Leaving Cuba Alone a Sound Policy

Fernando Ravsberg*

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo

HAVANA TIMES — Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo’s visit to Cuba has given the Popular Party’s policy of isolating Havana, impelled by former President Jose Maria Aznar (who also promoted Europe’s Common Position on Cuba in 2003), a 180-degree turn.

At the time, the Cuban government had responded to the pressure with an intransigent posture – something which European strategists ought to have predicted. A quick glance at the history of the conflict that has existed between Washington and Cuba for more than fifty years would have sufficed.

Later – and little by little – Brussels began to loosen the screws. First, they stopped inviting dissidents to diplomatic receptions, putting an end to the “hors d’oeuvre war” through which European embassies isolated themselves from the Cuban government and civil society overnight.

Then, they lifted the blockade on cooperation for development with Cuba, a measure that yielded few practical results. Most Cubans hadn’t even noticed that blockade was in place, not when European tourists and businesspeople were seen everywhere on the island.

Now, Europe has to hasten negotiations, because, as of two years ago, Washington and Havana have been discussing different aspects of their bilateral relations, from air safety and catastrophe response measures to the coordination of efforts in the struggle against Ebola in Africa.

Garcia-Margallo asked Cuba to allow the opposition members that emigrated to Spain in 2010 to travel to Cuba. Some of these have spent a year camped out in front of the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid asking for help.

The six editorials published by The New York Times, asking Obama to sit down and negotiate with Cuba, could be the preamble to a change in Washington’s policy, something which would leave Europe’s Common Position in a rather uncomfortable position.

Cuban dissidents do not understand the policies of the European Right. Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White movement, is complaining that, during his visit to Cuba, the Spanish Foreign Minister did not meet with dissidents and the women of the association she presides.

In Spain, Cuban anti-Castroists say they feel “betrayed.” The chair of Cuba: Democracia Ya (“Cuba: Democracy Now”) Rigoberto Carceller claims that Spain’s Popular Party manipulated them “so that we would be at odds with the previous government”, but “everything they promised us was a lie.”

The irritation is also being felt in the United States, where leaders of the émigré community are pressuring Obama so that he will not negotiate with Havana. Cuban-American Senator Bob Menendez recommends that the administration should confront all of the countries in the region to keep Cuba from attending next year’s Summit of the Americas.

Anti-Castroists outside and inside Cuba want foreign governments, particularly the United States, to do their job for them. It is a policy they have maintained since 1959, when opponents of the government left for Miami, to wait “for the Americans to overthrow Castro.”

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas visiting with President Obama during one of his trips to the United States, which each year funnels $20 million to the Cuban opposition.
Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas visiting with President Obama during one of his trips to the United States, which each year funnels $20 million to the Cuban opposition.

There would surely be many more dissidents in Cuba if so many of them hadn’t left the country. The same is true today. In 2010, all political prisoners were released but only a handful of them decided to remain in the country. More than 200 immigrated to Spain with all of their relatives.

For the Bay of Pigs invasion, they received training, weapons, ships and planes from the United States. Despite this, they blamed their defeat on President Kennedy, despite the fact it was the anti-Castro Cubans who surrendered en masse in less than 72 hours.

Half a century later, very few things have changed: they still demand that Washington and Brussels play the role that Cubans ought to play. The history of Cuba affords us good lessons as to what happens when Big Brother steps in to solve the nation’s problems.

The aid that the United States offered Cuban troops to achieve independence from Spain later forced Cubans to accept a constitutional clause (the Platt Amendment) that gave Washington the authority to invade the island three times in less than 30 years.

During a recent meeting at OnCuba magazine in Havana, Ernesto Londoño, member of The New York Times editorial staff, asked young Cuban journalists what the United States could do to hasten changes on the island. They answered that the best help consisted precisely in doing nothing.


14 thoughts on “Leaving Cuba Alone a Sound Policy

  • In a society like Castros’ Cuba where thought control is commonplace and freedom of speech is prohibited, it is difficult to determine the true record of events and relationships between Fidel and any of his so-called intimates. No one wants to end up “lost” like Camilo Cienfuegos. It is simply easier to toe the ‘party line’. Stories of Castros nuclear blast-proof bunker(s) are widespread. Like most urban myths in Cuba, there is no doubt that most of these myths have grown over the years but, likewise, most of these myths are based in fact. I count among my close friends a large group of political-savvy first and second-generation Cubans and NOT ONE wants to “recapture” Cuba with the hope of returning to a pre-revolution Bastista dictatorship. Not one. Presenting that argument is a red herring and not productive to any reasonable debate about Cuba’s future. ALL of these friends do wish to rid Cuba of the Castro dictatorship and see Cuba hold open multiparty elections. I heartily agree with your last sentence. Where it seems we disagree is that while you may hope for a free Cuba, you have chosen to do nothing to help bring it about. I think external pressure has been and will be necessary to limit the expansion of the Castros disastrous tyranny and hasten their departure.

