John Maxwell’s long memory is a special gift in his most recent article, “Cuba, the US and the OAS.” In addition, to talking about the OAS decision to rescind the 1962 decision to expel Cuba, Maxwell highlights the US’ terrorist past against countries and leaders of Latin America, including, and especially, Cuba. Further, he tells a very personal story about a visit he made to Cuba in 1960 not long after the explosion of “La Coubre,” a French ship loaded with Belgian arms that blew up in Havana Harbor as it was being unloaded. The Cuban government suggested that the US’ fingerprints were on the catastrophe and the government newspapers hit the streets calling the explosion another “U.S.S. Maine” suggesting that the US had blown up the ship to compel Cuba to accept revision of Cuba’s sugar quota.
A huge, nationwide march ensued as Cuba began to count the dead. In the speech he made after the La Coubre explosion, Fidel used, for the first time, the exhortation, “Patria o muerte!” “Frente al monstruoso crimen de La Coubre: ¡Patria o muerte!”
(Picture above: from left, Fidel, President Dorticos, and Che)
Sunday, June 07, 2009
The older I get the more evidence seems to accumulate that the greatest
enemy of world peace and popular enlightenment may be the profession of
Somebody once said that generals are always prepared to fight the last war,
but the truism seems to fit at least as well when applied to journalists.
Take the New York Times editorial on Thursday; it begins, portentously:
“For 50 years, the Cuban people have suffered under Fidel Castro’s, and now
Raul Castro’s, repressive rule. But Washington’s embargo – a cold war
anachronism kept alive by Florida politics – has not lessened that suffering
and has given the Castros a far-too-convenient excuse to maintain their iron
grip on power.”
Anyone who knows anything about the history of the last 50 years might be
forgiven for total bafflement.
Let us leave aside the statutory abuse and go to the embargo – which the NYT
describes as a Cold War anachronism which had not ‘lessened the suffering .
In the first place, the embargo was originally designed and has been
periodically reinforced specifically to make the Cuban people suffer and to
punish them for not rising up and overthrowing their government. The embargo
is – in terms of international law – an act of war, and it has always been
meant to have that effect on the Cubans. If any nation had declared war on
the US, would the US expect that circumstance to improve the conditions of
the US population?
The embargo is so punitive that it even prohibits medicines and vaccines for
children from entering Cuba. It was and is an attempt to make the Cubans
grovel in their misery and cry “Uncle” – as in ‘Uncle Sam’. The fact that
the opposite has happened is not a matter for inquiry by the NYT. Instead,
says the Times:
“So we are encouraged to see President Obama’s tentative efforts to ease the
embargo and reach out to the Cuban people. At the same time, we are
absolutely puzzled and dismayed by this week’s frenzied push by many Latin
American countries to readmit Cuba to the Organisation of American States.
“Cuba, which says it has no interest in joining, clearly does not meet the
group’s standards for democracy and human rights.”
The writer is obviously not aware that in the world outside of the United
States, in the United Nations, the margin of support for ending the embargo
has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favour of the
resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005 and 184 in 2007.
Last year, apart from the US, only Israel and one or two other superpowers
like Palau voted against the resolution, while Micronesia and the Marshall
The delegate speaking on behalf of the European
Union, France’s UN deputy ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said the 27-member
bloc rejects “all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to
common accepted rules of international trade”. The Antiguan representative,
speaking on behalf of the 132-nation Group of 77 and China, said the
alliance renewed its call on Washington to lift the embargo, which not only
undermines the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and international law,
but threatens the principles of free trade and investment.
The New York Times is unaware that the Iberian/Latin American nations long
ago welcomed Cuba in from the cold, even holding their 1999 Summit in
Havana. There, the Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican heads of government
criticised what they called Cuba’s lack of democracy, but did not see their
differences as unbridgeable.
At that meeting, attended by the King of Spain, among others, the leader of
the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, defiantly declared that it was “an
impossible task to persuade Cuba that it should abandon the ways of
revolution and Socialism”.
“Almost nobody thought Cuba could survive the fall of the Socialist bloc…
but we thought differently and were determined to fight,” said Castro.
But even before that, when the revolution was only 25 years old, I happened
to be in Havana during the Malvinas (Falklands) War, when streams of Latin
American diplomats came to Cuba to seek advice from and to pay homage to
Cuba and to Fidel, who had condemned the Thatcher-Reagan aggression – as
they saw it – against hemispheric political integrity.
And when the US condemns the Cubans for their lack of democracy there is an
unconcealed irony in their position, not to say hypocrisy. The so-called
dissidents that Cuba is accused of persecuting are in fact paid agents of
the United States, whose motives may be as innocent as saints, but who are
in fact, under Cuban and international law, working for a foreign power with
whom their country is at war, in a war declared not by Cuba but by the
The New York Times, like the people Castro calls the Miami Mafia and like
other anti-Cuban forces, does not apparently believe the Cubans have any
right to defend themselves from American attack.
