Cuba and U.S. government
excerpted from the book
The Rule of Force in World Affairs
by Noam chomsky
South End Press, 2000, paper
Cuba and US government
Cuba and the United States have quite a curious-in fact, unique-
status in international relations. There is no similar case of
such a sustained assault by one power against another-in this
case the greatest superpower against a poor, Third World country-for
40 years of terror and economic warfare
In fact, the fanaticism of this attack goes back a long, long
time. From the first days of the American Revolution the eyes
of the founding fathers were on Cuba. They were quite open about
it. It was John Quincy Adams, when he was secretary of state,
who said our taking Cuba is "of transcendent importance"
to the political and commercial future of the United States. Others
said that the future of the world depended on our taking Cuba.
It was a matter "of transcendent importance" from the
beginning of US history, and it remains so. The need to possess
Cuba is the oldest issue in US foreign policy.
The US sanctions against Cuba are the harshest in the world,
much harsher than the sanctions against Iraq, for example. There
was a small item in the New York Times recently that said that
Congress is passing legislation to allow US exporters to send
food and medicine to Cuba. It explained that this was at the urging
of US farmers. "Farmers" is a euphemism that means "US
agribusiness"-it sounds better when you call them "farmers."
And it's true that US agribusiness wants to get back into this
market. The article didn't point out that the restriction against
the sale and export of food and medicines is in gross violation
of international humanitarian law. It's been condemned by almost
every relevant body. Even the normally quite compliant Organization
of American States, which rarely stands up against the boss, did
condemn this as illegal and unacceptable.
US policy towards Cuba is unique in a variety of respects,
first of all because of the sustained attacks, and secondly because
the US is totally isolated in the world-in fact, 100 percent isolated,
because the one state that reflexively has to vote with the United
States at the UN, Israel, also openly violates the embargo, contrary
to its vote.
The United States government is also isolated from its own
population. According to the most recent poll I've seen, about
two-thirds of the population in the United States is opposed to
the embargo. They don't take polls in the business world, but
there's pretty strong evidence that major sectors of the business
world, major corporations, are strongly opposed to the embargo.
So the isolation of the US government is another unusual element.
The US government is isolated from its own population, from the
major decisionmakers in this society, which largely control the
government, and from international opinion, but is still fanatically
committed to this policy, which goes right back to the roots of
the American republic.
Cuba has brought out real hysteria among planners. This was
particularly striking during the Kennedy years. The internal records
from the Kennedy administration, many of which are available now,
describe an atmosphere of what was called "savagery"
and "fanaticism" over the failure of the US to reconquer
Cuba. Kennedy's own public statements were wild enough. He said
publicly that the United States would be swept away in the debris
of history unless it reincorporated Cuba under its control.
In 1997 at the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the European
Union brought charges against the United States for blatant, flagrant
violation of WTO rules in the embargo, the US rejected its jurisdiction,
which is not surprising, because it rejects the jurisdiction of
international bodies generally. But the reasons were interesting.
It rejected its jurisdiction on the grounds of a national security
reservation. The national security of the United States was threatened
by the existence of Cuba, and therefore the US had to reject WTO
jurisdiction. Actually, the US did not make that position official,
because it would have subjected itself to international ridicule,
but that was the position, and it was publicly stated, repeatedly.
It's a national security issue; we therefore cannot consider WTO
You'll be pleased to know that the Pentagon recently downgraded
the threat of Cuban conquest of the United States. It's still
there, but it's not as serious as it was. The reason, they explained,
is the deterioration of the awesome Cuban military forces after
the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union stopped supplying
them. So we can rest a little bit easier; we don't have to hide
under tables the way we were taught to do in first grade. This
elicited no ridicule when it was publicly announced, at least
here. I'm sure it did elsewhere; you might recall the response
of the Mexican ambassador when John F. Kennedy was trying to organize
collective security in defense against Cuba back in the early
'60s in Mexico: the ambassador said he would regretfully have
to decline because if he were to tell Mexicans that Cuba was a
threat to their national security, 40 million Mexicans would die
This hysteria and fanaticism is indeed unusual and interesting,
and it deserves inquiry and thought. Where does it come from?
The historical depth partly explains it, but there's more to it
than that in the current world. A good framework within which
to think of it is what has now become the leading thesis in intellectual
discourse, in serious journals especially. It's what's called
the "new humanism," which was proclaimed by Clinton
and Blair and various acolytes with great awe and solemnity. According
to this thesis, which you read over and over, we're entering a
glorious new era, a new millennium. It actually began 10 years
ago when the two enlightened countries, as they call themselves,
were freed from the shackles of the Cold War and were therefore
able to rededicate themselves with full vigor to their historic
mission of bringing justice and freedom to the suffering people
of the world and protecting human rights everywhere, by force
if necessary-something they were prevented from doing during the
Cold War interruption.
