"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good Communists/Bad Communists, or Let's End the Cuba Travel Embargo!


Have you ever wondered how the United States government is capable of demonizing one "communist" government such as Cuba while embracing another with open arms, as has been the case with China (for many years). Of course, China is an open and shut case; there is big trade and REALLY BIG money involved. In the case of Cuba, there is a long and dirty history. Oh yes, there WAS money involved way back when companies like U.S. Sugar and United Fruit had a firm footing in Cuba. And, it is a long and ugly story of failed (and deeply flawed) United States foreign policy.

All we tend to hear these days from the corporate media is about Fidel Castro's illness of the month, or whether his brother Raoul will be more friendly to the United States. And for many years, going back to the 60's we have heard about the Cuban exiles who yearn to return to their country (sans Castro). But why are those "exiles" here in the first place, and why did Castro come to power, and why the heck DON'T we allow travel to and trade with Cuba. Well, here's the wacky, abbreviated (one minute) history.

Spain rules Cuba (too close, geographically, for America's comfort). Cubans rebel against Spanish rule in 1895. U.S. holds back at getting involved (at first). Sinking of the U.S. warship Maine creates national clamor. U.S. declares war against Spain; Spanish-American War is over in three months. America companies begin moving in to Cuba - United Fruit, American Tobacco, Bethlehem Steel. U.S. ensures that the Platt Amendment (passed by the U.S. Congress), which allows the U.S. "the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence", is included in the new Cuban Constitution. Essentially, the U.S. controls Cuba without the historic colonial model!

Skip to 1959 - Fidel Castro, leading a rebel force, overthrows the U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista on New Years Day (Many well heeled revelers immediately flee the country). Castro confiscates land from American companies in Cuba (which, by the way, control 80-100 percent of utilities, mines, cattle ranches and oil refineries, 40 percent of sugar industry, and 50 percent of public railways). U.S. is NOT HAPPY; pulls the economic plug. Where's a country to go??? The Soviet Union. That's all folks. (Thanks to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492 -Present, C2003 for the real story on Cuba.)

Skip to the present. The U.S. has imposed travel restrictions (on U.S. citizens) to Cuba for decades. Currently, tourist travel is banned, and non-tourist travel is extremely restricted. Attempting to read the U.S. State Department explanation of the restrictions is enough to give one a severe headache. And, did you know that Cuba is a totalitarian police state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control??? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! That quote from the State Department Website could describe any number of countries (that the U.S. DOES allow travel to and trade with, including China.

O.K., Fidel is no saint; but as "totalitarian" states go, he has done some good things for his people (and others too) including instituting a health care system that has resulted in better statistics for a number of important indicators of health than the United States (particularly when one looks at it in terms of per capita expenditures). So just what damage would be done by opening up the gates and allowing free travel to and from Cuba, and then perhaps opening up trade? Might that actually allow the people of our nations to learn more about each other? Might it bring positive change to Cuba over time? And just perhaps it would show the rest of Latin America that the United States is serious about reconciliation with all of our neighbors to the South?

You can learn more about ending the Cuba travel ban at the Latin American Working Group and the Center for Constitutional Rights. And if you think it's time to end this backwards (and unconstitutional) foreign policy, contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to co-sponsor H.R.874 and S.428.

to (and work for) a foreign policy based on a deep understanding of history and what is necessary to build relationships that foster peace.



P.S. - Fun Fact: Did you know that the U.S. is the only country that restricts travel to Cuba?

No comments: