Tuesday, June 2, 2009

True Hero

America craves heroes. Super hero comic books have been popular for decades. TV shows are predicated upon heroes in order to provide Americans their weekly fix. Inevitably such heroes are comprised of "good, caring" people that cannot stand the abuse and unfairness so prevalent in their society so they strive to "save the day" like Mighty Mouse of old. They defy all odds by going up against an evil bully in a fight of "David and Goliath" proportions and come out the winner which translates as the Peoples' victory. So, when such a real flesh-and-blood person engages in heroic battle and comes out victorious, Americans should embrace him/her and hail them as a hero. Correct?


You see, real heroes are a messy business. Real heroes walk among us. People we routinely put down as arrogant (mistaking confidence), or as complainers (never mind the US Constitutional guarantee of the right to petition the government for redress of grievances), or troublemakers (those unhip, discomforting agitators unwelcome in our universe). Most Americans, interfacing with truly ethical, empathic beings on a mission of altruism in the furtherance of Human evolution, are forced to change in order to accommodate such heroes. For, unlike the comic books, TV and movies, heroes in the real world aren't milk-bread fictions conjured by American propagandists. They're people that become the nub of our rub against them. They're different from us. They do more than bitch and moan. They actually do something about the problems faced. They come from all stripes, not just the white, Christian, middle-class men of our fictional dreams, men born of democracy and American Exceptionalism fighting un-American evil doers (most ironically) bent on criminal activities almost wholly premised upon theft of wealth from rich folk (THINK: Socialists. Or, worse. Communists. Or, even worse than the worst: Democrats!) No, these heroes of reality are fighters for the People. They want to do their part to advance the species one more forward step. They believe in Human Beings; as Creator and Savior even as these are but fictive fixatives, survival boosters for the down-hearted. But, that means walkin' the walk.

We need no comic book heroes. There actually is such a fighter for the People. Altruistic. Egalitarian. Visionary. A true, real life and still living hero. Living not 100 miles away. In a country that had been under American domination since 1898 when the United States of America essentially, unilaterally annexed Cuba for its own purposes: To exploit cheap labor in order to secure sugar at a criminally low price. US troops were hastened into Cuba in order to put down the natives' fight for Independence from Spain. In the aftermath, the Platt Amendment was passed by Congress which essentially, unilaterally decided what Cuba could and could not do. During the next six decades, the Cuban people were exploited and their lands taken by monied American elite interests; "By the 1920s, U.S. companies owned two-thirds of Cuba's farmland and most of its mines. The sugar industry was booming." These American owners of sugarcane plantations and sugar mills became the dominant force in Cuba. Once America's Prohibition took effect (1919 – 1933) "organized crime moved in, taking over the casinos, booze, drug running and prostitution." While IMF figures assert per capita Cuban income was quite high prior to the revolution they do not account for the distribution of income which was decidedly skewed to a few holding a lot and the many hardly any income at all. You see, the Cuban elites were— as are all elites, solely concerned with their own needs, desires, wealth and accumulated assets —totally unconcerned about the impoverished, exploited masses. Until, that is, those masses had the audacity to demand a stop to their exploitation.

In 1933, the United States assisted army sergeant Fulgencio Batista in a take-over of government via coup (displacing dictator Geraldo Muchado y Morales). Ruling by way of puppet Presidents at Batista's beck and call, the brutal sergeant maintained dictatorial power until winning the Presidency himself. He served his term and left office only to return in yet another coup in 1952.

Tired of governmental corruption, the brutality of the dictatorial Batista, the ruinous economic conditions, the continued exploitation of the Cuban people, on July 26, 1953 Fidel Castro initiated his revolution when he, his brother Raúl and about 90 rebel fighters attempted to take the Moncada army post (Cuba's second largest at the time). The attempt was a failure. Eight rebels were killed and 53 captured and executed. Fidel and the rest of his men managed to escape only to later surrender and be sentenced to 15 years. Pressed by the American government to show some leniency in the face of a building popular dissatisfaction, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl were released from prison in a general amnesty for political prisoners. Not long thereafter, Fidel traveled to Mexico and met Ché Guevara.

