From Neocolony to State of Siege

The History of US Policy Toward Cuba

by Jane Franklin

Resist newsletter, July / August 2001


As soon as the 13 colonies won independence from the British empire, the United States began its own march toward empire. In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson tried to buy Cuba from Spain. A year later, he wrote to his successor, James Madison, that with the addition of Cuba and Canada "we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation."

By 1823, having acquired Florida from Spain a few years earlier, the United States had expanded to within 90 miles of Cuba. Spain was a dying empire. The United States was on the rise. Secretary of State (later president) John Quincy Adams described the likelihood of "annexation" within half a century in a statement that remains the quintessence of US policy: "But there are laws of political as well as of physical gravitation; and if an apple severed by the tempest from its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union, which by the same law of nature cannot cast her off from its bosom." Cubans call this policy "la fruta madura" (the ripe fruit).

In 1898, Cubans, waging their Second War of Independence, were close to driving out the colonists from Spain. The US government decided the fruit was ripe. Congress declared war against Spain, ostensibly to help free Cuba. In US history, this is known as the Spanish-American War; the United States emerged with four new ports-the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific and Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Atlantic.

But Cuban history calls it the US Intervention in Cuba's War of Independence. US troops occupied Cuba for four years. In exchange for removal of the occupation army, Cuba attached the Platt Amendment, a US law, to their Constitution, granting control of Cuba to the US government. Cuba converted from a colony of Spain to a neocolony of the United States. Among its dictates, the Platt Amendment provided that the United States could intervene militarily at any time and could maintain ports on the island. This amendment was abrogated in 1934 except for the US naval station at Guantanamo, which remains.

US-approved elections led to US-approved repression. US troops occupied Cuba again from 1906 until 1909 and periodically sent troops to help quell rebellion. In 1940 the Cuban people created a new Constitution, along with hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy.

Batista Dictatorship and Revolution

In 1952, a young lawyer was running for Congress in Cuba when General Fulgencio Batista returned from Florida to stage a coup financed and supported by the US government. Batista suspended the Constitution and canceled elections. That young man, Fidel Castro, was not allowed to win or lose an election. The Helms-Burton Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, specifies that neither Fidel nor Raul Castro will be allowed to run in a "free election" that would be certified by Washington. So it's easy to comprehend why US talk of "free elections" sounds hollow to Cuban ears. Besides, the United States does not have a record of supporting elections won by someone not stamped continued on page two with approval in Washington (note Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973).

Under Batista, about 85 percent of Cuba's trade was with the US. Foreigners, mainly from the United States, owned 75 percent of arable land; 90 percent of services like water, electricity, and phones; and 40 percent of the sugar industry. Super exploitation and Batista's dictatorship incited the revolution, led by Fidel Castro, that finally triumphed on January 1,1959.

The new government began to establish a program of basic human rights: free health care, free education through the university level, full employment, no landlords for profits, trade on the basis of full equality, internationalism, and an affirmation of Cuba's African heritage. (By 1840 in Cuba, descendants of Africans outnumbered descendants of Europeans.)

In health care, Cuba is recognized as a model. In 1988 the World Health Organization (WHO) set goals for the year 2000 for Third World countries. President Castro was then awarded WHO's Health for A11 medal because Cuba had already met those standards. Cuba's most recent infant mortality rate (for the year 2000) was 7.2 deaths for every l,000 live births, a rate comparable to those of industrialized countries and, in fact, less than half the mortality rate in Washington, DC.

Cuba is also recognized as a model in education. The Literacy Campaign of 1961 virtually erased illiteracy. Cuba grants scholarships to thousands of foreign students and has even set up a medical school where foreign students, including US students, are studying to become medical doctors who will serve in deprived areas of their own countries.

Perhaps Cuba's most outstanding international achievement was in southern Africa, where Cuban troops contributed to the defeat of South African troops in Angola, leading in turn to the end of Apartheid South Africa, the freeing of Nelson Mandela, and the independence of Namibia.


But as Cuba began its revolutionary government in 1959, the US government initiated a campaign to overthrow the Cuban government. Declassified documents show that CIA Director Allen Dulles thought in November 1959 that Fidel Castro would be out of power in about eight months. At the same time, he told the British ambassador that, in the words of the ambassador, "he hoped that any refusal by us to supply arms would directly lead to a Soviet-bloc offer to supply. Then he might be able to do something." The US government was deliberately driving Cuba to receive aid from the Soviet Union and its allies.

In December 1959, Dulles recommended to Col. J.C. King, chief of the CIA's Western Hemisphere division, that several actions be undertaken against Cuba. All of those acts continue now in one form or another. Some operations that were "covert" then are overt now. "Clandestine radio attacks" are now open broadcasts from Radio and TV Marti.

The "encouragement of pro-US opposition groups" is now legalized by the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 (with the Helms-Lieberman bill of 2001 upping the ante if it becomes law).

"Thorough consideration," wrote Dulles in December 1959, should "be given to the elimination of Fidel Castro." In August 1960 the Eisenhower Administration recruited figures from organized crime to assassinate Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders. Cuban Americans trained then by the CIA continue that campaign.

Declassified documents' now prove the obvious: the Cuban people themselves quickly became a target. A June 24, 1959, State Department memo stated that if Cuba were deprived of its sugar quota privilege in the US sugar market, "the sugar industry would promptly suffer an abrupt decline, causing widespread further unemployment. The large numbers of people thus forced out of work would begin to go hungry."

