Source of Cuba’s suffering is in Washington, not Havana
Shoppers line up to enter a store to buy food in Havana last year. Food shortages aggravated by the U.S. economic blockade are one of several reasons behind protests that took place this past weekend. | Ramon Espinosa / AP

Mainstream media, the U.S. government, and some otherwise well-intentioned progressives have latched onto the demonstrations in Cuban cities this past weekend as evidence of the Cuban government’s supposed economic mismanagement and political repression. The Cuban people are certainly experiencing serious suffering related to economic shortages and the pandemic right now; no one denies that. But finding solutions requires us to ask the question: Who carries the bulk of the blame for sustaining that suffering? So far, a lot of people are giving the wrong answer.

The usually reliably liberal MSNBC is circulating an op-ed under a headline declaring, “The Cuba protests are a cry for help. America needs to listen.” Comparing the demonstrations to the anti-communist Solidarność protests in Poland of the early 1980s, commentator Noah Rothman says the United States should look to the example of George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” and step up efforts to get rid of the Cuban government.

Protesters march in Havana, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators went out to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs. Some leaders attempted to inject a pro-U.S. message into the protests. | Ismael Francisco / AP

The morning after the protests, President Joe Biden—who has left in place Trump’s absurd designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”—put out a statement proclaiming his administration stands “with the people of Cuba and their clarion call for freedom” against an “authoritarian regime.” Centrist Democrats, like Florida’s Rep. Val Demmings, joined in, saying that U.S. policy “must support the protesters.”

Republican elected officials were notably more belligerent, with Sen. Marco Rubio calling on the Cuban military to “defend the people” and Rep. Anthony Sabatini urging the execution of Cuba’s leaders. Sen. Lindsey Graham more clearly expressed the ideological thrust of GOP opinion, tweeting out “Death to communism in Cuba and everywhere else it resides in the world!”

Meanwhile, on social media, memes, and tweets are flying out under the hashtag #SOSCuba. Usually initiated by right-wingers or Cuban exiles, they are nevertheless being widely shared by some progressive activists uninformed about U.S. policy toward Cuba and inclined to equate the “freedom struggle” there with the Black Lives Matter protests or anti-Trump actions they have previously supported.

In all these examples, fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction—and often intentionally so. The truth is, the main roots of Cuba’s problems are to be found in the White House and the U.S. Congress, rather than in the offices of the Communist Party in Havana.

American government officials are eager to point to the lack of free markets or supposed government control as the causes of Cuba’s economic woes; they want to put socialism on trial. But none of them talk about the economic warfare that the United States has perpetrated against Cuba since 1960.

A six-decade-long economic blockade of Cuba enforced by the U.S. has for generations left the island dealing with perpetual shortages of almost every basic necessity or industrial good. The country survived the Cold War years thanks to trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but since 1991, it has faced isolation. The U.S. blockade not only forbids American companies from dealing with Cuba, but it also forces the whole world to choose between doing business with the U.S. and Cuba under threat of being cut out of the American market.

All told, the siege has cost the Cuban people at least $1.3 trillion in damages according to government calculations. As big as it is, that number is surely an undercount of the true costs, which must also include poisoned crops and downed airliners. It also doesn’t take into account the extra resources that have been expended on security and defense efforts because of assassination attempts and invasion plots hatched in Miami and Washington.

For years, it has been the goal of U.S. policy to make the Cuban people suffer so much—through undercover CIA sabotage and a worldwide embargo—that they might blame their own government and rise up to overthrow it. The strategy was laid out in explicit terms in a secret 1964 document:

Continued pandering to Cuban exiles in the U.S. by politicians also plays a role in maintaining an aggressive policy against Cuba. Here, Cuban-American anti-communists rally in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, July 12, 2021. | Marta Lavandier / AP

“Our covert economic denial operations are designed to reinforce…our overt measures of economic pressure. Both types of activities directed against the economy are intended to aggravate existing economic difficulties and thus to increase the level of disaffection…in the popular masses.”

The Cuban people were never the concern of U.S. policymakers; indeed, they were blamed for allowing the government of Fidel Castro to come to power in the first place. President Dwight Eisenhower was blunt in expressing the U.S. position: “If they [the Cuban people] are hungry, they will throw Castro out.”

And that explains why Washington is so giddy about the current demonstrations in Cuba—the hope is that Cubans may have starved long enough that they will finally turn against the Revolution. Details may yet emerge of explicit U.S. involvement in organizing the protests; the activity of pro-U.S. elements is already apparent. At minimum, the United States is doing everything it can to help manipulate Cuban suffering and support those who seek to overthrow the Cuban state.

The ruling class of the United States has long been determined to kill the Cuban Revolution and snuff out any attempt to build socialism in a country that used to be an economic colony of U.S. capitalism and a playground for the super-rich and organized crime. All that ended with the overthrow of the U.S. puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and this sin of Cuban revolutionaries has never been forgiven.

Though anti-government figures have made themselves the face of the protests, many of the people marching in the streets of Havana, Santiago, San Antonio de los Baños, and other cities are voicing legitimate concerns and asking for help—they’re not seeking a counter-revolution. As Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself said Sunday, there are “shortages of food, of medicines, and raw materials.” The country has seen its “fuel supply limited, access to spare parts limited” and coronavirus cases “are emerging at a speed and accumulation” faster than the health system can keep up.

But what is the main reason that Cuba cannot buy the food it needs on the world market? Why can’t it get the medicines and raw materials its economy requires? What is behind the limited fuel supplies and spare parts shortages? And what is the culprit preventing Cuba from obtaining the syringes it needs to ramp up distribution of the five COVID-19 vaccines it has developed?

In every case, the root cause can be traced back to the U.S. blockade of the island—a blockade that had been tightened in recent years.

Thanks to the twin blows of the blockade and the pandemic, Cuba is facing its toughest period since the end of the USSR. Over the last two years, it has lost many of the key revenue sources it needs to survive. Venezuela’s economic crisis—another calamity encouraged by the U.S.—sharply cut Cuba’s energy supply. The U.S. pressured one Latin American nation after another to terminate the contracts they had with Cuba for medical assistance. Then, just before leaving office, Trump basically forbad Cuban-Americans from sending money to their families back home on the island. (The Biden administration has yet to reverse any of these measures, it should be noted.) Then, to top it all off, COVID-19 decimated the tourism industry and drained the coffers of the country’s health system.

A woman receives subsidized food rations as part of the Family Assistance Program, in Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba, June 4, 2021. The program is designed to help feed people and families in need. The elderly, the physically challenged and women with at-risk pregnancies are among those that depend on the system. The U.S. blockade leaves such government programs facing perpetual shortages. | Ramon Espinosa / AP

That’s why the “concern” for the Cuban people being expressed by U.S. leaders and politicians today is blatant hypocrisy.

If the United States government is serious about helping the Cuban people win their “freedom,” then why not start by freeing them from the hunger, deprivation, and death of the pandemic that are all worsened by the embargo?

If the antiquated Cold Warriors in Washington are so confident that the Cuban people will throw out their Communist-led government if given the chance, then why do they have to be coerced with economic torture?

If socialism is destined to fail, as U.S. leaders from both political parties have long claimed, then let’s find out what will happen if the blockade were lifted. Remove the gun from Cuba’s head; end the blockade and allow the people to choose their own path.

Hands off Cuba.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Karl Engels
Karl Engels

Karl Engels writes occasionally for People's World.