That renewal of the saintly mission is quite explicit; it's
not left to the imagination. Clinton gave a major speech at the
Norfolk Air Station on April I, 1999, explaining why we have to
bomb everybody in sight in the Balkans. He was introduced by the
secretary of defense, William Cohen, who opened his remarks by
reminding the audience of some of the dramatic words that had
opened the last century. He cited Theodore Roosevelt, later to
be president, who said that "unless you're willing to fight
for great ideals, those ideals will vanish." And just as
Theodore Roosevelt opened the century with those stirring words,
William Clinton, his successor, was closing the century with the
That was an interesting introduction for anyone who had taken
a course in American history, that is, a real course. Theodore
Roosevelt, as they would have learned, was one of the most extraordinary
racist, raving lunatics of contemporary history. He was greatly
admired by Hitler, and for good reason. His writings are shocking
to read. He won his fame through participation in the US invasion
of Cuba. By 1898 Cuba had essentially liberated itself from Spain
after a long struggle, but the US wasn't having any of that, so
it invaded to prevent the independence struggle from succeeding.
Cuba was quickly turned into what two Harvard professors, the
editors of the recent Kennedy Tapes, call "a virtual colony"
of the United States, as it remained up until 1959. It's an accurate
description. Cuba was turned into a "virtual colony"
after the invasion, which was described as a humanitarian intervention,
At that time, too, the United States was quite isolated. The
United States government was isolated, of course, from the Cuban
people, but it was also isolated from the American population,
who were foolish enough to believe the propaganda and were overwhelmingly
in favor of Cuba libre, not understanding that that was the last
thing in the minds of their leaders-or, from another point of
view, the first thing in their minds, because they had to prevent
The noble ideals that Roosevelt was fighting for were in fact
those, in part: to prevent independence through humanitarian intervention.
However, at the time he actually spoke, in 1901 or so, the values
that we had to uphold by force were being demonstrated far more
dramatically elsewhere than in Cuba, namely in the conquest of
the Philippines. That was one of the most murderous colonial wars
in history, in which hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were slaughtered.
The press recognized that it was a massive slaughter, but advised
that we must continue to kill "the natives in English fashion,"
until they come to "respect our arms" and ultimately
to respect our good intentions. This was also a so-called humanitarian
Every one of these 1898 actions and what followed was connected
in some fashion or another, usually quite explicitly, to this
long-term objective. This includes the so-called Theodore Roosevelt
Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which formally established the
US right to rule the Caribbean. The repeated invasions of Nicaragua,
Woodrow Wilson's very bloody invasions of the Dominican Republic
and Haiti-particularly ugly in Haiti because it was also suffused
by extreme racism (Haiti will never recover from that and in fact
may not be habitable in a couple of decades)-and many other actions
in that region were all part of the new humanism, which we're
Probably the major achievement was in Venezuela, where in
1920 Woodrow Wilson succeeded in kicking out the British enemy,
at that time weakened by the First World War. Venezuela was extremely
important. The world was shifting to an oil-based economy at the
time. North America, mainly the US, was by far the major producer
of oil, and remained so until about 1970, but Venezuela was an
important oil resource, one of the biggest in the world-in fact,
the biggest single exporter until 1970, and still the biggest
exporter to the United States. So kicking the British out of there
was very important. Venezuela also had other resources, such as
iron, and US corporations enriched themselves in Venezuela for
decades-and still do-while the US supported a series of murderous
dictators to keep the people in line.
The "Kennedy tapes," the secret tapes of the Cuban
missile crisis, are not all that revealing since almost everything
in there had already come out in one way or another, but they
do reveal a few new things. One of the new things is an explanation
of one of the reasons the Kennedy brothers, Robert and John F.,
were concerned about missiles in Cuba. They were concerned that
they might be a deterrent to a US invasion of Venezuela, which
they thought might be necessary because the situation there was
getting out of hand. Missiles in Cuba might deter an invasion.
Noting that, John F. Kennedy said that the Bay of Pigs was right.
We're going to have to make sure we win; we can't face any such
deterrent to our benevolence in the region. After the missile
crisis, contrary to what's often said, the US made no pledge not
to invade Cuba. It stepped up the terrorism, and of course the
embargo was already in place and imposed more harshly, and so
matters have essentially remained.
The Castro Threat
... Cuba was a virtual colony of the United States until January
1959; it didn't take long before the wheels started turning again.
