By Michael Drohan
It is difficult to describe the level of analysis of the US’s role in the history of the world in the Democratic Presidential debates as anything other than pathetic. To begin with, the amount of time in the debates devoted to foreign policy of the US barely registers. And then, when questions of foreign policy arose, red-baiting seemed to dominate the discussions.
A good place perhaps to begin the analysis of the debates on foreign policy might be with Charleston, South Carolina on February 25. In that debate, Margaret Brennan of CBS News set the tone of the discussion with a frontal attack on Bernie Sanders. Addressing Sanders, she said, “You’ve praised the Chinese Communist Party for lifting more people out of extreme poverty than any other country. You also have a track record of expressing sympathy for socialist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua. Can Americans trust that a democratic socialist president will not give authoritarians a free pass?” The implication of Brennan’s question is that no politician should dare say a word of praise for any regime that describes itself as socialist or communist for lifting people out of poverty and misery. She also seemed to imply that recognizing the incredible achievements of China and Cuba in reducing poverty and misery was tantamount to praising dictatorial regimes. With the US involved in at least half a dozen wars around the globe, one can hardly imagine a more bizarre way to prime the discussion on US foreign policy.
In response to Brennan, Bernie Sanders had to run for cover to Obama’s statement “that Cuba made progress in education.” But instead of that quelling the red baiting, it seemed to only open the flood gates. Buttigieg entered the fray, proclaiming there was no comparison between the position of Obama and Sanders on Cuba. He even accused Sanders of making excuses for the authoritarian aspects of the Cuban government. Biden then joined the attack, invoking his intimate knowledge of Obama’s thoughts and policies on Cuba. Sanders in reply seemed not to have been knocked off his feet and made the most meaningful comment in the debate, saying “occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world, in Chile, Guatemala, in Iran…”. Not a single candidate rose to support Sanders.
In this context, it may be a good time to revisit what one might call the real history of Cuba in modern times. On January 1, 1959 Fidel Castro and his guerrilla band rode into Havana victorious over the dictator, Fulgencio Battista. Battista had ruled as a kind of puppet of the United States, which had dominated Cuba’s economy and government since the U.S. Congress-approved Platt Amendment of 1900. Havana was a romping ground for the mob and the Hollywood elite. US corporations dominated the economy and it could be said that Cuba was little more than a brothel for the rich and famous. But the majority of the people lived in abject poverty, with disease and illiteracy ubiquitous.
Castro tried to put an end to the poverty and degradation of the Cuban people. He tried to work with the US government of the time and thought it was possible. The US, however, was having none of it and tried to do what they had done to Guatemala in 1954 and Iran in 1953, namely overthrow a nascent democracy. They put together a band of invaders in 1961 which Castro, against all odds, beat off at the Bay of Pigs. Threats of invasion continued and attempts mounted on Castro’s life are almost innumerable. In this struggle for survival, it could be said that Castro was thrown into the arms of the then Soviet Union. It was a marriage of convenience and for survival. Prior to 1959, there is little evidence that Castro was a fervent Communist or a devotee of the Soviet system. However, after the embrace of the Soviet Union, Cuba did, alas, adopt many of the more repressive aspects of the Soviet system.
By any standards, Cuba achieved extraordinary social goals by drastically reducing poverty, illiteracy and disease. It built a health care system that most countries can only dream of still. But the threats of invasion and attack continued unabated. Cuba, in order to preserve the revolution, instituted many draconian repressive measures.
But we have to ask ourselves how much the US is responsible for these draconian measures. Would they have been instituted without the danger of an invasion?
This is the history that none of the Democratic candidates for President in Charleston, apart from Bernie Sanders, knew anything about or were too afraid to admit. What a shameful performance.
Michael Drohan is member of the Merton Center and of the Editorial Collective
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 3. April, 2020. All rights reserved.