Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Washington-Havana Rapprochement: An Unlikely Victory for Cuba

00 Heroism NEVER Dies Out... Castro and Gagarin



There has been much rot issued on the diplomatic opening to Cuba by American commentators, both “right” and “left”. I find this piece a “read n’ heed”. Reflect on this… the emissary sent by V V Putin to Cuba was D O Rogozin… the most hardline anti-American in the government. In fact, Rogozin is popping up far more than he had in the past. I don’t think that the Russian government is afraid of the USA and the West… note also that Cuba refuses to send back a political prisoner so that Chris Christie can have a kangaroo court “show trial”… the chess match is on, and VVP overmatches Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and all the GOP crew… by himself. Reflect on that. Vladimir Vladimirovich was a counter-intel pro in the Organs… none of his opponents come near to his intellectual and moral level… none are his equals. Keep it focused.



The announcement by the Obama administration in the USA of the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba shows that the latter won the contest between the irresistible force and the immovable obstacle.

The restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USA provoked enormous interest. This isn’t surprising. Since the rupture in diplomatic relations in 1961, the USA and Cuba were the most consistent adversaries on the international stage. In that period, relations between the USA and other countries with which it had adversarial relationships such as Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, or Vietnam, went through ups and downs. This wasn’t true of relations between the USA Cuba. Relations between them were always bad.

This hostility between the USA and Cuba was one of the most stable factors in international relations over the last half-century. Although its effect in Europe and elsewhere is mitigated by distance, this hostility had an enormous influence in shaping the present political geography of Latin America especially. The possibility that this hostility might change, therefore, came to many people as a surprise if only because the general expectation was that there wouldn’t be significant improvement in relations between the two countries at least until the two Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, had died.

What explains this enduring hostility and this abrupt shift in relations? Will it endure or is it, as many appear to think, a trap that the USA laid for Cuba, preparing the grounds for régime change there?

The breakdown in relations between the USA and Cuba was the consequence of the Castro Revolution of 1959. This was a revolution launched from the countryside against a corrupt oligarchic élite based in Havana. In turn, that élite had extremely close connections with the USA. These extended back decades to Cuba’s liberation war against Spain in the 1890s. The USA intervened in that war in a manner that achieved for it a dominant position in Cuba right up to the point of Castro’s revolution in 1959. One wouldn’t exaggerate if one said that throughout this period Cuba was essentially an American protectorate. We should be clear that this relationship differed significantly from the one the USA has with nearly all other Latin American countries. The USA was the dominant political influence… in effect, a not-so-silent partner… in the political system of every Latin American state for most of the last century. However, in no other Latin American state or country, save Panama and Puerto Rico, has American political engagement been so direct and open as it was in Cuba.


00 Presidents Castro and Putin. 11.07.12


This form of American domination had important practical significance. Not only did the USA acquire a major military base at Guantánamo Bay (which it retains still), but it achieved total domination of Cuba’s economy and political system in a way that made both in effect appendages of the American economy and political system. As is well known, Cuba gradually evolved into an important playground for the American rich and not-so-rich. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Havana became an American holiday and gambling centre to rival Miami and (later) Las Vegas. Moreover, many wealthy Americans had second homes there. These included the writer Ernest Hemingway and the wealthy Dupont family, whose former villa Xanadu was one of the inspirations for the palace of that name in the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane. To this day, it remains a landmark in the holiday resort of Varadero. In this period, when the Tropicana nightclub in Havana achieved its heyday, when they built the Capitolio building in Havana in direct imitation of the Capitol in Washington, when the American Hershey chocolate company built an electric railway to service its sugar plantations and when Havana was a byword for tropical hedonism and vice.