  • Rich,

    Could you please cite some verifiable source to support your assertion that Castro came to the US in April 1958 to tell Eisenhower he was going to hold elections? Because nothing I have read anywhere supports that interpretation. Everything I have read, including Fidel’s own speeches, supports the conclusion that Fidel had cancelled the promised elections.

    Likewise, a citation supporting the claim that Celia sent a telegram to Khrushchev requesting he station nuclear missiles in Cuba would be useful.

    Don’t tell us to “go talk to so-and so” if we don’t believe you. The quotations you did provide fall far short of supporting the claims you made. If you have another book or source, provide quotation & page number. If the information comes from you own interviews, please provide the date & place of the interview, and if possible a direct quotation from your transcripts.

    Anything less is not history and not journalism. It’s wild-eyed conjecture and obsession.

  • “Like many Castro supporters, you continue to see US/Cuban relations as pro-Castro or pro-Batista.” I realize, Moses, that the main theme of Cuban-exiles is to perpetuate the myth that the mean guy, Castro, chased all the good Cubans, the Batistianos and the Mafiosi, to Miami and Union City. “You have a specific bias that canonizes Celia Sanchez.” I guess Celia-Fidel intimates such as Tabio, Salas, and Rojas have similar biases, Moses. I guess Castro’s best American biographer, Geyer, was biased in what I consider her anti-Castro masterpiece. Ignoring Celia Sanchez and vilifying Castro while, in essence, championing the saintly Batista is a theme that certainly could take hold in a Banana Republic but should not be forever perpetrated in a democracy, which the U. S. still is despite the cancerous remnants of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship. I am a big booster of Cubans, but not Batistianos and Mafiosi. “Fidel had (has) his family bunker.” I’m sure, Moses, you can pinpoint precisely where that bunker was/is that he and maybe Celia could have saved themselves in while everyone else on the island was being annihilated in a nuclear holocaust. In trying to defend democracy, I am amazed that Cuban-exiles believe everyone else is so ignorant or so intimidated that they are supposed to believe whatever they are told about Cuba, Castro, Batista, the Mafia, etc. For whatever else he has been, Castro was not a coward although it seems everyone he chased off the island loves to make that insinuation while they run to cover and hide safely behind the skirts of the nearby world superpower, a point that I believe Mr. Ravsberg makes in this article. Six decades of besmirching the U. S. democracy and asking the American people to re-capture Cuba for them is six decades too long, Moses. And a prime reason I am not in favor of recapturing Cuba is a memory of the Batista-Mafia rule that does not deserve a recurrence. Like Mr. Ravsberg, I believe Cubans on the island should decide the political fate of their country, not some imperialist power and not Cuban exiles hiding behind the skirts of an imperialist power.

  • Like many Castro supporters, you continue to see US/Cuban relations as pro-Castro or pro-Batista. My Cuban family and all of my Cuban friends see a third option. We envision a Cuba free of domination by the Castros and any other group for that matter. You have a specific bias that canonizes Celia Sanchez. This view is not widely shared, even by many noted historians. You also seem to believe that Fidel would have led Cuba along a democratic path but for Nixon’s social slight. That is simply not true. Castro was a documented communist before his visit to Washington. Finally, acknowledging the Khrushchev letter is a start. You seem to fail to connect the fact that he wrote that letter to the reality that Castro did not care about the Cuban people. Had he cared he would not have wanted to initiate a nuclear strike on the US which would have resulted in the annihilation of the Cuban people. Of course, Fidel had (has) his family bunker but what about the rest of the island? The regime has survived for one reason: tyranny.

