The Obama plan for Cuba was normal imperialism. The normalization of relations only meant that Cuba, in the vanguard of Latin American anti-imperialist nations, would no longer be targeted for regime change. The Obama administration recognized that the six-decade effort of trying to overthrow the revolution had failed, so a different strategy had to be adopted. The new strategy directed U.S. initiatives toward supporting the expansion of a class of entrepreneurs, which had been emerging with greater economic force as a part of the plan of the Cuban social and economic model of 2012. The Obama plan hoped that an expanding entrepreneurial class, with economic relations with the USA, would form the social base for a counterrevolutionary opposition. This strategy of imperialist normalization with respect to Cuba was combined with the launching of an unconventional war against the other vanguard nations of Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua), so that Cuba would lose its principal allies in the region, thereby weakening its capacity to persist in socialism.
Trump reversed Obama. The Trump administration abandoned normalization and turned to the intensification of the blockade, which had been softened under Obama but not eliminated. Trump’s intensification included numerous “exterritorial” measures, which sanction banks and companies in third countries for financial or commercial relations with Cuba, measures that are widely-considered as violations of the sovereignty of such third countries. The intensification of the blockade blocked structures that Cuba had developed during the last thirty years as mechanism for coping with the blockade, and they were effective in causing shortages in Cuba in petroleum, materials for manufacturing, and food items.
Many in the USA who advocate the end of the blockade point out that Biden during the presidential campaign promised to rethink Trump’s Cuba policy, implying a return to Obama’s normalization. But as is the norm in American politics, Biden’s campaign “promise” was nothing more than a few vague statements. He offered no comprehensive explanation and foreign policy proposal with respect to Cuba and Latin America. This set the stage for ignoring the “promise,” if political and economic developments were to warrant it.
Many analysts have indicated that Biden’s continuation of Trump’s policy of intensification is a result of electoral politics in Florida, and the importance of the state in electoral college voting. But I am not convinced of this reasoning. To be sure, prominent Florida politicians speak loudly and clearly in favor of unconventional war and possible military intervention against Cuba. However, it is normal in American politics that some politicians have extreme views on certain issues, addressing them with a degree of support in their local social base, but other political interests of influence are marshalled on the national scene to outweigh the extremist voice. In fact, the political reality in Florida has changed; the Cuban-American community in Florida no longer is a unified political voice, as a result of the post-1980 Cuban emigration, such that many Cuban-Americans support the normalization of relations with Cuba. With Cuban-Americans divided on the issue, a presidential candidate who sought to end the blockade could win the state of Florida, especially if there were an ideological campaign dedicated to explaining the numerous good reasons for normalization.
Biden’s unannounced continuation of Trump is best explained not by presidential politics but by changing political-economic conditions. First, there is the demonstrated effectiveness of the Trump measures in creating difficulties in Cuba, which first became visible in 2020. Secondly, the Covid pandemic has had a drastic effect on Cuban state and personal income. Tourism, its major industry, has fallen from nearly five million tourists per year to a few hundred thousand. And the pandemic has greatly increased the costs of the Cuban state, with the hospitalization and treatment of more than 533,000 Covid cases.
These factors have left the Cuban Revolution more vulnerable than at any time since the Special Period of the early 1990s. Apparently, the Biden Administration believes that the time is ripe for an aggressive, definitive strike that would bring down the Cuban Revolution. As Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on July 11, “They have decided that it is now or never.”
Biden’s unconventional war against Cuba has had different components. First, the intensification of the blockade, initiated by Trump, involving the blocking of commercial and financial transactions with banks and companies in third countries. This strategy was effective in creating shortages in Cuba.
Secondly, generating popular protests in opposition to the government through the social media, building upon the significant investments in recent years by the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID in the formation of Cuban journalists, social media influencers, and musicians in opposition to the Cuban government. In the days prior to the “protests,” thousands of antigovernment Twitter accounts were created, many using an automated system of retweeting a hashtag five times per second. The accounts were tied to Atlas Network, a free market consortium of more than 500 organizations that have received financial support from Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers. With the support of these automated accounts, operatives in Miami were sending messages and instructions. The intention was to tap dissatisfactions resulting from the intensification of the blockade and the effects of the pandemic, which in addition to causing shortages, were slowing the implementation of the 2012 social and economic model that the government has been developing in response to the dissatisfaction of the people with respect to the material standing of living.
The Biden strategy of generating protest through the social media had very limited results. There were small protests of short duration on July 11, in which the protesters were quickly outnumbered by people taking to the streets in support of the government; or they degenerated into acts of rebellion, violence, and vandalism. The phenomenon did not generate leaders, strategies, or a political-economic platform. And it was unable to sustain itself beyond one day; the streets of Cuba have been entirely tranquil since July 12, more than six weeks ago.
