U.S. Aggression & Propaganda
Why the unrelieved U.S. antagonism
by Michael Parenti
Z magazine, September 2004
In recent times, U.S.-Cuban relations
have gone from bad to worse. Under the Administration of George
W. Bush, the U.S. boycott has been more stringently imposed. Anti-government
agitation within Cuba has been financed and directed by the U.S.
interest section in Havana. State Department restrictions on travel
to the island have become tighter than ever. Most ominously of
all, in early 2003 U.S. pundits began openly talking about invading
Cuba-a discussion that was temporarily put on hold only after
the invasion of Iraq proved so costly.
For over four decades Washington policymakers
have treated Cuba with unrelieved antagonism. U.S. rulers and
their faithful acolytes in the major media have propagated every
sort of misrepresentation to mislead the world as regards their
policy of aggression toward Cuba. Why?
Defending Global Capitalism
in June 1959, some five months after the
triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Havana government promulgated
an agrarian reform law that provided for state appropriation of
large private landholdings. Under this law, U.S. sugar corporations
eventually lost about 1,666,000 acres of choice land and many
millions of dollars in future cash-crop exports. The following
year, President Dwight Eisenhower, citing Havana's "hostility"
toward the United States, cut Cuba's sugar quota by about 95 percent,
in effect imposing a total boycott on publicly produced Cuban
sugar. Three months later, in October 1959, the Cuban government
nationalized all banks and large commercial and industrial enterprises,
including the many that belonged to U.S. firms.
Cuba's move away from a free-market system
dominated by U.S. firms and toward a not-for-profit socialist
economy caused it to become the target of an unremitting series
of attacks perpetrated by the U.S. national security state. These
attacks included U.S.-sponsored sabotage, espionage, terrorism,
hijackings, trade sanctions, embargo, and outright invasion. The
purpose behind this aggression was to undermine the Revolution
and deliver Cuba safely back to the tender mercies of global capitalism.
The U.S. policy toward Cuba has been consistent
with its longstanding policy of trying to subvert any country
that pursues an alternative path in the use of its land, labor,
capital, markets, and natural resources. Any nation or political
movement that emphasizes self-development, egalitarian human services,
and public ownership is condemned as an enemy and targeted for
sanctions or other forms of attack. In contrast, the countries
deemed "friendly toward America" and "pro-West"
are those that leave themselves at the disposal of large U.S.
investors on terms that are totally favorable to the moneyed corporate
Of course, this is not what U.S. rulers
tell the people of North America. As early as July 1960, the White
House charged that Cuba was "hostile" to the United
States (despite the Cuban government's repeated overtures for
normal friendly relations). The Castro government, in Eisenhower's
words, was "dominated by international communism." U.S.
officials repeatedly charged that the island government was a
cruel dictatorship and that the United States had no choice but
to try "restoring" Cuban liberty.
U.S. rulers never explained why they were
so suddenly concerned about the freedoms of the Cuban people.
In the two decades before the Revolution, successive Administrations
in Washington manifested no opposition to the brutally repressive
autocracy headed by General Fulgencio Batista. Quite the contrary,
they sent him military aid, did a vigorous business with him,
and treated him well in every other way. The significant but unspoken
difference between Castro and Batista was that Batista, a comprador
ruler, left Cuba wide open to U.S. capital penetration. In contrast,
Castro and his revolutionary movement did away with private corporate
control of the economy, nationalized U.S. holdings, and renovated
the class structure toward a more collectivized and egalitarian
Needless to say, the U.S. method of mistreatment
has been applied to other countries besides Cuba. Numerous potentially
dissident regimes that have asked for friendly relations have
been met with abuse and aggression from Washington: Vietnam, Chile
(under Allende), Mozambique, Angola,
Cambodia, Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas),
Panama (under Torrijo), Grenada (under the New Jewel Movement),
Yugoslavia (under Milosevic), Haiti (under Aristide), Venezuela
(under Chavez), and numerous others.
