A Small Victim of the Embargo
There's great consternation in Cuba and Florida over the fate of Elian Gonzalez. If he were from any other country, he would already be home with his father. Yet only a handful of the media reports mention the extreme U.S. embargo that led to the current situation, and nowhere are the real motivations for these policies explored.
For 40 years the U.S. has imposed an economic blockade against Cuba to punish it for having an independent economic policy for the majority rather than for the profit of foreign corporations and investors. When the embargo was imposed, it was said that we had to "contain communism" in order to defend the United States. A Mexican diplomat explained that Mexico could not support the Kennedy Administration's anti-Cuba policy: "If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing." Today most Americans find the idea of Cuba as a threat no less ridiculous than Mexicans did then. So the embargo is now justified in terms of "punishing Castro" for "violations of human rights."
But the claim that U.S. policy towards Cuba is motivated by concern for human rights is as absurd as the previous claim that Cuba was a threat to U.S. national security.
While the U.S. maintains an economic embargo against Cuba, the Clinton Administration and big business push to bring China into the World Trade Organization. This is despite the widespread repression of dissent in China, and despite - or perhaps because of - the near-slavery conditions in Chinese factories where workers produce consumer goods for U.S.-based multinational corporations.
Absurd as it may sound, the folks that run U.S. foreign policy really have been afraid of Cuba. Not because Cuba was ever in any position to invade anything, but because our policymakers were convinced that if present economic arrangements in Latin America were to be maintained - domination of economic policy by the United States and a focus on exports and attracting foreign investment rather than on raising living standards and domestic consumption - then people in the region must be convinced that there was no alternative. If Cuba were allowed to get away with different economic policies, people in other countries might get funny ideas.
The historian Arthur Schlesinger, then an official in the Kennedy Administration, put it this way: what the U.S. had to fear was "the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands," since in Latin America, "the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living."
Today, according to U.S. government statistics, Cuba has a life expectancy of 73 years for men and 78 years for women, adult literacy of 96%, and infant mortality of 8 deaths per 1,000 live births. El Salvador, which we "saved from communism" by killing tens of thousands of its citizens in a counterinsurgency war and pouring in "aid" money, has a life expectancy of 66 years for men and 73 years for women, 72% literacy and infant mortality of 29 deaths per 1000 live births. Haiti, after decades of U.S. aid and economic policies dictated by Washington, the IMF and the World Bank, has a life expectancy of 49 years for men and 53 years for women, 45% literacy, and infant mortality of 99 deaths per 1000 live births.
Human rights abuses in Cuba pale compared to regimes supported by the United States. The State Department decries that "hundreds of political prisoners remain in Cuban jails," while the U.S. plans to increase military aid to Colombia, where human rights activists are routinely murdered and more trade unionists are killed than in any other country.
Citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere increasingly support the very economic policies that Cuba has been punished for: a focus on human needs and production for the domestic economy. The deep public opposition to the agenda of corporate globalization was revealed by the protests at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. People are already organizing around the country to protest at the April 16 meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington, to cut the funding of these institutions and to boycott World Bank bonds.
As these movements grow in strength, our government will no longer be able to punish countries that act in the interests of their own citizens, and little boys will no longer be the victims of our embargoes against economic independence.
Center for Economic and Policy Research
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