The Biden plan was sabotaged by its lack of understanding and miscalculation. The intensification of the blockade was effective in creating shortages in food and medicine, blocking the various mechanisms that Cuba had developed over the years to get around the blockade, albeit at additional cost. And the intensification did lead to a higher level of dissatisfaction. However, we should be clear that, in the first place, the phenomenon is a dissatisfaction with respect to one’s capacity to acquire material items; it is not a belief that the Cuban people need more “liberty,” as the discourse in Washington and Miami has it. Moreover, we should understand that such material dissatisfaction does not easily convert into rebellion or protest. An important sector of the people, a sector that is influential among the people in general, understand the sources of the shortages in the intensification of the blockade and the pandemic, and they therefore do not blame the revolutionary government. And even though some citizens do not understand very well the reasons why some items are not available, there is among the people a widespread understanding, nearly universal, that the Cuban Revolutionary Government is doing the best that it can to defend the people; or at a minimum, that the government is the best available defender of the people’s needs, whatever may or may not be its limitations. And there is a nearly universal understanding that the enemies of the Cuban Revolution in Miami and Washington do not have the slightest concern for the wellbeing of the people of Cuba.
By virtue of these subjective factors, the people were not stimulated to join in the protest on July 11, initiated by a few in accordance with instructions on the social media, made from Miami under direction from Washington. In fact, quite the opposite happened. The people were outraged at the comportment of the “protestors,” many with criminal antecedents and many of whom were receiving or were expecting to receive payments and other benefits. The outrage was expressed immediately by revolutionary people on the streets on July 11. During the following week, there were various acts of support for the revolution and the government, culminating in a pro-government demonstration of 100,000 at the anti-imperialist plaza. There emerged renewed commitment among the people to struggle along with the government against two enemies: the historic enemies of the revolution in Miami and Washington who were now utilizing new social media technologies; and Covid pandemic, the unseen enemy in which all of humanity is engaged in battle.
The third component of the Biden strategy involves exaggerating the scope, depth, and duration of the protests in the international media, both social and mainstream, in order to create a false impression outside of Cuba of sustained protest against an authoritarian government, thereby giving the disturbances a dignity that they in fact do not possess. This third strategy was much more successful. The false impression of sustained protests is reproduced in the international media even by academics who are opposed to the blockade, whose commentaries appear to assume that there has been a protest by the people against the government of Cuba. They appear to have been taken in by a media-created fiction.
How did the media create this fiction? The groundwork has been laid for decades through the ideological portrayal of the Cuban revolutionary political system as a dictatorship and an authoritarian regime. The historic false portrayal plays on the fact that the Cuban political system does not have representative democracy, in which two or more well-financed candidates nominated by electoral political parties compete. The ideological maneuver exploits the limited lack of political consciousness of the people of the United States, who assume that if a given nation does not have elections between competing parties, it must be a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime. The people are not able to imagine an alternative form of democracy. They cannot imagine that an alternative form of democracy exists in Cuba, because the characteristics of the Cuban form of democracy have never been reported nor explained. The people have been manipulated by the omission of relevant facts into believing that Cuba has a dictatorship.
I have attempted to explain in previous commentaries the alternative political process that the Cuban Revolution developed during the 1960s and 1970s. In brief, it involves the integration of mass organizations with alternative political structures of people’s power. It includes neighborhood nomination assemblies; elections in 12,515 voting districts of the delegates of 169 municipal assemblies, which elect (with the aid of recommendations of representatives of mass organizations) the 615 deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, the highest authority in the land, which enacts legislation and which elects (with the aid of mass organizations) the executive branch of government, including the President of the Republic. It is a process that occurs without electoral political parties and without obscenely expensive election campaigns.
In the decades of U.S. discourse concerning Cuba, the Cuban alternative political structure of people’s power scarcely has been mentioned. So the people of the United States do not know of, and cannot even imagine, its existence. It is a shameful lie by omission about the Cuban political system.
After decades of this dishonorable lie concerning the Cuban political system, accompanied by repeated references to the Cuban dictatorship and the Cuban regime, the people of the United States today have been primed to believe that there has been a popular protest that has been repressed by the regime. Why shouldn’t there be protest? There are protests all around the world, why not in Cuba? Or why wouldn’t there be repression? That’s what dictatorships do.
In the dissemination of the false narrative about protests on July 11, Cuban-American media have played a role, a new kind of media with an objective appearance, a media that reports on a wide variety of issues with respect to Cuba, including travel and culture. And Cuban-American academics contribute to this process in a variety of outlets. With respect to July 11, there were various commentaries by academics who are vaguely Cuban, that is, they or may not be living in Cuba; they may have earned Cuban academic credentials, but their present affiliation is unclear. The impression is given that they are Cuban academics and intellectuals; and as they speak about the Cuban “protests,” they come across as Cuban academics tied to or sympathetic with a sustained popular protest. In presenting themselves in this way, they give the impression that there exists in Cuba, not only protests, but a phenomenon of Cuban intellectuals, academics, and artists tied to the protests. In fact, very few intellectuals in Cuba support the “protesters,” who are seen as criminal elements, lacking a program of goals and action, and acting as paid agents of a foreign power that has declared its intention to destroy the Cuban constitutional order.