The U.S. modus operandi is:
* heap criticism on the targeted government
for imprisoning the butchers, assassins, terrorists, and torturers
of the previous U.S.-backed reactionary regime
* denounce the revolutionary or reformist
government as "totalitarian" for failing to immediately
institute Western-style, electoral politics
* launch ad hominem attacks upon the leader,
labeling him or her as fanatical, brutal, repressive, genocidal,
power hungry, or even mentally imbalanced
* denounce the country as a threat to
regional peace and stability
* harass, destabilize, and impose economic
sanctions to cripple its economy
* attack it with surrogate forces, trained,
equipped, and financed by the U.S. and led by members of the former
regime, or even with regular U.S. armed forces
Manipulating Public Opinion
How the corporate-owned capitalist press
has served in the crusade against Cuba tells us a lot about why
the U.S. public is so misinformed about issues relating to that
country. Following the official White House line, the corporate
news media regularly denies that the United States harbors aggressive
designs against Cuba or any other government. The stance taken
against Cuba, it was said, was simply a defense against communist
aggrandizement. Cuba was repeatedly condemned as a tool of Soviet
aggression and expansionism. But now that the Soviet Union no
longer exists, Cuba is still treated as a mortal enemy. U.S. acts
of aggression-including armed invasion-continue to be magically
transformed into acts of defense.
Consider the Bay of Pigs. In April 1961,
about 1,600 right-wing Cuban ëmigrés, trained and
financed by the CIA, and assisted by hundreds of U.S. "advisors,"
invaded Cuba. In the words of one of their leaders, Manuel de
Varona (as quoted in the New York Daily News, January 8, 1961),
their intent was to overthrow Castro and set up "a provisional
government" that "will restore all properties to the
rightful owners." Reports of the impending invasion circulated
widely throughout Central America. In the United States, however,
few people were informed. The mounting evidence of an impending
invasion was suppressed by the Associated Press and United Press
International and by all the major newspapers and newsweeklies-in
an impressively unanimous act of self-censorship.
Fidel Castro's accusation that U.S. rulers
were planning to invade Cuba was dismissed by the New York Times
as "shrill... anti-American propaganda," and by Time
magazine as Castro's "continued tawdry little melodrama of
invasion." When Washington broke diplomatic relations with
Cuba in January 1961, the New York Times explained, "What
snapped U.S. patience was a new propaganda offense from Havana
charging that the U.S. was plotting an 'imminent invasion' of
Cuba." In fact, the Bay of Pigs invasion proved to be something
more than a figment of Fidel Castro's imagination.
Such is the predominance of the anti-communist
orthodoxy in U.S. public life that, after the Bay of Pigs, there
was a total lack of critical discussion among U.S. political figures
and media commentators regarding the moral and legal impropriety
of the invasion. Instead, commentary focused exclusively on tactical
questions. There were repeated references to the disappointing
"fiasco" and "disastrous attempt" and the
need to free Cuba from the "communist yoke." It was
never acknowledged that the invasion failed not because of "insufficient
air coverage," as some of the invaders claimed, but because
the Cuban people, instead of rising to join the counterrevolutionary
expeditionary force as anticipated by U.S. leaders, closed ranks
behind their Revolution.
Among the Cuban-exile invaders taken prisoner
near the Bay of Pigs (according to the Cuban government) were
people whose families between them had previously owned in Cuba
914,859 acres of land, 9,666 houses, 70 factories, 5 mines, 2
banks, and 10 sugar mills. They were the scions of the privileged
propertied class of pre-revolutionary Cuba, coming back to reclaim
their substantial holdings. But in the U.S. media they were represented
as dedicated champions of liberty-who had lived so comfortably
and uncomplainingly under the Batista dictatorship.
Why would the Cuban people stand by the
"Castro dictatorship?" That was never explained in the
United States. Not a word appeared in the U.S. press about the
advances made by Cubans under the Revolution, the millions who
for the first time had access to education, literacy, medical
care, decent housing, jobs with adequate pay and good work conditions,
and a host of other public services-all of which are far from
perfect, but still offer a better life than the free-market misery
endured under the U.S. -Batista régime.
