Latin American Political Realities, Cuba, and US Politics Today
Latin American Political Realities, Cuba, and US Politics Today
The political truth we face today is that there has never been-since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959-a greater possibility to change the dynamic of US-Cuban relations and force an end, or at least a major weakening and destabilization, of Washington's economic war against Cuba. Why is this?
First, for nearly a decade we have seen a rise in mass political radicalization, popular resistance, and class, indigenous people's, and national liberation struggles in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean which has politically shattered the so-called "Washington Consensus." The high point of this has been the unfolding Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Today, in the Western Hemisphere, indeed the world, it is Washington's anti-Cuba policy, not revolutionary Cuba, that is isolated.
In "our America," to use the phrase of Jose Marti, anti-imperialist (not, as the big-business media puts it, "anti-American") consciousness has become generalized. Since the late 1990s popular uprisings have regularly thrown out pro-imperialist, "neo-liberal" governments in, for example Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador by extra-parliamentary means, or put in power through parliamentary elections-in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Panama-new governments which claim to be progressive and anti-"neo-liberal," appeal to popular demands, and are under pressure to meet the expectations of working people.
Secondly, US imperialism, currently led by the Bush gang-but with, and we should never forget this, virtually 100% bipartisan support in the US Congress from both the Democratic and Republican parties-while united in their hostility to Cuba, Venezuela, and the popular struggles I have described, has been notably unable to launch an effective political counter-offensive to the mass upsurge in Latin America in general, or against Cuba and Venezuela in particular.
Time and time again Washington has sent its top guns-Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Cheney, and Bush himself most recently last month at the Mar del Plata Summit fiasco for Washington in Argentina-to convince, pressure, or intimidate Latin America governments, all of whom are capitalist governments that are far from revolutionary and without the slightest socialist inclinations, to line up in an anti-Cuba, anti-Venezuela campaign-and they have repeatedly failed. Even their biggest lackeys, such as the Alvaro Uribe regime in Colombia and the Alejandro Toledo regime in Peru, have said no thank you. And Uribe has even recently signed treaties with Venezuela deepening economic ties while posing in smiling photo-ops with Hugo Chavez.
This is a stunning development. Just three decades ago, in response to the Cuban Revolution, Washington was able to mobilize the governments and reactionary forces in Latin America and foist upon the peoples a generation of bloody tyrannies-from the 1964 military coup in Brazil and the 1965 US invasion of the Dominican Republic; the 1967 murder of Che Guevara in Bolivia and the subsequent eradication of the guerrilla movements; to the establishments of military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay in the 1970s.
The tide began to turn with the 1979 triumphs of the Grenadan and Nicaraguan Revolutions and the unleashing of mass revolutionary armed struggles in El Salvador and Guatemala against US-backed military dictatorships in those countries. These historic developments in the Americas followed the US defeat in Vietnam in 1975 and the successful defeat by Cuban troops that same year of the South Africa invasion-covertly backed by Washington under the supervision of Henry Kissinger-of newly independent Angola.
In the 1980s, under mass pressure and protest, the hollowed-out military regimes from Chile to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil began to crack, democratic concessions were made, and political space opened up. Weak capitalist parliamentary systems were institutionalized with cautious US support.
In contrast to today's reality, two decades ago, in the face of rising revolutionary struggle in Central America, Washington was able to launch a massive counter-offensive with the dirty contra war in Nicaragua and the arming, training, and propping up of the death-squad/army "democratic" government in El Salvador. But even then we could see the limitations of Washington's actions, which were covert (at least they tried to keep it secret) in Nicaragua. The arming and "training" of the Salvadoran army took place without the direct use in combat of US troops. Washington's Central American war of the 1980s faced growing opposition and public protest in the US population, which was the framework for big divisions in Washington which exploded in the so-called Iran-contra scandal.