There are important exceptions to the media’s false portrayal of protests in Cuba, including The Militant, the magazine of the Socialist Workers Party; and The Progressive. And writing for Covert Action Magazine, Carlos L. Garrido, a Cuban-American philosophy graduate student and professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, had his facts right. He noted that the media “deceitfully hide the fact that anti-government protestors (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and CIA) number only a few hundred, whereas pro-government supporters—in defense of the revolution and opposed to U.S. intervention—have been flooding the streets, not by the hundreds, but by the hundreds of thousands.” And he further observes that “the 17th of July saw more than 100,000 Cubans take the streets of el Malecón in defense of the revolution and against U.S. intervention. There were also demonstrations in other provinces across the island, altogether dwarfing the U.S.-backed opposition hecklers of the previous week. Nonetheless, the opposition protests, although insignificant in size and duration (in comparison to the pro-revolution assemblages), have provided fertile ground for Western media to perform their traditional role in setting the stage for the imperial war drums.”
Indeed, the widely disseminated false belief of sustained social protest against authoritarian rule could be a useful pretext for military intervention in Cuba, which some extremist politicians and organizations in the USA have advocated. But this proposal of intervention seems entirely impractical, politically and militarily, given the failure of the social media campaign to generate an actual sustained social protest on the ground in Cuba and the renewed popular support for the revolution generated by the July 11 disturbances.
What are possible types of military interventions, and could they work in effecting regime change? If there were drone attacks to eliminate targeted leaders, the Cuban political process would quickly replace them with others. If there were air bombings against cities, causing the loss of life and property, it would not deter the revolutionary will of the people and the government, and it could provoke extensive protest in the world, including the USA. If there were a short-term military occupation to physically install a pro-U.S. government in Havana, it would fall immediately following U.S. withdrawal; yet a more permanent military occupation would surely lead to a nightmare similar to Vietnam and Afghanistan. In short, the Cuban Revolution has the commitment, the organizational capacity, and the popular support to effectively resist any form of U.S. military intervention. Military intervention in Cuba would not likely advance the imperialist cause.
The limited results of the July 11 attack demonstrate the continuation of the capacity of the Cuban revolution to resist. Cubans today face difficulties, which are, to reiterate, a result of the Trump measures blocking financial transactions with banks and companies in third countries, the impact of the pandemic on tourism, and the additional costs of health care occasioned by the pandemic. But the situation is nothing like what it was following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when homes did not have electricity for twelve hours every day, people had to take bicycles to work, and many were losing weight as a result of inadequate food. Today, the electricity and transportation systems are functioning; some food and household items are in short supply, and one must enter lines to purchase goods and/or pay exorbitant prices to unscrupulous black marketers. These are difficulties, but they do not constitute starvation or desperation.
The great majority of the people understand, in varying degrees, the sources of the difficulties. They see the efforts of the government and the Party to find ways to circumvent the Trump measures, which often are explained in detail on Cuban television and reiterated in the print media; and they see that Cuba has a coherent, scientifically informed plan with respect to the pandemic, also explained to the people in detail. Furthermore, for the people of Cuba, the Cuban-American right has zero credibility. And the U.S. government long ago delegitimated itself in Cuban consciousness.
It likely will become clear eventually to international analysts that the U.S. attack of July 11 had limited results. So, imperialism will have to evaluate its options with respect to Cuba, taking into account that it spent a lot of money on the venture, with paltry results. Perhaps it ought to abandon the “regime change now” approach and adopt a policy between Obama and Trump, a soft imperialism that keeps the blockade in place, but eliminating its extreme aspects, such as the extraterritorial measures that block Cuban transactions with banks and companies in third countries; and providing a general humanitarian exception for transactions in the field of medicine. It could continue its social media intervention, but with more respect for norms of truth and civility; accompanied by a revitalization of Obama’s deceitful policy of boring into the revolution through an emerging middle class.
As long as the U.S. power elite remains committed to maintaining its neocolonial domination of the world, a face-saving softer blockade of Cuba would likely be its best strategy, reducing its image as a bully, and implying less loss in international prestige.
But in the final analysis, U.S. neocolonial hegemony cannot be maintained, nor can the neocolonial world order be sustained. If U.S. policymakers were able to leave behind the assumptions and commitments of neocolonialism and imperialism, they would have the option of cooperation with Cuba and the nations of Latin America, as proposed by Fidel in 1960. Such a fundamental policy shift by the U.S. government would require the emergence of an anti-imperialist popular movement in the USA, which has existed in U.S. political culture in limited forms. Anti-imperialism was present, for example, as a component of the black power and student/anti-war movements of the period 1966 to 1972.
Today, the United States today does not have the ideological conditions to forge the necessary road of an anti-imperialist foreign policy. Traditional conservatives are against U.S. interventionism, but for the wrong reasons; they are not consistently anti-imperialist. Leftists cast a moral opposition to imperialism, a moral and idealist critique, without addressing the economic implications of an alternative anti-imperialist foreign policy. But such lack of ideological preparation is not a permanent condition. Continually evolving political and economic developments create new ideological possibilities, which must be seized by intellectuals committed to social justice.
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