Image: Havana in 2017, Pedro Szekely (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The recent protest demonstrations in Cuba, which started on July 11, have set off a frenzied anti-communist response in the United States, from politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties and from both right-wing and supposedly “centrist” and even “liberal” sectors of the press and media.
One Florida Republican congressman called for the Cuban national leadership to be “executed.” President Biden called Cuba a “failed state.” Even before the protests, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) renewed the offensive of the U.S. right against Cuba’s much-lauded international health solidarity missions, which have been praised in the many countries where they have helped to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, repeating the canard that the missions constitute “human trafficking.”
The fact that there have been much larger pro-revolutions demonstrations in Cuba in response to the anti-government protests has been ignored or distorted, with enemies of the socialist government even mislabeling images of the pro-revolution demonstrations as being anti-government.
The major bourgeois media in the United States have covered the recent situation the way they always have: to downplay or ignore completely the role of the 60-year blockade of Cuba by the United States in creating economic difficulties for the Cuban people, and to attribute any disturbances to “failed socialist policies” by an “authoritarian” and “repressive regime.” Not only that, but supposedly professional journalists and editorial commentators give credence to versions of events peddled by discredited right-wing hacks and ideologues.
Media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments.
When there are protests in Cuba, major U.S. press and media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments in many, many other countries, including Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, and Brazil, all of whose governments are subordinate to U.S. imperialist interests. In Colombia, for instance, the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque, closely allied with the United States, has unleashed a wave of violent repression against all opponents, repression which has cost the lives of many labor, indigenous, youth, and other leaders.
There are other manifestations of the corporate media’s propensity to ignore wider context when they are out to do a hatchet job on Cuba or other left-wing-led nations. For example, there has been an uptick in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Cuba (as in the United States and everywhere) in recent days, and this is trumpeted by the right-wing enemies of the Cuban Revolution as proving that the pandemic has been “mismanaged” by the Cuban government. In fact, Cuba has done far better than any of the other poorer countries dominated by imperialism in mobilizing its national resources to fight the pandemic, while its access to vital medications and medical equipment (including syringes needed to provide the population with anti-Covid vaccinations) has been severely harmed by the U.S. economic blockade.
The reasons for economic difficulties in Cuba are also distorted. This writer was in Cuba twice: in 1995 and 2017. At the time of my first visit, Cuba had been hard hit by the ending of favorable trade arrangements with the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries. Health care and educational institutions were still operating successfully, but there were serious scarcities and electrical blackouts caused by lack of fuel supplies. The United States government took advantage of Cuba’s difficulties by intensifying its attempts at economic strangulation of the island nation by passing the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. These acts, along with sundry executive orders, had the purpose of strangling the Cuban economy by making it risky for foreign companies to do business with Cuba, especially if such business was to be done on a credit basis, and by making it extremely hard for Cuba to get hard currency to use in foreign trade.
In 2017, improvements in living standards were clearly visible.
Cuba overcame these problems by negotiating new international trade networks while also launching new productive enterprises, notably in the biomedical field. Then in December 2014, the Obama administration began a program of rapprochement with socialist Cuba. Agreements between Obama and then Cuban President Raul Castro helped to develop Cuba’s tourism industry by making it much easier for U.S. citizens to travel to the island. But much of the legal architecture of the blockade remained.
So when I visited Havana in 2017, significant improvements in living standards were clearly visible. Public transportation was visibly improved by the presence of spanking new Chinese-built buses, cultural activities were thriving, and people were well fed, well dressed, and healthy looking, and Havana was clean and orderly. I even saw people walking “designer dogs”!
That was in the spring of the first year of the Trump administration. But things went downhill very soon after that, as Trump reversed most of Obama’s rapprochement policies and added new sanctions, among others, restricting the ability of Cuban-origin residents of the United States to send cash remittances to their relatives in Cuba. Using the still unexplained “Havana Embassy Mystery” as an excuse, the Trump administration imposed new anti-Cuba measures and returned Cuba to the list of countries not cooperating with the United States in the so-called war against terror. These things had their impact, and then on top of them came the Covid-19 pandemic, which stopped tourism to Cuba for more than a year. Tourism had become a major generator of vitally needed foreign exchange funds for Cuba, so this was a serious setback.
The pandemic, in the context of heightened U.S. attacks on Cuba, has had an extremely negative effect on the Cuban economy. And this is the moment that hardline anti-communists in the United States, which include influential Cuban-American politicians like Senators Rubio and Menendez, have been waiting for since the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959.
A policy to “to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.”
In 1960, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory outlined the imperialist approach to reversing the Cuban Revolution that is still in force today. Noting the popularity of the revolutionary government, he proposed that this popularity should be undermined by employing “every possible means” which should “be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Methods should be employed to “make the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.” And indeed, this is the policy that the United States has maintained against the Cuban people for nearly 61 years. This is why current U.S. claims to be “defending the Cuban people” are particularly repulsive.
But this time, simply ignoring international and historical context has not been enough. Making use of the internet and social media, enemies of the Cuban people have flooded the U.S. public with completely fictitious or doctored material. For example, there are multiple instances in which images of pro-government, pro-revolution counter demonstrations in Cuba have been mislabeled as anti-government protests. False information has been put out concerning the size and effects of the protest demonstrations.