“We understand the desire to fully reintegrate Cuba
into the main regional organisation. But as Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued
this week: “Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere that repudiates
nearly all forms of political dissent. For nearly five decades, the Cuban
Government has enforced political conformity with criminal prosecutions,
long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical abuse and
The people the NYT and HRW are defending are the foreground players in a
multi-level criminal assault on the Cuban polity. Over the years, this
assault has included terrorist bombings such as the sabotage of the arms
ship La Coubre, which exploded in the Havana docks in 1960, killing and
maiming hundreds; terrorist campaigns in the Escambray and other parts of
Cuba; targeted assassinations; biological warfare killing Cuban children
with imported strains of haemorrhagic dengue fever, for instance; economic
biological warfare targeting sugar cane, tobacco and citrus, among others,
with exotic diseases; terrorist bombings of hotels, targeting tourists,
plots to blow up the Tropicana, the world’s most famous nightclub and its
audience and cast of hundreds; and the unremitting campaign to kill Fidel
Castro with more than 600 known attempts on his life.
And while we talk about Cuba, let us not forget about the US attempts to
spread democracy in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua
and Haiti, among others, leaving the landscape littered with the corpses of
men, women, children, nuns, priests and journalists.
No one can convince me that the Cubans have no right to defend themselves
and their revolution. Had Maurice Bishop taken their advice he might still
be alive. But for some people, for me to say that the Cubans may have a case
is a demonstration of moral and intellectual depravity.
So be it.
I happened to be in Havana in 1960 shortly after the ammunition ship La
Coubre had been blown up with huge loss of life. Everybody I knew tried to
discourage me from going. I was sure to be killed.
I wasn’t injured or in any real danger, although the night I arrived some
gunmen in a speeding car sprayed the main shopping street with sub-machine
gunfire. The air was charged. The day after I arrived I went for a walk with
my camera and ran into a black Cuban on Monserrate Street, where he lived.
On discovering I was Jamaican and a journalist he told me that he was a
communist, a trade unionist and that though the revolution was not
communist, he approved of it. We walked to the Parque Central, where the
permanent tiled chessboards may have witnessed the genius of Capablanca and
where, on that day – May 20, 1960 – Cuba’s official Independence Day and my
own 26th birthday, various patriotic things were happening. Among them a
group of Pioneros – the revolutionary equivalent of Boy Scouts – were
practising for a parade. I began to take some pictures and was quickly
stopped by a tall young man in civilian clothes who made it plain that I was
Monserrate accompanied us to the nearby police station.
I quickly discovered I was in difficulties because I had left my passport
behind in my hotel, the nearby Siboney. But they had no one to go with me to
get it. How to prove who I was?
Because I spoke English I was an American! Monserrate convinced me to scour
my wallet for some form of ID. All I could find was a temporary press pass
to the United Nations from the year before. Monserrate took one look at it
and jumped for joy. See, he exclaimed (in Spanish of course) my friend is
Ingles (English) because the pass said I was a British subject. The Brits
were friends of Cuba.
The week before I arrived, Life magazine had published a spread on Cuba,
featuring the very troop of young Pioneers I had set my sights on.
The photographer had been a black American.
The photo spread had been titled: “Fascism in Latin America?”
As we say in cricket, the Americans had already begun rolling the wicket.
The sugar quota was cut while I was there. The revolution was not even 18
A quarter of a century later I was on the steps of Jamaica House, chatting
with Michael Manley, having just interviewed him for some European radio
station. Somebody burst out of the house with the news that a Cubana
airliner on its way to Jamaica from Barbados had been bombed out of the sky.
Manley’s reaction was shock and horrified disbelief. He went inside to phone
his friend Fidel. The horror was palpable. Most of those on the plane were
little more than children, the Cuban junior fencing team, some young
Guyanese en route to medical school in Cuba and others.
Two of the culprits were soon discovered, tried and imprisoned. Another,
one, Luis Posada Carriles, alias ‘Bambi’ – the mastermind – has since that
day 33 years ago, been under the protection of the United States of America.
American agents have engineered his release from a Venezuelan jail and later
from a Panamanian jail after a failed plot to blow up Fidel Castro along
with several other Latin American leaders and thousands of Panamanian
students in a concert hall.
This terrorist, a CIA asset from the time of the Kennedy assassination,
lives protected in Miami in a country whose last president promised to go
after terrorists wherever they were and regardless of who protected them. No
question of moral or intellectual depravity here, of course. In addition to
the Cubana bombing he was responsible for some hotel bombings, one of them
fatal to an Italian tourist.
Meanwhile, five Cubans who had infiltrated the Miami Mafia and were
supplying information about the terrorists the US said it was committed to
hunt down – people like ‘Bambi’ – were given long prison sentences in
solitary confinement for taking George W Bush at his word.
Fidel Castro has long made it plain that Cuba has no wish to rejoin the OAS.
Latin America knows this, despite which the OAS members decided to rescind
the 1964 decision. It will mean nothing, practically, but for the Latins it
is a matter of honour.
For them the OAS has been a yanki weapon against all of them, from Arbenz to
Allende to Aristide to Fidel, Chavez and Morales. It does not end.
Their pilgrimages to Havana 25 years ago may have served no practical
purpose either, but for Latin America it helped restore their self-respect.
*Copyright2009 John Maxwell