Regime change: time to try another tactic

Winter 2015

The blockade has failed to force the ‘regime change’ successive US administrations wanted in Cuba, so now they’re pursuing another tactic

In his announcement to the US people on 17 December, President Obama made it clear that 54 years of blockade was coming to an end. Not because the suffering it had caused was morally wrong, but because it had “failed to advance our interests.”

And let’s be clear. The US remains committed to advancing it’s interests in Cuba.

If there were any question of this, the state department’s duplicitous actions shortly after Obama’s announcement put them beyond doubt. Just one week after the US President made the headlines by extending a hand of friendship to the Cuban people, his government made a less friendly gesture that gained little media fanfare.

On Wednesday 24 December, the state department revealed it was making a substantial sum of $11 million available for ‘regime change’ programmes in Cuba.

Of course the US government doesn’t call them that.

Through its perfidiously titled ‘Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour’, the state department announced that it will dish out grants worth between $500,000 and $2 million each to “US or foreign-based organisations” aimed at boosting “civil, political and labour rights” in Cuba.

It is clear that when the Bureau says that it is giving priority to funding proposals that “emphasise the role of Cuban partners in developing and achieving pragmatic objectives”, these “objectives” are the same ones that the US has always had in Cuba, no matter how it chooses to dress them up in the language of civil and labour rights.

As CSC National Secretary, Bernard Regan, emphasised in an article for the Morning Star in December: “Democracy,” in the language of the US administration, is simply a euphemism for “privatisation” and the restoration of unfettered capitalism.”

Nobody claims that Cuba is perfect. However, despite what some commentators and the right-wing Miami media would have us believe, there is much debate in Cuba over how the Revolution should progress and how to increase participation in decision making. But it helps nobody if these debates are hijacked by those in the pay of US government “democracy building programmes.

Rafael Hernandez, the editor of the Cuban social science journal Temas, told the BBC in a recent interview: “The question of a foreign power that openly aims to undermine the political system in Cuba has been for the last 55 years a domestic factor, it is part of us.”

But “if we don’t have to think so much about the US as a threat, that would facilitate a public debate that is not framed within the national security mentality”.

The vast majority of Cubans do not want foreign interference in their country, especially by the United States. There are many who feel they do have an active and important role to play in shaping the future of their country and it provokes ire when they are told by the US government and foreign press and commentators that they have no freedom to do so.

Take the trade unions. New US government grants specifically target money for trade union work saying that the Cuban government prevents its workers from “exercising their labour rights.”

This willfully ignores that fact that in Cuba the unions are autonomous and self-financing and one of the most powerful mass organisations in the country.

Dr Steve Ludlam, an expert on Cuban unions and labour law, and responsible for updating the 2011 Institution of Employment Rights pamphlet ‘Workers in Cuba; Unions and Labour Relations’, says the idea that Cuban workers need help from US funded groups is frankly farcical:

“Cuban unions have the right to participate in company planning and control, the right to management information, the right to office space and equipment and paid facility time at workplace level.”“They have the legal right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement in every workplace and the constitutional right to propose legislation and to be consulted on any proposed legislation affecting members. Mass consultation in every workplace meant individual members views were reflected in the new Labour Code that took effect in 2014.

“As for workers individual rights, these go far beyond the constitutional rights to work, to free healthcare and to free education, and beyond the universal legal rights to earnings-related pensions, unemployment benefit, maternity benefit, accident benefit (rights that are also extended to the self-employed in Cuba).

“They have the right to individual and collective participation at work, minimum salaries, maximum working hours, paid annual leave and health and safety at work. Workers, like unions, have a legal right to stop any work they deem dangerous. Grievance and disciplinary procedures take place in a workplace panel with a built-in majority, by law, of elected workers’ representatives. Unions, by the way, run national training for union representatives and workers to maximise the exercise of these rights, through a national network of their own colleges.”

On the question of democracy, it is erroneously reported that there are no free elections in Cuba. Lauren Collins’ refutes this in her introduction to the Cuban electoral system on p30, and the meticulously researched book ‘Cuba and its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion’ by Arnold August provides a detailed analysis of its successes and challenges. Challenges which the Cuban government, in consultation with the population, is working to address. Notably the recently introduced two term limit for senior elected positions, and the 2013 decision to abolish the slate when voting for national Assembly delegates.

“In Cuba the involvement of the people in decision-making is not restricted to parliamentary elections once every five years, as it is in Britain,” writes Bernard Regan in the Morning Star.

“When the government in Havana proposed wide-ranging changes to the economy in 2008, for example, exhaustive discussions were held in local community organisations, professional bodies, trade unions, women’s organisations, student bodies and workplace meetings.

“These discussions generated 1.3 million proposals, many of which were incorporated into the final decisions.”

Of course things could be better. But this is a fact widely acknowledged in Cuba itself, and one which the country is working to address.

You do not need to read far between the lines of the ‘Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour’, guidelines for grant applications to see that their aim is to generate unrest. Clearly they would not respond positively to a genuine request for funding from a British trade union to, for example, support a Cuban counterpart with workplace training for stewards. Not unless there was a strong element of how to agitate for regime change in this training! So we can expect to see a rise in reports of disputes between the Cuban government and ‘so-called’ free and independent trade unions, civil society and democracy activists, because this is exactly what the US government is trying to provoke with these grants.

Nobody claims that the country is perfect. What the international solidarity movement argues is that Cuba’s sovereignty should be respected, and that all Cuban voices other than just those promoted by the US government and Miami media should be listened to.

Friends of Cuba need to keep up the fight to end the blockade. Especially when there are an influential group of US politicians lobbying for it to stay. In response to the 17 December announcement, former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, is reported to have said, “instead of lifting the embargo, we should consider strengthening it.”

But even if Jeb Bush and his anti-Cuba supporters in Congress fail, and Cuba is finally freed from 54 year’s of blockade, the US government is not giving up on trying to install its preferred political and economic system on the island through other means.

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