This American political and economic control went together with considerable corruption. Its status as a protectorate was incompatible with democracy, and at no time before the Castro Revolution in 1959 was Cuba in any true sense one. At the time of the Revolution, Cuba was actually a dictatorship led by a former sergeant, Fulgencio Batista. Behind the façade of a dictatorship, the true power in Cuba actually rested, as it had always done, in an oligarchy of wealthy families (some tracing their origins back to the period of Spanish rule), the military, the American embassy, and American businessmen, several of whom were well-known gangsters. The two key figures amongst the latter were mobsters Meyer Lansky and Santos Trafficante, with the former often regarded as the true ruler of Cuba during this period. The immediate pre-revolution period in Cuba was one of chronic impoverishment and neglect of the Cuban countryside combined with a frenetic construction boom in Havana itself. Havana became a hotbed of tropical hedonism and prostitution, with growing inequality and social unrest. In fairness, there was also considerable cultural achievement, of the emergence in Havana of a substantial middle class, and of the construction of a highway system of a sort unknown at this time in other Latin American states. These intense connections between Cuba and the USA explain much about the subsequent period of protracted hostility. For Cubans, many of their societal problems became explicable by reference to their subordinate position to the USA, which to a proud people was humiliating and exploitative. The Castro Revolution was in a sense Cuba’s declaration of independence from the USA.

As for the USA, it never regarded with favour any progressive social or democratic change in any part of Latin America, especially when this threatened its overall economic or political dominance in the region… in its perception, it invariably does. However, its intense relationship with Cuba exacerbated American hostility even more than was the case in other Latin American states. In a very real sense, the USA came to regard Cuba as an informal though exotic part of the USA itself, making Cuba’s break with the USA not just politically and economically, but also psychologically intolerable.

The consequence was five decades of struggle by the USA to bring Cuba back under its control. This involved an economic blockade and unrelenting attempts to destabilise and overthrow the Cuban government. On occasion, this had its farcical aspects, such as the plot to murder Fidel Castro with an exploding seashell or the recent attempt to recruit Cuban hip-hop artists in a plot to overthrow the government. However, this shouldn’t detract from the enormous material and psychological damage done to Cuba. Powerful vested interests further extended and perpetuated the American economic and political war against Cuba. Anti-Castro groups managed to achieve political control of the Cuban-American community in the 1960s, and the perpetuation of the USA’s undeclared war against Cuba served both to cement their control of that community and their political influence within the USA. Allied to various American political and economic groups that were also opposed to reconciliation for ideological, economic, or political reasons, they formed a powerful political lobby resisting any rapprochement between the two countries.


Castro and Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev


However, the conflict between Cuba and the USA also serves as a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable obstacle. Precisely because the Cuban revolution was in a sense Cuba’s declaration of independence from the USA, in the end, American political pressure upon Cuba served to consolidate support for the Cuban government rather than undermine it. Nonetheless, it’s important to say that in any contest between the USA and Cuba, because of the overwhelming preponderance of force in the USA’s favour, on any objective assessment, the USA should’ve prevailed. That it didn’t do so is entirely due to the support Cuba received from the USSR during the Cold War. Had the Soviets not provided this support in the crucial first decades of the Cuban revolution, that revolution wouldn’t have survived, and Cuba would’ve quickly reverted to its previous subordinate position as an American client state. By the time Soviet support fell off in the 1990s, the Cuban government had sufficiently consolidated its position to survive without it. That this was so came as a surprise to the USA, which consistently underestimated the level of support in Cuba for the revolutionary government, so, it anticipated its swift collapse in the 1990s.

However, the Soviet alliance wasn’t the reason for American hostility towards Cuba. Rather it was its result. In the first decade of the Cuban revolution, relations between Cuba and the USSR were often tense. This was the Castro revolution’s period of revolutionary romanticism. Throughout this period, the Cubans sought to extend their revolution to the rest of Latin America. The Soviets strongly opposed this, and in the end, they prevailed, although not without repeated quarrels with the Cubans along the way. Much of the literature sympathetic to the Cubans and to Fidel Castro, and Fidel Castro in many of his own writings, sided with the Cubans in these quarrels. In reality, Soviet determination to restrain Cuba’s revolutionary adventures in Latin America was entirely justified. Although it may appear counterintuitive, in fact, the Soviets had far better information on the true situation in Latin America in the 1960s than the Cubans did. The Soviets had long-standing political links in South America through the various Communist parties there (all of which were loyal to Moscow) and were aware of something Castro has never accepted… in the 1960s, a revolutionary situation such as the one that had existed in Cuba didn’t exist in Latin America.  Had Moscow allowed the Cubans to export their revolution to Latin America, the attempt would’ve unquestionably ended in catastrophic failure, which would’ve threatened the survival of the Cuban revolution itself.

