Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Cuba Policy: How did we get here? Pt. 2

"'To speak the truth is a petit-bourgeois habit. To lie, on the contrary, is often justified by the lie's aim. The whole world's capitalists and their governments, as they pant to win the Soviet market, will close their eyes to the above-mentioned reality and will thus transform themselves into men who are deaf, dumb and blind. They will give us credits . . . they will toil to prepare their own suicide.'"  - Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin)

 A brief history of totalitarian networks and how they interact with the corporate world

The Castro regime is a totalitarian communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba since 1959. Only a few states today can be described as totalitarian communist dictatorships and the others remaining as far as I know are North Korea, Vietnam and China. Although a number of countries are trending that way now in Latin America with Venezuela leading the way.

This leads to an obvious question: What is totalitarianism? Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic presents a classical definition of totalitarianism in his March 26, 2014 essay titled The Meaning of Totalitarianism
Although it has been most often used to describe Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, the word “totalitarian”- totalitarismo - was first used in the context of Italian fascism. Invented by one of his critics, the term was adopted with enthusiasm by Benito Mussolini, and in one of his speeches he offered what is still the best definition of the term: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
Strictly defined, a totalitarian regime is one that bans all institutions apart from those it has officially approved. A totalitarian regime thus has one political party, one educational system, one artistic creed, one centrally planned economy, one unified media, and one moral code. In a totalitarian state there are no independent schools, no private businesses, no grassroots organizations, and no critical thought. Mussolini and his favorite philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, once wrote of a “conception of the State” that is “all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.
This is what is meant when one defines the dictatorship in Cuba as totalitarian. Under the Castro regime only one political party is legally recognized in the Cuban constitution, the Communist party. Private schools were closed in Cuba in the 1960s and all is controlled by the dictatorship and students who dissent, such as gather signatures for a legal citizen initiative like the Varela Project are expelled. There are no legally recognized independent non-governmental organizations in Cuba. The economy remains under control of the Castro regime. Any foreign investors must enter into partnerships with the dictatorship. Workers salaries are paid by foreign investors to a regime agency that in turn pays Cuban workers in the local and devalued currency. Employers who have tried to pay workers directly under the table have been arrested and jailed. Critical thought can fall under the categories of oral or  written enemy propaganda and is punishable by prison. Also associating with persons with these ideas opens one up to a charge of "predilection to social dangerousness" and can also be imprisoned.

Hannah Arendt, the political scientist who wrote the opus The Origins of Totalitarianism offered further insights into how totalitarian functions at a lecture in Oberlin College on October 28, 1954:    
“If we look at it as a form of government, it rests on two pillars: on ideology and on terror. It is no tyranny because tyranny is lawlessness and because it is content with the political sphere in the more narrow sense of the word.” ...“Authoritarianism in many respects the opposite of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism possible only after all authorities broke down.” 
International Communism reached a historic low point between 1989 and 1991 that began with the liberation of Eastern Europe and ended with the relatively nonviolent dissolution of the Soviet Union on Christmas day in 1991, but that was not the end of communism.  The hard left in the midst of this debacle regrouped in 1990 and began to meet and plan in the São Paulo Forum. The Castro regime was and remains a member of this network.

This now brings us to the second important question: What is a network in political science? Networks come in various guises. Transnational, regional or global networks and movements are political mechanisms of social organization. These networks are not hierarchical, with a low level of institutionalization and lacking a developed bureaucracy have a decentralized organizational structure. They are organizational forms in which there is a horizontal flow of information and decisions are taken in a connective web between equals. Although characterized by their "creativity", "horizontality" and "solidarity" which, in structural terms, involve the ability to adapt and facilitate participation, are neutral as to its purpose. They can be democratic or totalitarian.

Totalitarian networks and propaganda pioneer: Wilhelm Münzenberg

 The pioneer in totalitarian networks was Wilhelm "Willi" Münzenberg, a man you've probably never heard of but who shaped much of the 20th century and whose impact is still being felt today. Münzenberg met Lenin in Bern, Switzerland in 1915  by León Trotsky who recognized in him the talent to organize clandestine networks from almost nothing with the capacity to generate secret systems for the transmission of information, launder money, and move people from country to another with fake documents as if it were magic. He already had an agent in the Vatican. He was part of the original Bolshevik network prior to the 1917 revolution. Following the arrival of the Soviets to power

Lenin created the Communist International, KOMINTERN in 1919 as a means to disseminate the Soviet revolution and consolidate dominance of Marxism-Leninism over the global Left. The dictator proposed to join together the radicals of the world under a great network of Communist parties under the control of the Soviet Revolution. This was the instrument that Münzenberg used to organize cultural power. The first congress of the Communist International was held on March 2, 1919 and included delegates from communist or socialist parties from Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Estonia, Armenia, France, Switzerland, China, Korea, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, Azerbaijan, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands among other countries. 

Beginning in 1921 Lenin seized Münzenberg as the director of clandestine operations of propaganda aimed at the West. To create networks of supporters Münzenberg used all the resources propaganda from high culture to the most basic. He organized the media: film, radio, theater, books, magazines, and newspapers. He was able to connect to and use all types of formers of opinion respected by the public: writers, artists, actors, priests, ministers, teachers, businessmen, scientists, and psychologists.

