In this year’s annual United Nations vote on a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba, the United States and Israel abstained for the first time in the 25-year history of the vote, rather than cast the lone votes against the resolution. The U.S. press celebrated this abstention as a major advance by Washington and an acknowledgement of the need to end the embargo. Cuba gave its measured view of the matter in Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez’s statement, “A change in vote by the United States is a promising signal. We hope it will be reflected in reality.”
Cuba’s main priority in this process of renewed diplomatic and economic relations with the U.S. remains ending the embargo, which has cost the Cuban economy over $800 billion during the past half-century—a number that is 10 times the country’s annual GDP. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has shown no intention of ending the embargo—despite President Obama’s rhetoric—and has only made the slightest tweaks in ways that primarily benefit American business or are symbolic of U.S. capital’s desires in Cuba.
Two weeks before the UN vote, President Obama lifted the $100 limit on the value of Cuban cigars and rum that returning tourists can bring back to the United States for personal use. Cuban cigars and rum still cannot be sold in the United States, due to the embargo.
In a Presidential Policy Directive released in October, President Obama outlined some of the methods the United States intends to pursue in its new tactic of pushing for neoliberal economic reforms in Cuba. In addition to its goal of “help[ing] U.S. businesses gain access to Cuban markets,” the document also frequently makes clear the U.S. desire to remove revolutionary Cuba because of its status as an icon of the Latin American left, with references to “removing an irritant from our relationships with our allies and partners.”
The presidential directive lays out some of the United States’ array of tactics to achieve its 58-year goal of rolling back the Cuban socialist revolution. Among them is the desire to bring the full weight of international neoliberal institutions to bear on Cuba by pressuring it to join U.S.-dominated international groups, such as the Organization of American States (OAS). Cuba has been excluded from the OAS since 1962. That exclusion was overturned by a vote of member states in 2009, but Cuba declined the invitation to rejoin, saying that the OAS is an “instrument of U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere.”
This systematic approach is typical of U.S. hegemony. The document uses the terms “rules-based order” and “international norms and globally accepted standards,” which are shorthand for making a country’s legal and financial system safe for U.S. business by imposing the rules, norms, and standards dictated by American capitalism throughout the world to promote its interests.
Earlier in the process of normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a Cuban diplomat speaking to U.S. audiences sympathetic to the revolution asked audience members concerned that increased trade with the U.S. would become a foothold for U.S. imperialism to trust Cuba to maintain their revolution. He said that Cuba would only trade for what benefited the country.
The attempt by Cleber, an Alabama-based farm equipment company, to build tractors for small agriculture in the Mariel Special Development Zone illustrates U.S. attempts to tell Cuba what it needs, based on U.S. interests. After the U.S. approved the company’s permits, and before the Cuban government had even considered the company’s application, Obama began touting the company as a symbol of the new era of economic exchange and announced that for the first time a U.S. company would be building tractors in Cuba.
However, Cuba ultimately rejected the company’s application. Ana Teresa Igarza, director general of the Mariel Special Development Zone, stated that the company’s “Oggún” tractor, which is based on 1940s-era technology, “is not the type of investment that we want to attract in the Zone,” which seeks to attract foreign investment that “uses clean energy and innovative advanced technology.”
Having been celebrated in the bourgeois press when their plans were announced, the company is now depicted as a cautionary tale of an altruistic and idealistic endeavor by the United States that was scuttled by Cuban bureaucracy and economic backwardness. How unfair that an American company can’t do whatever it wants regardless of the wishes of the local people! Cuba’s planned economy ruined the plans of American capital.
As the unfettered economic access that American companies want has not materialized, they have begun complaining in the bourgeois press about the “slow pace of reform” in Cuba, as if it were Cuba that was refusing to lift its embargo on the United States! These complaints come from a country that, having put Cuba under a vicious and destructive half-century economic blockade, and after 24 years of near-unanimous UN votes condemning the embargo, decides to abstain from voting on the 25th time and calls it a major accomplishment!
While Obama may indeed consider markets and commerce to be more effective ways of accomplishing the goals of American imperialism than the “outdated” embargo, he knows that the embargo, which is a stranglehold on the Cuban economy, is a powerful weapon for him to use against Cuba. And the U.S. government will certainly not give it up for a pittance or unless it is forced to by mass action. In fact, in Obama’s declaration he states that, even if the embargo were “eased,” Cuba would not have the resources to purchase U.S. exports.
Socialist Action stands in solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolution. End the embargo! Long live the Cuban Revolution!
Photo: Michelle and Barak Obama join Cuban President Raul Castro at a baseball game in Havana in March 2016.