"Cuba Si, Yanqui No"
Chapter 4 of Blows Against the Empire
by Gerald Horne
New York , International Publishers, 2008
Ramon Ripoll Diaz was pleased.
And why shouldn’t he be? As members of a sizeable delegation from China assembled before this First Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation of Cuba, he happily signed a document that would mean increased trade between his nation and this Asian giant. Though many in Washington had predicted that Socialist Cuba would collapse in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, this did not occur, not only because of the sweat and toil and ideological rigor of the Cubans themselves, led by the Communist Party but also because of aid and trade with Venezuela-and China. In 2006 alone the total value of trade between China and Cuba rose to $2.181 billion, double the figure for 2005. China had donated critical teaching materials but, perhaps more important was the fact that beginning in 2001 Cuba began broad trade in technology with the Asian titan when Beijing granted the island a credit for improving telecommunications, which greatly benefited telephone services, radio transmissions and informatics. More visible on the island are the thousands of modern Yutong buses that are now transporting passengers from one province to another and the household electrical appliances-not unlike those that dot modern U.S. households which draw upon the same source. In turn Cuba has been exporting sugar, nickel and PPG, a medication to combat excess cholesterol, to China.
The continued vigor of Socialist Cuba has not been greeted with equanimity by U.S. imperialism. Beginning in 1959, Washington sought to strangle this radical infant in its cradle and, failing that, sought to murder President Fidel Castro hundreds of times, an effort that distorted politics in the U.S., particularly in Southern Florida. Thus, seeking to incite a new Cold War, of late U.S. imperialism has been warning luridly about how China-allegedly-is "shipping arms and explosives to Cuba" and the presumed threat this presented to amorphous U.S. "interests."
Yet despite the repeated attempts to undermine Havana, repeatedly in multi-lateral bodies, e.g. the United Nations, Cuba has received increasing support in its effort to end the blockade by U.S. imperialism of the militant island. Cuba’s growing prestige is buoyed by its own massive foreign aid program, particularly to smaller nations in Latin America and Africa. Immediately after the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Cuban government immediately offered assistance to the U.S., promising that it would send 1600 doctors and 36 tons of medical supplies. Washington adamantly refused this generosity-though, perhaps, the 1800 persons who did die as a result of this catastrophe may have been saved but for this ideological blindness. Nonplussed, Havana then selflessly offered to donate the substantial sum it won in the World Baseball Classic to victims of Katrina.
Yet Cuba’s unselfishness was nothing new. Havana established its first international medical brigade in 1963 and dispatched 58 doctors and health workers to newly independent Algeria. From that moment until 2005 more than 100,000 doctors and health workers intervened in 97 nations, jostly in Africa and Latin America. By March 2006, 25,000 Cuban professionals were working in 68 nations. This is more than even the World Health Organization can deploy, while Medicins Sans Frontieres, sent only 2040 doctors and nurses abroad in 2003, and 2290 in 2004. No other government, private body or international organization has managed to put together a global medical program on such a scale as Cuba’s or to offer such a a level of assistance to those in need of care. Cuba has pioneered in fighting the HIV-AIDS pandemic and countless lives have been saved worldwide-notably in Africa-as a result.
It is principally because of the example of Cuba that Latin America as a whole-notably Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Brazil, etc.-has moved decisively to the left and Havana’s aid cannot be discounted in illuminating this turn. There are currently some 14,000 Cuban doctors working in poverty-stricken areas of Venezuela. A few hours before he took up office as President of Bolivia in December 2005, Evo Morales signed his first international treaty, which was with Cuba, setting up a joint unit to offer free ophthamological treatment. As well as a national institute in this complex field in La Paz, recently equipped by Cuba, there will be medical centers in the cities of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Young Bolivians will also have the opportunity to join thousands of other foreigners studying to become physicians at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine.
Again, U.S. imperialism is fearful of the example set by Socialist Cuba, especially-once more-for Havana shows what the public sector can do in the critically important realm of medicine: service is free of charge, which is antithetical to-and subversive of-the for profit model that dominates in Washington.The progressive filmmaker, Michael Moore, pointed out the “health care and insurance industry..is a major corporate underwriter of .George Bush and the Republican Party, having contributed over $13 million to [his] presidential campaign in 2004 and more than $180 million to Republican candidates over the last two campaign cycles.” Conservatives and their plutocratic backers feel that they will be the biggest losers if Socialist Cuba continues to thrive-and they very well may be correct.
