As has been confirmed by Trump’s reaction to the condemnation of his administration by the United Nations, the US president is a malevolent, insolent, arrogant, sabre-brandishing bully with all the refinement, grace and style of a sacksful of wet fishtails. His policy towards Cuba is well in line with his overall attitude of intimidation, but his specifically anti-Cuba obsession is nothing new in Washington.
It was the great American song satirist, Tom Lehrer, who suggested that “political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize” in 1973, and there are few who would disagree with him. He was referring to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (now aged 94), who, among other evil excesses, ordered the illegal bombing of Cambodia in 1969-73 that killed countless civilians, so Lehrer was being lenient to a man who will go down in history as a duplicitous barbarian.
In 2014 it was revealed that in 1976 Kissinger told President Ford “I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans” and “I think we have to humiliate them.” He went further by saying “I think we are going to have to smash Castro,” because the Cuban leader was not doing the bidding of the United States. Ford agreed, but lost the next election, and a measure of sanity prevailed after Jimmy Carter took over. Cuba’s leader wasn’t going to be assassinated, nor his people humiliated, but the campaign of hatred continued.
Cuba has been targeted by Washington ever since Fidel Castro toppled the CIA-supported, Mafia-loving dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The New York Times observed that “it was Mr. Castro’s obsession with the United States, and America’s obsession with him, that shaped his rule. After he embraced Communism, Washington portrayed him as a devil and a tyrant and repeatedly tried to remove him from power through an ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, an economic embargo that has lasted decades, assassination plots, and even bizarre plans to undercut his prestige by making his beard fall out.”
Castro was hardly a saint. He ruled ruthlessly and murdered many of his opponents. But such behaviour by other dictators around the world has not, over the years, necessarily caused the United States to attempt their assassination or try to invade their countries. In 2007 the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the CIA had conspired with a Chicago gangster described as “the chieftain of the Cosa Nostra and the successor to Al Capone” in an attempt to assassinate Castro. According to CIA documents, “because of its extreme sensitivity, only a small group was made privy to the project. The DCI [Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles] was briefed and gave his approval.”
Henry Kissinger was responsible for the deaths in hellish circumstances of very many more people than Fidel Castro, and “advised Mr Trump on foreign policy matters” for years because, as Trump declared after a meeting with him in May 2017, “Henry Kissinger has been a friend of mine, I’ve liked him. I’ve respected him. But we’ve been friends for a long time, long before my emergence into the world of politics, which has not been too long.”
Kissinger with Trump in the White House, May 2017
So one wonders if Kissinger advised Trump on his confrontational policy regarding Cuba, although, of course, Trump’s vindictive viciousness could be simply part of his fixation on destroying everything achieved by President Obama, about whom he appears to be paranoid.
Fidel Castro once commented that “for such a small country as Cuba to have such a gigantic country as the United States live so obsessed with this island is an honour for us,” but three years ago Obama tried to bring a bit of sanity to the absurd farce that had been playing for over half a century. As the New York Times reported, “in December 2014, President Obama used his executive powers to dial down the decades of antagonism between Washington and Havana by moving to exchange prisoners and normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries, a deal worked out with the help of Pope Francis and after 18 months of secret talks between representatives of both governments.”
That was a sensible, compassionate and civilised approach, especially as the eyes of the world were continually being drawn to the modern-day Concentration Camp established by the United States in the colonial-style enclave it maintains at Guantanamo Bay in that long-suffering island. In that camp there are illegally-detained captives who have no recourse to the process of law, and are denied fundamental human rights. Their suffering is beyond any that can be legally or morally meted out to any prisoner, anywhere. They have not been charged with crimes under US or international law, and have no right to speak in their defence in a public forum. It was the British who invented Concentration Camps (for Boers and Blacks — separated, of course — in South Africa in 1900) and the Nazis who perfected them in 1933-45. But the Land of the Free has brought them to a greater pitch of refinement.
A BBC report about detention and eventual release of three British nationals noted that “They had been captured in Afghanistan, suspected of links to the Taleban, and were taken to the US camp in Cuba. The three told UK newspapers they were often beaten by US troops . . . they were wrongly identified by the Americans as having been pictured in a video tape of a meeting in Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden and the leader of the 11 September hijackers Mohamed Atta.” So they were released — after years of hellish abuse.
“. . . they had their heads shaved, body cavities searched, were dressed in orange overalls, given goggles and earmuffs, and chained . . .” — BBC
At Guantanamo, as concluded by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, the medical people, including doctors, who were employed by the military and the CIA “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees.”
This appealed to Trump who made his position absolutely clear during his campaign for the presidency when he said “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works.” And the Washington Post pointed out that even before his presidency “he viewed the prison at Guantanamo Bay as an emblem of tough treatment of criminals. Americans who travelled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State should be sent to the prison ‘for some R&R,’ he tweeted multiple times in 2014.” Trump refers to the prison camp as ‘Gitmo’ and last year was adamant that “We’re not closing Gitmo. We’re going to fill it up! We’re not closing Gitmo.”
At that time, Cuba was being opened up to Americans by Obama’s sensible approach, encouraging trade, tourism and general rapprochement, and at the time of Castro’s death Obama said that “during my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbours and friends.” This was an encouraging step forward.
And now Washington is leaping backwards, with Trump echoing Kissinger’s lip-smacking “I think we have to humiliate them” and declaring in June that “Effective immediately, I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba . . . We do not want US dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.”
One Cuban citizen, Idania del Rio, who with friends watched the Trump speech on television in Havana, told Reuters that “It’s like we are returning to the Cold War,” which conclusively summed up the White House attitude to Cuba — and many other aspects of Trump’s chaotic foreign policy. But as the UK’s Independent newspaper notes, “Cuba’s main trading partner is still China, but it is once again strengthening economic links with Russia,” which is a sensible approach by the Havana government which can choose its friends, just as Trump so energetically selects his enemies. Bullying Cuba is entirely counter-productive for Washington, and it will eventually learn the costs of arrogant confrontation, there and elsewhere in the world.