On 2 December 1956 the Castro brothers and 82 men traveled from Mexico on a dilapidated yacht called The Granma and were soon set upon by Batista's army. Only the Castro brothers, Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and eight other rebels were able to escape to the Sierra Maestra mountains where they began to build the rebel forces that would eventually liberate Cuba from the brutal American sponsored Batista dictatorship. Over the next two years, Fidel Castro created a revolutionary movement that caught the imagination of 75 – 80 percent of the Cuban people. The small bands of guerillos began to build victories upon victories, not merely holding off an army of approximately 10,000 but beating the military regularly. And then came the battle of Santa Clara which sent Batista packing on January 1, 1959.

Such courage of their convictions. Such sacrifice. Such dangerous undertaking. All in the name of the People (el gente), of a better tomorrow where one and all are provided for so that the nation would be strengthened by its people's successes.

Even as Fidel Castro rode victorious into Havana [8 January 1959] on the wings of his wildly popular revolution the Eisenhower Administration started thinking of ways to destroy it. Working fist-in-gauntlet with the soon to be expropriated companies, the US Government began a massive propaganda campaign meant to portray Fidel Castro as Communist and thus a threat to American national security. On another front, CIA orchestrated propaganda made Fidel's supposed "betrayal" to the Revolution its leitmotif. Castro even responded to it by stating, "As prime minister I have been faithful to the revolution. Cuba is going through a profound and genuine revolution and that is the main reason for the misunderstanding which is due to many interests which will never be in agreement with a genuine and just social revolution." [Politics & Social Structure In Latin America; James Petras; Monthly Review Press, 1970; p 115]. Quoted two years prior in a New York Times article that portrayed him to be pro-democracy and strongly committed to liberty and social justice, Fidel Castro proclaimed, "Above all we are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to the dictatorship." When queried about his 26 July Movement's stances against colonialism and imperialism and how that would impact US-Cuba relations, Fidel said, "You can be sure we have no animosity towards the United States and the American people." Further, early in 1959 "in an address before the Venezuelan Congress, Castro criticized the Organization of American States (OAS) and called for the formation of a democratic bloc to function within it, to expel dictatorial governments. In April 1959, in a speech in New York's Central Park, Castro suggested a Marshall Plan for all of Latin America, 'in order to avoid the danger of communism'." [ibid; p113]

True to his promises to the people, Fidel Castro immediately set about putting an agrarian reform program into law, giving land to el gente, to 22,500 families. The land was expropriated from the large sugar plantations. By the end of 1959, 2.2 million acres worth approximately $300 million were confiscated to fulfill the agrarian reform program. Castro offered to repay the US companies full value for their holdings, but could only do so via 20 year bonds "bearing 4.5 percent interest with prices to be based on assessed value as reflected in tax rolls." [Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution; Thomas C. Wright; Greenwood Publishing Group; p27] The US response came swiftly. "The State Department sent a note to the Cuban government reminding Cuba that 'this right [to expropriate] is coupled with the corresponding obligation for prompt, adequate, and effective compensation'." [Petras; p111] In other words, after years of subjugation and exploitation and theft of public funds by prior governmental officials amounting to several billion dollars, US companies could not/would not wait for payback and the US government took up their cause; mustn't harm the stockholders seems to be the American Government's response to every financial setback in the private sector regardless of fault or model of risk undertaken (this continues even and especially today).

As with all true revolutions, before the heat of victory turns into the warmth of accomplishment, counter-revolutionaries attempt to regain what they've lost. As these counter-revolutionaries attempted to usurp Fidel Castro's power/popularity, a half-million workers poured into the streets of Havana protesting the attempted power grab thereby securing the revolution and establishing Castro as the Caudillo, or supreme leader. The counter-revolutionaries joined the elite upper classes in leaving Cuba. It is estimated that in the first 15 years of the revolution, nearly 600,000 Cubans (mostly upper class and upper middle class) or perhaps one-tenth of the population, left the island; many immediately began to plan a military retaking of Cuba and were aided and abetted by the United States Government. "Castro created the Ministry for the Recovery of Stolen Property (Ministerio de Recuperación de Bienes Malversados) with sweeping powers to seize the assets of Batista and his collaborators, 'counter revolutionaries,' and, after 1960, of all exiles." [Wright; p28]

"U.S. policy-makers mounted a multiple offensive against the Cuban Revolution, violating Cuban sea and air space, cutting the sugar quota (July 6, 1960), holding Congressional hearings in which former Batista officials were given the national spotlight, etc." [ibid; p 114] President Eisenhower responded by stating America would not "permit" the establishment of a Communist regime in the Western Hemisphere; a reiteration of the Monroe Doctrine. In that effort, the US "moved to extend its embargo against the Cuban Revolution by pressuring client states throughout the hemisphere and the rest of the world. The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the mutual security appropriations bill which would cut off foreign aid to any nation supplying military or economic assistance to Cuba." [ibid; 114] Cuban exiles based in the United States conducted repeated raids on Cuba's sugar fields. "By early 1960, almost 13 percent of Cuba's cane fields had been bombed." [ibid; p114]