But the real losers today are millions of people in the U.S. and elsewhere who will continue to suffer as long as the Cuban model is not emulated. The progressive analyst, Sarah van Gelder, pointed out that Cubans “live longer than aljost anyone in Latin America. Far fewer babies die. Aljost everyone has been vaccinated, and such scourges of the poor as parasites, TB, malaria, even HIV/AIDS are rare or non-existent…Cubans no longer suffer from diphtheria, rubella, polio, or measles..Cuban researchers develop their own vaccinations and treatments… Anyone can see a doctor.right in the neighborhood.”
This living example of what socialism means has endeared Cubans to Africans particularly. On his second official visit to Cuba in the Spring of 2001, South African President Thabo Mbeki bedecked Havana with fulsome praise, especially since the island hosts 180 South African students and has dispatched 463 doctors to toil in Mbeki’s nation, chiefly in poor, rural zones.Mbeki was notably pleased by Cuba’s initiative in producing low-cost drugs for the HIV-AIDS pandemic, which has devastated South Africa. Here Havana fearlessly decided to cross swords with the large pharmaceutical corporations headquartered in the U.S. who are poised to profit from the misery of poor Africans. During this same visit Castro and Mbeki signed agreements in maritime commerce, air services, sports, culture and science and technology, all of which served to strengthen South Africa’s government. Even the Australian-American, James Wolfensohn, who formerly headed the World Bank, felt compelled to assert that Cuba had done a “’great job’” in attending to the welfare of its people. This was said after the Spring 2001 publication of the Bank’s statistics showing Cuba topping virtually all other poor nations in health and education. Other senior Bank officials went further and suggested that other developing nations should seek to emulate Cuba-though, like North Korea, Cuba has not received a penny in Bank aid, at least not since 1960. Unlike U.S. imperialism, the World Bank chose not to ignore the reality that by 1997 there were 12 primary pupils for every Cuban teacher, a ratio that compared favorably with Sweden’s.
Nevertheless, a growing segment of the U.S. ruling elite wants to do business with Socialist Cuba and are tired of losing out to their European and Asian competitors. In the Spring of 2007 Cuba was slated to sign deals worth $150 million with U.S. food producers.Many U.S. firms hunger to do more business with Socialist Cuba and millions more would like to see the criminal blockade ended. As the Los Angeles Times put it, “farmers want to sell more produce [to Cuba], oil companies want to explore Cuba’s gulf deposits, and the travel industry anticipates a million U.S. visitors to Cuba the first year it is legal.” The Cuban Reconciliation Act, sponsored by Congressman Jose E. Serrano of the Bronx-who happens to be of Puerto Rican descent-proposes to lift the 45-year old trade embargo. Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts has submitted a bill to rescind restrictions on Cuban Americans’ visits to family on the island, now limited to once every other three years. A bill submitted by Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas-who, unlike Serrano and Delahunt, is a Republican-aims to ease the payment regimen for agricultural sales to Cuba, which have been legal since 2000 but have been stifled by the U.S. authorities. The USA Rice Federation, based in Arlington, Virginia, opposes the Treasury Department’s regulations requiring Cuba to make upfront payments for U.S. goods-e.g. rice-which hinders such sales.A growing number of members of Congress are objecting to key elements of the anti-Havana crusade, notably Radio and TV Marti, which over two decades have soaked up more than a half billion dollars in U.S. government funds, while garnering fewer than 100,000 listeners and viewers on the island of 12 million.Twenty Miami based groups that, quite frankly, are enemies of the Cuban Revolution-including the otherwise odious Cuban American National Foundation-were calling on the White House to end the restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.
As the financial meltdown accelerates in the U.S., spurred by the “cowboy capitalism” that has become endemic, there will be increasing cries for normalizing relations-particularly economic relations-with Socialist Cuba. A report by the U.S. International Trade Commission asserts that eliminating restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba could double agricultural exports to the island.
Yet the Bush White House, true to its troglodyte nature, has sought to increase hostility toward Havana. Shortly after taking office, George W. Bush ordered tougher enforcement of long-standing sanctions against Cuba and promised to extend support to so-called “dissidents” there.Reputedly, the U.S. Treasury Department has more agents devoted to monitoring Cuba than “terrorists.” This anti-Havana attitude was reflected in early appointments to the State Department, e.g. Otto Reich, a notorious Cuban exile, who even the ever cautious New York Times conceded was “at odds with farmers, business executives and a growing number of members of Congress-including many Republicans-who have been pushing for trade with Cuba.”
