Cuba thaw: A chance to break out from the yoke of US sanctions?

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Cuban President Raul Castro. (Reuters / Claudia Daut)
The surprise political development of 2014 was undoubtedly the announcement by the US and Cuban governments in December that they are to embark on the process of normalizing relations between both countries.

After decades of a US-imposed economic blockade and policy of undermining the Cuban Revolution, the announcement, which arrived completely out of the blue, was treated as a victory in Havana, even though the economic blockade which has been responsible for so much suffering and hardship remains in place.

A remarkable achievement

It is remarkable to consider that Cuba and the Cuban people have successfully defied the world's most powerful and destructive superpower for decades - even more so considering that this superpower lies on its very doorstep. This is an achievement that history will record as a triumph of self-determination, dignity, and justice over a global economic system under which nations of the Global South have long been denied the same.

For all the mountain of anti-Cuban and anti-Castro propaganda that has been erected over the years by the US and its supporters - slating Cuba for its alleged lack of human rights, democracy, and freedom - Washington's enmity towards this tiny island in the Caribbean has been motivated not because of anything bad that Cuba has done and represents, but because of the many good things.

The human right in Cuba to be hungry or homeless or mired in extreme poverty alongside millionaires and billionaires does not exist. The right to be educated, receive healthcare, and be housed does, regardless of wealth or status or luck. It is a society whose people enjoy freedom from illiteracy, poor health, low life expectancy, and infant mortality. And what could be more democratic than a revolutionary process constantly renewed with a level of participatory and grassroots democracy that working people and the poor living in the West could only ever dream about?

Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

US democracy is organized hypocrisy

Democracy in the West, meanwhile, is the very best that money can buy. In truth it is not so much democracy as organized hypocrisy we are talking about, government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

In following an economic and social system founded on the principal of justice and dignity for all, and continuing to do so even in the face of an unremitting economic blockade designed to starve it out of existence, Cuba has long stood as a beacon throughout the developing world. Its remarkable achievements in literacy, healthcare, and education in conditions of economic scarcity have over many years put the industrialized world to shame. A recent example of Cuba's priorities is its leading role in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, where it has sent hundreds of doctors and medical professionals.

Cuba's international medical missions, in fact, are legendary, even though they have gone largely unheralded in the West.

When the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overturned the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba was a glorified bordello and fleshpot for visiting American tourists, mafia hoods, politicians, and businessmen. Its social and economic development, as with comparable countries in the region, was retarded as a consequence of its control by the US and US business interests.

The imposition of an economic blockade - which in its early years ran in conjunction with terrorist attacks, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, sabotage, and the threat of invasion - was a measure of the threat of a good example to US regional domination. That Cuba survived Washington's campaign to return it to its former status as a US satellite is testament to the consciousness and resilience of its people.

Of course, Cuba is not a socialist utopia. Those only exist in books. It has suffered and had to deal with real life challenges of scarcity and economic paralysis throughout its history, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, referred to in Cuba as the 'special period'.

Challenging period?

Ironically, many commentators believe that the most challenging period in the history of the Cuban Revolution is about to begin with the normalization of relations with its neighbor to the north. Speculation that the embargo has benefitted the Cuban Government, allowing it to ascribe the island's problems to factors out of its control, is about to be tested.

But, then, such speculation is surely the product of wishful thinking when we consider the inordinate ability of the Cuban government and its institutions to adapt and overcome the huge challenges it has had to face over the past six decades.

Those voices in Washington, and they still remain, that have come out in condemnation of this historic development, announced in Washington and Havana, are marginal and antediluvian. Though the release of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five, imprisoned in the US for the ‘crime’ of trying to prevent terrorism, is welcome, calls for the extradition of Assata Shakur - the black militant who moved to Cuba in 1979 after escaping from a US federal prison - are impossible to take seriously. The Cuban government was right to dismiss them out of hand.

U.S. President Barack Obama.(Reuters / /Doug Mills)

Punishing countries and their people for exercising their right to self determination is never done in service to democracy, whatever that word means in states where the only people in power are the rich and connected, but rather in service to a political and economic order under which human beings are considered the means to the end for a narrow economic elite, rather than the end in themselves.

The difference between both when written in a sentence is a semantic one. But when applied in practice it is the difference between dignity and degradation, independence and servitude, indeed life and death itself.

The power of Cuba’s ideas

Now, at last, the ideas that have guided the development of Cuba since the revolution can be placed against the ideas that have driven its neighbors - the Dominican Republic and Haiti for example - to the depths of despair and immiseration.

Any credit that has been lavished upon the Obama administration for agreeing to begin to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba must be tempered by the knowledge that it has done so in anticipation of subverting the Cuban system by other means – i.e. the penetration of capital. The status quo has failed to produce the desired result, and with Latin America no longer willing to accept US domination, as it did in the past, the writing was on the wall when it came to the policy of isolating Cuba.

Guantanamo Bay.(AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov)

The blockade must be lifted, though given this will take an act of Congress, and with the US Congress currently controlled by Republicans, it seems unlikely this will happen anytime soon. Then there is the issue of Guantanamo Bay to contend with. Guantanamo is US-occupied territory in violation of Cuba’s sovereignty. It is a throwback to Cuba’s former status as a US neo-colony and as such completely unacceptable. Until Guantanamo is returned to its rightful owner, the US will remain an occupying power.

But even with the aforementioned caveats, the Cuban people have endured and are entitled to celebrate a victory for right over might when it comes to their bitter, decades-long struggle against its imperialist neighbor and behemoth to the north.

The words of Nelson Mandela are apposite: "From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution.

Long live the Cuban Revolution!"

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.