Growing US aggression against progressive governments in Latin America is being accompanied by Cold War rhetoric from Washington. Speaking to right-wing Venezuelans in Florida, President Donald Trump proclaimed on 18 February that ‘the twilight hour of socialism has arrived’. Visiting the country at a decisive moment, we brigadistas learned first-hand that Cuba is getting ready to prove Trump wrong. Will Harney reports.
As previously reported (see FRFI 269), for months the Trump administration has been threatening to activate a long-dormant piece of anti-Cuban legislation, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act which has been suspended by every president since the Act itself was passed in 1996. The sword fell on 17 April, anniversary of the failed 1961 US invasion of Cuba at Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs). National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking to right-wing Cuban exiles and former mercenaries at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in Miami, announced that the suspension on Title III would be fully lifted from 2 May.
This is a dramatic expansion of the US’s illegal blockade. It allows US nationals to sue companies (including foreign ones) that do business with Cuba, and the lawsuits have already begun. In addition to Title III, the war criminal Bolton also announced:
Title IV will be utilised once again, so individuals who ‘traffic’ in property that was nationalised by the Cuban state will not be issued visas to travel to the US; travel to Cuba from the US will be restricted only to those visiting immediate family; limits on remittances (money sent by individuals in the US to their families in Cuba) will be tightened so no more than $1,000 can be sent per three months.
Title III is designed to push the Cuban economy into crisis by significantly increasing the already considerable legal and financial risk for foreign investors of dealing with Cuba. Due to the financial harm it could do to companies and individuals in third countries, it will also add to tensions between the US and Cuba’s trading partners, particularly Canada and the EU which issued a joint warning that the US would be violating international law. ‘The EU will be obliged to use all means at its disposal’, including WTO legal action, EU foreign policy and trade officials warned in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 10 April. Spain announced on 6 May it would set up a $420m investment fund and advisory offices to protect Spanish businesses against US lawsuits.
While in Cuba we met with Ramon Labañino, one of the Cuban 5 Heroes of the Republic, and now Vice President of the National Association of Economists and Accountants. He explained how the blockade undermines Cuba’s economic planning. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Cuba has diversified and re-designed its economy to focus on the biotechnology/medical sector and tourism, which in 2018 brought in $350m and $3bn in foreign exchange respectively. In order to achieve a planned 1.5% GDP growth for 2019, Cuba will need to attract 5.1m tourists. With the travel ban from the US being extended, and lawsuits already being brought against cruise companies that use Cuban ports, the impact on tourism could be substantial.
‘The blockade costs Cuba $12m per day. Imagine what we could do with $12m per day! How many houses? How many schools? How many hospitals? How many lives saved?’ – Ramon Labañino
The tightening of the blockade is likely to restrict the growth of the non-state sector in Cuba, which now employs around 29% of the workforce (including co-operatives and self-employed workers) and represents 12-15% of GDP. The measures are also likely to hamper Cuba’s ability to carry out priority tasks, like re-unifying the Cuban currency, which is vital for redressing the wage gap between state and non-state workers and raising efficiency and productivity in the state enterprise sector. This is likely to take longer if there are fewer remittances flowing into Cuba or Foreign Direct Investment drops as investors become more cautious.
The Monroe Doctrine
The unleashing of Title III is part of an overall strategy of aggression towards socialist and progressive governments in Latin America, especially those that Bolton refers to as the ‘Troika of Tyranny’: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. US imperialism, facing relative decline as an economic power, is attempting to reassert control within ‘its hemisphere’ over countries struggling to forge an independent path. ‘In this administration’, Bolton explained in March, ‘we’re not afraid to use the word [sic] Monroe Doctrine’ – referring to the foreign policy, pioneered by fifth US President James Monroe, of aggressive US hegemony over Latin America. Trump himself, conscious of the need to win votes in Florida if he hopes for re-election in 2020, also panders to the influential right-wing Venezuelan and Cuban exile communities in that state.