Academia, traditionally more inclined toward enlightened views than other sectors in the U.S., also has objected to the hard-line toward Havana. Thus, it was not surprising when the “Emergency Coalition to Defend Educational Travel”, a group of about 450 faculty members and other higher-educational professionals sued in federal court the Treasury Department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control, challenging travel restrictions imposed by the Bush team in 2004 that virtually ended academic travel to the island. However, in a remarkable repudiation of the supposed constitutional right to travel, their reasonable lawsuit was rejected.The difficulty involved in journeying to Cuba was revealed by filmmaker, Michael Moore, when he was investigated by Washington as a result of his trip there.
One of the many reasons for U.S. imperialism’s belligerence towards Socialist Cuba is Havana’s support for Puerto Rican sovereignty and independence. Cuban patriots historically have seen the two islands as “two wings of the same bird” and both came under U.S. hegemony as a result of the jingoistic 1898 war against a tottering Spanish colonial empire. Thus, Washington is not happy with being dragged into the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, where it is being forced to justify why their colonial subjects in Puerto Rico are deprived of effective voting rights.The Puerto Rican Independence Party has won more adherents of late because of its staunch defense of the homeland, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of independence activist, Filiberto Ojeda Rios on 23 September 2006. U.S. imperialism realizes that a free Puerto Rico would further bolster Socialist Cuba.
The every existence of a Cuba that has escaped the clutches of neo-colonialism smooths the path for other smaller nations in the region to exercise sovereignty and improve the well-being of their citizenry. When the progressive forces in Jamaica were dislodged in the Summer 2007 and replaced by their conservative opponents, the latter-unlike the case earlier when they shunned Havana-reassured Socialist Cuba they would like to continue high-level cooperation, including the provision of medical assistance.Kingston may have taken sober note of the disturbing report that the personal assistant of the top general in the California National Guard has been placed on leave after revelations that the aide’s personal web-site referred to Jamaicans as “cannibals.”
On the other hand, escalating hostility toward Socialist Cuba has been the norm since the advent of the wild-eyed Bush team. Yet for decades since 1959, there have been numerous bombings in Cuba-and South Florida-executed by diehards unwilling to accept that their time has passed. As one commentator put it, “Back in the ‘60s, some Cubans were trained like Bin Laden”; he was referring to e.g the 1973 bombing of the headquarters of a Miami magazine, deemed to be insufficiently hostile to Havana; a 1966 bombing in which a Miami radio commentator lost his legs; and countless other acts of terrorism.
Thus, it was not overly surprising when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans freed Luis Posada Carriles in the Spring of 2007-a man the Los Angeles Times called “the Zacarias Moussaoui of Havana and Caracas”, referring to the so-called “20th hijacker” of September 11th. Posada, 79, has been credibly accused of blowing up a Cuban civilian airliner that killed scores of innocents-yet he has been treated with kid gloves by the U.S. authorities.Understandably, Havana was irate, charging correctly that “the U.S. government has maliciously violated not only Resolution No. 1373 (2001)of the United Nations Security Council , a resolution prompted by [Washington], but also treaties on terrorism to which it is a signatory, jost especially the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, which became effective on May 23, 2001 and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, which went into effect on January 26, 1973.”
It is not surprising that a fed-up Havana eventually felt compelled to dispatch emissaries to the U.S. as a way to halt this terrorism being launched with-minimally-the tacit approval of Washington. Ultimately, these men-now known globally as the “Cuban Five”-were arrested and jailed in the U.S.; as the Chicago Tribune later put it, “one of Cuba’s jost celebrated spies was born in a flat along Chicago’s bustling Ashland Avenue in 1956” but “after his parents returned home to Cuba in 1961..[Rene] Gonzalez grew up to become a Cuban agent.”It is as if U.S. imperialism does not want to stop terrorism against Socialist Cuba-and doesn’t want Havana to do so either.