  • Moses, I am not an apologist for Fidel Castro, but in regards to sheer greed and in regards to whether Castro or Batista better cared for the everyday Cubans on the island, Castro has a wide edge. Your anti-Castroism mostly vilifies Castro by always neglecting what preceded him, the Batista and Mafia rule of Cuba supported by the U. S. government because rich U. S. businessmen were also allowed to partake in the rape and robbery of the island. In Castro’s favor, when he visited the U. S. right after the revolutionary triumph for twelve days in April of 1959, his announced intention was for a democratic Cuba and that’s why Celia Sanchez, who orchestrated the visit, had spent much valuable time negotiating the visit with the U. S. State Department and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. She had been promised that Fidel would be able to meet directly with President Eisenhower. That turned out to be a big lie. The decent but malleable Ike was conveniently out of town and the vile VP Richard Nixon pompously told Fidel the revolution would be overturned in a matter of a few weeks. As with other major Cuban decisions and reactions at that time, it was Celia’s, not Fidel’s, that counted most although, sometimes reluctantly, he could always be counted on to end up supporting whatever she decided. Any study of Castro intimates such as the still-living Marta Rojas, Roberto Salas, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, and Tete Puebla (all still living) would confirm that precise Celia-Fidel relationship, as would the most knowledgeable journalists/authors including the late Carlos Franqui and Herbert L. Mathews as well as the still living U. S. biographer of Fidel, Georgie Anne Geyer. In her seminal bio, Geyer, for example, stated that Celia Sanchez “over-ruled” Fidel whenever and wherever she chose to do so. Well, after she returned to Cuba it was Celia who vowed to confront the Nixon threat via every possible action. One manner in which she “over-ruled” Fidel was by sending a cable to Soviet Deputy Premier Mikoyan suggesting Russian nuclear missiles on Cuban soil could off-set American nuclear missiles on Turkish soil. Yes, as with the shoot-down of the Rudy Anderson spy plane during the apex of the 8-day Missile Crisis in October of 1962, it was Cubans, meaning Celia and Fidel, most anxious to fight. That fact has long-since been documented even by Sergei Khrushchev, then at his father Nikita’s side but since then a great historian, U. S. professor, and U. S. citizen. Even more famous than Fidel’s letter to Khrushchev is the note he wrote to Celia during the revolutionary war raving about his plans to fight the U. S. in the future; the impulsive Fidel wrote that note just minutes after a U.S.-provided Batista warplane had bombed the home of a peasant that Fidel said had nothing whatsover to do with the war. Celia was just as determined as Fidel but far more pragmatic, and from 1953 till the day she died of cancer at age 59 in 1980, it was Celia’s pragmatism and determination that beat Batista and it was her along with two other female guerrilla fighters, Vilma Espin and Haydee Santamaria, that put in place the parameters that have sustained the revolution, parameters such as the block-by-block Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women. If those two parameters had ever turned against Fidel, he would have been overthrown or resigned long ago. Tabio, Cuba’s great historian, wrote: “If Batista had managed to kill Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no viable Cuban Revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join.” In his outstanding book, superb Cuban photographer/journalist Roberto Salas wrote: “Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones.” Marta Rojas, a great Cuban journalist/historian/author, wrote: “After Celia died of cancer in 1980, Fidel continued to rule Cuba only as he believed Celia would want him to rule it.” Tabio, Salas, and Rojas were/are intimates of both Celia and Fidel and they are still living, still highly respected, and still readily available in Cuba. Why not ask them, Moses? Why not vilify the 99-pound doctor’s daughter who was the main player in the revolution and in Revolutionary Cuba? Is it because it would be a a lot harder to vilify her than, say, Fidel? Like Fidel, Celia was born rich in Cuba and, like Fidel, never cared much about money. Their prime enemies — the Batistianos, the Mafiosi, and the rich U. S. businessmen — seemed to care only about money. There are, you see, Moses, two sides to the U.S.-Cuban diaspora. As a democracy lover, I am not too happy that a handful of self-serving Cuban exiles demand to control the Cuban narrative as well as U. S. laws that benefit only them and harm everyone else. As Mr. Ravsberg so aptly states in his well-crafted article, almost six decades is a long time for a handful of self-serving and very rich Cuban exiles to ask the American tax-payers and the American military to re-capture Cuba for them. Is Mr. Ravsberg wrong when he says those Cubans should return to Cuba and try to do it themselves. I tend to agree with that sentiment, and you must know a growing number of Americans do too. The victory and longevity of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution is not because one man on one island happens to be a superman. Instead, it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that he has been able to out-smart and out-fight his multitude of much more powerful enemies. That seems to be what Mr. Ravsberg was saying, Moses. I agree with him. A lot of other people do too. I am still waiting for Cuban-exile zealots to put democracy ahead of revenge and money. You said I eluded the question about Fidel’s letter to Khrushchev. I responded here. Now I await your explanation of how Cuba has shocked the world by, first, winning its Revolutionary War and, secondly, by surviving for 55 more years…and counting.