Although Latin America remains Fidel Castro’s enduring obsession, Cuba redirected its revolutionary energies in the 1970s much more successfully to Africa.  Here, Cuba’s intervention in the Angolan War of Independence, and in the Civil War that followed it, and its support for the South African anti-apartheid struggle played a critical, although often-unrecognised, role in the final defeat of apartheid. Although both the facts of the battle and its political consequences remain fiercely contested, many South Africans consider that the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987-88 between Cuban and South African forces was the key event that finally forced the apartheid régime in South Africa to negotiate its eventual dissolution. Of course, these Cuban interventions in Africa would’ve been impossible without Soviet support.

It’s clear from the White House announcement that Cuba made no concessions of any significance to the USA in return for an American decision to re-open diplomatic relations. As the White House announcement itself admits, instead, the USA had to admit that its previous policy, pursued unrelentingly for 54 years, was wrong. This is an almost-unique case of the USA officially admitting error and changing its policy.


04e Sunday of Orthodoxy Cuba


What brought about this change? In part, one can better answer this question by asking a better question… “Why, if the policy was so wrong, has it taken so long to change it?” Even allowing for the special factors discussed here, persisting with a wrong policy for 54 years is nothing short of astonishing. It illustrates the profoundly dysfunctional nature of the American decision-making process, where changing even the most obviously unsuccessful policy is extraordinarily difficult. The dysfunctional nature of the American political system and decision-making process, more than any other factor, causes immense problems for other countries that have to deal with the USA whilst trying to preserve an independent course.

Firstly, as the White House statement makes clear, there was no fundamental rethink of American foreign policy. Apparently, for the moment, that’s something that the USA is incapable of doing. The White House statement shows that the USA remains as committed to its hegemonic course as ever; it’s still committed to achieving régime change in Cuba. 

In fact, the answer for the change in policy lies in internal American political considerations. An unpopular US president seeking to shore up support within his liberal political base and to reach out to America’s black and Hispanic communities, whose votes will be crucial in the next presidential election, took the easy step of ending a diplomatic standoff with Cuba that gave the USA no political dividends. As he’s a president in the last two years of his presidency, the political cost of taking this step is slight. By contrast, the political gains for Democrats in shoring up support amongst American liberals, Hispanics, and blacks in what is likely to be a difficult election in 2016 are substantial. Although hostility to Cuba in Washington was overwhelming, attitudes towards Cuba amongst the groups whose electoral support the Democrats need is different.  Over time, the romantic image of the Cuban revolution won over many American liberals, whilst amongst blacks and Hispanics (the latter is an especially-key demographic) sympathy and, on occasion, even a degree of self-identification with Cuba are strong. Even amongst Cuban-Americans, attitudes towards the Cuban government gradually softened as the older militantly anti-Castro generation passes on. Significantly, one of the steps taken by the Obama administration, along with the opening of diplomatic relations, is the lifting of the ban on the use of American credit cards in Cuba and the easing of restrictions on remittances to Cuba. Obviously, these steps appeal to many Cuban-Americans, who continue to have family connections in Cuba, and who wish to travel to Cuba and to support their families there.