The retrograde attitude of U.S. imperialism toward Socialist Cuba has won Washington few friends, least of all in the hemisphere where even neighboring Canada has repudiated this nonsensical approach. Ottawa long has had diplomatic relations with Socialist Cuba and their revered leader, the late Pierre Trudeau, was known to be a personal friend of Fidel Castro. The forward-looking attitude of Ottawa is suggestive of how isolated U.S. imperialism has become; though evidently oblivious, Washington made what was termed an “unprecedented foray into Canada’s election campaign” in January
2006. Quite rightly, Canadians worry when they see a neighbor engaged in dangerous and provocative activities, knowing that the fires left unchecked could reach their shores. Thus, Ottawa has been critical of the laggard approach by U.S. imperialism toward climate change and the Kyoto treaty, the criminal occupation of Iraq and sticky bilateral issues e.g. tariffs on Canadian soft lumber. This brought a stiff rebuke from Washington but, as elsewhere, U.S. imperialism is wildly unpopular north of the border.Matters were not helped when, extraordinarily, a majority of the U.S. Senate demanded limited Canadian access to the U.S. market for lumber. Subsequently, this same august U.S. Senate voted to block the importation of Canadian cattle into the U.S. market. Of late Ottawa and Washington have clashed about the former’s Arctic claims, which the latter-with the acceleration of global warming-seeing the melting of ice and the concomitant creation of the fabled “Northwest Passage,” as a short-cut to the markets of Asia (through territorial waters claimed by Canada). This has caused Ottawa to beef up its military in this now contested region, suggesting how the very existence of U.S. imperialism distorts the priorities and harms the well-being of even those thought to be allies.
Mexico could provide first-hand testimony about this salient point. It was in 1846 that the U.S. seized 25% of that nation’s territory-including California-in a war of aggression. This after being blocked from seizing Canada during the War of 1812-and winding up with the White House in flames, events that inspired the bellicose U.S. national anthem. Now as a direct result of the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican farmers and agricultural workers are being forced off the soil and compelled to migrate northward where they face an uncertain fate. Between 2000 and 2005 Mexico lost an estimated 900,000 jobs in the countryside and 700,000 in the cities as NAFTA began to bite. After NAFTA, six million Mexicans came to live in the U.S. This has become a major political matter with conservatives-like former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan–sounding the alarm about what he sees as the potent demographic and political impact of these migrants.The jost recent book from KKK and Nazi leader David Duke-who received the majority of the Euro-American vote in a race for Governor of Louisiana in 1991-also has engaged in vile immigrant-bashing, focusing on Mexicans.
Yet Buchanan and his cowardly comrades would be well-advised to point the finger at NAFTA. The Houston Chronicle, not regarded as a beacon of progressivism, could not avoid noticing that “much of Mexico’s farm country has been overwhelmed by an influx of crops from the United States in the years following [NAFTA]. Over the next two years,” it was announced in early 2007, “the final provisions of the trade pact kick in, opening Mexico to unlimited imports of poultry from its northern neighbor.” Unavoidably, those driven off the land will seek greener pastures elsewhere-e.g. in Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. Indian Country Today, a journal based in New York state, but which monitors carefully the well-being of hemispheric indigenes, pointed out that the indigenous were over-represented among Mexican migrants and their movement north was a direct result of a “failed exercise in open-market globalization.” Increasingly, the corpses of Mexican migrants have been found in the parched deserts of southern Arizona, dead testaments to the danger posed by NAFTA.
With certain state legislatures on the warpath against Mexican migrant workers, their numbers have been reduced. So now Colorado farmers have signed a contract with the prison authorities that could supply them 10-member crews of low-security female prisoners to do the labor that migrants once performed-though it is hard to believe, prison labor may be cheaper, an abject lesson in how immigrant-bashing serves to pave the path for further exploitation of the U.S. working class. Actually, the influx of migrants from Mexico has served to erode the dominance of conservatism, for when they gain citizenship and vote, this group is likely to cast their ballots like those of their African-American brothers and sisters, an indication of their historic close ties that no amount of prodding can shake. Fortunately, more Mexican migrants are moving to Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, bastions of rock-ribbed conservatism, desperately in need of more progressive elements.
Yet the draconian measures taken against Mexicans, e.g. building a wall along the 2000 mile long border that separates their nation from the U.S., are destined to backfire. As Shannon O’Neil of the elite Council on Foreign Relations observed, “the immigration concern of the future will be how to entice Mexicans and other Latin Americans to cross into the U.S. in the numbers [needed].” As she sees it, “Mexico is undergoing a demographic transition,” involving smaller families in an economy to be buoyed by increasing Japanese, Brazilian and Indian investment; similarly, the U.S. population is becoming older and may require an influx from Mexico to stay afloat. Anti-Mexican attitudes do not bode well for the future, she maintains.