  • An excellent analysis . Thank you.
    I would somewhat disagree with the strength of the influence of the U.S.-based counter-revolutionaries .
    U.S. foreign policy (capitalist imperialism ) began with the joint U.S-European invasion of the newborn Soviet Union in 1918 and more than 75 or so interventions to destroy democratic and human rights movements around the world since then have been the central theme of U.S. foreign policy .
    This , of course , includes state capitalist Cuba which is anti-imperialist AND which utilizes socialist-style amelioration of poverty which is anathema to the owners of the U.S. government.
    The south Florida ex-Cubans are the kind of anti-communists who are more like the hysterical Red Scare types of the late 40s and early 50s and are a PART of the ongoing anti-communist propaganda barrage that has bombarded the U.S. public for close to 100 years now but only a part of a policy that will continue with or without them as long as capitalism remains .
    ANY form of democratic economics or equitable economics IS indeed a genuine and very real threat to the wealth of the those who own the (government of the) USA.

  • Rich, you continue to ignore or, at least, abide the failings of the Castro regime to deliver on its promises to the Cuban people. Moreover, you seem to be giving Fidel a free pass for all his attacks on the US through his intelligence services and through his vitriolic speeches. While I may disagree with a few of the tactics the anti-Castro crowd has employed to fight the tyranny of the Castros, I am in full support for open elections, a free press, freedom of speech, no political prisoners and a Castro-free Cuba. You claim to be pro-democracy but how does this belief apply to Cuba if you continue to support an anti-democracy Castro regime? By the way, you side-stepped sharing your opinion regarding the letter Castro wrote to Khrushchev asking permission to kill millions of Americans by launching nuclear strikes. Care to weigh in now?

  • Rich Haney,
    It was nice to see your name pop up – your book about Celia had a powerful effect on me!

  • In this forum and on his own blog, Fernando Ravsberg consistently offers today’s best, bravest, and most honest analysis of U.S.-Cuban relations. Thus, he is refreshing because, since 1959, Americans — via intimidation, complacency, or ignorance — have been proselytized to accept whatever portrait of Castro or Cuba the most visceral anti-Castro exiles paint. Mr. Ravsberg is abundantly correct when he points out that the flight of the most visceral anti-Castro zealots from Cuba mostly to South Florida is a primary reason that one man on one nearby island has been able to survive and keep his revolution alive for all these decades. When imperialist powers Spain and, after 1898, the United States dominated Cuba, great Cuban patriots like Maceo and Marti died on Cuban battlefields fighting the Spanish and later, much more successfully, Celia Sanchez, the assassinated Frank Pais, and Fidel Castro waged revolutionary war against the Batista dictatorship that was backed by both the American Mafia and the U. S. government. Castro owes his longevity — 88 years for himself and 55 years for his revolution — to the fact that his primary enemies fled the island to wage their efforts to recapture Cuba by hiding behind the skirts of the U. S. treasury, the richest in world history, and the U. S. military, the strongest in world history. Since 1953 there have been enough Cubans on the island willing to fight — like Maceo, Marti, and Pais fought — to gain and/or protect Cuban sovereignty. Sanchez and Castro understood that and an astute observer like Ravsberg seems to understand it too. But, of course, Americans are not supposed to comprehend such things because, for all these decades, they have been misled about such important historical events as…the Batista dictatorship, the assassination attempts against Castro, the Bay of Pigs attack, the embargo, the terrorist bombings of Cuban hotels, the strafing of coastal Cuban homes by speed-boat cannons, the terrorist bombing of Cubana Flight 455, the Torricelli Bill, the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-downs, the Helms-Burton Act, etc., etc. The Cuban Revolution says a lot more about the U. S. than it says about Cuba. It says, for example, that Americans have been taught to believe that the U. S. was doing a very democratic thing when it teamed with the Mafia to support the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. It says, for example, that blowing up a civilian airplane and killing 73 people was OK as long as it was a Cuban civilian airplane. It says, for example, that the U. S. embargo against Cuba is fine even though de-classified U. S. documents from 1962 reveal that the stated purpose of the embargo was to starve and deprive the Cuban people on the island for the purpose of enticing them to rise up and overthrow or kill Fidel Castro. After the downing of Cubana Flight 455 on Oct. 6-1976 it was heralded in the Miami media that it was “the biggest blow yet against Castro!” Of course, the opposite was true and that is evident to those of us who have been to Cuba and seen the memorials dedicated to the Cubana Flight 455 victims and seen newspaper accounts of the doomed plane still posted on the walls of the homes of everyday Cubans. Of course, the one place on the planet that Americans are not freely allow to visit is Cuba, and that very anti-democratic fact correlates to keeping the American people dumb and intimated about Cuba. During two terms of the viscerally anti-Castro
    George W. Bush administration, Mr. Bush had visceral anti-Castro proxies as the Presidents of Spain, Panama, and Colombia. But Castro and the revolution still, incredibly, survived. Today there are no proxies at the head of foreign governments willing to align with the U. S. to destroy Revolutionary Cuba. The anti-Castro Cubans still have total control of the easily bought-and-paid-for U. S. Congress, but any Democratic presidency, such as Mr. Obama’s, will search for ways to circumvent Congress and bring some sanity to a Cuban policy that, for so long, has hurt the image of the United States of America, something that anti-Castro Cubans don’t seem to care about. The whole world is longing for the day the most influential nation in the world, the U. S., has a sane and decent Cuban policy. That fact is indicated each October by the vote in the UN. Of course, the anti-Castro zealots hiding behind the skirts of the U. S. government instead of confronting Fidel on the island will maintain that the rest of world is stupid when it comes to Cuba and only they are the wise ones. Fidel Castro is still not stupid. Plus, he didn’t run to cash-laden getaway airplanes or ships when things got dangerous in the Sierra Maestra, at the Bay of Pigs, etc. I am not pro-Castro but I am viscerally pro-democracy and I believe, sincerely, that nothing has harmed the U. S. democracy more than the flight to the U. S. of anti-Castro zealots on the island to have {as Mr. Ravsberg points out} the U. S. government and the U. S. citizens assassinate and overthrow Castro for them.

