Thoughts from the Archive – Originally written on April 9, 2016.
Turned in as an assignment for “HIS 283: History of Cuba”.
From March 21st to 22nd of 2016, President Barack Obama (D-IL) was the first sitting United State president to visit Cuba in 88 years. With him, Obama brought CEOs of Marriott, Starwood Hotels, and PayPal, along with many other U.S. legislatures. In other the U.S. and Cuba, Obama’s visit dominated headlines, from a historic press conference with Raul Castro, to standing in Revolutionary Plaza in front of the Che Guevara Memorial with the U.S. coalition, and attending a Tampa Bay Rays-Cuba baseball game. Obama appeared on popular Cuban television and was, from the American perspective, embraced by the greater Cuban community.
There is a darker underbelly to Obama’s Cuban visit, and you have to dive into the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. American business and economic interests have come first from the U.S. government perspective in Cuba.. Prior to the successful overthrow of U.S. supported Cuban President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro and the July 26th Movement, U.S. companies dominated the Cuban economy. The American mob ran the hotel-casinos, and tourism industry that exploited the Cuban people, leaving women with the only options remaining being prostitution or starvation. United Fruit, Coca-Cola, and Exxon were all companies that held major sway on the island. The work and ownership of the industries pushed Cubans into poverty. This level of inequality gave the July 26th Movement the revolutionary atmosphere to operate in. The embargo, that is currently in place, from the United States was a result of the Cuba Government expropriating the main industries of the island, removing mostly U.S. corporations from operation. In 2016, from an American perspective, it is great to see the possibility of trade doors being opened, as the CEOs of corporations visit Cuba with Obama, but it’s an ominous sign for a Cuban revolutionary. From their perspective, what U.S.-based business has to offer is exploitation, whereas Cuba has other thriving sectors. It is a signal that Americans once again want to make money off of the island and Latin America.
Obama dominating the press while in Cuba, and being well received looks like a positive and a step forward in the fractured United States-Cuba relationship. When looking at CIA operations against Fidel Castro soon after he took power, a more cynical perspective takes hold. Part of the U.S. operational goals was to start a bottom up revolution that would be justifiable to support to the international community. To do this, the CIA tried to conduct psychological warfare, and put their message in the media of Cuba. According to Fabian Escalante, it was a “mechanism created to spread the American way of life and whose mission it was to “brainwash” the Cubans. Psychological warfare has been and continues to be one of the most diabolical weapons that the United States has employed frequently against the Cuban Revolution.”
The question remains then, could Cuban Revolutionary opinion sway so strongly due to a visit from the charismatic, black president from the United States? Should the Castros, now president Raul and former president Fidel, be concerned about the possibility that the visit was the start of another offensive by the United States? With Obama’s visit, he brought the possibility of using one of the CIA’s favorite weapons of psychological warfare, and the instigators of oppression, U.S. business interests. There are still many unresolved issues between the countries, like the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and the property taken from the U.S. companies, which in 2014 the Boston Globe valued at $7 billion. Much of the American Republican Party sees Cuba through the lens of the Cold War and speaks unfavorably towards the country until there is no longer a Castro in power, and with Obama leaving office in January of 2017, it is unknown how the executive office will act in the future. Needless to say, there is precedent for both sides to be wary of the other’s actions.