By Arnold August
When Fidel Castro triumphantly announced the people’s victory on January 1, 1959, it had been barely 15 years since the U.S. had savagely bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This atrocity marked the passage of the baton of barbarism from the inhumanity of World War II to the U.S. Since the devastating atomic bombing, it has been documented that the U.S., in its insatiable drive for world domination, has killed more than 20 million people in 37 nations. Innumerable murderous invasions have taken place around the world, such as in Korea, Vietnam and the Playa Girón military intervention that was defeated by Cuba in less than 72 hours. All of this constitutes an uncivilized foreign policy reminiscent of WWII cruelty. What would have happened to Cuba and Latin America had the Revolution led by Fidel Castro not defeated the U.S. incursion?
As Washington continuously beefs up its economic and military imperial overreach, its ongoing international gunboat diplomacy is now backed up by more than 800 military bases (from giant “Little Americas” to small radar stations) virtually all over the world, including Guantánamo. All of this foreign policy and more, such as the increasing use of the Internet as the new road to regime change (e.g. in Cuba, especially since 2014), constitute the daily staple of arrogant threats, murderous aggression and cynical interference by the U.S. All of this happens every day on many occasions through allied states, such as Israel’s ongoing slow genocide against the Palestinian people. The post-WWII violation of other countries’ sovereignty and international law occurs with virtually no international protection. The blockade against Cuba is a case in point of international impunity. The peoples of the world, such as the Cubans, can rely only on their own forces and support from the peoples and progressive nations in the world struggling to maintain a multi-polar world to resist U.S. domination.
The Cuban Revolution has been curbing the U.S. for 60 of the 75 years since the inauguration of the “new face” of the post-WWII barbaric epoch. This period, based on inhumanity to the extreme, shifted from Europe and East Asia to the U.S., only 90 miles from Cuba’s shores. Think of this geopolitical and historical reality as people in every corner of the planet reflect today upon the historic significance of the 60th anniversary.
The Genocidal Blockade
One can say that the Cuban Revolution has withstood the Empire almost throughout the latter’s entire post-WWII lifespan as the successor of the unparalleled cruelty witnessed in WWII, which has always been on Cuba’s doorstep in one form or another. This worldwide and historic post-WWII order incorporates an added consequence as far as Latin America and the Caribbean are concerned. This additional feature stems from the U.S. nightmare consisting of the constantly looming and ever-threatening Latin American revolt against colonialism and imperialism since the time of Bolívar and Martí in the 19th century. The U.S. has thus added a specific cruel club against Cuba – also targeting its inspirational influence not only in the whole region south of the Rio Grande but in the very heart of the belly of the beast itself, as Martí called the U.S., where he lived and worked. This additional diabolical American measure, imposed just one year after the 1959 triumph, can only be called genocide. Genocide? It is the American blockade itself, which defines it as such while, of course, not using the word “genocide.” The blockade, striving to involve all nations, has as its explicit 1960 goal to force the Cuban people into submission through “economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”
The effects of the ruthless blockade, especially since the implosion of its allies (the Soviet bloc) close to 30 years ago (almost half the life of the Revolution), have been devastating. Notwithstanding the problems stemming from Cuba’s own shortcomings, every day in the life of the Cuban family or individuals is affected by the blockade as the main obstacle to its normal economic development.
Transportation is one daily reminder of the blockade. The procurement and preparation of food constitutes another for the vast majority of Cuban people. Drastic limits to housing renovations that often include frustrating outdated plumbing and electricity is yet another expression of the U.S. siege of Cuba. Health services are deprived of close-by American pharmaceuticals and hospital equipment. Even education, which can be seen as a “non-material” service, is affected, for example, by the need to import paper for classroom materials, such as books, from far-off lands. Yet, the overwhelming majority of Cubans have not surrendered – and are not surrendering – to the U.S., according to Washington’s script. The 60-year-old Cuban Revolution stands as firm as it was in its very infancy in the period 1959–61.
Venezuela in U.S. Crosshairs
However, one has to appreciate, on this historic day for the world of January 1, 2019, that no aggressive U.S. policy against the Cuban Revolution is ever discarded. After the fall of the Soviet bloc and the simultaneously planned tightening of the U.S. blockade, which also made it extraterritorial in the wake of this setback in Europe, the U.S. went for the jugular in the 1990s. Then, soon after, and with the hope of defeating Cuba once and for all, the U.S. set Cuba’s closest and most significant ally, Venezuela, in its crosshairs. The Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chávez emerged as the first major reversal of the 1989–91 setback in Latin America, and indeed the world. Moreover, it happened in what the U.S. considers its “backyard.” When socialism and revolution were supposed to be outdated phenomena of the past, in December 1998, Chávez completed the first step of the long struggle of the resilient Venezuela toward revolution. It was, one could say metaphorically, that 1998–99 comprised Venezuela’s “January 1, 1959.” The U.S. never accepted the new Bolivarian Revolution in Caracas, as it never swallowed the bitter pill of the Cuban Revolution. This was the case even more so, given that Venezuela immediately after 1989 became a close political and economic ally of Cuba based on mutual benefit.
