Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, 2007, depicting a demonic Uncle Sam submerged in water with his arms wrapped around Cuba. A United Nations ship floats behind him shouting “Lift the embargo!”

U.S. embargo on Cuba is an attack on self-determination

Written by Cáit Ó Pronntaigh

Class contradictions in Latin America are drawing more and more attention, with class power on both sides being exercised. We’ve seen fascist/far-right governments seizing power in the same year that we’ve seen enormous Indigenous/working class movements rising up from under the shadow of former dictatorship, neoliberalism, and austerity. As these political divides are drawn, the United States has made it very clear which side it is on.

As protests heat up in Chile, and as state forces are deployed to brutalise Chilean protesters and civilians alike, we remember how United States supported the military coup against the popular elected President Salvador Allende. This coup resulted in a seventeen-year-long fascist dictatorship which saw thousands of people killed, disappeared, and tortured. More recently, the United States supported the far-right President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who seized power via a judicial coup, jailing his political opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Since then, Bolsonaro has opened up protected Indigenous lands for logging and mining cartels, inviting genocide on the Indigenous people living there. There’s also very strong evidence linking Bolsonaro to the assassination of councilwoman Marielle Franco, a socialist who carried the hopes of dispossessed Brazilians. There are many, many more examples of the United States undermining democracy and self-determination in other countries, but one thing is certain; it is not a thing of the past. The United States will proudly support anyone who will suppress working class power, regardless of how fascist they are, regardless of the human cost.

Here in New Zealand, historical injustices against Māori are gaining more and more attention, rightfully so. But the legacy of the British, French, and Spanish Empires continue. The Latin American continent has suffered centuries of colonisation and plunder. Empires built themselves on that extracted wealth, transforming the mode of production into the capitalist system that we know today. Latin American people remain colonised by the United States, an Empire in its own right, and held hostage by the domestic capitalist class propped up by the United States.

But if the naked motives of U.S. imperialism were transparent, then its regime change operations would be very unpopular. In Venezuela and Bolivia, there are clear movements for regime change against Presidents Nicolás Maduro and Evo Morales, who both enjoy popular support. The fairness of their electoral processes is called into question after every election. In Venezuela, this has been happening since Hugo Chávez was first elected, despite widespread consensus by observers that elections are fair. Even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has stated that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” Claims that Maduro and Morales are corrupt and undemocratic are an age-old tactic in the United States’ playbook. In calling into question the legitimacy of these governments, it can push for a regime change that will be more favourable to the U.S. capitalist interests and erode any internal or international opposition to its neocolonialism. By repeating over and over again that these governments are corrupt, undemocratic, committing human rights abuses, and intentionally starving the people, those ideas start to take hold. It diverts attention from the United States’ appalling record of human rights abuses and corruption. The position of the United States and western civilisation as a whole as arbitrators of democracy, justice, and human rights is unquestioned as long as alleged crimes by leaders of underdeveloped nations are the central focus of public attention. There is a massive imbalance in power and influence. Appeals to humanitarianism have been used to justify decades of war, sanctions, and terrorism, which have hit working people the hardest. An estimated 40,000 Venezuelan people have been killed for lack of access to food and medical supplies, because of sanctions on Venezuela. This is not the fault of Maduro. This is the fault of the United States who imposes these sanctions. There’s your humanitarian crisis.

This brings us to Cuba, who has not only been surviving decades of sanctions, which have existed in some form or another since its revolution that threw out the U.S. puppet Fulgencio Batista. It has also provided material support to struggling nations, exporting its doctors to underdeveloped regions and refugee camps, including Western Sahara, Yemen, Venezuela, as well as to underdeveloped regions in the Carribean prone to environmental disaster. Cuba even offered medical aid to the United States after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Florida and Louisiana. President Bush turned them away. The more the United States succeeds in undermining Cuba’s economy and public wellbeing, the more vulnerable places like Venezuela, and its oil reserves, become.

The Cuban people don’t need a violent global superpower dictating how their political and economic systems should be organised. They know better than anyone in America, New Zealand, or elsewhere how they can improve conditions internally, be those working conditions, the justice system, human rights, democracy and so on, but the spectral threat of the United States makes that very difficult to focus on. If Cuba was “doing socialism better” the United States would not be trying to undermine it any less. The Cuban people deserve solidarity, and a nation shouldn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of living free of sanctions or neocolonial aggression. Even if the worst allegations against the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Bolivian governments were true, the United States has no moral high ground whatsoever. Cuba has survived through sanctions for a long time, and it has caused much needless suffering, including food shortages, power outages, and lack of access to cancer treatment. Recently, Trump has escalated sanctions and we can anticipate that this will have terrible consequences on the Cuban people’s standard of living. President Miguel Díaz-Canel is warning people of looming fuel shortages, which will could cause blackouts, transport problems, and cuts in working hours. The United States has banned flights to all Cuban destinations except Havana, which has hit Cuban tourism hard, a key site of revenue for Cuba. This not only hurts Cuba’s economy, but it prevents people outside from actually going to Cuba and seeing what it’s like there for themselves, forming their own opinions independent of the mystification that we see throughout English-language media and news outlets.

New Zealand has relatively good diplomatic relations with Cuba, and has voted consistently at the United Nations to end the embargo, but because the United States has veto power, these resolutions have never passed. Currently, the only nations supporting the embargo are the United States, Israel, and Brazil. Because Cuba has been openly supportive of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism and genocide, this gives Israel a tangible incentive to support a regime change in Cuba, which would undermine Cuba’s capacity to support Palestine. Israel also receives significant material support and weapons from the United States. Brazil’s support for the embargo against Cuba is unprecedented in its diplomatic history, but since Jair Bolsonaro seized power through a sham election, Brazil has a much closer relationship with the United States. Some more progressive and left wing Brazilian media outlets, such as Brasil 247, are accusing the Brazilian foreign affairs ministry of acting as a branch of the United States Department of State, “acting as a colony”. 

As the United States pushes for regime change and escalates its tactics of domination against the people of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and elsewhere, we need more and more people to stand up and call this bullshit out for what it is. Living conditions in Cuba may not be ideal, and we can’t expect them to be. We have mountains of historical evidence to show that if the United States and internal reactionary forces succeed in their attempts at regime change, the fallout will be devastating for working and oppressed people – not just those in Cuba, but in other parts of the world as well. 

New Zealanders are not separate from these struggles. It will affect our democracatic rights in the long-run. New Zealand is a relatively rich country with its own imperialist operations in the Pacific Islands. NZ is an ally of the United States and NATO, and that relationship has cost us. Hollywood’s film empire, with the help of our government, oversaw changes to our labour laws, preventing the entire screen industry in New Zealand from unionising. Oil companies from the United States and elsewhere drill for deep sea oil along Aotearoa’s coast, unaccountable to iwi and hapū, and everyone else who stands against fossil fuel exploration. The “Anadarko Amendment” to the Crown Minerals Act, named for the Texan oil corporation and passed into law in 2013, impinges on our right to protest fossil fuel exploration. Imagine how U.S. capitalists would react if settler-colonialism and capitalism in New Zealand was meaningfully challenged. Overcoming colonisation and capitalism in our own backyard is tied up with struggles against imperialism, colonisation, and capitalism elsewhere.

If capitalism really is the best system, the most prosperous, the most popular, the most successful at providing wealth and happiness for the majority of people, the United States wouldn’t feel the need to crush socialism, or even progressive social reform, through warfare, coups, sanctions, and regime change operations.

Economic sanctions are a tool of transnational class warfare. We call upon the international community to stand up for Cuban self-determination and demand an end to the embargo!