Immigrant-bashing elides the point that this praxis compromises-ultimately-the ability of U.S. nationals to eat, in that agriculture in this nation has become so heavily dependent upon migrant labor. This praxis should be supplanted by a dedicated campaign to improve the wages and working conditions of those toiling in the fields. What occurs in Immokalee, Florida is a dramatic example of what faces thousands nationally. Arising in the dark at 4 AM, hundreds of men head to a 12 hour work day, spent on their hands and knees, filling buckets of tomatoes for 40 to 50 cents a bucket. If it rains, work stops. Things have not changed much the legendary journalist, Edward M. Murrow, produced his trailblazing television documentary “Harvest of Shame” which highlighted the despicable conditions in Immokalee. These workers continue to receive no benefits, nor job security and work seven days a week. These workers continue to live in hovels. Admittedly, since the Coalition of Immokalee Workers began to organize in 2001, things have improved somewhat. They launched a boycott of Taco Bell, a chain that is part of a giant corporation but since slavery has been uncovered in this part of the “Sunshine State,” there is substantial room for improvement.
Although there has been vociferous objection to the presence on these shores of struggling Mexican migrant laborers, less has been said about the influx of more affluent Latin Americans, fleeing social change in places like Venezuela. Yet, as early as the Summer of 2000, the Miami Herald noticed that tens of thousands were fleeing nations like Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador, jostly to settle in South Florida, where they have augmented the conservative strength of certain Cuban-American elites. President Hugo Chavez had only been in office for a little more than a year, yet “about 150,000 Venezuelans” already had “left their country”, with tens of thousands fleeing the anticipated backlash in Argentina engendered by reaction against U.S. puppet, Carlos Menem.
In a sense, this flood of migrants fleeing the specter of progressivism could be counted as a contribution made to Latin America, as it reduces the possibility that these individuals could augment the dwindling number of reactionaries in the region. Thus, in the wake of the triumph of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, thousands from this nation fled to South Florida. And although some returned to their homeland, their presence was insufficient to block the return of Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas to power. Today, he has joined hands with Havana and Caracas and has refused to kowtow to U.S. imperialism. He triumphed at the polls in 2006 though Washington blatantly interfered in the internal affairs of this sovereign state.
The displacing of U.S. stooges in Managua has emboldened the Nicaraguan working class. It was after Ortega’s election, that workers toiling for Dole Food Co. on a banana plantation, sued their employer in a U.S. court charging that they were consciously exposed to a pesticide manufactured by Dow Chemical Co.-of napalm infamy during the war in Vietnam-that led to their being sterilized. These Nicaraguan workers have been joined by thousands of former banana workers from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama. In addition to Dole and Dow, Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., Chiquita Brands and Shell Oil Co. are named as defendants. Epidemiological studies have shown that the pesticide in question causes sterility in men, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Again, their plight cannot be extricated from that of their fellow workers north of the border for it was in 1977 when about three dozen factory workers at an Occidental Petroleum Corporation subsidiary in Lathrop, California, where this pesticide was used, reported problems having children.
This pummeling of the Nicaraguan working class, a direct outgrowth of the illegal “contra war” of the 1980s, has been the prelude for U.S. imperialism now branding Central America as the “New Asia”-or now ripe for plucking. “Near-sourcing” is the term used to describe what has descended on Nicaragua particularly-i.e. call centers and the like, this time targeting the U.S.’s burgeoning Spanish-speaking population. Since Managua is in the same time zone as many U.S. cities, it is seen as perfect in this regard and, thus, Dell Computer, IBM, Procter and Gamble and Western Union have installed facilities in the region, joined by manufacturers e.g. Sara Lee. The pay-a meager $400 per month-is triple the minimum wage. Costa Rica also has been viewed as a site for this kind of exploitation, now that Managua’s earlier attempt to embark on a non-capitalist path of development has been blocked-at least seemingly.
Yet Costa Ricans have stunned Washington with the vehemence of their opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement [CAFTA]. It was in late September 2007 that more than 100,000 Costa Ricans, some dressed as skeletons, protested CAFTA, which they charged would flood their nation with cheap farm goods and cause job losses. Some protesters wore derisive masks of George W. Bush, as they railed against their nation joining other smaller nations in Central America in what they consider to be a suicide pact.
