Campaign News | Wednesday, 4 June 2003




President Bush once again set out a list of conditions for easing the 40-year-old US economic blockade against Cuba. His address came only days after former US President Jimmy Carter called for an end to the embargo during a high-profile six-day visit to the island.

President Bush’s speech included no new measures against Cuba despite speculation he would use the occasion to turn up the pressure on President Castro yet he reiterated that US restrictions on trade and travel would stay unless Cuba held "certifiably free and fair elections and reformed its economic system".

However the US leader did repeat last year’s offer to resume mail services to and from the island, allow the delivery of private humanitarian aid and establish scholarships in the US for Cubans trying to build independent civic institutions and for family members of political prisoners.

Later Mr Bush travelled to Miami where he told Cuban-Americans that real change could come about if Cubans were allowed to hold a referendum on their future which was a clear reference to a petition of 11,000 signatures presented by Cuban dissidents to the National Assembly in Havana recently.

Of course the Bush regime is keen to secure votes in a state that is crucial for both the Republican Party and the Bush family in particular. The support of Florida’s Cuban American community was crucial to Mr Bush’s dubious election victory in 2000 and his brother Jeb, the current governor, also faces a tough re-election battle in November.

In many respects the script was much the same as the two speeches given in Washington and Miami on the same date the year before when President Bush promised to maintain and strengthen the blockade until Cuba gave up its socialist system and submitted itself yet again to US hegemony.

Since then the hawkish US administration basking in the glow of conquest in Afghanistan and now Iraq has increased its aggression towards Cuba which remains on the State Department’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism and the infamous "axis of evil" while being subject to continual interference in its sovereign affairs.

For forty-four years Cuba has suffered numerous acts of terrorism, invasions, assassination attempts and biological warfare waged with impunity from US soil plus an economic blockade that has caused an estimated $70 billion damage to the island’s economy.

Now there are attempts to isolate and condemn Cuba on the world stage and a worrying escalation of warnings and threats against Cuba including the discussion of military intervention by the US.

As US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said in a press briefing on May 4th, "We did it in Afghanistan. We did it in Iraq. We are confronting other nations around the world, and there are ways to confront them, many different ways to confront them. Sometimes no other solution is appropriate but military force".

Only against this background can we understand the recent arrests and trials of 65 Cuban "dissidents" and the execution of three hijackers that has caused shock waves around the world. Especially among those who would consider themselves friends of Cuba yet who regret the conditions that have provoked such an extreme reaction.

But as far as the Cuban government is concerned the recent increase in hostilities is nothing more than an extension of 44 years of economic and political warfare that could serve as a pretext for military intervention. While accepting that the death penalty runs counter to their humanitarian philosophy the leadership felt that it had no other choice.

The "dissidents" were charged and convicted of conducting "mercenary activity in the pay of a foreign enemy power" after twelve Cuban agents infiltrated their organisations. They discovered that James Cason of the US Interests Section in Havana had breached his diplomatic status by recruiting, financing and equipping counter-revolutionary groups within the country.

According to Philip Agee, a former CIA official from the 1950’s to the 1970’s who is organising a weekly International Peace Workshop in Havana from May to October together with the Cuban Movement for Peace, this is nothing new. As far as he is concerned the so-called independent journalists, economists, librarians and civil rights activists "are not, nor were they ever, independent in any sense whatsoever".

Agee recalls that in the past the CIA had manipulated civil organisations in order to provoke wars against alleged enemies of US interests and through such campaigns had toppled governments in Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, and Guyana and attempted a coup in Venezuela last year. He believes that the escalation of tension by the US government against Cuba is similarly a preparation for war against yet another sovereign state.

Parallel with these provocations emanating from the US Interests Section in Havana a serious crisis arose with a spate of violent hijackings including two planes and a ferry by criminals attempting to emigrate illegally to the US. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 any Cuban reaching US soil illegally has an automatic right to residency and successful hijackers are often released without charge or given bail while the Cuban plane or boat is confiscated and sold to pay out on claims for compensation against Cuba.

As the US is presently in breach of the 1995 US-Cuba Migratory Agreement under which it agreed to grant 20,000 entry visas annually the Cuban government believes that conditions are deliberately being created in which people will steal boats and planes to get to the US. From October 2002 to February 2003 only 505 visas were granted to Cubans wishing to enter the US legally.

Yet the US has issued warnings to Cuba that any further hijackings from its territory would be regarded as a threat to its national security. As a result Cuba believes that the US government is trying to provoke another migratory crisis similar to that of 1994 in order to justify an attack on the island.

Under these circumstances Cuba’s moratorium on the death penalty for the past four years has been suspended reluctantly as a deterrent to others thinking of hijacking vessels in order to prevent a war. In the case of those who hijacked the ferry with 29 passengers on board on April 2nd the Cuban authorities charged them with terrorism and endangering human life for which the maximum penalty is death.

In the light of all this it is hardly surprising that Cuba feels threatened and President Bush’s recent speech will do little to assuage its fears. The extremely disturbing noises and actions originating in Miami and echoed in the White House are a wake up call to build the widest campaign to oppose further US intervention in Cuba.

Nothing less than Cuba’s right to sovereignty and self-determination are at stake!

A briefing paper 'Background information pertaining to recent events in Cuba' is available from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign Tel 020 7263 6452 or on the CSC website www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk

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