Call for Normalization: Ending the Antiquated US Cuba Policy

By De Estenoz, Fernando Remirez | Harvard International Review, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Call for Normalization: Ending the Antiquated US Cuba Policy


De Estenoz, Fernando Remirez, Harvard International Review


FERNANDO REMIREZ is Counselor of the Cuban Interests Section at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, DC, and serves as the de facto Cuban Ambassador to the United States.

Shortly before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy told the French journalist Jean Daniel: "I believe that there is no country in the world, including all the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation, and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime." Although Kennedy limited

US intervention in Cuban affairs to a short period in history, his assertion highlights the painful nature of the bonds between the two countries.

The essence of the US-Cuba conflict and of US policy toward Cuba resides in the US denial of the Cuban people's right to independence and sovereignty. This denial of Cuban autonomy is not new. In 1790, Benjamin Franklin proposed seizing the sugar islands (Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico) with the idea of creating an international sugar monopoly. Even before his inauguration in 1801, Thomas Jefferson made clear his expansionist ambitions toward Latin America, making Cuba his number one priority. Once president, Jefferson converted those expansionist aspirations into a codified American foreign policy.

During the Cuban war for independence from Spain, Cuba lost onf-fifth of its population. The United States seized the opportunity generated by Cuba's weakness to realize its goal of dominating Cuba. As the Cuban people were on the verge of winning their independence from Spain, Secretary of State Richard Olney sent a memorandum to President Cleveland, observing that "in short, Cuba will have to be drawn in its own blood or will enter the market to be sold to the best bidder."

Under-Secretary of Defense J.C. Breckenridge confirmed this sentiment in an 1897 letter to Lieutenant General N.A. Niles. "The isle of Cuba," he wrote, "with vaster territory, became more populated than Puerto Rico, and is unevenly divided; nonetheless, it is the most important nucleus of inhabitants of the Antilles. Its population is made up of Caucasians, blacks, Asians and other minorities. Its inhabitants are, generally, indolent and apathetic. Its people are indifferent to religion, and therefore, the vast majority is immoral. Before presenting it, we should clean the country even if it is applying the means provided by the divine Providence to Sodom and Gomorrah. All at the reach of our cannons would have to be destroyed, with iron and fire; the blockade and hunger will have to be intensified so that plagues and hunger ... decimate its peace-loving population."

A Legacy of Antagonism

US intervention in the Cuban war for independence snatched the colonial enclave from Spanish dominion and thwarted Cuba's self determination, undermining its sovereignty, independence, and freedom. The republic was born asphyxiated by the rhetoric of the Platt Amendment, a constitutional tumor that permitted the United States to carry out military interventions in Cuba, establish military bases in Cuban national territory, and dispose of governments at its whim. From 1902 to 1959, Cuba witnessed the humiliation and exploitation to which Kennedy referred. Cuba's economic resources were plundered, its territory was occupied, and Washington exerted control over its policies.

Fidel Castro's victory in January of 1959 initiated a genuinely nationalistic process of economic and political independence, of redeeming the Cuban people, and of granting a dignified and decent life to all members of Cuban society. Unfortunately, US reaction came on the heels of the triumph of the revolution. Fully immersed in the turmoil of the Cold War, US foreign policy failed to find an answer to the legitimate structural changes taking place in Cuba. Instead, the United States brought economic coercion, political isolation, undercover sabotage, armed invasions, permanent harassment, and other Cold War tactics to bear on the Cuban people. …

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