AFRICANGLOBE – Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died this week at age 90. The former Cuban president, known as El Comandante, survived 10 U.S. presidential administrations — and also survived hundreds of assassination attempts by the CIA.
Many in the U.S. government criticized the socialist leader and the Republic of Cuba he helped establish after a 1959 revolution against a U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorship. President-elect Donald Trump, a far-right demagogue with authoritarian proclivities, dismissed Castro as a “brutal dictator” (days before making the draconian proposal that Americans have their citizenship revoked for exercising their constitutional right to burn the U.S. flag as a form of protest).
In February, as the U.S. government eased some of its harsh sanctions against the tiny island nation, President Barack Obama condemned Cuba’s human rights record. “America will always stand for human rights around the world,” he insisted.
This is already ludicrous to hear from the leader of a country that is currently bombing six Muslim-majority countries, and helping to grind impoverished, hunger-stricken Yemen into dust; a superpower that imprisons the most people in the world; a nation that forces refugees and migrants into privatized, for-profit, internment camp-like detention centers and deports millions of them; a country that props up brutal dictatorships in the Gulf and beyond; a nation where unarmed Black people are repeatedly killed by police and indigenous water protectors are brutalized.
Yet hypocrisy of the U.S. criticizing Cuba over human rights is even harder to grasp when one considers that the part of Cuba with the worst human rights practices is in fact the part controlled by the U.S.
At the Guantánamo Bay naval base, the U.S. has imprisoned hundreds of people without trial; many have been tortured. President Obama pledged countless times to close it; he campaigned in 2008 on such a promise. Yet it remains open — many of its former prisoners released, but still open nonetheless.
The Cuban government considers the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay to be illegally occupied. The U.S. considers Guantánamo its rightful property; after all, the U.S. seized it when it turned Cuba from a Spanish colony into a de facto U.S. colony in 1898’s bloody Spanish-American War.
Torture is by no means the only human rights abuse committed on this soil, nor are U.S. crimes only relegated to the post-9/11 period. In the early 1990s, Guantánamo Bay was used to detain Haitian refugees who had fled the CIA-backed coup regime in their own impoverished country. The administrations of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton used the HIV/AIDS scare to justify forcing tens of thousands of desperate Haitians into what a U.S. federal judge described as a squalid “HIV prison camp.”
The evident contradiction of American politicians making such moralistic pronouncements is further compounded by the history of literal U.S.-backed terrorism in Cuba.
The U.S. has terrorized Cuba for more than 50 years, since Castro led the revolution that freed his country from the yolk of American imperialism. Scholar Noam Chomsky has called U.S. policy in Cuba a “terrorist campaign” and a decades-long “murderous terrorist war.” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Garry Wills wrote in The New York Times in 1978 of the U.S. “campaign of terror and sabotage directed against Castro.” Even celebrated establishment historian Arthur Schlesinger, who advised John and Robert Kennedy, spoke of the U.S. attempt to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on post-revolutionary Cuba.
The U.S. launched a military invasion of Cuba in 1961, attempting to violently overthrow a government that it admitted was very popular, killing and wounding hundreds of Cubans, even thousands according to some estimates.
Former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy wrote in notes of a 1961 White House meeting, “My idea is to stir things up on island with espionage, sabotage, gender disorder, run & operated by Cubans themselves.” He added that that “no time, money, effort – or manpower – be spared.” Those at the White House meeting discussed using chemicals to incapacitate Cuban sugar workers and considered encouraging “gangster elements” on the island.
What has been the U.S. government’s goal? Since 1960, it has striven to, in its own words, “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow” of Cuba’s revolutionary government, to “decrease monetary and real wages” through “disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”
In order to do so, the U.S. imposed a destructive and crippling unilateral embargo on Cuba for 55 years, an embargo that has taken a huge toll on Cuba’s civilian population, and one that has been vigorously opposed by the entire world.
This pressure has not just been economic; it has often been violent. From 1959 to 2006, the CIA reportedly pursued at least 638 assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, according to Cuban intelligence. The documentary film “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” produced by the U.K.’s public media network Channel 4, detailed the vast array of failed murder strategies the U.S. organized.
Cuban civilians have also been killed by right-wing terrorists trained by the CIA and harbored by the U.S. government. Luis Posada Carriles, who has been called “the Osama bin Laden of Latin America,” previously worked for the CIA — even though the FBI later designated him a terrorist. A declassified U.S. government document shows Posada Carriles likely planned the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455, which killed 73 people. Today, he reportedly lives in Miami.
Similarly, when asked in “638 Ways to Kill Castro” if he was also behind the civilian airliner bombing, U.S.-backed exiled Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch replied, “I’m supposed to say no,” before going on to insist that anything is justified in war against Castro. Bosch infamously declared, “All of Castro’s planes are warplanes,” including civilian Cuban aircraft. Even Dick Thornburgh, U.S. attorney general under Presidents Reagan and Bush senior, called Bosch “an unrepentant terrorist.” Bosch died of old age in Miami in 2011.
U.S. plots to destabilize and overthrow Cuba’s government have continued until the present, through all presidential administrations, regardless of party. In 2014, two more schemes were exposed — a fake Twitter-like website created by the U.S. Agency for International Development in order to spread anti-government misinformation, and infiltration of Cuba’s hip-hop scene in an effort to stir up dissent.
In other words, after 55 years and countless foiled plots, the most powerful country in the world failed to crush a country that waged a revolution against it, and a tiny island nation that withstood its constant wrath.
Despite the incredible hardship and the concerted effort to destroy it, Cuba endured. It still managed to create some of the best healthcare and education systems in the world. The revolution transformed a former U.S. colony plagued by health problems, illiteracy and extremely uneven development into a country with the best education system in Latin America and a lower infant mortality rate than that of the U.S.
Yes, Cuba does not have the standards of living of industrialized Western countries. But these countries developed their economies through centuries of colonialism, imperialism, enslavement of human beings and brutal exploitation of foreign lands. Comparisons to Cuba are almost always out of context; it is not contrasted with neighboring countries like, say, Haiti, where the U.S. has backed two coups since 1991 and where the U.S. worked with multinational corporations to block a minimum wage increase to a paltry $0.62, leaving it at a mere $0.31 per hour.
There would be much to gain from a nuanced discussion of Castro’s legacy — preferably one conducted by the Cuban people itself. There should be a hard look both at the enormous benefits and gains of but also at the real failures and problems with the Cuban government. Yet the U.S. is in no position to make such judgments; it has tried, ceaselessly, for more than five decades, to crush that government.
By: Ben Norton