For a number of reasons, which I will not analyze in detail, the Nicaraguan Revolution-following the military defeat, at great cost, of the U.S.-manufactured contras-stalled, eroded, and collapsed culminating in an electoral defeat in 1989. In El Salvador an intractable military and political standoff became the reality, a ceasefire was negotiated, right-wing death squads were deactivated, and the FMLN gained the political space to be able to engage in regular elections.
Washington's ability to prevent a revolutionary consolidation out of the 1980s upsurge in Central America laid the basis for the "lost decade" of the 1990s, the so-called neo-liberal interlude.
The 1990s seemed heaven-sent for Washington and the European powers: Cuba was in the throes of the Special Period,2 on its back economically, and apparently isolated and alone. They were putting the champagne on ice in Washington and Miami. Castro-hating imperialist mouthpieces like Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote the book Castro's3Final Hour.
The Neoliberal Decade
After the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua, and the collapse of the unpopular regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe calling themselves socialist and communist, many leftists became demoralized and politically disoriented. In the face of a relentless imperialist triumphalism, quite a few leftist intellectuals such as Jorge Castenada in Mexico and Teodor Petkoff in Venezuela collapsed politically and deserted to the neo-liberal creed.
We saw in the 1990s an orgy of neo-liberal policies implemented across the Hemisphere from Mexico to Argentina: IMF-imposed austerity, privatization and the selling off of national patrimony, wage slashes, the gutting of pensions, massive unemployment, and the devastation of already pitiful public health and education systems. With the working-class leadership demoralized, disorientated, and divided, resistance to this neo-liberal assault was initially weak. But the dialectics of history is now taking its revenge on the seemingly all-powerful imperialists and the Latin American oligarchies and capitalist classes.
While it lasted it was an orgy of looting and pillage that in its brazen boldness has few parallels in modern history,
But it has all come crashing down.
Perhaps we can already give a tentative lifespan to it: From the February 1989 el caracazo4, the working-class and popular upsurge in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas, which was a protest against gas-price hikes and other austerity measures demanded by the IMF and implemented by the social democratic regime of Carlos Andres Perez in Venezuela, to its burial in December 2001 in the cities of Argentina when massive protests ousted the pro-imperialist neo-liberal regime of Fernando de la Rua. Within this time frame, I believe history will record that the key event and turning point was the election of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela on December 6, 1998.
A Mass Movement in the US is Possible Today
Today, we can and must think boldly in terms of building a mass movement in the streets and in the working-class, Black, and Latino communities, and on the campuses and high schools against Washington's anti-Cuba and anti-Venezuelan campaign and policies and in solidarity with the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions.
Building a mass movement inside the United States can be an important, even decisive, factor in the unfolding revolutionary transformations in Latin America and the coming political confrontations with Washington-which will be very dangerous and be at the center of world politics.
Vast Military Power, Glaring Political Weakness
While I have argued that Washington and the European imperialist powers are much weaker politically, we can also say they are in much greater financial, commercial, economic, and therefore political conflict with each other since the end of the Cold War.
Therefore, in my opinion, it is much harder in the current conjuncture for US imperialism to directly invade Cuba and Venezuela, a point presidents Castro and Chavez have recently been stressing in speech after speech. Nevertheless, Washington continues planning and plotting every day and every minute, with permanent covert action programs in play, probing and provoking for any opening to pounce.
But it is also true that Washington can hardly sit back with folded arms and watch the Cuban Revolution grow stronger, more economically proficient, and more politically attractive every day. We can only imagine-especially since it is almost never reported in the US big-business press-the political impact of the over 1400 Cuban doctors, mostly women, who are in Pakistan today, a central US ally in the so-called "war against terror," who are literally saving thousands of lives, treating wounds, and delivering babies. Or the huge impact of the truly amazing Operation Milagro (Miracle), a joint project of Cuba and Venezuela in this Hemisphere, where thousands of people from all over the southern continent and the Caribbean who had been blind solely due to social conditions and lack of money to gain access to medical care have been operated on successfully and had their eyesight restored. You can hardly read about it in the US media but it is a huge story in Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Washington can not sit back and watch a social revolution unfold in Venezuela, with working people in political dominance, a Bolivarian beacon of light and hope, joining revolutionary Cuba, for the oppressed and exploited majority in our America. Such a force and example will also definitely be attractive to working people and youth-Latino, Black, and white-in the United States and Canada, where the working class is also facing worsening economic and social conditions.