As the ultimate cynical policy, while making overtures to Cuba for one-and-a-half years before being made public in December 2014, the same Washington declared Venezuela a “threat to U.S. security” only three months later, in March 2015. This contemptuous Machiavellian policy, so characteristic of ruthlessness for centuries, led to imposing sanctions on Cuba’s ally that were designed to cripple it and, of course, as a hoped-for by-product, to squeeze Cuba into submission. This 2015 U.S. Venezuela policy also paved the way for the current U.S. approach of possible military intervention to put an end to the Latin American nightmare come true in the form of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Yet Cuba has been – and is still – heroically resisting, even under these new unfavourable conditions, as it also goes about to form new economic and trade relations with other countries. Cuba refuses to kneel before the most powerful nation on earth, a stance it has maintained for 60 years. It is a universally recognized fact that Cuba, Fidel Castro, his legacy and followers today have stood up to the U.S. in defence of Cuban sovereignty. Love it or hate it, there is no escaping this historical fact. The revolutionary Cuban people have earned their well-derived reputation through blood, sweat and tears and thus deserve the full support of all justice-loving people around the world. Cuba is lacking many goods and material benefits. However, the vast majority of Cuban people, both individually and collectively, benefit from the hard-fought-for blessing of something that we in capitalist countries do not have: dignity. Honour cannot flourish in the capitalist and imperialist West that carries out war, aggression and interference in the name of human rights and democracy denied its very own countries. Dignity in the capitalist West is built only from the bottom up in defiance of capital and the Empire, whose wars of aggression bring shame and dishonour to the peoples of the assailing nations.
As a result of maintaining its sovereignty at all costs, Cuba can work out its plans for the political, economic, social, cultural and other realms based on its own needs and criteria. Over the period of six decades, through the twists and turns, deceptions and successes since 1959, this is what Cuba has been doing. Moreover, on every major step of policy change, it does so with the full participation of the people. Despite the stereotype that is projected in the West, there is no country in the world that compares with Cuba when it comes to being characterized by debate.
The Political Culture of Debate
This political culture of debate is so entrenched in society that it is an inseparable part of the political landscape. Cubans are clearly used to openly discussing and debating politics. It is a way of life on the island. This tradition goes back to the second half of the mid-19th century, when under Spanish occupation, Cubans discussed and voted for members of four constituent assemblies, which in turn debated, discussed and approved as many constitutions. This took place over 150 years ago while, at the time, the main detractor of Cuba’s current constitutional reform – the U.S. – still had an 18th-century constitution worked out behind closed doors by a handful of slave owners and a wealthy few.
When the Revolution won out on January 1 sixty years ago, Fidel appeared on the balcony of the city hall in Santiago de Cuba to address the crowd in an interactive way. In fact, from that day on, Fidel contributed to the resurrection of the political culture of debate, which had been kept largely in the background by U.S. colonial domination, apart from some short periods, for example, the revolutionary upsurge in the 1930s and the approval of the 1940 constitution.
The political culture of debate, as mutually fostered since 1959 by the new leadership and the humble in favour of the latter, is best captured by Che Guevara: “At the great public mass meetings one can observe something like a dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new sounds.” Furthermore, highlighting how the people participated in decision making, Guevara remembers, “Fidel and the mass begin to vibrate together in a dialogue of growing intensity until they reach the climax in an abrupt conclusion.” He concedes that “for someone not living the experience,” it is a “difficult thing to understand,” referring to the “close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass in which both are interrelated.” Faithful to his appreciation of the individual’s role, Guevara concludes, “The mass, as an aggregate of individuals, interacts with its leaders.”
The latest example of this political culture of debate, perhaps one of the most historic since 1959 (even though one would never know it by relying on the corporate press in the West) just took place. Discussions were carried out from August 13 to November 15, 2018 to review the Draft to renew the 1976 Cuban Constitution. In all places of work, educational institutions and neighbourhoods, major changes were suggested. One of the most significant by many Cuban accounts is the issue of the term “communism.” It was originally contained in the 1976 Magna Carta as the goal of the Revolutionary process but was deleted in the Draft. It came back as a result of the public discussion as a colourful expression of Cuba’s political culture of debate, which is so ingrained that no force can smother it. The battle of ideas was waged mainly by revolutionary bloggers and writers.
To sum up the changes, the 1976 Constitution was worded: “…the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society.” The 2018 Draft submitted to the people for debate and input was worded: “…toward the construction of socialism.” The final December 2018 revised version, which took into account the debate and will be submitted to the citizens in a referendum to be held on February 24, 2019, is worded: “…toward the construction of socialism and communism.”
Participatory Democracy Toward Protagonist Democracy?
This latest change in article 5 is no small matter. When the news broke last July 2018 that the Draft eliminated the word “communism,” the international press in the West yelled victory: “Cuba gives up communism!” However, the idiosyncrasy of Cuba’s political culture of debate put a damper on the euphoria and, at the same time, blew to bits the ongoing media terrorism, namely that “communism is imposed from above.” As a poetic twist of fate, it came from the grass roots. While the debates were organized at the base and provided the opportunity for every citizen to contribute and argue for their respective views, one had to be very pro-active to raise the “communism” controversy. The Draft was, after all, proposed by the entire leadership and the Cuban Parliament. Thus, this latest experience in Cuban democracy went beyond participatory democracy toward protagonist democracy, which, I my view, is a qualitatively higher form of participatory democracy. It is not the first time in Cuba’s unique experience in consultation that radical changes came from the grass roots. However, this one on “communism,” watched by the whole world, is in a class of its own, Thus, on the eve of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, this is a very fitting tribute to the Revolution and its architect, Fidel.
Now that the Cuban Revolution has recharged its battery with Fidel’s legacy of debate and exchange, it is ready to confront all current attempts by the barbarism of the North and their allies to divide the people and the leadership of Councils of State and Ministers, and to denigrate President Miguel Díaz-Canel. This desperate attempt to sabotage the movement for renewal based on principles will be responded by a resounding YES in the February 24 referendum and a vote of confidence for the new Cuban leadership under Díaz-Canel. No force on Earth can smother the Cuban political culture of debate. It can defeat any disinformation and divisiveness by the U.S.-led campaign.