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ON December 17 2014, president Barack Obama broadcast a historic announcement that the United States would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.
This hinted at the possibility of greater changes to come in the long and difficult Cuba-US relationship.
Obama went on to visit Cuba in March 2016 and all the signs indicated that the long-running blockade of Cuba by the US might be coming to an end.
However, Obama only acted to amend those aspects of the US aggression that were under the direct control of the presidency.
He never challenged the twin pillars of the US blockade policy which are embodied in the Helms-Burton and Torricelli laws.
To dismantle these policies required a decision by Congress and the Republican-dominated chamber had no intention of endorsing such a move.
The blockade to trade between the US and Cuba remains in place, as do all the extraterritorial aspects of the legislation.
International companies are still being fined by the US office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for trading with Cuba and companies are not willing to trade with the island in fear of the threats.
Obama’s secretary of state Hillary Clinton argued in her 2014 book Hard Choices that the blockade was actually an obstacle to the US aim to reimpose its economic domination of the island.
Clinton saw the US policy in Cuba as a failure and her aim was not to put forward a change in strategy but merely a change in tactics.
Her pragmatic approach was based on the fact that the support that Cuba received from the rest of Latin American made the blockade itself an obstacle to the ability of the White House and Wall Street to exert its influence more widely on the continent.
On November 8 2016, however, Democrat candidate Clinton was defeated in the presidential election by the now Republican Party and former Democratic Party member Donald Trump.
Trump, who is said to be the world’s 766th richest person, with a fortune estimated at over $3.1 billion, stood on a nationalistic platform aimed at taking protectionist measures to put US big business first.
The government that Trump assembled reflected his aggressive, chauvinistic and xenophobic ambitions. In his latest move he has installed John Bolton as his national security adviser. Bolton, who is often described as a “war hawk,” was for a time the US ambassador to the United Nations under president George W Bush.
Soon after coming to office, Trump turned back many of the modest changes which Obama had introduced. On May 7 this year, at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington, his Vice-President Michael Pence, in a 30-minute speech, launched into an aggressive attack on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Pence called on the other states present at the meeting to exert pressure on this “dark cloud of tyranny.”
The speech clearly represents a ramping up of Trump’s reactionary policies. Describing Trump as a “great champion of security, prosperity and freedom in the western hemisphere,” he called on the OAS to suspend Venezuela from membership of that body and then went on to demand President Nicolas Maduro cancel presidential elections planned for May 20. The elections went ahead successfully.
The speech, signalling the focus of White House aims for the region, described the western hemisphere as a “key priority” of Trump’s policies. In the speech Pence spent the vast majority of his time attacking Venezuela and called for the countries of the continent to support US sanctions against that nation.
He praised those 14 countries which had issued a statement in Lima on January 23 calling for the suspension of the elections in Venezuela, putting the blame for all violence in the country on Maduro’s government and specifically urged them to impose sanctions on that country.
Using the familiar US tropes of “security,” “freedom” and “prosperity,” he sought to link the threat from the drugs trade directly to the threat to “democracy.”
The security that he speaks of is, of course, that which guarantees complete licence to the powerful neighbours from the north to interfere in the politics of the continent in order to turn their economies into satellites of Wall Street.
When Pence and Trump speak of “democracy,” what they recognise as such are those governments that are compliant with the demands of the White House. Pence spoke warmly of the right-wing governments in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Brazil, for example.
Over the past few weeks, the US has been increasingly involved in the violent disturbances across Nicaragua. These attacks have been co-ordinated across the country and centre on the demand for an end to the government of Daniel Ortega who was re-elected in 2016 with over 72 per cent of the popular vote.
Between 2014 and 2017, over 50 grants totalling $4.2 million were given to organisations in Nicaragua by the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as part of a US government-funded campaign to provide a co-ordinated strategy and media voice for opposition groups in Nicaragua.
Though the language of the NED is of support for “civil society” and “pro-democracy” groups, the focus on funding is specifically to build co-ordinated opposition to the government.
The US has now ominously threatened to take action against Nicaragua “if the Ortega regime fails to co-operate.” The US seems intent on propagating and funding regime change in yet another sovereign country in the region.
The audacity of Pence invoking the spirit of Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti beggars belief. What we are witnessing is a reassertion of the Monroe Doctrine adopted by the US in 1832. The doctrine purported to support the right of the nations of the continent to be independent of their European colonial masters.
The truth was that the Monroe Doctrine was an assertion by the US of its intention to control the destiny of the whole of Latin America.
In March 1889, while living in exile in New York, Marti wrote that “no self-respecting Cuban would like to see his country annexed to a nation where the leaders of opinion share towards him prejudices excusable only to vulgar jingoism or rampant ignorance.”
His words are relevant today. Cuba is challenging the old order in order to create a “nation of liberty, where no opinion is to be based in greed and no triumph or acquisition reached against charity and justice.”
It will be the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua who will be best placed to decide how they wish to achieve the aspirations set by Marti. It will not be the Trumps nor Pences of this world whose doctrines are written by the CIA, Wall Street and the International Monetary Fund.
When Trump turns up in Britain in July we must ensure that he gets a clear message that the people of Britain and Latin America reject his view of the world and his imperialist ambitions against the countries of Latin America.
Maintaining active solidarity with the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua remains as vital as ever. In all cases we must support the sovereignty of the people and defend their rights to organise their societies as they choose free from external threat and interventions.
Bernard Regan is national secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
There will be a public meeting, Latin America against Trump, on Monday July 9 at 6.30pm at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD. Open to all. Speakers include: Chris Williamson MP, Stop the War convener Lindsey German and NEU (NUT Section) president Kiri Tunks. Please join the Latin America against Trump block on the Together against Trump demonstration on Friday July 13 starting at 2pm at the BBC, Portland Place, W1A 1AA.
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