Because of the U.S. embargo, Cuba has
the highest import-export tonnage costs of any country in the
world, having to buy its school buses and medical supplies from
Japan and other far-off places. Better relations with the U.S.
would bring the Cubans more trade, technology, and tourism, and
the chance to cut their defense expenditures. Yet Havana's overtures
for friendlier relations have been repeatedly rebuffed by successive
administrations in Washington.
If the U.S. government justifies its hostility
on the grounds that Cuba is hostile toward the United States,
what becomes the justification when the Cuban government tries
to be friendly? The response is to emphasize the negative. Even
when reporting the cordial overtures made by Cuba, U.S. media
pundits and Washington policymakers perpetuate the stereotype
of a sinister "Marxist regime" as the manipulative aggressor.
On August 1, 1984 the New York Times ran a "news analysis"
headlined "What's Behind Castro's Softer Tone." The
headline suggested that Castro was up to something. The opening
sentence read, "Once again Fidel Castro is talking as if
he wants to improve relations with the United States" ("as
if" not actually). According to the Times, Castro was interested
in "taking advantage" of U.S. trade, technology, and
tourism and would "prefer not to be spending so much time
and energy on national defense." Here seemed to be a promising
basis for improved relations. Fidel Castro was saying that Cuba's
own self-interest rested on friendlier diplomatic and economic
ties with Washington and not, as the United States claimed, on
military buildups and aggressive confrontations. Nevertheless,
the Times analysis made nothing of Castro's stated desire to ease
tensions and instead presented the rest of the story from the
U. S. government's perspective. It noted that most Washington
officials "seem skeptical .... The Administration continues
to believe that the best way to deal with the Cuban leader is
with unyielding firmness .... Administration officials see little
advantage in wavering."
The article did not explain what justified
this "skeptical" stance or why a blanket negative response
to Castro should be described as "unyielding firmness"
rather than, say, "unyielding rigidity." Nor did it
say why a willingness to respond seriously to his overture must
be labeled "wavering." The impression is that the power-hungry
Castro was out to get something from us but our leaders weren't
about to be taken in. There was no explanation of what the United
States had to lose if it entered friendlier relations with Cuba.
In short, the U.S. stance is immune to
evidence. If the Cubans condemn U.S. aggressions, this is proof
of their hostility and diabolic design. If they act in a friendly
manner and ask for negotiated settlements, showing a willingness
to make concessions, then it is assumed they are up to something
and are resorting to deceptively manipulative ploys. The U.S.
position is nonfalsifiable: both A and not-A become proof of the
Double Standard "Democracy"
U.S. policymakers have long condemned
Cuba for its controlled press. The Cubans, we are told, are subjected
to a totalitarian indoctrination and do not enjoy the diverse
and open discourse that is said to be found in the "free
and independent" U.S. media. In fact, the average Cuban has
more access to Western news sources than the average U.S. citizen
has to Cuban sources. The same was true of the former Soviet Union.
In 1985 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev pointed out that U.S.
television programs, movies, books, music, and magazines were
in relative abundance in the USSR compared to the almost nonexistent
supply of Soviet films and publications in the United States.
He offered to stop jamming Voice of America broadcasts to his
country if Washington would allow normal frequency transmission
of Radio Moscow to the U.S., an offer the U.S. government declined.
Likewise, Cuba is bombarded with U.S.
broadcasting, including Voice of America, regular Spanish-language
stations from Miami, and a U.S. -sponsored propaganda station
called "Radio Marti." Havana has asked that Cuba be
allowed a frequency for Cuban use in the United States, something
Washington has refused to do. In response to those who attack
the lack of dissent in the Cuban media, Fidel Castro has promised
to open up the Cuban press to all opponents of the Revolution
on the day he saw U.S. Communists enjoying regular access to the
U.S. major media. Needless to say, U.S. rulers have never taken
up the offer.
Cuba has also been condemned for not allowing
its people to flee the island. That so many want to leave Cuba
is treated as proof that Cuban socialism is a harshly repressive
system, rather than that the U.S. embargo has made life difficult
in Cuba. That so many millions more want to leave capitalist countries
like Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, El Salvador, Philippines, South
Korea, Macedonia, and others too numerous to list is never treated
as grounds for questioning the free-market system that inflicts
such misery on the Third World.
