A 50-year vendetta

Campaign News | Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Despite a near-unanimous UN vote to end the blockade of Cuba, ROB MILLER warns that the US is determined to tighten the screw.

ON TUESDAY, for the 16th consecutive year, the UN voted 184 to four for an end to the blockade of Cuba.

Only United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against.

Within the space of seven days, George W Bush has twice shown just how out of step he is with international opinion on Cuba.

While setting out his latest plans for the island during a speech at the White House last week, invited guests including ambassadors from Latin American and European countries sitting on one side of the hall publicly showed a lack of enthusiasm during the speech. It was a marked contrast to the standing ovations which he received from the hard-line Cuban-Americans seated on the other side.

Bush's new round of initiatives intensify a policy of aggression, intervention and blockade that successive US administrations have pursued mercilessly for almost 50 years.

On October 25, Bush shockingly escalated threats against the island and called for an international "freedom fund for Cuba," made a direct appeal to the Cuban military to rise up against the Cuban government and stated that "US policy is not stability for Cuba, it is freedom."

In a phrase that has ominous echoes of the US "coalition of the willing" in the Iraq war, he appealed for a "broad international coalition" against Cuba.

He pledged to support rebellion by members of the Cuban armed forces against their government by promising that there will be "a place for you in a new Cuba." Such actions amount to a direct and dangerous intervention in the sovereign affairs of an independent nation.

But this speech was not solely about foreign policy. It was equally targeted at domestic interests, as Bush looks to shore up Republican Party support and funding by appealing to Florida's influential and wealthy anti-Castro Cuban exiles in advance of the 2008 presidential elections.

However, it goes much further than this. As Cuban Foreign Minister Filippe Perez Roque stated in a response, Bush's words mark "an unprecedented escalation in the anti-Cuba policy" of more blockade, more subversion and more attempts at isolation.

And Perez further highlighted how the White House language has become significantly more threatening in recent years.

"In January 2004, Bush talked of 'working toward a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy.' In May, it was 'speeding up the day that Cuba would become a free country' and, in October, 'the Cuban people should be freed.'

"Three years later, last June," Perez noted, "Bush advocated 'heavy pressure for the freedom of Cuba' and now he is saying, in this speech, 'the word in order in our future dealings with Cuba is not stability, it is freedom.'

"Cuba understands these words as an irresponsible act that reflect the level of US frustration and calls for violence to defeat the revolution."

He added: "Time is running out for Bush, but that does not make him any less dangerous."

Demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge about the country, Bush said that his words were a direct address to the Cuban people who, "at great risk," might be listening surreptitiously to his speech, only to find that his speech was made available substantially and without editing on Cuban TV and newspapers the following day so that Cubans could see for themselves just how divorced he is from their reality.

But most surreal and hypocritical moment was the US president's insistence that his country "stands by" the Cuban people. This coming from the president of a country that has pursued a policy of blockade designed solely to inflict economic damage and cause indiscriminate suffering to all Cubans for almost 50 years.

The president himself has tightened the screws of the blockade by prohibiting Cuban-Americans from travelling to the island more than once every three years and severely curtailing remittances to help families.

Another risible measure was the offer to distribute computers for internet access through religious groups in exchange for "human rights" concessions.

Despite the blockade, Cuba has managed to install more than 500,000 computers, with another 150,000 on the way and plans to assemble 120,000 every year from 2008.

Currently, 600 youth computer clubs give free access to the internet to more than two million Cubans every year.

It is the blockade that forces Cuba to use a slow, expensive satellite internet connection and the Bush administration itself which shut down an Informed-USA programme which used to provide computers for the health system.

Bush's speech should be a clear reminder to friends of Cuba as to exactly what the US administration wants for the island.

Staggeringly, Bush also made an offer of three-year US scholarships for young Cubans - this, in a country where 730,000 youngsters are currently studying for free in 65 universities and which, in addition, has 30,000 scholarship students from 120 countries, including around 100 medical students from poor backgrounds from US itself.

Bush's speech was clearly a ham-fisted attempt to pre-empt and mitigate the annual embarrassment for the US in front of the world at the United Nations while it continues to tighten the screws of extraterritorial blockade legislation.

These laws stretch their legal tentacles around the world, forcing all industries and countries to comply with an internationally condemned policy.

In fact, the Cuban report to the UN in advance of the vote paid special attention to the pressures that are being placed on the international banking community, forcing 20 banks to sever ties with Cuba.

If we take one thing away from Bush's speech, it should be a clear reminder to friends of Cuba as to exactly what the US administration wants for the island - regime change by any means. We have been given a clear message that we need to stay vigilant and active in defence of the Cuban people.

It is not enough for Britain just to vote against the blockade once a year at the UN. We must continue to call upon the government to emphatically state that it will play no part in US efforts against Cuba and back this up with actions.

The US is already attempting to drum up international support for its new campaign against Cuba. This week, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign received documents sent out by the US embassy in London to this effect.

Why is it that British trade with Burma totals £1.2 billion, but the same figure is just £40 million with Cuba?

How is it that the Saudi Arabian head of state is visiting Britain this week, but a high-level Cuban delegation has never received an invite?

The Spanish foreign minister and 100,000 British tourists have crossed the Atlantic to Cuba this year, but our own Foreign Secretary David Miliband will not.

The British government should make it clear that engagement is a far better policy than aggression, intervention, destabilisation and conflict. It should look to ways to improve cultural, scientific and trading links.

It is crucial to show solidarity with Cuba now and to work to ensure that British politicians understand the depth of feeling about this issue.

The Brown government must urgently and publicly distance itself from Bush and his "cold war" Cuba policy. In doing so, it would earn the respect of the trade union and labour movement and, indeed, the people of Britain.

Rob Miller is director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. For more information, visit www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk


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