On April 6, 1960, a State Department document went even further: "Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of government." President Eisenhower canceled the sugar quota on July 26,1960.

Permanent State of Siege

Desperate to be back in Cuba again, the Eisenhower Administration prepared for, and the new Kennedy Administration carried out, the invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, leading to a major defeat for the United States. Another plan to overthrow the government, Operation Mongoose, was launched in November 1961, leading directly to the Missile Crisis of October 1962, the date planned for the downfall of the Cuban government.

The order to end all trade with Cuba in February 1962 was part of Operation Mongoose. The Soviet Union and its allies filled the vacuum, assuming the 85 percent of Cuban trade that had been part of US-Cuban relations.

When the Cuban government did not fall, efforts to bring it down turned into a state of siege that has continued to this day, complete with infiltrations, armed attacks, sabotage, assassinations, bombings, chemical and biological warfare, bribery, constant disinformation, and a travel ban aimed at keeping US citizens from going to see revolutionary Cuba for themselves.

In June 1976, when George W. Bush Sr. was CIA director, Commanders of the United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU) was founded in order to coordinate terrorist attacks by Cuban Americans. In October, a Cuban passenger jet was blown up, killing all 73 people aboard. Two CORU founders, CIA operatives Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, were arrested and spent several years in Venezuelan captivity for that crime. Posada escaped in 1986 and has been carrying out terrorism against Cuba ever since. He was arrested in Panama City in November 2000 for a plot to set off plastic explosives at the University of Panama where President Castro planned to speak. Orlando Bosch was allowed to leave Venezuela and granted permission to stay in the United States by the former CIA director who had become President George Bush. Bosch continues to live in Miami among people who call him a freedom fighter. Others regard Bosch and Posada as two of the most notorious terrorists in the world today.

In the late 1970s, Cuban Americans in favor of improving relations organized "EI Dialogo," a dialogue between Cubans in the United States and Cubans on the island. Immediately terrorism escalated, including assassinations of leaders of El Dialogo in the US. Omega 7, another Cuban American terrorist group, was not prosecuted for any murders until it made the mistake of killing a Cuban diplomat in New York City in 1980, an assassination that led after a few years to the arrests and convictions of Omega 7 leader Eduardo Arocena and other Omega 7 members on charges that included multiple assassinations, bombings and drug trafficking.

In 1981, the Reagan Administration founded the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) as an arm of US policy toward Cuba, placing Jorge Mas Canosa in the leadership. CANF is the wealthiest and most influential Cuban American group. Its main job for the Reagan Administration was to lobby for anti-Cuban policy in Congress. As a result, three influential Cuban Americans have been elected to Congress-two Florida Republicans and a New Jersey Democrat.

After the Fall of the Soviet Union

In 1991 the Soviet Union formally disbanded. Once again, 85 percent of Cuba's trade vanished. This time there was no bloc of nations to fill the vacuum. For three decades Washington had called Cuba part of the Soviet threat. When this could no longer conceivably be true, Washington could have offered to cooperate with Cuba in maintaining its health and education systems. Instead the US government escalated its state of siege.

CANF and its allies in Congress created the Torricelli Act, shepherded through Congress by then-Representative Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who is now a senator. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton promoted the bill and President George Bush signed it into law in October 1992. Torricelli proclaimed that Fidel Castro would fall within months. He announced that he wanted "to wreak havoc on that island," figuring to starve the Cuban people into submission so that they would rise up and overthrow their government.

The Torricelli Act essentially restored the conditions of sanctions that were established in the early 1960s. For instance, ships that stopped in Cuba could not come to the United States for six months thereafter. Perceiving the green light from Washington, terrorists increased attacks. For example, Comandos L shelled a tourist hotel and bragged about it on Miami television, declaring war on tourists as tourism became Cuba's main means of survival.

Although the Cuban economy spiraled downward, it started reviving by 1994. In response, the Helms-Burton law of 1996 expanded sanctions. Section 109 mandates financial support for "dissidents." Its extraterritorial segments, Title III and Title IV, have led to resistance by US allies who trade with Cuba.

Again a green light led to runaway terrorism. Luis Posada became so brazen that he told investigative reporters that Jorge Mas Canosa and other CANF leaders helped finance his bombing campaign in Cuba in 1997, killing an Italian tourist.

With Cuba no longer tied to a non-existent Soviet Union, opposition to US sanctions has increased in the United States and around the world. Pastors for Peace has led a dozen Friendshipment Caravans to Cuba since 1992, defying both travel and trade bans by refusing to ask permission to travel while delivering humanitarian supplies to Cuba. The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly each year, starting in 1992, for an end to US trade sanctions. The vote in the year 2000 was 167 to three (Israel, the Marshall Islands, and the United States).

But despite growing support for ending trade sanctions and improving relations with Cuba, US policy continues to be based on a vision of Cuba as an obstacle to US global hegemony. Consequently, neither Cuba nor the United States has been able to see what kind of society the Cuban people might create if allowed to develop independently without being under siege from a superpower only 90 miles distant.


Declassified US State Department document as quoted by Ricardo Alarcon in an address before the UN General Assembly, November 9,1999.

Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles' Backing," The New York Times, front page, July 12,1998.


Jane Franklin, a noted scholar and media commentator who has published widely, is the author of Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History (New York: Ocean Press, 1997). For more information, see http:// ourworld. compuserve. com/homepages/ jbiranklins.

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