Still, it is not accidental that oil companies-Shell and Occidental in the first place-have been implicated in Central American deviltry for their swashbuckling rapaciousness in lusting for super-profits has involved the trammeling and trampling of workers. Ecuador could well attest to this. In the Spring of 2007, this South American nation dispatched an attorney to meet with Governor Arnold Schwarznegger of California, seeking aid in pressing a lawsuit that alleges environmental damage inflicted by Chevron Corporation, a financial supporter of the Chief Executive of the Golden State, and a patron of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who-quite appropriately, given her labors for Big Oil–named an oil tanker after her. Since the recall campaign of 2003 that ousted his Democratic Party predecessor, Gray Davis, Chevron has given a hefty $566,000 to the governor’s coffers and donated $50,000 to help pay for his second inauguration. Then in June 2007 Chevron donated $250,000 to the state GOP, which aired television advertisements promoting his re-election. The governor, who spends an inordinate amount of time on ski slopes in Sun Valley, Idaho could not find the time to meet with Ecuador’s lawyer.
Ecuador, which also produces bananas in addition to possessing oil fields, has joined the anti-imperialist wave spearheaded by Cuba, then joined by Venezuela, as suggested by their attempted confrontation of Schwarznegger. Their leader, Rafael Correa, who has advanced degrees in economics, is insisting on the departure of the U.S. military from the Manta air base they now occupy. The presence of U.S. planes rankles Ecuadoreans who think their purpose is not to interdict the drug traffic but to keep a close eye on guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.Troops and equipment at this base for subversion have quadrupled in the last few years and there is a palpable fear that it is being used-or could be used-for interference in the internal affairs of Quito’s neighbors. The Cuban journalist, Lidice Valenzuela, has argued that “the idea of completely taking over Latin America constitutes part of the Pentagon’s new strategic map, which would permit the so-called superpower to guarantee, in the near future-once free of trade barriers and geographic borders via the free trade agreements-certain products that are needed on a world scale, including oil..” In addition to Manta, the Pentagon controls “nine strategically located bases in the Caribbean and South America”, while using the guise of fighting drugs, terrorism and the like.
Surely, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is high on the hit-list of the Pentagon. This came clear during the abortive Caracas coup of the Spring of 2002 where the fingerprints of U.S. imperialism were evident. When a revived Chavez then moved to seize the Orinoco oil belt on behalf of the state, pulses raced further in Washington-and on Wall Street-for, again, there was the dreaded specter of an enhanced public sector haunting U.S. imperialism. Oil giants-Exxon-Mobil; Conoco-Phillips; Chevron; Total of France; and Britain’s BP-had owned this Venezuelan patrimony but were now left to fume.”Go-it-alone governments are choking back output to perilous levels”, asserted an obviously peeved Business Week.
From their point of view, it is bad enough for Caracas to reclaim what is rightfully theirs but, worse-as they see it-is Venezuela spreading the wealth via literacy programs, education and the like. For example, today Venezuela has some of the jost advanced programs in music education in the world that has produced world-class musicians that have benefited the U.S.-thus, Gustavo Dudamel, the 26 year old Venezuelan wunderkind, was recently appointed chief conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But the beneficent Chavez also has spread the nation’s largesse abroad. It was at his initiative that leaders of small Caribbean nations met in Jamaica in the Summer of 2005 to ink a series of agreements that provided oil at preferential terms. These Caribbean nations can pay via barter of services or goods e.g. bananas, rice or sugar. A stunned Houston Chronicle asserted that “in terms of direct government funding, the scale of Venezuela’s commitments is unprecedented for a Latin American country.” When floods ravaged Bolivia in 2007, the U.S. provided $1.5 million in a planeload of supplies and cash. Caracas provided ten times as much-and that was only the beginning.
It was well that Caracas has been so helpful since small Caribbean nations have been suffering under the domination of, first, European colonialism, then U.S. imperialism. When the Marxist, Cheddi Jagan, sought to break the chains of bondage in 1953, he was overthrown unceremoniously by London.St. Lucia, which with a small population of 160,000 has produced two Nobel Laureates, was producing quite recently 128,000 metric tons of bananas, less than 1% of the world market but the source of 50% of the island’s export earnings. Banana growing them employed 25,000. But as the grim reaper of “free trade”-more precisely neo-colonial hegemony-has exacted its wrath, banana output is now less than 40,000 tons and fewer than 3000 islanders are growing the fruit. Migration to Toronto, London and New York has hardly led to the improvement of the well-being of the St. Lucians that remain on the island. Antigua, which is tinier still than St. Lucia, has sought to establish a gaming industry and received a WTO ruling that this was acceptable. But Washington has chosen to ignore this ruling-while piously demanding that WTO rulings in their favor be regarded as holy writ–which has not been popular in the region.