  • Interesting coincidence to see a photograph of President Obama shaking hands with the Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas .

    Last night, agents of the Castro regime entered the home of Guillermo Fariñas and assaulted several people, including two members of the Ladies in White.

    So if the best advice to encourage change in Cuba is for the US to do nothing, then what will become of dissidents like Guillermo Fariñas and the Ladies in White? Will the regime stop assaulting them and jailing them? Will the regime decide to listen to the people and allow free and fair democratic elections?

    I do not see the connection. Perhaps the “journalists” were feeding Ernesto Londoño with the answers they want him to hear.

    At the start of Londono’s trip to Cuba he tweeted out a request to readers to let him know what he should report on.

    Ernesto Londoño ? @londonoe
    Happy to be in Havana on a reporting trip. What issues are folks curious about? pic.twitter.com/tVxY8nuXwU

    Here’s a sample of the answers he got:

    Orlando Luis Pardo @OLPLFollow
    No pregunten al régimen. El régimen es carencia de respuesta y abusos como este: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYOJCA84NwI

    Ninoska Perez C @NinoskaPerezCFollow
    @londonoe repression, lack of freedom, that lifting travel sanctions x americans benefits Cuba’s Armed Forces, owners of tourism industry .

    Jose Cardenas @JoseCardenasUSA
    .@londonoe And, lastly, please don’t accept any awards from the Castro regime for your series of editorials. #Cuba

  • Thank who? The Cuban, Chinese & Russian Revolutions were all militantly atheistic. They persecuted clergy, shut down places of worship and banned religions.

  • Historically, Russia has led Cuban development .China is in too. Thank god for the REVOLUTION .

  • Don’t blame the soldiers of Brigade 2056 for surrendering at the Bay of Pigs. Many of them blamed Kennedy for holding back on US air and sea support which they were promised. (What limited air support was provided came from the CIA & ex-Cuban airforce pilots, not the USAF). Without adequate air cover, the invaders were sent to certain defeat.

    They also blamed Kennedy for changing the invasion site from Trinidad, Cuba, where there was already an active rebellion growing in the Escambray mountains nearby, to the Bay of Pigs which was a far more difficult target to seize and hold. As it happened, the Bay of Pigs invasion was doomed to fail and hundreds of Cubans (on both sides) were killed or wounded in a pointless, stupid campaign.

  • Fernando Ravsberg, like many Cuba-centric writers, seems to believe that what happens in Cuba really matters to Americans. By association, if you asked 99.9% of Americans what the European Common Position was and what it means to them, you would get a blank stare…at best. Take your pick, Immigration Reform, ISIS, the Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, NFL playoffs, and a bunch of other stuff are line ahead of US-Cuban relations as issues to be addressed by US policy makers. Cuba’s best hope for change in Cuba is the early demise of the Castro oligarchy, both politically and/or biologically. Absent that, little else will prompt changes in US policy.

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