Waiting for a Cuba Libre

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Filed Under Uncategorized on Dec 30 

The Spanish-American War lasted 13 days short of 4 months. The Teller Amendment passed the Senate a few days before the war began in April of 1898 by 7 votes, the same number as the number of conditions imposed by it’s legislative successor, the Platt Amendment, on Cuba 3 years later in 1901. Over a century later, what was attempted, and what was prohibited within Congress still affects America. As Obama seems to be readying the ground for another executive action on one of his favorite tactics, a quick military retreat from various spot around the world, in this case from Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, the ghosts of those actions over a century ago still live. The Teller Amendment placed the brakes on annexation of Cuba before the U.S. went to war. It may have been mainly motivated by Henry Teller’s defense of the beet sugar industry in his home state of Colorado against a feared avalanche of Cuban cane sugar should the island have indeed been annexed.

Both the Platt Amendment and the 2nd occupation of Cuba during the period 1903 – 1906, revolved around the American preoccupation over what direction a new Cuban government would take. Their worries about a revolutionary neighbor were well founded if a little premature, to say the least. It would take the Russian Revolution and the full emergence of the Soviet Union to create a worldwide framework in which a revolutionary Cuba would no longer be just a mid-sized Caribbean nation turning towards left-wing politics, but rather a key player in the strategic life and death struggles of the Cold War. Did Eisenhower, did the Kennedy brothers in October of 62, curse Henry Teller and his beloved beet sugar industry? Likely they did, but Cuba has never presented easy solutions to the US Congress and Executive, unlike Puerto Rico, which despite a few radicals and the bullets they fired inside the Capitol Buildings, seems to be perfectly comfortable with its status.

Cuba, unlike Hispaniola who asked to be annexed in the 19th century and arguably Puerto Rico, wanted their own government from the start. And boy did they get it. But from the start, the entanglements between American and Cuban interests were as dense as, well, a tropical sugar plantation. Batista’s coup, or golpe de estado, was planned, where else, in Florida in the 30’s after a half-dozen or so interventions earlier in the century by the US in the island’s chaotic affairs. If to John Quincy Adams, Cuba had represented an apple which would gravitate towards America once freed of the shackles of Spanish rule, to others it may have appeared at times like a forbidden fruit mistakenly savored by American business interests. which ended up owning a majority of the islands sugar industry by the 20’s, Teller’s worries notwithstanding. But the arms length dominance backfired in the late 50’s and what would have almost certainly never occurred under annexation, became a nightmarish reality: a communist, Soviet-backed nation 90 odd miles off the Florida coast.

Guantanamo existed, in that context, as a suddenly vital outpost, because of the close connections almost immediately established by Castro and Guevara with the Soviets. The Soviet Union is gone, precisely because of America’s commitment to a military presence around the world, as well as the unsustainability of a command and control marxist economy over the longer run. Russia nowadays is far from an ally, but is no longer committed to supporting left wing insurgencies around the globe. And Cuba remains marxist, remains under the grip of the Castros, remains denying even basic freedoms to the overwhelming majority of its citizens. So a retreat from Guantanamo is a victory for the Cuban regime, which will be played as a glorious vindication of Fidel and Raul’s policies and applauded by sympathizers in academia and the media and elsewhere from the comfort of their democratic, first world abodes. And the average citizen of Cuba will still be waiting for something better. Whether they say it out loud or not.

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