable pirate, troublemaker, who has appropriated as his personal fiefdom the island of Cuba. Given his mind - set it has been impossible to establish civilized relations with him. As with criminal elements I cannot envision relations with him without a military component. The alternative is isolating him. For paradoxically, the more interaction with his regime, the greater the propensity toward internal opposition in Cuba, and the more that the pathological side of his cruel and absurd policies is exposed. Must or should we be at Fidel Castro's caprices?

Cuba-U.S. relations seem, in a sense, to have the quality of a theatrical drama, a world of fantasy, of inauthentic roles and lines, part farce. A play in which, for example: (a) American presidential candidates accuse their opponents of being soft on Castro, yet once in office do not take realistic measures to address the problem, a playing by them with the Cuban (b) Cuban exiles involved in advocacy of measures, such as an embargo in pursuit of a total blockade, that are chimeric or misplaced, an effective blockade is obtainable only through war. (c) American leaders recommending isolating Castro, when in fact he will not permit so and will continue his act of creating trouble for the United States -- his symbolic demon. (d) Castro blaming the Yankee imperialists for his economic difficulties, a cloud of propaganda, for he in fact does not intend to have normal relations with the United States; for the economic progress of Cuba he needs to let Cubans alone to produce with independence from his suffocating regime.

And because of this play Cuba cannot be ignored, isolated. The Jesse Helms, Bill Clinton, Bob Doles, Cuban-American and Cuban lobbies, Fidel Castro, etc., keep the tragedy going, using Cuba, intentionally or not.

Unfortunately, real people, real Cubans continue to suffer -- Cuba's nationality has never been under such great assault.

At about the time that Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas Francisco de Vitoria, a Spaniard who entered the Dominican Roman Catholic order, was born. Considered by many the founder of modem international law, Vitoria established the following rights of every nation: the right to existence; the fight to juridical equality; the right to independence (except where a nation is politically so immature as to be incapable of self-rule, in which case a more civilized nation could temporarily administer it under mandate or keep it in trusteeship); the right to free communication and trade, denial of which by another nation could justify war; and the right – and duty—of every state to intervene in defense of nations victimized by domestic tyrants or threatened or attached by stronger nations. These proposition have formed part of the intense, conflictive discourse involving United States - Latin American relations.

Thank you.


Mauricio Solaun
West Central Council on Foreign Affairs
Illinois College at Jacksonville
October 8, 1996

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