Cuba e-news #304 - 100 Years of US Jingoism
I am a bit late in sharing Jane Franklin's paper on the Platt Amendment,
which she presented in Havana on June 13, 2001. People familiar with Cuba's
history, especially the period that US History texts refer to as the
Spanish-American War, know of the jingoistic nature of the US adventures
into the Caribbean at the turn of the last century. The Cuban people had
been fighting battles of independence from Spain for decades--at heavy
costs in lives of Cuban freedom fighters. The US came into the fight just
in time to snatch victory from the hands of the successful Cuban
revolutionaries. Thereafter, armed US intervention ensured by the Platt
Amendment helped the US maintained dominance until the mid 1930s. By then,
the US neo-colonial presence, which lasted twenty-five more years, was
solidly in place. Read Jane's paper, and get a scholarly review of the
history of the Amendment and of US manipulations after the Amendment was
FROM COLONIZATION TO GLOBALIZATION
by Jane Franklin
As the 20th century opened, the United States was codifying future
relations with Cuba in the Platt Amendment. As the 20th century was ending,
the United States was trying to restore past relations with Cuba through
the Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts. These three documents project a
revealing picture of revolutionary historical change and a corresponding
transition of ideology.
The United States was born in an anti-colonial and anti-feudal revolution
that helped inspire the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and
19th-century revolutions throughout Latin America. In 1898, having
completed its transcontinental conquest but still guised as the champion of
anti-colonialism, the United States intervened in Cuba's anti-colonial
revolution as the pathway toward becoming a global empire.
Washington presented the Platt Amendment as if it would shield Cuba against
colonization, while using it to turn Cuba from a colony of Spain into a
neo-colony of the United States. At that time, 85 percent of the earth's
land surface was owned and/or controlled by Europeans and their
descendants. This was still true at the end of World War II. But between
1945 and 1949, a quarter of the world's population attained national
independence from outright colonialism. In 1949, the Communist revolution
in China triumphed, bringing independence to another quarter of the world's
population. Confronted with this global revolution, the United States
became the leader of global counterrevolution. No longer the champion of
anti-colonialism, the United States was now the champion of democracy.
Key theoreticians of 19th-century U.S. policy toward Cuba were quite frank.
Thomas Jefferson viewed annexation of Cuba as part of an unprecedented
"empire for liberty." John Quincy Adams compared Cuba to an apple that
would eventually fall from its "unnatural connection with Spain" into the
hands of the United States.
But that goal would be blocked by an independent Cuba. Hence the 1898
intervention, the Platt Amendment, more interventions in 1906, 1912, 1917,
1933, and U.S. policy ever since. The Platt Amendment merely formalized
this policy of control for its historical period. As Secretary of War Elihu
Root spelled out in 1901: "[The Platt Amendment] gives to the United States
no right which she does not already possess." Even after the Platt
Amendment was abrogated in 1934, the United States of course continued its
economic and political control of the island.
But the 1959 victory of the Cuban Revolution brought the worldwide
liberation movement almost to the beaches of Florida. The Eisenhower
administration immediately launched its counterrevolution. Overt laws and
covert memoranda laid out the kinds of attack that the Torricelli and
Helms-Burton Acts repackage and expand. A State Department memorandum of
June 24, 1959, speculated that depriving Cuba of its sugar quota privilege
would cause "widespread...unemployment" and "large numbers of people thus
forced out of work would begin to go hungry." These words were
secret--classified. Nobody openly talked then about this policy of
By November 1959, CIA Director Allen Dulles calculated Prime Minister
Castro would last around eight more months; he hoped that the Soviet Union
would offer arms, thus providing a pretext for U.S. intervention; he
regretted that there were not yet any Cuban forces in the United States
ready "for possible future use."
That word, "use," belies the popular belief that right-wing Cuban Americans
determine U.S. policy. The tail does not wag the dog. Within a few months,
training of Cuban émigrés for "future use" began and, in August 1960, the
CIA recruited organized crime figures to assassinate Cuban leaders. Then
came decades of attempting to overthrow the Cuban government by invasion,
assassinations, sabotage, biological and chemical warfare, the trade ban,
the travel ban.
Until 1991, the principal ideological justification for this relentless war
of attrition was that Cuba had become a Soviet "puppet" or "base" or
"proxy" or "colony." The professed anti-colonialism of the Platt Amendment
appeared in an updated form, with the Soviet Union rather than Spain cast
in the role of the threat to Cuban independence.
But in 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the United States entered
an unprecedented period of history as a lone superpower intent on global
hegemony. Ironically, the United States arrived at this stage without the
control of Cuba that it possessed at the beginning of the century. If a
Soviet threat had caused the state of siege, it could have ended then and
there. Instead, the United States continued to pursue the age-old policy
instituted long before the Soviet Union even existed. The Torricelli Act of
1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 make no pretense of trying to save
Cuba from a foreign power. Under the mantra of "democracy," they claim to
be saving Cuba from its own government.
The Platt Amendment is short--seven articles, each one sentence long (plus
an eighth added at the time of the signing of the 1903 treaty). Three of
the seven mention Cuban "independence" as a purpose of this amendment.
There was no need for numerous details because these few words simply
legislated continuation of U.S. authority. The laws of the current era are
lengthy documents, tortuously trying to legislate from afar the daily lives
of Cubans. The 1992 Torricelli Act is nine times longer than Platt. The
1996 Helms-Burton Act is six times longer than Torricelli.
In 1988, before getting financed by the Cuban American National Foundation,
Representative Robert Torricelli visited Cuba, declaring, "Living standards
are not high, but the homelessness, hunger and disease that is witnessed in
much of Latin America does not appear evident." But the Torricelli Act
states that a "collapse of the Cuban economy, social upheaval, or
widespread suffering" would provide the United States "with an
unprecedented opportunity to promote a peaceful transition to democracy."