In accordance with an agreement between
Havana and Washington, the Cuban government allowed people to
leave for the United States if they had a U. S. visa. Washington
had agreed to issue 20,000 visas a year, but granted few, preferring
to incite illegal departures and reap the propaganda value. Cubans
who fled illegally on small crafts or hijacked vessels and planes
were hailed as heroes who had risked their lives to flee Castro's
tyranny and were granted asylum in the U.S. When Havana announced
it would let anyone leave who wanted to, the Clinton administration
reverted to a closed door policy, fearing an immigration tide.
Now policymakers voiced concerns that the escape of too many disgruntled
refugees would help Castro stay in power by easing tensions within
Cuban society. Cuba is condemned for not allowing its citizens
to leave and then for allowing them to leave.
Lacking a class perspective, all sorts
of experts come to conclusions about Cuba based on surface appearances.
While attending a World Affairs Council meeting in San Francisco,
I heard some participants refer to the irony of Cuba's having
come "full circle" since the days before the Revolution.
In pre-revolutionary Cuba, the best hotels and shops were reserved
for foreigners and the relatively few Cubans who had U.S. dollars.
Today, it is the same, these experts gleefully observed.
This judgment overlooks some important
differences. Strapped for hard currency, the revolutionary government
decided to take advantage of its beautiful beaches and sunny climate
to develop a tourist industry. Today, tourism is one of Cuba's
most important sources of hard currency income, if not the most
important. True, tourists are given accommodations that most Cubans
cannot afford. But in pre-revolutionary Cuba, the profits from
tourism were pocketed by corporations, generals, gamblers, and
mobsters. Today the profits are split between the foreign investors
who build and manage the hotels and the Cuban government. The
portion going to the government helps pay for health clinics,
education, machinery, the importation of fuel, and the like. In
other words, the people reap much of the benefits of the tourist
trade-as is true of the export earnings from Cuban sugar, coffee,
tobacco, rum, seafood, honey, nickel, and marble.
If Cuba were in exactly the same place
as before the Revolution, completely under client-state servitude,
Washington would have lifted the embargo and embraced Havana,
as it has done to some degree with China and Vietnam-both of whom
are energetically encouraging the growth of a low-wage, private
investment sector. When the Cuban government no longer utilizes
the public sector to redistribute a major portion of the surplus
to the population, when it allows the surplus wealth to be pocketed
by a few rich corporate owners, and when it returns the factories
and lands to an opulent owning class-as the former communist countries
of Eastern Europe have done-then it will have come full circle,
returning to a privatized, free-market, client-state servitude.
Only then will it be warmly embraced by Washington.
In 1994, I wrote a letter to Representative
Lee Hamilton, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging
a normalization of relations with Cuba. He wrote back that U.S.
policy toward Cuba should be "updated" in order to be
more effective and that "we must put Cuba in contact with
the ideas and practice of democracy... and the economic benefits
of a free market system." The embargo, Hamilton went on,
was put in place to "promote democratic change in Cuba and
retaliate for the large-scale seizure of American assets by the
Needless to say, Hamilton did not explain
why his own government-which had supported a pre-revolutionary
dictatorship in Cuba for generations-was now so insistent on installing
U.S.-style democracy on the island. The revealing thing in his
letter was his acknowledgment that Washington's policy was dedicated
to advancing the cause of the "free market system" and
retaliating for the "large-scale seizure of American assets."
Those who do not believe that U.S. rulers
are consciously dedicated to the propagation of capitalism should
note how policymakers explicitly press for "free-market reforms"
in one country after another (including today in Serbia and Iraq).
We no longer have to impute such intentions to them. Almost all
their actions and-with increasing frequency-their own words testify
to what they have been doing. When forced to choose between democracy
without capitalism or capitalism without democracy, U.S. rulers
unhesitatingly embrace the latter-although they also prefer the
legitimating cloak of a limited and well-controlled "democracy"
All this should remind us that the greatest
enemies of peace and democracy are not in Havana; they are in
Michael Parenti 's most recent books are
The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2003) and Superpatriotism