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Noam Chomsky on the Cuban embargo and “democracy promotion”

23 February 2009

What They Say:

“After 47 years… the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of ‘bringing democracy to the Cuban people’”.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), in his introduction to a report on Cuba by his senior staffer, Carl Meacham.

What They Mean:

Lugar carefully says “stated purpose.” He is an intelligent man, and surely knows that the actual purpose was completely different. No one familiar with US practices in the region or elsewhere can possibly believe that the goal of intensive US terror operations against Cuba and harsh economic warfare was intended to “bring democracy to the Cuban people.” That is just propaganda, unusually vulgar in this case.

The actual reasons for the terror and economic warfare were explained clearly at the very outset: the goal was to cause “rising discomfort among hungry Cubans” so that they would overthrow the regime (Kennedy); to “bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of the government” (Eisenhower’s State Department). The threat of Cuba, as Kennedy’s Latin American advisor Arthur Schlesinger advised the incoming president, is that successful independent development there might stimulate others who suffer from similar problems to follow the same course, so that the system of US domination might unravel. The liberal Democratic administrations were outraged over Cuba’s “successful defiance” of US policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine, which was intended to ensure obedience to the US will in the hemisphere. To a substantial extent, US terror and economic warfare has achieved its actual goals, causing bitter suffering among Cubans, impeding economic development, and undermining moves towards more internal democracy. Exactly as intended.

The case is an interesting one. For decades a large majority of Americans have wanted to establish normal relations with Cuba. In more recent years, substantial US business interests (agribusiness, energy, others) are in favor of that too. Of course, the US is entirely isolated in the world in maintaining the embargo; at the UN it can only garner support, reflexively, from Israel and a few Pacific dependencies. But the policy persists, and in fact became harsher under the Democrats in the 1990s in order to cause Cubans to suffer more after Russian assistance evaporated.

It is one of the occasional illustrations of how state interests prevail over business interests; and the will of the population is as usual irrelevant. More than is usually recognized, the conduct of international affairs resembles the Mafia. The Godfather does not tolerate defiance, even from some small storekeeper. And for good reasons: the rot can spread, to use the terminology of high-level US planners (or Schlesinger, in the case cited).

Noam Chomsky

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