For a long time, the U.S. government has been funding organized efforts to support dissident activism in Cuba. Recently, there has been a reliance on social media to achieve this aim. Much of the funding comes from U.S. government agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Institute for International Development (USAID), working through a network of right-wing nonprofit and religious organizations in the United States.
The Bacardi Family Foundation received $181,699 for its anti-Cuba activities.
For example, in 2020 alone, USAID channeled 2.5 million dollars (as far as we know) for subversion in Cuba through dozens of such organizations. Many have connections to right-wing Cuban exile groups such as the Bacardi Family Foundation, which received $181,699. This foundation was established by the family that formerly controlled Cuba’s rum production, pre-revolution. The Cuban Revolution nationalized Bacardi, offering the former owners managerial positions in the socialized enterprise. But like many rich Cubans, the Bacardis decamped to the United States, and since then have been involved in anti-Cuba activities such as a long-running trademark dispute over the right to use the famous “Havana Club” brand name. Another entity, which received $333,122 in 2020, is Canyon Communications, which announces that it is funding young Cuban artists and intellectuals to help them express themselves. A really splendid one is Grupo de Apoyo de la Democracia, Inc., a recipient of $167,107 and like many of these entities based in the right-wing Cuban exile community in Florida; it was accused in 2006 of spending U.S. taxpayer money for illegitimate purposes. The International Republican Institute, connected to the U.S. political party, got $470,267. “Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach to Cuba” got $148,089; its goal is to foment the organizing of independent Evangelical Christian churches in Cuba, a country with plenty of religious congregations of its own.
Much of the U.S. money directed at destabilizing Cuba has been directed at funding dissident artists, musicians, and bloggers, giving them the ability to project their message quickly to larger audiences on the island. Some of these artists, like the rapper Yotuel, have strong international networks, including in the Cuban exile circles in Miami.
There has been a recent sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases in Cuba. This has also been decontextualized. In fact, overall Cuba has done much better than other Latin American nations in dealing with the contagion, and better than the United States. This recent sharp uptick has not been just a Cuban phenomenon—it is worldwide and is happening in the United States too. For the United States to make it difficult for Cuba to import vital supplies to fight the pandemic, including syringes and medications, is a strange way to “help” the Cuban people.
With health services free, sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the U.S.
The whole issue of Cuban health care, a strong point of Cuba’s socialist system, is constantly distorted. The fact that Cuban doctors don’t drive around in Bentleys has nothing to do with the quality of that country’s health care system. Omitted from bourgeois media accounts of Cuban health care is the fact that medical education in Cuba is completely free, so young doctors are not burdened with impossible student loan repayments as they are in the United States. Instead, they are asked to put time into community service, either in Cuba or, on a volunteer basis, in one of Cuba’s overseas health solidarity missions. And health services are also free, so sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the United States.
Some so-called pundits express shock that some countries who host the Cuban missions pay Cuba for the service. The truth is that Cuba does not charge anything to provide these services to poor countries, only to countries wealthier than itself. And why not? Why indeed should Cuba subsidize the health care system of a wealthy developed country like Italy? Cuba’s per capita gross domestic product (calculated by the Purchasing Power Parity method) is estimated at $12,300 per year, while Italy’s is $42,492. So Cuba should subsidize Italy?
In 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden hinted that if elected, he would return to the Obama administration’s policy of gradual normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. However, current statements by Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and other administration figures seem to indicate otherwise.
However, the direction of the Biden administration Cuba policy should not be seen as immutable. Biden is getting pressure from the anti-Cuba lobby based in South Florida and New Jersey, an old story. This pressure is deliberately exerted in such a way as to threaten the Democratic Party’s hold on the White House and its majorities in Congress and state legislatures.
Friends of the Cuban people must find more effective ways of exerting our own counter pressure. Here are some:
*Act as a truth squad. Especially those of us who have been to Cuba and follow events there closely should avail ourselves of every opportunity to speak out when wrong information about Cuba is peddled in the press, radio, and television, and especially on social media. Write letters to the editor, call into radio and TV programs, and put out correct information on all online and social media platforms.
*Support positive legislation on Cuba by contacting your federal senators and representatives, asking them to sign on to the following bills, and then to work to get them passed: S 249, United States-Cuba Trade Act; S 1694, Freedom to Export to Cuba Act; and HR 3625, United States Cuba Relations Normalization Act. Legislative action on Cuba can be found on the website of the organization ACERE.
*Get your city council, state legislature, or other public or private body to pass a resolution denouncing the U.S. blockade of Cuba and demanding normalization of relations with the island nation. More than a score of city councils and state legislatures, including the city council of the country’s third largest city, Chicago, have already done so.
*Support the many organizations working to help the Cuban people overcome the imperialist blockade, such as IFCO/Pastors for Peace and many others.
*Join the international campaign to award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to the outstanding Cuban international health care solidarity campaign of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade.
*Support specific campaigns to help Cuba fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like the recent one to send syringes to Cuba.
Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.
This article was produced by CPUSA.