Truly, the fact that the Republicans are likely to oppose all of these measures, and that they’d most probably seek to block attempts in Congress to lift the economic embargo works in favour of Obama’s objective. It enables him and the Democrats to draw dividing lines with the Republicans on this issue in a way that’s likely to appeal to liberal, black, and Hispanic voters. In particular, it means that Cuban voters in the key swing state of Florida now have a strong reason to vote for the Democrats against a Republican candidate whom the Democrats will try to paint as aiming to reverse the monetary and travel concessions Obama afforded. It may come as a surprise to many that the explanation for the change in American policy towards Cuba lies in American domestic politics.  However, the American political system is organised in such a way that domestic political considerations invariably trump all others. There’s a clear and obvious political benefit for Obama and the Democrats in improving relations with Cuba. There is, at present, no such benefit in improving relations with Russia and Iran, or in pursuing a more even-handed policy in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, any attempt to change American policies in these areas instantly runs into powerful opposition from entrenched electoral lobbies, which is why such attempts never last for very long. Precisely, it’s because of the disproportionate influence of such lobbies in the American political system that voting in Congress on issues that concern such lobbies tends to be so lopsided. This explains the overwhelming majorities in Congress in votes that relate to issues that concern Russia, Israel, or Iran. When these lobbies are strong, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any political interest in standing up to them, which is why the overwhelming majority of them never do. It’s only when the electoral influence of a lobby wanes that the political calculus changes allowing the policy to change.




The change in American policy towards Cuba is a symptom of the decline in influence of the anti-Castro Cuban lobby and a sign that the political benefits of the political advantages of standing up to it now outweigh continuing to appease it. That is, the entire explanation both for the change of policy, as well as for being one of the reasons why it took so long.

Some elements received this abrupt shift of American policy towards Cuba with some alarm. Much commentary sees this change of policy as a trap for Cuba and for the Cuban leadership. Supposedly, the USA’s objective in restarting diplomatic relations is so that it can open an embassy in Havana to plot a counterrevolution there. We should emphasise that these fears have no basis. For 54 years, the USA attempted to foment a counterrevolution in Cuba. It broadcasts propaganda to Cuba around the clock. It has an interests section in Havana that operates like an embassy.  It has no difficulty planting agents in Cuba or sending money to support them there. There isn’t any doubt that the USA will continue these efforts. However, merely reopening the embassy in Havana won’t make that task any easier than it is already. If the purpose of opening an embassy in Havana is to overthrow the Cuban government, then, the USA would’ve done it long ago.

As for the Cuban government, it would’ve made absolutely no sense for them to refuse an American offer to reopen diplomatic relations, when this was what they’d demanded ever since the USA broke off those relations in January 1961. The same is true of the embargo, if and when it’s eventually lifted. It’d be simply perverse for the Cuban government to reject such a step when they’ve demanded it ever since the Kennedy administration first imposed the embargo upon them five decades ago. Were the Cuban government to behave in such a bizarre way, that’d do far more damage to its political standing in Cuba than anything planned or attempted by the USA.

It bears repeating… in this conflict of wills between Cuba and the USA, Cuba has unequivocally won. The Cubans made no concessions to the USA on any significant issue. The USA has made all the concessions. Those who consider themselves Cuba’s friends should rejoice in its victory and not seek to cast doubt on it or look for evidence of betrayal when there’s none. To the extent that the USSR through its support for Cuba in the past played a key role in helping Cuba to achieve this victory, Russian friends of Cuba can take special pride in it.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remarkable achievements to its credit. Claims about the excellence of the Cuban health and educational systems are true. The revolution transformed conditions in the Cuban countryside. Cuba is a far-more-equal, immeasurably better-educated, and healthier society than it was in the 1950s. It remains culturally brilliant and is physically safe in a way that one can’t say for any other society in the Americas. Cuba also played a key role in the toppling in South Africa of the apartheid system that existed there. However, to acknowledge the achievements of the Cuban people in very adverse conditions isn’t to idealise the situation in Cuba today. Material conditions of life remain difficult. Nevertheless, the Cuban revolution never resorted to mass repressions or political terror and the human rights situation in Cuba actually compares very favourably with that of many other Latin American countries such as Colombia and Mexico that the West classifies as democracies, it’s delusional to think that the political system in Cuba is entirely free or politically open.  Visitors to Cuba speak of the frustration felt especially by young people at the limits placed on their lives as well as of continuing support, despite all the difficulties, for the revolution and its government.