By mid- 1959-we now have a lot of declassified records from that
period, so the picture's pretty complete-the Eisenhower administration
had determined informally to reconquer Cuba. By October 1959 planes
based in Florida were already bombing Cuba. The US claimed not
to be able to do anything about it, and has remained "helpless"
throughout the most recent acts of terrorism, which are traceable
to CIA-trained operatives, as usual.
In March 1960 the Eisenhower administration secretly made
a formal decision to conquer Cuba, but with a proviso: it had
to be done in such a way that the US hand would not be evident.
The reason for that was because they knew it would blow up Latin
America if it were obvious that the US had retaken Cuba. Furthermore,
they had polls indicating that in Cuba itself there was a high
level of optimism and strong support for the revolution; there
would obviously be plenty of resistance. They had to overthrow
the government, but in such a way that the US hand would not be
Shortly after that, the Kennedy administration came in. They
were very much oriented towards Latin America; just before taking
office Kennedy had established a Latin American mission to review
the affairs of the continent. It was headed by historian Arthur
Schlesinger. His report is now declassified. He informed President
Kennedy of the results of the mission with regard to Cuba. The
problem in Cuba, he said, is "the spread of the Castro idea
of taking matters into one's own hands." He said, that is
an idea that has a great deal of appeal throughout Latin America,
where "the distribution of land and other forms of national
wealth greatly favors the propertied classes . . . [and] the poor
and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution,
are now I demanding opportunities for a decent living." That's
the threat of Castro. That's correct. In fact, if you read through
the record of internal planning over the years, that has always
been the threat. The Cold War is a public pretext. Take a look
at the record; in case after case, it's exactly this. Cuba is
what was called a "virus" that might infect others who
might be stimulated by "the Castro idea of taking matters
into [their] own hands" and believing that they too might
have a decent living.
The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. That ended the Cold War
as far as any sane person was concerned.
... A month after the fall of the Berlin Wall the US invaded Panama,
killing a couple of hundred or maybe a couple of thousand people,
destroying poor neighborhoods, reinstating a regime of bankers
and narco-traffickers-drug peddling and money laundering shot
way up, as congressional research bureaus soon advised-and so
on. That's normal, a footnote to history, but there were two differences:
one difference is that the pretexts were different. This was the
first intervention since the beginning of the Cold War that was
not undertaken to defend ourselves from the Russians. This time,
it was to defend ourselves from Hispanic narco-traffickers. Secondly,
the US recognized right away that it was much freer to invade
without any concern that somebody, the Russians, might react somewhere
in the world, as former Undersecretary of State Abrams happily
The same was true with regard to the Third World generally.
The Third World could now be disregarded. There's no more room
for non-alignment. So forget about the Third World and their interests;
you don't have to make a pretense of concern for them. That's
been very evident in policy since.
With regard to Cuba, it's about the same. Right after the
fall of the Soviet Union, the embargo against Cuba became far
harsher, under a liberal initiative, incidentally: it was a Torricelli-Clinton
initiative. And the pretexts were now different. Before, it was
that the Cubans were a tentacle of the Soviet beast about to strangle
us; now it was suddenly our love of democracy that made us oppose
The US does support a certain kind of democracy. The kind
of democracy it supports was described rather frankly by a leading
scholar who dealt with the democratic initiatives of the Reagan
administration in the 1980s and who writes from an insider's point
of view because he was in the State Department working on "democracy
enhancement" projects: Thomas Carothers. He points out that
though the Reagan administration, which he thinks was very sincere,
undermined democracy everywhere, it nevertheless was interested
in a certain kind of democracy-what he calls "top-down"
forms of democracy that leave "traditional structures of
power" in place, namely those with which the US has long
had good relations. As long as democracy has that form, it's no
The real problem of Cuba remains what it has always been.
It remains the threat of "the Castro idea of taking matters
into [your] own hands," which continues to be a stimulus
to poor and underprivileged people who can't get it driven into
their heads that they have no right to seek opportunities for
a decent living. And Cuba, unfortunately, keeps making that clear,
for example, by sending doctors all over the world at a rate way
beyond any other country despite its current straits, which are
severe, and by maintaining, unimaginably, a health system that
is a deep embarrassment to the United States. Because of concerns
such as these, and because of the fanaticism that goes way back
in American history, the US government, for the moment, at least,
is continuing the hysterical attack, and will do so until it is
And though foreign deterrents, which weren't that effective,
don't exist anymore, the ultimate deterrent is where it always
was, right at home. Two-thirds of the population oppose the embargo
even without any discussion. Imagine what would happen if the
issues were discussed in a serious and honest way-that leaves
enormous opportunities for that deterrent to be exercised.