[News] 200 Years of US Interventionism - Cuba: the Weight of a Long History

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 27 11:04:03 EST 2015

Weekend Edition Feb 27-Mar 01, 2015

*200 Years of US Interventionism*

  Cuba: the Weight of a Long History


The U.S. and Cuba are meeting again this week for their second round of 
normalization talks. When asked by the media what she expected from the 
first round, Roberta Jacobson, the senior diplomat leading the U.S. 
team, said that she was “not oblivious to the weight of history.” She 
was right on target: There is a very long history that begins well 
before the Revolution, deserves careful analysis, and will impact the talks.

As far back as 1809, Jefferson tried to purchase Cuba. In 1820 he went 
further; he told Secretary of War J.C. Calhoun that the U.S. “ought, at 
the first possible opportunity, to take Cuba.” As President, John Quincy 
Adams predicted that Cuba would fall “like a ripening plum into the lap 
of the union.” These are but two of many prominent examples of a 
widespread ambition to annex Cuba, or at least to control its destiny, 
from very early in U.S. history. After “the West,” Cuba figured as a 
prominent second place in U.S. expansionist aims from the beginning of 
the Republic.

In subsequent decades, support for annexing Cuba shifted tactically to 
Southerners who saw Cuba as a potential new slave state, though 
“manifest destiny” continued to be the fundamental driving force. 
Presidents Polk, in 1848, and Pierce, in 1854, offered unsuccessfully to 
buy Cuba. John Louis O’Sullivan, the newspaper editor who coined the 
phrase “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, supported Cuba’s best known 
“annexationist,” taking him to Polk’s White House in search of support 
for his armed expeditions. And even Walt Whitman—no advocate of 
slavery—wrote in 1871 that, “‘manifest destiny’ certainly points to the 
speedy annexation of Cuba by the United States.”

President McKinley again unsuccessfully offered to buy Cuba in 1898, 
shortly before declaring war on Spain. Only a year before, his 
Undersecretary of War, I.C. Breckenridge, had reflected the 
annexationist thinking in a memo arguing that: “We must impose a harsh 
blockade so that hunger and its constant companion, disease, undermine 
the peaceful population and decimate the Cuban Army….in order to annex 
the Pearl of the Antilles [Cuba].” He meant the Cuban independence army, 
who had all but defeated the Spanish well before Roosevelt with his 
Rough Riders arrived to clean up. It was advocacy of a policy to starve 
the Cuban population and its army, just to make sure that the U.S. alone 
could determine the future of the island. The push for annexation 
eventually failed, in no small part because its supporters realized that 
Cubans would likely continue their war if the U.S. tried to impose it. 
Yet those who favored annexation were able to impose the Platt Amendment 
on the new Cuban Constitution in 1904, in effect granting the US the 
right to intervene in Cuba for practically any reason the US saw fit. 
Cuba’s independence was brutally truncated, and the U.S. intervened on 
the island again in 1906, 1912, 1917 and 1920.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, the ambition to control Cuba’s destiny 
continued—if somewhat more subtly and without troops. The U.S. sent 
Sumner Welles as a special envoy to Cuba in the 1930’s to ensure that 
the outcome of a populist insurrection against Gerardo Machado, then 
Cuba’s dictator, did not steer the island away from U.S. tutelage. This 
intervention gave rise to the U.S. support for Fulgencio Batista, which 
lasted until his overthrow in 1959 by the Revolution. As our ambassador 
to Cuba at the time, Earl T. Smith, asserted during a Senate hearing in 
1960: “Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba 
that the American ambassador was the second most important man, 
sometimes even more important than the Cuban president.”

The ambition to control Cuba, in other words, already had a long and 
complex history by the time of the victory of the Revolution in 1959. 
The list of U.S. interventions seeking regime change that followed is 
too long to detail here. The Bay of Pigs, assassination efforts, 
hundreds of acts of sabotage and terrorism, and, of course, the embargo 
since 1960. And what did the embargo seek? Well, President Eisenhower 
said that “if the [Cuban people] are hungry they will throw Castro out,” 
a view that President Kennedy reiterated when he asserted that the end 
of the Revolution would come from “rising discomfort among hungry 
Cubans.” Arguably, a policy with the same goal of maintaining Cuba as a 
client state as the Breckenridge memo of half a century before. The 
embargo was then codified in the so-called Torricelli and Helms-Burton 
laws of 1992 and 1996, both supposedly granting the U.S. the right to 
decide what kind of government the island could have, and laws that were 
passed well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War ended, 
and Cuba had stopped its revolutionary activities in both Africa and 
Latin America. In effect, these laws are modern versions of the Platt 
Amendment, no longer “justified” even by the Cold War fig leaf.

So the history of U.S. policy towards Cuba shows a continuity that is 
hard to deny. Even those who might disagree with this interpretation 
should not find it hard to imagine how the Cuban government, and Cubans 
as a whole, would react with profound skepticism and distrust of the 
intentions of the most powerful country in the world, as reflected by 
these kinds of pressures and policies for more than two centuries. 
Beyond the immediate issues, such as the irrational listing of Cuba in 
the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Ms. Jacobson will 
certainly have a very heavy weight of history to consider in her 
discussions with her Cuban counterparts. If the President directs her, 
however, she, on behalf of our country, will have a unique opportunity 
to break clear from the interventionist thrust of our past 
interventionist policies, and seek agreements that nurture common 
interests and respect the obvious differences between the U.S. and the 

/*Manuel R. Gomez* is a Cuban-American public health professional who 
resides in Washington, DC./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20150227/6a0ed384/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list