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Cuba e-news #304 - 100 Years of US Jingoism

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  • Gary Bacon
    Greetings, 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2001

      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


      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
      deliberate starvation.

      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
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