This explains the crudely ideological anti-communist propa-ganda from the Trump administration, the claims that Cuba has installed a puppet regime in Venezuela, staffed by 92,700 communist proxies and mercenaries – premised on the testi-mony of a single Venezuelan former military official. Pompeo tweeted on 12 March: ‘No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela’s military and their families, than the communists in Havana. Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.’ As we learned from Labañino, the coordinated eco-no--mic warfare against Venezuela, Cuba’s largest trading partner in Latin America, has exacerbated the crisis. Cuba currently relies on imports of 100,000 barrels of oil per day; due to the situation in Venezuela, Cuba receives only one third of this from its Latin American neighbour and has therefore begun purchasing at greater expense from other exporters including Russia and Algeria.
Cuba is prepared to resist
The 1961 Playa Giron invasion was defeated within 72 hours, proof of the revolution’s mass popular support in the face of an imperialist attack. In response to recent events, First Secretary of the Communist Party Raul Castro has called for two main lines of defence against aggression from the US.
Firstly, Cuba is increasing domestic, especially food, production to reduce reliance on imports. The farm workers and co-operative members at the Union of Young Communists-run farm ‘La Granja Rosita’ and Leonor Perez agricultural cooperative were clear – increasing productivity is defending revolution. In May, rationing was extended to a number of basic products such as eggs, rice, beans and soap. The ‘libreta’ ration book has been in use since 1962 and is employed in response to shortages to share food equitably and prevent hoarding.
Secondly, Cuba is preparing militarily to resist a US invasion. At the agricultural cooperative, we heard the distant booming of artillery; the workers explained that while military drills happen every April to commemorate the victory at Playa Giron, the use of heavy weapons is a step up. Belkys Lay Rodriguez, of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, said ‘I am convinced that the US has military intentions in Venezuela and if it invades, the next target would be Cuba.’
As Ramon Labañino indicated, Cuba will not accept Helms-Burton lawsuits, and it will only discuss compensation to US companies or individuals for nationalisations once the US has compensated Cuba for the accumulated $900bn+ damages caused by the blockade: ‘The economic damage caused by the blockade far outweighs any claim individuals or companies may have to compensation. How much does the US owe us for the blockade? We will only pay back for the properties when they pay us this money. We are not afraid of imperialism. We are ready to fight. We will never surrender.’
Cuba’s enemies in the media
Recent events in Cuba have been manipulated by the media, including the BBC, to paint a picture of oppression which assists the US designs for regime change. The National Centre for Sexual Education (CENESEX) organised its 12th annual conference in Havana to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 11 May; however, after it emerged that activists with links to US-funded Cuban counter-revolutionaries were planning to stage an unplanned spectacle during the annual Conga, organised by CENESEX since 2008, the Conga was cancelled. A group of around 150 people decided to go ahead with an ‘independent’ march along the seafront, without authorisation. They were permitted to march some distance then told they could not go on to the Malecon (into oncoming traffic) and when they attempted to do so, they were stopped by police and three were arrested. This incident was described in the international media as a suppression of Cuba’s LGBT community, though many of those involved later participated in CENESEX’s regular programme of events, the rest of which were not cancelled. As FRFI has previously reported, Cuba’s promotion of LGBT rights in spite of the challenging legacies of machismo is exemplary for the region, and the British and US media have nothing to offer in this struggle except for opportunistic distortions. Referring to the gains for the LGBT community in Cuba’s new constitution, Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a self-described communist and gay journalist in Havana, said ‘as the popular saying goes, the conga is within us. It doesn’t matter that this year we are asked not to do it. What has already been danced – and what remains to be danced – is not going to be taken away from us.’
Bringing socialism to Britain
We must bring the lessons of socialist Cuba to Britain – the ferocious aggression of US imperialism is a sign of how dangerous to capitalism the Cuban example is. We are holding public meetings in cities around Britain where brigadistas will be speaking about their inspiring experiences and lessons for building working class power. Particularly crucial are Cuba’s model of sustainable development and its revolutionary democracy. In Britain, thousands of young people have been drawn into environmental protest movements, precisely because the existing political structures and parties are reacting inadequately to the climate crisis. A planned economy like Cuba’s, built by revolutionary working-class organisations, is the only way to reduce resource consumption to save the environment.
Equally, we must challenge the British media narrative which enables imperialist aggression against Cuba and Venezuela. In our meeting with Sergio Gomez of the CubaDebate news site, he described the urgency of this: ‘Rock Around the Blockade’s first trip in 1995 was in as historic a moment as this one is going to become. We need your help more than ever. In every way you can, you have to speak out against the blockade.’