World politics is increasingly marked and shaped today by a fundamental contradiction between the massive reach and scale of US military firepower, with its hundreds of military bases on other countries land, and the glaring political weakness of Washington, deepened under the current Bush Administration, which puts definite limits on US military aggression. The most recent annual Pentagon budget came in at $455 billion. That figure was unanimously passed by both houses of Congress, and likely represents more money that the rest of the world's military spending combined.
Cuba, Venezuela, and Iraq
The kind of movement we can build today has different dynamics from the protest movement against the US-British invasion of Iraq. Opposition to the Iraq war is growing in US public opinion for all kinds of reasons. These include reactionary ones, pushed by various liberal and conservative politicians, who argue that Washington is "bogged down" in Iraq making it harder to attack, say, Iran or Korea or Cuba or Venezuela, or to "win" the "war on terror." It is very hard politically to identify with or even to politically identify or define the so-called Iraqi resistance-which has yet to issue any coherent political program or programmatic documents. In addition to military actions targeting US troops by relatively trained forces that at least originated in the previous Ba'athist regime bequeathed by the government led by Saddam Hussein, there are gratuitously brutal and atrocious "actions," usually via persons trained and organized to be "suicide bombers" who kill themselves in the course of causing carnage in venues such as mosques (with Shi'ite congregations) targeting civilians for death and maiming, or who behead civilian and other hostages with images distributed for television and Internet transmission.
All the so-called resistance organizations that are currently engaged in armed actions against the US armed forces inside Iraq and the Iraqi army Washington is seriously engaged in training, are based almost exclusively in areas with populations that are predominantly Sunni in their Islamic identification and common continuity of ritual and denomination. Washington's increasingly difficult perspective-which they are far from giving up on-is to "Iraqize" the war and forge an Iraqi neo-colonial army, consolidating a bulwark for a pro-Washington regime in a stable entity that they hope can continue to be called Iraq. Each "democratic" advance claimed by Washington-heralded by an electoral process supervised by Washington-is actually undermining the continuity and viability of the historic Iraqi neo-colonial state.
The fact that no amount of pro-"resistance" boosterism can dismiss is that the large majority of citizens of the Iraqi state, as presently constituted, that is, the Arabs who have a Shi'ite Islamic identification and the historically oppressed Kurdish nationality which is nominally "Sunni" but not Arab, no doubt hates, chafes under, and often fights the US-British invaders, but it also tolerates them for now, seeing the imperialist occupation as a temporary, lesser evil to the perceived return of a murderously repressive Ba'athist regime. It is a highly contradictory and explosive situation, but there is no imminent prospect at this moment for the political and military withdrawal of US troops; both US big-business political parties oppose it, the UN and the European imperialist powers are collaborating closely with the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government it sponsors, and the Kurdish and Shi'ite majority tolerate it.
Of course this can rapidly change.
The so-called Iraqi resistance makes no political appeal to Shi'ite or Kurdish workers and populations, let alone to the US working people, unlike say the Vietnamese revolutionaries fighting the US invasion and genocidal war. They have no resonance in world, or-comparable to say Nasserism in the 1950s and early 60s or the Palestine Liberation Organization in the late 1960s and 1970s-even in Middle East or Arab world politics.
Venezuela and Cuba, by contrast, are powerfully attractive forces to radicalizing youth and workers around the world, including in the United States. Furthermore, Cuba and Venezuela have highly capable political leaderships and politically conscious fighting peoples that know how to counter imperialist campaigns, carry out a battle of ideas, and effectively defend and promote their political perspectives and revolutionary internationalist principles.
In addition to being against US policy and intervention, as in the Iraq war, you can easily be for the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions as you learn the truth about them-which is our job. And the field is essentially wide open for us.
