Myths And Facts About Cuba-US Relations / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

A man pedaling a pedicab with the American flag through the streets of Havana. (EFE)
A man pedaling a pedicab with the American flag through the streets of Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 5 March 2016 — The analysis of relations between Cuba and the United States, during almost sixty years of single-party government on one side and 11 presidents alternating in a two-party government on the other, is a magnet for political scientists and historians from different latitudes, but with a special emphasis, for obvious reasons, for Cubans and Americans. Last week, a text appeared on Cubadebate – a Cuban government run site – the objective of which was to dismantle myths about these controversial relations.

Starting with the introduction, the author, the academic Elier Ramirez Cañedo, announces that, despite the well-studied historical parenthesis, there are underlying mistaken ideas (myths) about the performance of the parties, and he immediately goes on to warn that “the historical distortion is a form of attack against the Cuban project, within a broader strategy of cultural war against socialism in Cuba.”

Despite emphasizing this quote, I do not intend to focus on the perceived cultural war, and much less on Cuban socialism. I will try to put aside my emotional and historic proximity to the events, to disagree with the author’s arguments.

Before engaging in an analysis of demystification, I cannot ignore a statement that is not true: “The United States blocked any possibility of the existence of a national bourgeoisie in Cuba.” Geographical proximity favors, with a growing presence from the colonial era and above all taking advantage of the economic crisis in the second decade of the last century, American capital’s engagement with a good part of the Cuban economy, which until that moment had been essentially Spanish. But the United States not only failed in its effort to block the existence of a native bourgeoisie, but, by 1959, this same bourgeoisie possessed the majority of the national wealth, including banking.

Moreover, the introductory text states, “The US government did everything possible to prevent a bourgeois nationalist government led by the orthodox party from taking the reins of the country.” In reality, it did not have to do anything to prevent it, because what did away with the future of this party and so with the constitutional future of the country, was not a maneuver by the CIA – nor even a maneuver by Batista – but a badly calculated shot by Eduardo Chibas, who very likely could have been elected president of the Republic in 1952.

Myth 1: “The root of the conflict was in the alliance of the Revolution with the Soviet Union, because the Eisenhower administration was willing to reach an understanding with the democratic nationalist project in Cuba.”

To claim the analysis of the conflict derived from the Revolutionary triumph of 1959 as a consequence of the unconfessed desire or manifesto of the United States to seize Cuba, starting in the late eighteenth century, responds to a vision that passes its entire optics through the sieve of a very punctilious anti-imperialism. With the difficulty of accessing texts of philosophical, historical and political thinkers with a more ecumenical approach, the Cuban reader has a Manichean perspective of bilateral relations with the United States, born of American dissatisfaction at not being able to decide the destiny of Cuba.

National sovereignty is a pillar of this approach, putting forward examples from the time of proconsuls and invasions. But this pillar is undermined in the last 60 years, and not specifically because of the interference of our neighbor to the north. No analysts among those who surgically tease apart the intentions and reach of American influence have interested themselves in doing the same with the Soviet influence, it seems, a task for future historiography, especially given that we are now living in a kind of second season with Russia and Putinism.

In the context of the Cold War, the US government would have been very naïve if it had not observed with growing concern how things were developing, barely 90 miles to the south. From the conciliatory and humanist discourse of 1959, the language of the leader and voice of the Revolution was changing his tone. But not only the speeches became more aggressive and anti-Yankee.

To the agrarian nationalizations without compensation of 1959, was added the fact that in the autumn of the same year the Soviet ambassador in Mexico came to Havana with two main principals: the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the visit of Anastas Mikoyan, First Vice President of the USSR and Khrushchev’s right hand man; a trip that took place in February of 1960 and, in an unprecedented event, lasted nine days.

From this trip stemmed agreements for more than 100 million dollars. America’s concern was not free, the terms of the agreement by which Cuba would sell the USSR 300,000 metric tons of sugar were remarkably advantageous – more so than the sugar agreement with the United States before 1959.

It would be interesting to see – if the Soviet documents were declassified – how Operation Mongoose, under the direction of the CIA and the Department of State, found its counterpart in the KGB and Gremlin. And how plans were developed to increase our country’s influence through collaborative programs, technical assistance, trade and cultural exchanges as the first step to then arming and training a regular army and intelligence organs – the spearhead against its enemy – which conferred on Cuba the highest priority in the foreign policy of the USSR. Every power according to its interests.

These new best friends could not be looked on with indifference. In fact, the relationship is considered a precursor of the Soviet influence in the so-called Western Hemisphere. However, the analysis of Cuban historians should also focus on how the opportunity was lost to achieve a true independence and sovereignty as a nation and a republic for the first time; there are no records of the revolutionary government seeking alternatives in the Latin American context, for instance, to establish political, commercial and financial relations that would have allowed it to step outside the epicenter of the bipolar conflict.