In his speech to the Cuban people in Havana, President Barack Obama declared, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas and I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.”
But Obama made clear that his desire to end the decades-long United States (US) economic blockade of the island is not based on the fact that it constitutes the bullying of a small country by the world’s most powerful capitalist nation, nor is it a response to the sheer inhumanity of the blockade.
It is simply an acknowledgement that the policy has failed to bring down Cuba’s socialist system and return the country to capitalism. Obama then proceeded to spend much of his speech telling Cubans that they should live under a US-style democracy and a capitalist economy. In other words, he has no intention of leaving behind “the ideological battles of the past.” He is simply shifting strategy.
During his trip, Obama frequently referred to human rights in Cuba, particularly “political prisoners.” In his speech to the Cuban people, he declared, “I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organise, and to criticise their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.” Not surprisingly, the US press corps covering Obama’s visit obediently fell in step with the president’s message on the issue of human rights.
But Cuba has been forced to survive in the face of repeated aggression by the world’s most powerful nation. For more than half a century the US has actively sought to bring down the Cuban government and replace Cuba’s socialist system with capitalism. In addition to all of these efforts to topple both the Cuban government and its socialist system, Washington has enforced the oppressive economic blockade of the tiny island for the past 55 years.
And, under Obama, the US has continued to fund pro-US groups in Cuba in violation of Cuban law. This history of aggression, which is ongoing, has been largely ignored by the US mainstream media, which has instead chosen to focus on the “political prisoners” in Cuba’s jails. Gary Leech rightly reminds us that the US government has supported and funded many anti-government groups in Cuba in its efforts to replace socialism with capitalism in that country. Consequently, the Cuban government claims that many of the so-called political prisoners in its jails are Cubans who have received funding from a foreign government that is intent on achieving regime change. One such foreign programme was conducted by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which, under the guise of “democracy promotion,” distributed Internet and satellite communications equipment to Cuban opposition groups in direct violation of Cuban law. Such activities make it clear that it is the US that has failed “to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.”
One can only imagine the outcry in the US if a foreign government such as the Soviet Union or China were funding anti-capitalist organisations in the US during the Cold War in an effort to bring down the US government and overthrow capitalism.
And one can only imagine the response if a leader of the Soviet Union had visited Washington DC and began publicly lecturing the US president and the American people about how flawed their capitalist system was and, during his visit, met with Soviet-funded, anti-capitalist groups in the US that were seeking to not only overthrow the government, but to dismantle the country’s capitalist system. I think it’s safe to say that most Americans would be outraged. And yet Obama met with Cuban dissidents in the US Embassy while in Havana. Perhaps Obama should have been more focused on living up to his campaign promise to remove Guantanamo
Actually, Cuban government have no qualms about citizens criticising their government and its policies. In fact, the Cuban government encourages public debate about how to improve the country’s socialist system. However, advocating for the overthrow of the government and socialism is not permitted. But then, in the US, there is very little space in which to advocate for the overthrow of the US government and the capitalist system. The US Congress is overwhelmingly dominated by pro-capitalist Republicans and Democrats. Alternative parties are barred from participating in election debates and have difficulty accessing campaign funding. The corporate-owned mainstream media refuses to present anti-capitalist perspectives. The hegemonic structures that marginalise anti-capitalist views in the US are much more insidious than those that defend socialism in Cuba.
Obama also promoted US-style democracy for Cuba when he declared, “I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.” The US president either ignored, or was ignorant of the fact that Cuba is a democratic nation. This is because the US arrogantly views liberal democracy as the only legitimate form of democracy. Why? Because liberal democracy is the only form of democracy compatible with capitalism. A liberal democracy almost inevitably results in major political parties serving the interests of economic elites, which means corporations and their owners (the one percent). In contrast, Cuba’s democracy is a socialist democracy in which citizens vote for individual candidates because political parties are not allowed to participate, thereby limiting the influence of private sector wealth to influence political policymaking. So the problem for Obama and corporate America is not a lack of democracy in Cuba, but the lack of a liberal democracy that serves corporate interests.
The US uses its massive wealth and power to influence political parties in Latin American countries that are multi-party liberal democracies to ensure that they serve US interests when in power. But when, despite Washington’s best efforts, a party comes to power that challenges US interests, then Washington’s support for democracy goes out the window. The US has repeatedly ousted democratically-elected governments in Latin America when those governments failed to serve US geo-political and corporate interests in the region. Just in the past 14 years Washington has overthrown three democratically-elected governments in the region that challenged the interests of US corporations and capitalism in general. US policy in Latin America and throughout the world has not been motivated by the promotion of democracy and human rights, it is intended to serve US corporate interests and entrench capitalism. This is why the most brutal right-wing dictatorships in Latin America during recent decades have been supported by the United States.
And this is why left-leaning democratically-elected governments are ousted by Washington. It is only the most naïve and ignorant Americans, and the most naïve and ignorant US journalists, who take Washington’s rhetoric about democracy and human rights at face value. After all, if US foreign policy were motivated by democracy promotion and the defence of human rights, then how do we explain Washington’s support for undemocratic and repressive regimes such as the Saudi Arabian dictatorship? So while Obama is urging the US Congress to end the economic blockade of Cuba, it is clear that his objective remains the removal of Cuba’s socialist government and the replacement of socialism with capitalism. He disguises his imperialist objectives with arrogant rhetoric about democracy and human rights along with suggestions that Cubans could live like Americans under capitalism.