Lost in all of the positive and negative coverage of the major shift in the US policy towards Cuba is a sense of the history. Like the discussions of foreign policy with Iran where the US supported and led the coup that overthrew their democracy, the amnesia displayed about past treatment and mistreatment of Cuba makes the discussion thin and worrisome. Whether liberal or conservative, pro or con rapprochement, the main issue is whether the current leadership of Cuba will improve or be replaced with more democratic representation. This seeming benivolent view is in distinct opposition to the role of the US in the history of Cuba.
First, Cuba had an indigenous population that was plundered and slaughtered 500 years ago. Then a colonial regime was set up with the importation of a slave population. As Spain, the colonial power, waned in world power and local force moved toward freedom and independence, the United States came to the rescue. However, that rescue had many strings attached, replacing colonialism with a type of subjugation that was in many ways just as brutal.
With a patina of democracy and freedom, but fleeting and corrupted with the oversight of the US government and corporations, Cuban revolutionaries led a popular overthrow of the government. Perhaps you can argue that violent actions led to a regime that was not interested in democracy and freedom. But it is disingenuous for the US to complain about this and isolate and punish the Cuban people for it. The US brutalized Cuba and has never apologized for its actions. There was a huge investment in Cuba and considerable wealth developed in Cuba, but with many left behind and with so US interests often trumping Cubans.
I hope that Cuba does improve with more opportunities and freedom. But I also hope that North Americans learn about their governments' and corporations' inhumane treatment of many of the Cuban people, before it worries about the actions of those who fought back against that inhumane treatment. Now we will hear from US corporations that lost their property and will want compensation. But, I say, we owe Cuba much more in compensation for the wealth we stole and then compounded with an undeserved embargo. If we want a more prosperous and modern Cuba, we should be honest about our past and willing to apologize for it. Only then will we deserve the attention of our concerns about the present treatment of Cubans by their government.
When I visited Cuba, twenty five years ago, I saw the hotels that swarmed with mobsters from the US, rode the train tracks that held the sugar grown under barbaric conditions for the workers, and saw the lingering effects of the US and Spanish exploitation of the island. It is too easy for the talking heads in the US to argue about how best to reform Cuba. Much more difficult is to bring up the difficult history of US history of pre-revolutionary Cuba and make those same pronouncements. When will we ever learn?
- The Platt Amendment: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55