Did anyone watching CNN’s relentless coverage of President Obama’s “historic” trip to Cuba (before the Brussels bombing turned Cuba into extremely old news) wonder why we decided to embargo Cuban products in the first place?
It’s been said before that our 24/7 news cycle makes it hard for us to consider such questions. In fact, it’s been said so often that it’s become the single exception to the rule. It explains everything. It isn’t our fault that we don’t ask why shocking things happen but just express outrage and dismay when they do.
What happened 60 years ago in Cuba is that a corrupt dictatorship run by a combination of men beholden to U.S. corporate interests and the Mafia was overthrown by a scruffy but determined band of nationalists representing the will of several million desperate Cubans living in squalor so that a handful of thugs could live in splendor. The revolution is still remembered in Cuba as a revolution for the Cuban people’s independence. The Castro brothers may have been ruthless, but their coup was not masterminded by the Soviets. That friendship came later, because the Cubans, situated 60 miles from a hostile U.S. that refused to trade with it, had little choice.
Cuban people of a certain age know that the brothers came to power (and became despots in their own right) without the aid of Spain, either — and that this was intentional on the brothers’ part. They rebelled in order to secure their tiny nation’s independence from the likes of us, Spain or any other foreign power. That we immediately attempted to quash the coup (remember the Bay of Pigs?) set our opposition in stone, even before the Castro brothers had done anything more than threaten the interests of U.S. corporations by kicking them out. There wasn’t the slightest attempt (and we didn’t have that 24/7 news cycle to blame back then) to equate the brothers’ revolution with our own, the one provoked by British tyranny that convinced us to declare our independence in 1776.
My friends who travel to Cuba through Latin American countries and live there for long stretches as if they were Cubans, free to investigate its dark corners as they wish, do not find a mean-spirited nation whose people are desperate and starving. They find a people starved for information, yes, and desperate to travel, of course. The brothers’ control of Cuba’s population is lamentable, but the regime is not going to loosen its grip until the U.S. lifts an embargo that has exacerbated Cubans’ economic struggles and makes absolutely no sense.
Why has no one on CNN’s coverage of Obama’s trip noted the unusual attitude we take to this utterly nonthreatening nation that is so delightful (thanks to its happy and generous people) that tourists can’t wait to visit? Why is a communist nation on the other side of the globe, China, whose prisons are brimming over with dissidents, our most important trading partner and Cuba’s regime is held beneath contempt?
Why, for that matter, do we constantly proclaim the deep and trusting relationship we have with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most repressive regime on the planet?
Why is loyalty to Israel a campaign issue and a litmus test required of presidential candidates (all but the Jewish candidate, Bernie Sanders)? True, Israel is a democracy (three cheers for them!) — yet it has caused endless violence through such provocative moves as settling its farmers on contested land in the West Bank and Gaza.
The list of countries with whom we engage in free trade is increasingly weighted on the side of nondemocracies, especially when said countries are rich in resources. The continent of Africa is riddled with corrupt regimes. Has that stopped us (or China, for that matter) from engaging in trade with any one of them?
All Cuba is asking for is to be left alone economically — i.e., to engage in trade in a way that protects its own entrepreneurial enterprises from being swallowed up by U.S. corporations. Such enterprises are encouraged by the current Castro regime. Raul Castro is asking to be allowed to continue to guide his people toward self-sufficiency, especially in agriculture, so his tiny country is not beholden to foreign powers. He is asking for U.S. investment in its fledgling tourist industry and other industries that align with that goal.
The current regime in Cuba just wants its citizens to be allowed to enjoy freedom and prosperity without putting those other values the revolutionaries fought and died for — fairness and equality for all — at risk.
Sadly, that is precisely what is so threatening to “great nations” like ours in this era of free and unrestricted trade that is in fact controlled by transnational corporations in partnership with pro-business governments that are growing less fair, equitable and democratic with every passing day.
Bonnie Blodgett is a writer in St. Paul. Reach her at email@example.com.