"On January 3, 1961, the U.S. government broke relations with Cuba…Newly elected President John F. Kennedy (who during his election campaign had called for stepped-up U.S. assistance to the armed exile groups) reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine and gave no indication of wanting to negotiate U.S.-Cuban differences…Cuba offered to negotiate its differences with the United States and accepted Argentina as a mediator. The Kennedy Administration refused mediation. In his State of the Union message Kennedy set forth in the blunt language of the true believers in private enterprise the intransigent hostility which was to characterize U.S. policy toward Cuba: 'Questions of economic and trade policy can always be negotiated. But Communist domination in the hemisphere can never be negotiated'." [ibid; p116-117]. CIA-financed forces stepped up their terroristic destruction by burning the Hershey sugar mill ($5 million damage) and El Encanto department store ($7 - $8 million damage) even as B-26 bombers out of Miami attacked Cuban air bases. And, then, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion [April 17 - 19, 1961] in which 1,500 Cuban terrorist exiles were ferried to the island on two U. S. Navy destroyers. The terrorist invaders were promised the quid pro quo of having their assets returned to them for overthrowing Castro. Just like Rumsfeld telling Americans that Iraqis would welcome us with open arms, the U.S. CIA anticipated popular support. Funny how reality always slaps self-serving fictions in their faces! In beautiful irony, the terrorist exile army was defeated by the People's militias.

Of course, the lesson to be learned would have been: Cuba is an independent nation operating on behalf of its people and it is both, rabidly so. Not Communist. But a struggling Social democracy.

But, Cuba became a "bad example" by initiating other reforms like education and health care so that every Cuban would have a chance to succeed and, by doing so, help the Revolution succeed. As other Latin American nations became aware of the Cuban success story, they too wanted independence and social democracy. Thus, the Alliance For Progress initiated by the Kennedy Administration that promised all things good for the people but served up instead, 17 more dictatorships that conducted themselves in typical brutal fashion in order to deny Latin America its independence and its people social democracy. Not enough to cut a nascent nation completely out of the dominant global economic/financial paradigm, not enough to send terrorists against it, not enough to construct a totally fictitious scenario of Communistic threat just off our shores, not enough to attempt repeated assassination against Cuba's beloved Caudillo.

To consider that Cuba and its Revolution is still in existence, still attempting to bring a better way to its people, having been completely cut off (blockade) from normal trade with the world's largest economies, that the Cuban people enjoy a high rate of literacy and are entitled to free health care, that millions of el gente still believe in the Revolutionary ideals espoused by Fidel Castro, a true hero, is a testament to the purity of Castro's vision as stated March 13, 1968:

"But, of course, with its standard of living arising from a developed economy whose income is incomparably higher than that of any underdeveloped country, imperialism can offer material incentives of many types, and, in the face of this, what are we to do? What is the duty of the Revolution if not to strengthen its determination, to exalt all types of moral values among the people? Feelings of internationalist solidarity, justice, equality, love of country, love for the people, for the struggle; the satisfaction of having a giant task, a historic task, to carry out, and accomplishing it, facing up to it, overcoming obstacles. That is the kind of people we have to create…We will continue along our road; we will build our Revolution, and we will do so fundamentally through our own efforts. Great is the task that faces us! A people that is not willing to make the effort has no right even to utter the word 'independence,' no right even to utter the word 'sovereignty!' Let us struggle bravely, among other reasons, to minimize our dependence on everything from abroad. Let us fight as hard as possible, because we have known the bitterness of having to depend to a considerable extent on what we can get from abroad and have seen how this can be turned into a weapon, how at the very least, there is a temptation to use it against our country. Let us fight for the greatest independence possible, whatever the price! Of course, that offended the "principles" of the microfaction (exiles/the few); that was a crime: dignity was a crime, honor was a crime, the Revolution was a crime!"

Let us hope that President Obama will not continue to see the Cuban Revolution as a crime but, rather, a heroic undertaking worthy of praise! End the Cuban embargo now and normalize relations, Mr. President!