How to accomplish that peaceful transition? Torricelli said bluntly that he
wanted to "wreak havoc on that island." His "Cuban Democracy Act" is a
blueprint for starving people into submission.
In 1898, no U.S. political leader would have publicly advocated depriving
people of food. On the eve of war, President William McKinley urged
continuing distribution of food "in the interest of humanity" and to save
"the lives of the starving people of the island." Ninety-four years later,
Congress voted to create conditions for starvation. But while forbidding
trade in food, the "Cuban Democracy Act" offers "donations of food to
nongovernmental organizations or individuals," turning food into bribes.
Once Cuba installs a U.S.-approved "transitional government," "Food,
medicine, and medical supplies for humanitarian purposes should be made
available" as "calibrated" to Cuban obedience to U.S. commands. Although
full of shibboleths like "human rights," "transition to democracy," and the
"free-market economic system," this 1992 law does not mention "independence."
Given a green light by the Torricelli Act, U.S. terrorists increased
attacks. For instance, in October 1992, Comandos L shot up a hotel at
Varadero Beach and publicly took credit. At a televised news conference in
Florida three months later, the head of Comandos L announced plans for more
raids against tourist targets in Cuba, proclaiming, "From this point on,
we're at war."
The next month, Representative Torricelli voiced his support for terrorism:
"A group of Cuban patriots at some point in the near future is going to
recognize that no matter what the risk to themselves, it is time to take
Cuba's future in their own hands." He predicted: "The end of that
government will be measured in months and not years."
But as months turned into years, the Cuban American National Foundation and
Senator Jesse Helms devised the "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
(Libertad) Act" (the Helms-Burton Act). Its shibboleths are "free and fair
democratic elections," "human rights," "freedom," "transition to
democracy," "market-oriented economic system," and "private property." It
mentions "self-determination" but calls for "liberty" and "democracy"
rather than "independence."
With no red lights in sight, U.S. terrorists continued their rampage,
including assassination attempts so blatant that they have led to arrests
(but no convictions yet) in 1997 and 2000. Failure to effectively prosecute
extreme acts of terrorism against the Cuban people is entirely consistent
with the legal terrorism enacted by Congress. Before Congress voted for
Helms-Burton, it first voted against an amendment that would have allowed
sales of food, medicine and medical supplies. "By denying this amendment we
are telling Cuban parents we are going to withhold medical treatment for
your children," said Democratic Representative Jim McDermott, the
amendment's sponsor. "This," he said, is indefensible."
No sooner had President George Bush signed the Torricelli Act into law than
the UN General Assembly voted to end the U.S. trade sanctions. But
Helms-Burton ignored UN opposition, demanding that the UN Security Council
vote for a "mandatory international embargo." (The General Assembly vote
against U.S. sanctions in the year 2000 was almost unanimous--167 to 3.)
The primary writers of both Torricelli and Helms-Burton were members of the
Cuban American National Foundation, established by the Reagan
Administration in 1981 as an arm of policy toward Cuba. Now the
organization has become a major instrument of U.S. globalization. These two
omnibus laws include extraterritorial provisions that incorporate the U.S.
government's view that the global market must conform to U.S. interests.
One of Helms-Burton's many requirements for a "democratically elected
government" is that it must be "substantially moving toward a
market-oriented economic system based on the right to own and enjoy
property." Title III certainly offers a unique method of owning and
enjoying property. It would magically reverse time by claiming that
property left behind by Cuban émigrés was U.S. property because those
Cubans later became U.S. citizens. Thus Cuban property would convert to
U.S. property. It aims to undo socialism by privatization--from abroad.
Schools, clinics, union halls, private homes, public beaches, day-care
centers, sugar mills, and other property could be confiscated. In U.S.
courts, Cuban Americans could sue foreign investors who "traffic" in
property they owned when they were Cuban citizens. President George Bush
will decide in July whether to continue the practice of not enforcing Title
III because of opposition from U.S. allies. The Platt Amendment confined
itself to Cuba, but Helms-Burton dictates to every country in the world.
Helms-Burton acclaims "self-determination" and "free and fair elections"
and "human rights" while subverting all three. In 1901, Washington arranged
a so-called free election in occupied Cuba and called the resulting
government democratic even though the racist Jim Crow Laws of the South
were exported for use in that election. Helms-Burton decrees that a
"transition government" must "recognize that the self-determination of the
Cuban people is a sovereign and national right of the citizens of Cuba
which must be exercised free of interference by the government of any other
country." It then proceeds to interfere by spelling out exactly how Cuba
must conduct elections. Neither Fidel Castro nor Raul Castro can run in any
"free and fair" election that would be certified by Washington. Back in
1952 when General Batista overthrew an elected government, suspended the
Constitution and canceled elections, a young man named Fidel Castro was
running for Congress. The U.S. coup kept him from running then and U.S. law
says he can't run now. Part of the underlying logic of Helms-Burton is that
Fidel Castro would lose in a "free and fair" election. If so, why have they
made it illegal for him to run?
One hundred years ago, the Platt Amendment guaranteed Cuba's independence
by revoking Cuba's independence. The Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws
legislate democracy for Cuba by dictating Cuba's economic, social and
political system. In an era when the United States equates democracy with
U.S.-style capitalism, these laws truly out-Platt Platt.
© 2001 by Jane Franklin
Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the United States: A Chronological