Over the course of 2005 we saw: 1) the breakthrough in the case of the Cuban 5 when the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta panel ordered a retrial, throwing out the original convictions, which is now tied up with Justice Department appeals to the full appeals court; 2) the wide publicity given to the scandalous case of Luis Posada Carilles which has thrust the history-which has not stopped-of U.S.-based terrorism against Cuba; 3) the offer by the Cuban government to send over 1500 doctors, nurses, and specialist to the worst hit communities in Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, rejected by the Bush Administration, was widely reported and favorably received; 4); similarly, Venezuela's actual initial deliveries, through it's CITGO oil company, of discounted home heating fuel to working-class communities in, so far, Boston and New York City, have also been widely reported and favorably received. Another general factor to be understood in the favorable conditions to build a mass movement in the United States around these questions is the growing weight of immigrant workers from Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean in the US working class and US labor movement.
Divisions in Washington Over Latin America Policy
The potential to force a positive change in US-Cuba relations can only succeed if we link our movement to the rising popular upsurge in Latin America, to the examples of Cuba and Venezuela. Further we have to understand fully and not be tricked or overwhelmed by the political maneuvering and intrigues in official Washington, in the Bush White House, and Capitol Hill. We should have no illusions in the politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties.
We should understand that there is barely a single elected official (you can count them on one hand) that is not openly for "regime change" in Cuba and Venezuela. Remember that not a single Washington representative or Senator voted against the $455 billion war budget. Not one!
Nevertheless the Washington politicians are acutely aware of the debacle of the Bush Administration's Latin American, Cuba, and Venezuela policies, and although they all agree on the ends and goals, they are perfectly capable of angry differences over tactics, political tone, and means. Note Iraq, where Democratic and Republican politicians, who all basically agree that the Iraq war should and must go on, are nevertheless ripping themselves to shreds over it. The elected officials are perfectly conscious of the trends and patterns of the rising class struggles in Latin America and Washington's political isolation.
As Bush grows weaker politically and therefore a less effective and reliable representative of the imperialist ruling class, we can expect to see all kinds of tactical divergences over US foreign policy in Latin America, Cuba, and Venezuela where liberals and conservatives come forward to say, "I will succeed where Bush has failed to deal with Castro and Chavez. I will be more effective." Some, as we have often seen, may even argue for "easing" the sanctions against Cuba, even "ending" the enforcement of travel restrictions as the way to bring "regime change" to Cuba. Fine, let them argue with each other. We can only turn these tactical divergences for them into political openings for the solidarity movement if we stay independent and build a mass movement.
Right now Washington's policies are in chaos and derailment in Latin America. I thought this was most deliciously expressed by a recent New York Times editorial following the debacle for the Bush team at the Mar del Plata, Argentina Summit in November 2004. The Times editors moaned about how "a loudmouthed opportunist like the President of Venezuela stole the show from the President of the United States." They wrung their hands in great frustration over the prospect of three more years with Bush at the helm.
Well maybe Bush won't last for three more long years if he continues to melt down politically even before the next and coming financial and economic shocks and downturns. Not to speak of current and looming scandals, 2006 election pressures, and so on. But whether the ruling class dumps Bush or sticks with him to the end, whichever party controls Congress in 2006 and whoever becomes President in 2008 will find that the current explosive Latin American political realities will have only become more explosive and more revolutionary. [On December 18 the anti-imperialist fighter Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia with over 54% of the vote.]
It is up to us to build a mass movement that makes them pay the highest possible price for continuing their current policies against Cuba and Venezuela. That forces them against their will and interests to back off and lay the basis for our contribution to bringing revolutionary change to the United States, which is the only guarantee not just normalized, but fraternal relations based on solidarity and working-class internationalism between the people of the United States and Cuba, the people of the United States and Venezuela, and the people of the United States and the people of Latin America.
Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
Ike Nahem is a coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York, a member of the National Network on Cuba. Nahem is an Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainman, a division of the Teamsters Union. These are his personal opinions.