Cuba: still under siege Print

By James Bell, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! February 18,  2016

On 6 January, the US State Department announced the allocation of an additional $5.6m to ‘democracy development’ programmes in Cuba in 2016 – on top of $30m already allocated. In the unfolding saga of international relations between Cuba and the US, one thing is clear. The objectives of US imperialism in Cuba remain the same: subvert, distort and destroy socialism. James Bell reports.

The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour (DRL) described its intention thus: ‘DRL programmes in Cuba aim to strengthen the capacity of on-island, independent civil society to further the rights and interests of Cuban citizens’. The main barriers to this, it states, are: ‘the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on citizens’ civil, political, labour and religious rights’. This is hogwash. Cuba has a vibrant system of citizens’ democracy; its trade unions are legally independent and financially autonomous. In 2012, the country updated its labour code only after a draft of the new code was debated in nearly 7,000 local meetings by over two million workers. Article 8 of the Cuban constitution states: ‘The State recognises, respects, and guarantees religious freedom.’ The DRL’s statement is an attempt to bolster the longstanding myth that Cuba is an undemocratic dictatorship. In reality, it is a confirmation that the US will continue attempting to undermine Cuban socialism.

United States or bust (in Costa Rica)

Since 1959 the US has consistently used migration as a weapon to destabilise the Revolution. The Cuban Adjustment Act, implemented in 1966, immediately grants residence to all Cubans arriving in the US, legally or illegally, and citizenship after one year, granting them a highly privileged status among US immigrants. No comparable legislation exists for any other migrant group (see FRFI 230). In 1994, the US government signed a migration accord with Cuba, agreeing to grant at least 20,000 visas annually to allow Cubans to visit or migrate to the US. One in three Cubans has family in the United States. However, the US has routinely, as policy, denied 90% of applications, deliberately creating frustration among Cubans who apply, pay the application fee, and are turned down several times. The US also committed to return Cubans caught at sea but continued to grant residence to those who reached the coast. This ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy encourages illegal emigration.

It has been just over a year since Cuba and the US restored diplomatic relations. Since then, the number of US visitors to Cuba has jumped 50%. Meanwhile, the number of Cubans arriving in the US rose 73% to over 43,000. In November 2015, a smuggling operation in Costa Rica, specialising in Cuban emigration, was dismantled by the police. The operation involved Cubans who had left the island legally, with passports and plane tickets, mostly flying to Ecuador which did not require an entry visa (a policy subsequently reversed). For huge sums, the smugglers took Cubans through Central America to the US border to claim their privileged status. Then the Costa Rican government began to issue transit visas, allowing them to cross its territory to reach the Nicaraguan border. However, on 15 November in response to the swelling numbers, Nicaragua closed its borders. Consequently, some 8,000 Cuban migrants are stranded in Costa Rica, with another 3,000 in Panama.

When a mass of Cubans tried to push past the border control between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, they were repelled by Nicaraguan soldiers with tear gas and beatings. One of them told the New York Times that ‘nothing like that had ever happened to us before [in Cuba]’. The experience, the newspaper said, had taught them about ‘the unexpected perils of free societies, including the proliferation of guns. Armed bandits preyed upon Cubans on the road, especially those who had not thought to first wire their life savings to relatives in the United States.’

On 20 November the Cuban newspaper Granma explained that the upsurge in Cubans leaving for the US stemmed from a worry that the ‘door to the “American dream” might be closed’. Migration speeded up after the US Republican Senator Paul Gosar introduced a bill to the US Congress on 23 October 2015 to repeal the Cuban American Adjustment Act. Gosar and his supporters wish to close the door to Cubans as they do to other Latin American migrants. Introducing the bill, Gosar said: ‘Why would we treat illegal immigrants from that nation any different than those from other countries?’ Obama has insisted that the policy will not be withdrawn; clearly it remains a useful tool.

Talks between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to resolve the crisis broke down in December 2015. Following this, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed a plan to fly the migrants over Nicaragua and take them on by bus to Mexico. Tickets cost $555, paid to a private travel agency. Those stuck in Costa Rica will need to find the funds for this process and increase their indebtedness, face squalid conditions or else risk the journey by sea. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stated in the Cuban National Assembly, ‘the politicisation of US migration policy toward Cuba must change, and must stop encouraging illegal, unsafe and disorderly migration.’

The crossroads between blockade and collaboration

Despite the removal of some restrictions, the US continues to impose the blockade. However a new medical collaboration between the New York-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Cuba’s Centre of Molecular Immunology shows the kind of useful cooperation which could be pursued. The US institute has obtained US government permission to test CimaVax – a vaccine used to treat lung cancer – the product of 25 years of research in the Cuban institute. In clinical trials in Cuba, people who received the vaccine lived four to six months longer and it improved their quality of life. CimaVax is relatively cheap to produce and store, and has low toxicity. Mark Rasenick, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, said that the CimaVax vaccine and other Cuban medical technology could help to treat patients in rural areas of the US.

Cuba has so much to offer the world: in biotechnology, culture, education and health. This is the product of the socialist revolution, which US imperialism has been unable to destroy, despite its attempts to do so for nearly 60 years.