The way forward for Cuba will be difficult. The threat from the USA hasn’t gone away. Those who sympathise with the Cuban people should support them in their continuing struggle for a better life that they’d build on the achievements of their revolution. That they’ve achieved such a remarkable victory against all odds in five decades of struggle is remarkable; it offers the promise of greater achievements in the future now that because of their victory the pressures upon them may finally start to ease.

22 December 2014

Alexander Mercouris

Sputnik International



24 December 2014. Krampus… St Nick’s SCARY Sidekick from Mitteleuropa

00 Krampus at Munchen Christmas Market. 24.12.14


In Central Europe, a scary guy called Krampus accompanies St Nick. The above image is from the Christmas Market in München. Krampus punishes the bad kids, he takes them away in his sack… St Nick gives the good kids gifts. Of course, all the kids want to ride in Krampus’ sack (or basket)… he doesn’t scare ’em at all. In fact, they’d be disappointed if he wasn’t part of the holiday fun. The same is true of Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands… the politically-correct be damned in this case… there’s no denigration of any actual person or group. Lighten up and do get a life… its holiday fun for kids, after all (and for suitably-inclined grownups, too)…


24 December 2014. Here’s Another GOOD Copper…

00 cop as Santa. Ljubljana SLOVENIA. 24.12.14


A cop dressed as Santa is cavorting outside the paediatric hospital in Ljubljana (Ljubljana Občina) SLOVENIA to bring in some holiday cheer. Remember… the majority of coppers aren’t brutes, but they don’t get in the news. I’d say that there’s a problem, but it isn’t intractable, yet. We’d best attend to it before it does get that frozen, though…


24 December 2014. Mistral, Mistral, Who’s Got the Mistrals… or… That’s OK, We Got the High Tech from the Deal!

00 frigate admiral kasotonov. St Petersburg RF. 24.12.14


Read this. Look at who’s speaking for the government! Deputy Chairman of the Government D O Rogozin… the most hardline anti-liberal anti-American hegemonist hawk of the lot. In any case, Russia got the technology transfer that it was looking for, and plans to build two Mistral-class ships in Russia are still full steam ahead. Look at the above image… it’s the launch of the Project 22350 frigate Admiral Kasatonov in St Petersburg. Russia has a world-class shipbuilding industry that can make any kind of ship that the navy requires… I think that the Mistral deal was really a bid to acquire technology, and that was a success. Note also that Rogozin makes it clear that Russia is pulling out of space coöperation with NASA on many fronts (perhaps, American cosmonauts will be able to fly to the ISS on Russian craft, but no more than that). In short, the hubristical Anglo Americans do it again… in their arrogance and self-centred pride, they refuse to see how this’d knacker their space programme in the near- and far-term. The Republican filth wasted America’s substance in needless wars of aggression and tax giveaways to the Affluent Effluent paymaster-puppeteers of the GOP (look at Rick Perry… you’ll see the face of the modern Republican Party… grasping corruption, bloody unconcern with human life, and smarmy “Evangelical” pietism).

The joke’s on the USA… the French built the ships to Russian specs, and the Russian equipment allotted to them wasn’t installed. Russians have brains in their heads… they know that Anglo Americans are shameless liars and inveterate sneaks (“winning is the only thing”), so, no Russian gear was to be installed until the ships reached Russia. If NATO were to take over these ships, it’d take a whole lotta brass to bring them up to operational readiness, and it’d take at least a year, if not more to do the job. In short, all that the French did was to put their reputation as impartial arms merchants in the shitter. The two countries that’d benefit the most from that are China and Russia, who’d be glad to pick up France’s arms sales… after all, why buy from someone who’s just going to refuse to deliver them to you at the whim of the juvenile Anglo American brats?

VVP won this one… as I said, look at who the messenger is… it’s Rogozin. Is VVP grooming him as a possible successor? One can only wait and see…


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