The militant influence of Caracas has extended south as well. Mapuche indigenes in Argentina have fought the illegal takeover of their land by two U.S. oil and gas companies: Pioneer Natural Resources and Apache Corporation; Chevron and Halliburton who also operate in Argentina, have taken due note.
Buenos Aires, traditionally a regional power, has allied with Caracas. Argentina remains angry at U.S. imperialism because of its support of the disastrous Carlos Menem and before that the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and 1980s, which pioneered in “disappearing” its citizens. Then despite the alliance between the Argentine right and U.S. imperialism, Buenos Aires still could not count on Washington during its war with London over the Malvinas [Falklands] Islands. Now Buenos Aires is joining with Caracas in establishing a regional bank to challenge the prerogatives of the International Monetary Fund, dominated by Washington and Brussels. Caracas has purchased about $3 billion in Argentine bonds, this after purchasing $25 million in Ecuadorean debt in 2005.The Bank of the South has also received backing from Bolivia, Paraguay and possibly Nicaragua and Brazil and, along with Telesur-Caracas’ challenge to CNN and the BBC-has not made Caracas many friends in Washington. Caracas has angered U.S. imperialism further by having its state oil company convert its investment accounts from dollars to euros and Asian currencies. Adding insult to injury President Chavez charged that the dollar is now encased in a “bubble”-that is bound to burst.
Caracas has negotiated arms deals with Russia and has pledged to ship more of its oil to China. (Beijing opposed Washington when it backed Caracas’ abortive attempt in 2006 to gain a seat at the UN Security Council.) But jost egregious in the eyes of U.S. imperialism may be its close ties to Iran. In Ciudad Bolivar on the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela, the two nations are collaborating in producing bright-red tractors; this will be followed by a bus factory and a cement plant. Teheran has pledged to invest a sizeable $9 billion in 125 projects in Venezuela, including constructing thousands of housing units.
Like progressives in neighboring Colombia, Caracas has reached out to the pivotal constituency in the U.S.-African-Americans. Venezuela is collaborating with actor and activist Danny Glover in producing a film on the Haitian Revolution and has sought avidly to uplift the Afro-Venezuelan population-Chavez gained a spectacular near unanimous vote among this sector. Delegations of African-Americans now visit Caracas routinely.
Caracas’ tight alliance with Havana has reinforced both regimes. Similarly, this has forced U.S. imperialism to seek an accommodation with Brazil-larger in territory than the continental U.S. itself, with a population approaching 200 million. Like Caracas, relations between Brasilia and Beijing have proceeded spectacularly, with joint lofting of satellites being their latest venture.Brazil’s CVRD is the world’s largest iron ore producer and this important commodity is pouring into Chinese ports in profusion, fueling the latter nation’s booming steel plants.Brazil also makes small planes-the Embraer, used on medium jaunts by Continental Airlines and other U.S. based airlines-and also a frequent sight in China. Though U.S. imperialism-as in Argentina-backed a military regime in the recent past in Brazil, now this malignant force is compelled to appear to be on friendly terms with the Social Democrats who presently reign in Brasilia. Washington’s strategic objective is to drive a wedge between Brasilia, on the one hand, and Caracas-Havana on the other-so far, to no avail. For the Bush team did not make many friends in Brasilia when it slapped tariffs on steel imports in order to placate the captains of this industry but which was a body blow to the Brazilian industry.Other Brazilians are displeased with U.S. imperialism since GM and Ford particularly buy pig iron from the South American nation, which depends on charcoal, which in turn is leading to the devastating of the rain forests of the Amazon-all of which depends on the labor of virtual slaves living in unimaginable conditions in veritable forced-labor camps.
Progressive Peruvians also are in dispute with U.S. imperialism. This reality was dramatized in Los Angeles during the Spring of 2007 when the jostly corpulent shareholders of Occidental Petroleum had their celebration of super-profits rudely interrupted by visitors from Peru. They accused the oil company of causing and then ignoring pervasive health and environmental problems in a remote region of the Amazon where Occidental has drilled for three decades. As one Peruvian put it balefully, “We are dying because of the contamination you caused in our lands. We cannot get the fish; we cannot drink the water. It’s all toxic. You, Oxy, need to clean up the mess you left.”
