Fifty years of terrorism: Cuba’s September 11

Autumn 2015

US journalist William Blum writes exclusively for CubaSí

Many anti-war activists have had the repeated experience of arguing with those who support American (= British) foreign policy.  The activists point out one tragedy after another, from Vietnam to Iraq; from terrible bombings and invasions to violations of international law and torture. And nothing helps. Nothing seems to move these people. 

Now why is that? Are they just stupid? I think a better answer is that they have certain preconceptions. Consciously or unconsciously, they have certain basic beliefs about the United States and its foreign policy, and if you don't deal with these basic beliefs you may as well be talking to a brick wall.

The most basic of these beliefs is a deeply-held conviction that no matter what the United States does abroad, no matter how bad it may look, no matter what horror may result, the government of the United States means well.  American leaders may make mistakes, they may blunder, they may lie, they may even on the odd occasion cause more harm than good, but they do mean well.  Their intentions are always honourable, even noble.  Of that, the great majority of Americans are certain. 

Frances Fitzgerald, in her famous study of American school textbooks, summarised the message of these books: "The United States has been a kind of Salvation Army to the rest of the world: throughout history it had done little but dispense benefits to poor, ignorant, and diseased countries. The US always acted in a disinterested fashion, always from the highest of motives; it gave, never took."
And Americans genuinely wonder why the rest of the world can't see how benevolent and self-sacrificing America has been.  Even many people who take part in the anti-war movement have a hard time shaking off some of this mindset; they march to spur America – the America they love and worship and trust –they march to spur this noble America back onto its path of goodness.

Many of the citizens fall for US government propaganda justifying its military actions as often and as naively as Charlie Brown falling for Lucy's football.

These Americans are very much like the children of a Mafia boss who do not know what their father does for a living, and don't want to know, but then wonder why someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.

This basic belief in America's good intentions is often linked to the idea of "American exceptionalism".  Lets look at just how exceptional US foreign policy has been.  Since the end of World War 2, the United States has:
1) Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
2) Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
3) Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
4) Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.
5) Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
6) Led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance by American teachers.

This is indeed exceptional.  No other country in all of history comes anywhere close to such a record.

And nowhere is this record more exceptional, than in Latin America.  Let's look at two of the six categories listed above, the attempted overthrows and the assassinations:
In the 1950s the US tried to overthrow the governments of Guatemala and Costa Rica; in the 1960s, British Guiana, Ecuador, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Bolivia; in the 1970s, Chile, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Jamaica; the 1980s saw attempts to overthrow the governments of Grenada, Suriname, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Panama; while in the new century we have had Ecuador, Venezuela, Haiti, and Honduras. Most of these attempts resulted in a regime change.

As to assassination attempts, we have José Figueres, President of Costa Rica; Francois Duvalier of Haiti; Cuban president Fidel Castro, hundreds of attempts to kill him; Raúl Castro (in the 1960s); Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, in the 70s and again in the 80s; Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica; Miguel d'Escoto, Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, as well as the nine comandantes of the Sandinista National Directorate; and Hugo Chavéz of Venezuela. 

On 31 May 1999, a lawsuit by the Cuban government for $181 billion in wrongful death, personal injury, and economic damages was filed in a Havana court against the government of the United States.  It was subsequently filed with the United Nations.  Since that time its fate is somewhat of a mystery.

The lawsuit covered the 40 years since the country's 1959 revolution and described, in considerable detail taken from personal testimony of victims, US acts of aggression against Cuba; specifying, often by name, date, and particular circumstances, each person known to have been killed or seriously wounded.  In all, 3,478 people were killed and an additional 2,099 seriously injured. (These figures do not include the many indirect victims of Washington's economic pressures and blockade, which caused difficulties in obtaining medicine and food, in addition to creating other hardships.)

The case was, in legal terms, very narrowly drawn.  It was for the wrongful death of individuals, on behalf of their survivors, and for personal injuries to those who survived serious wounds, on their own behalf.  No unsuccessful American attacks were deemed relevant, and consequently there was no testimony regarding the many hundreds of unsuccessful assassination attempts against Cuban President Fidel Castro and other high officials, or even of bombings in which no one was killed or injured.  Damages to crops, livestock, or the Cuban economy in general were also excluded, so there was no testimony about the introduction into the island of swine fever or tobacco mould.

However, those aspects of Washington's chemical and biological warfare waged against Cuba that involved human victims were described in detail, most significantly the creation of an epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever in 1981, during which some 340,000 people were infected and 116,000 hospitalised; this in a country which had never before experienced a single case of the disease.  In the end, 158 people, including 101 children, died.  That only 158 people died, out of some 116,000 who were hospitalised, was an eloquent testimony to the remarkable Cuban public health sector.

The complaint further describes the campaign of air and naval attacks against Cuba that commenced in October 1959, when US president, Dwight Eisenhower approved a program that included bombings of sugar mills and the burning of sugar fields.

Another section of the complaint described the armed terrorist groups, ‘Los Bandidos’, who ravaged the island for five years, from 1960 to 1965, when the last group was located and defeated.  These bands terrorised small farmers, torturing and killing those considered (often erroneously) active supporters of the Revolution; men, women and children.  Several young volunteer literacy-campaign teachers were among the victims of the bandits.

There was also of course the notorious Bay of Pigs invasion, in April 1961. Although the entire incident lasted less than 72 hours, 176 Cubans were killed and 300 more wounded, 50 of them permanently disabled.

The complaint also described the unending campaign of major acts of sabotage and terrorism that included the bombing of ships and planes as well as stores and offices. The most horrific example of sabotage was of course the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner off Barbados in which all 73 people on board were killed.  There were as well, as the murder of Cuban diplomats and officials around the world, including one such murder on the streets of New York City in 1980. This campaign continued to the 1990s, with the murders of Cuban policemen, soldiers, and sailors in 1992 and 1994, and the 1997 hotel bombing campaign, which took the life of a foreigner; the bombing campaign was aimed at discouraging tourism and led to the sending of Cuban intelligence officers to the US in an attempt to put an end to the bombings; from their ranks rose the Cuban Five.

In sum total, the widespread death, injury and trauma inflicted upon the Cuban people can be regarded as the island's own September 11.

William Blum - author, historian, and US foreign policy critic

William Blum left his job at the State Department in 1967, abandoning his aspiration of becoming a Foreign Service Officer, because of his opposition to what the United States was doing in Vietnam.

He has been a freelance journalist in the United States, Europe and South America.  His stay in Chile in 1972-3, writing about the Allende government’s “socialist experiment” and its tragic overthrow in a CIA-designed coup, instilled in him a personal involvement and an even more heightened interest in what his government was doing in various parts of the world.

In the mid-1970’s, he worked in London with former CIA officer Philip Agee and his associates on their project of exposing CIA personnel and their misdeeds.

His book on U.S. foreign policy, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, first published in 1995 and updated since, has received international acclaim.  Noam Chomsky called it “far and away the best book on the topic.”

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