As US President Barack Obama announced his surprise «historic» bid to normalise relations with Cuba this week, the New York Times swooned with glowing news. ‘US to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility’ was how its top headline put it. Welcoming the development, the American «newspaper of record» said Obama vowed to «cut loose the shackles of the past» and to «sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War».
But, purple prose aside, the hard detail is that the ongoing illegal American embargo on Cuba will stay in place. Moreover, the move comes as Washington slaps on more sanctions against Russia and unleashes new sanctions on Venezuela.
End of the Cold War? Well, possibly, if we are thinking in a narrow way about historic US-Soviet relations. But in terms of ongoing American hegemonic attitude towards other nations, the Cold War has never stopped and will never stop as long as America sees itself as entitled to dictate to others in order to advance its political and economic interests.
After 54 years of imposing a unilateral vicious trade and diplomatic blockade on the small Caribbean island country, the US move is significant. But not for the blithe reasons that the NY Times and other Western media outlets have presumed and would have the rest of us believe.
The first thing to note is that the apparent change in policy by the White House is not a move that in itself should be hailed as virtuous, as much of the Western media coverage infers.
When US President Dwight Eisenhower first slapped on the trade sanctions in 1960 followed by the severance of diplomatic relations the following year, no less than 11 subsequent presidencies have continued the policy of illegal aggression towards Cuba. The American political and economic stranglehold on Cuba has been denounced across the world as a relentlessly criminal policy and a violation of the United Nations charter.
Cuban President Raul Castro, who in 2010 took over from his ageing brother Fidel as leader of the revolution, was cordial in welcoming Obama’s announcement this week. But he rightly noted that the fundamental US-imposed problems on his nation remained.
«This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved», Castro told Cubans in a televised broadcast. «The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damage to our country, must cease».
Remember, too, that «hostility between the two nations» has been pretty much all one way – from the US. When the young socialist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro visited Washington in 1959 following the overthrow earlier that year of the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, it was clearly an appeal back then for peaceful relations.
That appeal fell on deaf ears among Washington’s ruling circles. The Eisenhower presidency initiated aggression through sanctions and a total trade embargo within months of Castro’s visit. When John F Kennedy took over the White House in early 1961, he then oversaw the invasion of Cuba by CIA-backed mercenaries in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Kennedy may have balked at ordering a full US air force bombing of Cuba, but the invasion was nevertheless an illegal act of war against a small, impoverished nation.
Later that year, Kennedy signed off on Operation Mongoose. It was a covert operations program, headed up by General Edward Lansdale, which involved plots to assassinate Castro and the Cuban leadership, as well as conduct sabotage and terrorism against civilians. The program remained in place for years, even after Kennedy’s own assassination in late 1963, the latter most likely at the hands of the CIA and the US military-industrial complex, who viewed his criminal policies as being «too soft». Ironically, Cuban exiled supporters of the ousted Batista regime are implicated as being part of the CIA sniper teams that took Kennedy out in Dallas.
The Cuban missile crisis during October 1962, sparked after Soviet nuclear weapons were installed on the island, less than 90 miles from the US mainland, is invoked in the Western mainstream media as evidence of Cuba’s «rogue status». But that caricature is invariably denuded of the context of American aggression and acts of war against Cuba – aggression that continues to this day in the form Washington’s ironclad blockade.
In viewing the latest apparent White House reversal over Cuba, the words of President Obama are worth closer attention.
Speaking on nationwide TV, Obama described it as the most «historic» development in more than 50 years of US-Cuba relations. As Obama heads into the twilight years of his second administration, he is no doubt mindful of his «legacy», along with his dubious Nobel Peace Prize, as a way of burnishing other controversial aspects of his eight years in office, from assassination drone strikes, to illegal government surveillance of American citizens and world leaders, to overseeing police state powers, covering up Bush-era systematic torture, and to disastrous overseas wars in the Middle East.
But the following words from Obama are perhaps the key to appraising the shift on Cuba. «We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries».
Obama added: «These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach».
The failure to «advance our interests» and the need for a «new approach» is not an admission of a long-overdue change in fundamental US policy towards Cuba. It is simply a change in tactics to achieve the underlying American goal of regime change in that country. In case we need reminding, such a goal and the interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country are illegal under international law.
The concessions that Obama is offering to Cuba are minimal. The putative easing of banking and travel restrictions and the re-opening of an American embassy in Havana (spying facilities) are conditional on the Cuban government embracing «free elections» and opening up investment for American capital and communications.
With a hawkish Republican-controlled Congress already pouring scorn on Obama’s tentative overtures as a «capitulation» we can be sure that the main planks of Washington’s decades-long embargo on Cuba will remain ironclad.
If, for argument’s sake, Obama had this week declared a unilateral end to the embargo and the unequivocal recognition of Cuban sovereignty, as well as billions of dollars of reparations for decades of US hostility, then perhaps the «new policy» might herald a genuine shift towards normalisation.
As it is, Obama’s «historic» move is just empty rhetoric that we have grown accustomed to with this president. The underlying premise in Washington is still one of a hegemonic power that is seeking to assert its strategic interests over the Cuban nation. Again, that policy is illegal and should be prosecuted in an international court of law.
Removing the «last vestiges of the Cold War», as the New York Times gushes with florid prose, must be set against the geopolitical reality of how the «exceptional, indispensable nation» of America continues to view itself as having the prerogative to dictate to other countries under duress.
While Obama talks about removing «shackles of the past», the president just last week signed off on new sanctions against Venezuela and this week has given approval for tightening further sanctions on Russia.
The Cold War, understood properly as a manifestation of American power projection, is far from over. It is an ongoing condition of American hegemonic policy. In that regard, Cuba is therefore merely being removed from the freezer into a chilled container, while other nations, Venezuela and Russia, are being placed back into the American freezer.
The move this week by Obama on Cuba is no more than a public relations manoeuvre, a change in failed US tactics to achieve its illegitimate desire for control over Cuba. If Washington ended its economic aggression against Cuba and others then it might just be a signal of real change. Otherwise it’s just more of the same imperialist policy that is the bedrock of American power.