Still, more consistent with the foreign policy of U.S. imperialism is what is occurring in Colombia, a nation that Washington plundered over a century ago when it induced Panama-then a part of this South American nation-to secede so that a canal could be built then administered by the Yankees. It is in Colombia, a nation wracked by violence of startling proportions that the depredations of U.S. imperialism come clear. For Colombia is not only the site of a bloody war in which Washington is deeply enmeshed, it is also viewed as an essential component of U.S. imperialism’s dream for “Free Trade in the Americas”-or the leveraged takeover of the entire hemisphere, a vision that stretches back to the addled vision of the Monroe Doctrine of aljost two centuries ago. Fortunately, some in Congress have been repulsed by the close ties between President Alvaro Uribe and death squads, who recruited pop star Shakira to back him. Well, it may be true that “hips don’t lie,” as the Colombian pop princess has reminded us repeatedly but the same cannot be said of the supposed benefit to the working class to be brought by “free trade”-certainly that is the viewpoint of the AFL-CIO.The same can be said of the similarly heralded CAFTA or US-Central American Free Trade Agreement-or son of NAFTA. In fact, U.S. imperialism’s accelerated push toward “free trade”-a misnomer if there ever was one-has been impelled by apprehension of European integration: Washington and Wall Street feel they must “integrate” all of the Americas in order to remain competitive. In turn, Brazil has led the charge for South American integration via MERCOSUR and Venezuela has pushed its progressive “Bolivarian Alternative” or ALBA-both of which are a gauntlet cast-down to U.S. imperialism.
For the travails of the banana stalwart, Chiquita Brands, gives a hint of what is in store for the hemisphere if they open their doors wider to the intrusion of U.S. imperialism. Consider Roderick Hills, 76, a card-carrying member of the GOP establishment and a member of the Board of Chiquita. He had oversight of the company’s “protection payments” to right-wing death squads in Colombia-who have specialized in murdering trade union leaders. His problem is that such payments were putative violations of U.S. law and his declining days may be spent behind bars. Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, was this sprawling company’s jost profitable branch and protecting the reliable flow of profits was Hills’ primary concern. Hills, not going down by himself, argues that he kept U.S. authorities apprised of what he was doing and that they were happy to receive the intelligence his unsavory right-wing Colombian allies provided. The militias paid by Chiquita are deeply involved in drug dealing and are of a piece with “Plan Colombia”, Washington’s multi-billion dollar initiative which is-supposedly-designed to bring to an end the attempt by the left-wing of Colombia to bring justice to their homeland using any means necessary, including the use of arms.
The right-wing militias, however, are the chief reason why more trade unionists are murdered each year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined; 72 such killings occurred in Colombia in 2006 and during President Uribe’s blood-drenched tenure more than 400 worker advocates have been slaughtered, but only 10 convictions have ensued for these crimes. Since 1991, 2262 unionists have been killed, which has prepared the battlefield for the incursions of Chiquita and other U.S. based trans-national corporations.
One in the latter category is Drummond Ltd. of Birmingham, Alabama, now accused of aiding in the murder of labor leaders. Lawyers from the United Steelworkers and the International Labor Rights Fund are suing Drummond on behalf of the families of three Colombia union leaders who were killed by a right-wing paramilitary group. Founded in 1935, Drummond has become one of the nation’s largest coal producers-and a prime culprit in the rise in global warming. At La Loma, Colombia this company operates the world’s largest open-pit coal mine, extracting about 25 million tons of coal each year. Beginning in 1993-coincidentally as propaganda accelerated about the alleged need for the U.S. to fight drug traffickers in Colombia-the company solicited support from Bogota’s military, donating land at its mine and port for bases and lending vehicles, fuel, food and other supplies. As in Iraq, Colombia also has proven to be a boondoggle for firms that supply mercenaries. While the world has been riveted on U.S. imperialism’s “blood for oil” crusade in Iraq, slipping under the radar has been their “blood for coal” crusade in Colombia.
U.S. unions are justifiably concerned that turning a blind eye to the murder of union leaders in one part of the hemisphere provides fertile grounds for such practices arising in another part. “Free trade” may well become a “free” transmission path of murderous tactics. But U.S. imperialism is desperate, faced as it is by a resolute Cuba whose example influences the entire hemisphere-but it is also concerned that the European Union provides competition so stiff that it can only be met by Washington swallowing all of the Americas, thereby giving further resonance to the egotism that causes this North American nation to refer to itself simply as “America.”