Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Us Foreign Policy towards Cuba: Historical Roots, Traditional Explanations and Alternative Perspectives

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Us Foreign Policy towards Cuba: Historical Roots, Traditional Explanations and Alternative Perspectives

Article excerpt

Immediately after taking power in 1959, the new Cuban government took steps to implement the Moncada Programme.1 Such actions amounted to a strong and swiftstructural transformation that began incorporating new property and class relations. These actions included limiting the possibilities for private capital accumulation. The Cuban government saw these actions as a means to achieve economic sovereignty and social justice. The initial reaction of the US government - with the additional support of the Cuban propertied class - was to gradually apply economic pressure in the form of economic sanctions, political and diplomatic isolation, military threats and covert actions aimed at overthrowing the government.

Consequently, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution marked the beginning of a process of profound socio-economic and political transformations representing a clean break with the prevailing social, economic and political patterns in the rest of the Western Hemisphere - a geopolitical space that had been a Monroe Doctrine-inspired US hegemonic domain.

The idea of 'revolution' refers, in the case of Cuba, not only to a fundamental transformation of economic and political structures, people's consciousness of their place in society and the values that should determine human behaviour, but also to a projection of Cuba's experience onto the entire Western Hemisphere. In that sense, there had been no precedents in the Latin American context. As Samuel Farber has recently reminded us, authentic revolutions 'have reverberated in other lands as the idea spread that there are alternatives to oppressive systems that another world is possible'.2 In that sense, the Cuban revolution was also a symbolic challenge to global US hegemony.

Moreover, revolution is not a fixed 'thing' but a process. This means changes in structures, patterns of behaviour, and consciousness are changing over time and, in the case of revolution, are moving towards, rather than away from, more complete human fulfilment. Some nations, such as the US, might see revolutionary ferment in various places as a threat to their commitment to the maintenance of a status quo. This hypothesis underpins the arguments presented below about the root causes of US foreign policy towards Cuba since the founding of the US itself. This view contradicts many other interpretations of the causes of US/ Cuban conflicts. The materials below refer to a variety of prevailing causal explanations of US foreign policy towards Cuba. But in the end, it is argued that none are as powerful an explanatory tool as that which hypothesises the fundamental contradictions between Cuban revolutionary ferment in search of national realisation and the US hegemonic quest for the maintenance of a status quo throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Competing Explanations for the Reasons behind the Historical Relationship between the US and Cuba

US policymakers and academics have postulated various explanations or rationales for US foreign policy behaviour in the Western Hemisphere, since the early nineteenth century and beyond. These rationales have become part of common political discourse, especially in relations with Cuba. US policy, it is claimed, has been explained as basically built upon geopolitics, economic interest, ideology and/or national security.

The Geopolitical Rationale

The expansionist ambition of the US, given Cuba's size and proximity, has made the latter a prime target, since the early decades of the nineteenth century. The importance of Cuba to the interest of the US has become a central topic of US geography and diplomacy, since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It figured prominently in Jefferson's expansionist idea of an 'Empire for Liberty'. In 1809, he wrote to Madison:

I would immediately erect a column on the southernmost limit of Cuba and inscribe it ne plus ultra in that direction ... it will be objected to our receiving Cuba that no limit can be drawn to our future acquisitions. …

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