Tuesday, 27 November 2012

It's time to end the 50-year blockade of Cuba

Many people believe that the 1962 "October crisis," as the Cubans call it, represents the closest that the world has ever come to a nuclear war. It was a defining moment of John F Kennedy's presidency, a touchstone of cold war history.

For 13 days the United States and the Soviet Union came close to the unthinkable. US defence secretary Robert McNamara wondered whether he "would live to see another Saturday night" and Dino Brugioni, a member of the CIA team monitoring the weapons build-up, saw no way out except "war and complete destruction."

Although Cuba was sidelined in the ultimate resolution between Kennedy and Khrushchov, a commitment was given that the US would not invade the island. Technically Washington has kept to this - with no overt military action since the Bay of Pigs - but the last 50 years have been marked by aggressive interference in every other manner.

The "October crisis" was simply the continuance of an unrelenting obsession with Cuba and an unremitting class hatred and fear of the Cuban revolution. US interference in Cuba dates right back to the start of the 20th century. After the Spanish-American war the US Congress passed the Platt amendment of 1902, which stipulated that Cuba "shall never entry into treaty ... with any foreign power," that Cuba's finances would be under the control of the US and that it would "exercise the right to intervene." It also said the US would have a right to a military base on the island.

Although the Platt amendment was repealed in 1934 every president since the passing of that legislation has sought to achieve its objectives. Eisenhower began to plot the overthrow of Fidel Castro soon after the triumph of the Cuban revolution.

At the national security council meeting on January 14 1960 undersecretary of state Livingston Merchant noted that "our present objective was to adjust all our actions in such a way as to accelerate the development of an opposition in Cuba which would bring about … a new government favourable to US interests."

The programme drawn up by Merchant led directly to the Bay of Pigs. At the same time a national intelligence estimate made clear what the new fear was, noting that "Latin America is ripe for revolution in one form or another."

It was the example of Cuba, the potential of Cuba, that had to be destroyed at all costs. That is why Kennedy chose his brother in 1961 to lead a top-level agency group to oversee Operation Mongoose, a programme of paramilitary operations, economic warfare and sabotage designed to visit the "terrors of the earth" on Castro and topple him from power.

That is why, as the Excomm tapes clearly show, Kennedy's advisers were ready to go to war over Cuba and the missiles. As McNamara said 30 years later, "If I had been a Cuban or Soviet leader, I think I might have expected a US invasion."

Analysis written by the State Department policy planning council in 1964 offers further insight.

"Perhaps of even greater moment is that the primary danger we face in Castro is ... the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movements in many Latin American countries."

How prescient this was and how responsible it has been for the fear that has driven over 50 years of economic blockade as well as terrorism, pollution, chemical warfare, assassination attempts and the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on trying to overthrow a sovereign state.

It has driven laws through Congress further tightening all aspects of the brutal policy so eloquently denounced by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla on November 13 2012 at the United Nations, when for the 21st time the world voted for the end of the US blockade. Rodriguez provided a huge list of medicines and equipment that Cuba is prevented from buying from US companies and the terrible suffering this causes patients.

He gave the names and ages of babies and young children waiting for heart operations because they are prevented from accessing the food supplement needed for intravenous feeding.

The patients forced to be sent to third countries because US companies could not sell Cuba life-saving medicines for their specialist conditions. The children who lost their eyesight because the US government prevented their doctors from buying the cancer drugs that could save their eyes - 15 in the last year alone.

What is abundantly clear to everyone around the world is that US hostility to Cuba does not stem from its alleged human rights failings but from its social and political successes and the challenge its unyielding independence offers them. It is the fact that they have chosen socialism that the US cannot accept.

Saddled with a siege economy by the illegal US blockade and a war-time political culture ever since the October crisis the people have achieved health and education standards that match or outstrip not only the US but countries in Europe as well.

It is Cuba's selfless internationalism and solidarity, sending teachers, doctors and nurses to over 70 countries around the world, that shows what can be achieved by focusing on humanity and not wars.

As Fidel said in 2005 to an audience of students, "We have never considered producing nuclear weapons.

"We possess a weapon as powerful as nuclear power and it is the immense justice for which we are struggling. Our nuclear weapon is the invincible power of moral weapons."

President Barack Obama ran under the electoral banner "Forward." If he genuinely wants change we can believe in he can start with his anachronistic cold war policy towards Cuba, which not only alienates the US from its neighbours in Latin America but from the rest of the world as well.

When will he accept that 188 countries opposing the US is a mandate for real change?

•    This article was written by Bob Oram for the Morning Star. Bob will be one of over 50 speakers at the Latin America Conference this Saturday at Conway Hall, London WC1. You can book tickets online here.

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