The Münzenberg network was one of the key factors for the direction taken by the political attitudes that operated in the 1930s. He manipulated and influenced popular public opinion using this network writers and intellectuals such as: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, George Grosz, Erwin Piscator, André Malraux, André Gide, Bertolt Brecht, Dorothy Parker to Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. His objective at the international level was to create the belief that the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was developed from the essential elements of human decency. That is to make it politically incorrect to criticize Soviet foreign policy. He organized protest marches, politicized writers conferencespoliticized art festivals, ad hoc committees signed by famous celebrities for causes without end. The effectiveness of the strategies and tactics of Münzenberg to mold progressive public opinion was and still remains effective.  The string of articles advancing the talking points of the Castro regime in The New York Times and the Associated Press follow this long tradition. What we are witnessing today with the Castro regime is the successful outcome of one of  two Münzenberg type campaigns: 1) freeing the five Cuban spies arrested in 1998 for acts of espionage, sabotage, and terrorism. 2) the campaign to end the United States embargo on Cuba. 

Bait and Switch: How totalitarians and businessmen shake down taxpayers
Following the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down which at the time was considered an act of war “the Embargo" was codified into law by the Helms-Burton Bill placing control over sanctions policy in the Congress and out of the Executive the alternative at the time being debated was a military response against the Castro regime. Nevertheless, President Clinton issued waivers on key provision of the new law that have continue to been waived until the present day.

However, once the crisis passed President Bill Clinton  shook hands with Fidel Castro in September of 2000 and a month later signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act and opened cash and carry trade with the Castro dictatorship at the end of his Administration.  At the time of its passage,  Fidel Castro said "his country would not buy 'even a grain of rice' under the current terms."  The Cuban dictator ended up buying much more than a grain of rice under those terms. Between 2000 and 2013 American companies have sold $4.689 billion dollars in goods to the Castro regime on a cash and carry basis. 

James Prevor, President and Editor in Chief of the publication Produce Business in October of 2002 in the article, Cuba Caution, reported on how Cuba "had exhausted all its credit lines and, at best, was simply rotating the accounts. When the opportunity came to buy from the United States, Cuba simply abandoned all those suppliers who supported the country for 40 years and began buying from us."  The suppliers were not the ones impacted by Cuba's failure to pay its debts, the taxpayers of the suppliers' home countries were the one's left holding the tab. 

Despite the 2003 crackdown on dissidents known as the Black Cuban Spring where the Bush Administration tightened sanctions on being able to travel to Cuba and set limits lower on remittances sent to the island. However, nothing was changed in the cash and carry sales made by U.S. companies to the Castro regime.Towards the end of the Bush Administration in August of 2008 the Cuban government announced that the United States was its fifth leading trading partner.

When the United States "normalizes" relations with Cuba it will provide standard loan guarantees to minimize the risks of banks and businesses selling to Cuba. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce touts the virtues of free trade, free markets and free enterprise in its advocacy for lifting economic sanctions on Cuba what it is actually pursuing is trade with the Cuban government that passes the risk of not getting paid on to taxpayers.  Darío Fernández-Morera an associate professor at North Western University in the May 1, 2014 issue of Chronicles in the article The Cost of Normalization reports that the Small Business Exporters Association announced:

"[S]ince March 2009, a select group of commercial banks now will be able to offer terms of 180 days to five years on federally-guaranteed loans to the foreign buyers of U.S. exports without having to obtain prior federal approval.  ... Because of the foreign risks involved  in export lending, most commercial banks through-out the world do not make these loans without government guarantees. In the U.S., the guarantees are provided by the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), a federal agency.
Twelve years ago Prevor predicted where things have now arrived in the Cuba policy debate as far as agro-business is concerned:
But what the really big grain traders want is to sell to Cuba on credit - and get those credits provided or guaranteed by various federal loan programs. In effect, these agribusiness behemoths want to sell to Cuba and have the U.S. tax- payer pick up the tab. And their bet is that once produce shippers have gotten a taste of the business, they will become a kind of Amen corner for the Cuban lobby, pushing Congress to approve whatever laws will be to the liking of the Cuban government. This really brings to the forefront why trade with a communist country poses unique dangers to a democratic society.
The gullible will believe the Castro regime's claims that the billions in goods purchased from the United States is just the tip of the iceberg for trade opportunities once the embargo is lifted. The reality is that what is taking place is the ultimate variation of the bait and switch con. A policy of normalization with the current government in Cuba may be good for Agro-business, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Castro regime but it will not be good for American taxpayers who will be left holding the bag like so many other tax payers around the world. 

Another trend that is reinforcing the power of the totalitarian networks is the impact of donors on the research agendas of think tanks and priorities of human rights organizations have been shifted to advocate for abortion and gay rights as in the case of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The network of deep pocket supporters pushing for the lifting of sanctions goes back decades and includes: David Rockefeller and his Council on Foreign Relations, George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Carlyle Group, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, The Brookings Institute, The Arca Foundation, Kissinger and Associates, The Ford Foundation, and the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

It wasn't President Obama who convinced big business, human rights groups, lawmakers, and some Cubans to go along with the policy shift. Some do sincerely believe that lifting sanctions can spur change, but many others have been swept up in effective campaigns run through extensive and sophisticated totalitarian networks that have a long history in shaping public opinion. Billions of dollars in hard currency purchases by the Castro regime from U.S. agribusiness since 2000 has generated a powerful lobby combined with corporate greed that provides the perfect storm unfolding today. This is a long game that goes back decades and involves a strategic vision. Obama didn't convince anyone of anything. The president is just doing what he is told.

This is the second of three reflections (The New Cuba Policy: How did we get here?) in a multifactorial analysis of what is taking place on Cuba policy today. The first part looked at the state of the United States in 2014 and why it would be susceptible to the machinations of the campaign underway. The third part refutes the claim that Obama has made the biggest changes in a half century on Cuba policy looking at the steps taken by Carter and Clinton.

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