Cuba: How to spot a gusano

February 2, 2023
Gusanos is the term the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro used to describe the first waves of wealthy white former landowners who fled Cuba to the United States. Image: Green Left

Gusano, m., maggot, worm
Spanish-English and English-Spanish Commercial Dictionary, 2nd ed, by G R Macdonald (New York: Pitman, 1920), p170.

Gusanos is the term the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro used to describe the first waves of wealthy white former landowners who fled Cuba to the United States in the 1960s after the overthrow of the US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Since then, gusano has come to embrace Cuban-born counter-revolutionaries, especially those now living in the US — in particular, in Florida — but also in other countries as well (eg Spain, Canada and Australia).

The word is undoubtedly a pejorative term. It is used advisedly in this article and not as a racial or ethnic slur.

Many gusanos were behind the 1961 US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, which Cuban forces were able to defeat in less than 72 hours, capturing hundreds of mercenaries, many of whom were Batista-era plantation owners, military people and dispossessed owners of businesses and factories.

Gusanos were behind the 1976 mid-air bombing of Cubana Airways Flight 455, resulting in the deaths of 73 people. The ringleader, Luis Posada Carriles, is a right-wing Cuban who fled the country after the 1959 Revolution.

Posada also organised a series of hotel bombings in Cuba, which injured 11 people and killed an Italian tourist. He was arrested and jailed in Panama, in 2000, for planning to bomb a university where Fidel Castro was due to speak. Protected by the US, Posada was never tried for mass murder or terrorism, and received enormous support from right-wing Cuban Americans. He died in Miami in 2018, aged 90.

A well-orchestrated dirty war by the US to bring down Cuba’s elected government — the largest-ever covert action program conducted by one nation against another — commenced in October 1959. It continues in one form or another.

At its height, the dirty war included about 299 bands of right-wing exiles with 3995 members operating throughout Cuba.

Since 1959, there have been more than 680 acts of terrorism, including chemical warfare and bioterrorism, assassination attempts and terrorist attacks against tourist facilities carried out by US agencies or paid hitmen under their protection.

In recent times, there has been a new kind of counter-revolution using social networks, digital communication media and a strategy to influence the international intelligentsia.

Of course, it would be wrong to label all right-wing Cubans living abroad as terrorists or counter-revolutionaries.

In this era of social media, Cuban-born counter-revolutionaries are active, regularly posting false and misleading information about the Cuban government and its alleged failings.

So, how does one spot a gusano?

A ‘dictatorship’

A gusano will always refer to the Cuban government as a “dictatorship”.

However, Cuba is a people’s democracy and a republic, with elections at all levels of government. Yes, there is only one political party, namely, the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba, PCC), but there is a fairly broad range of differing views among elected officials. For example, some Cuban officials are in favour of more private enterprise, while others are not.

There is full and frank discussion of these matters in the National Assembly of People’s Power.

Gusanos would have you believe that the Cuban government owns everything in Cuba. However, Cuba’s private sector has been growing in size and importance in recent years. Self-employed people made up more than 13% of Cuba’s workforce in 2021 — about 600,000 workers.

‘No freedom’ in Cuba

This assertion is really a corollary of the “dictatorship” assertion.

Gusanos would have you believe that most Cubans live out their miserable existence in constant fear of government reprisals.

Any person who goes to Cuba soon realises that is not the case.

‘No blockade’

A gusano invariably minimises and trivialises the US economic blockade of Cuba. Many of them even deny the existence of a blockade or sanctions.

A gusano loves to say that “the only blockade is internal”, that is, the only constraints imposed on the Cuban people are those imposed by the government in Havana.

Another assertion regularly found in social media is that food and medicine are exempt from US sanctions. Again, that is not true.

Food and medicine are potentially exemptible, but not exempt. For food and medicine to be shipped to Cuba from the US, a licence must be obtained from the US government. Much paperwork and considerable delays are involved — and cash must always be paid upfront for the goods sought to be imported into Cuba.

The US blockade of Cuba is real. It hurts the Cuban people tremendously. Are Cuban-born counter-revolutionaries aware of that? Some are, but they seem to think that it is the price that must be paid in order to destroy the supposed “dictatorship”. However, that the blockade has not done so seems largely immaterial.

Cuban-born counter-revolutionaries support the US blockade for two main reasons: First, they know that the blockade annoys, to put it mildly, the Cuban government. They seem to derive some pleasure from knowing that. Secondly, the maintenance of the blockade empowers the counter-revolutionaries to believe that they are doing something positive for those Cubans still living in Cuba.

However, the cost of the US blockade on Cuba has been estimated to be in the order of US$130 billion over six decades.

In addition, for each of the past 30 years, the United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly condemned the US blockade, calling on Washington to end its wide-ranging punitive sanctions.

‘Crumbling buildings everywhere’

Gusanos would have you believe that Havana, indeed much of Cuba, is in ruins. This is not the case.

Yes, there are crumbling buildings in Havana and other cities and towns in Cuba, but most of the buildings are in an acceptable state.

Old Havana, the historic centre of Camagüey, San Pedro de la Roca Castle, in Santiago de Cuba, and Trinidad de Cuba are UNESCO World Heritage sites, renowned for their architectural beauty and heritage significance.

‘Cuba was once wealthy’

Gusanos often assert that Cuba was a wealthy country prior to the 1959 revolution. Some even assert that it was the wealthiest nation in Latin America.

Another assertion frequently made is that ordinary Cubans were better off, financially and otherwise, before Castro took power.

These assertions are grossly misleading, if not downright wrong.

For starters, most of the supposed wealth attributed to pre-1959 Cuba was foreign-owned.

From 1903 onwards, the US had almost complete control over Cuba’s political and economic affairs. About three-quarters of the country’s arable land was owned or controlled by US companies. When it came to the provision of telephone and electricity services, US interests exceeded 90%.

The quality of life under US neocolonialism was abysmal: 56% of Cubans had no electricity; about 14% of Cubans had tuberculosis; 13% had typhoid fever; 91% of Cubans were malnourished; nearly 25% of Cubans were illiterate; the average life expectancy was just 59 years; and infant mortality stood at 60 per 1000.

Prior to the revolution, decades of US exploitation, gangsterism, support for brutal dictatorships and associated corruption had ripped the heart out of the Cuban political system and society.

How to respond to a gusano

So, how should one respond to a gusano on social media?

Generally speaking, it is best to ignore them. Trying to counter their assertions with facts only emboldens them. When it comes to social media, far too many people care little about facts. They have an agenda and this is especially true of Cuban-born counter-revolutionaries.

Reportedly, some gusanos are paid to respond to favourable tweets about Cuba. That may or may not be the case, but one thing is clear. It doesn’t take long for a favourable tweet or other post to be met with a deluge of unfavourable responses from reactionary Cubans living abroad, especially in Florida.

Many Cubans living abroad are decent people who have real stories to tell. They have a right to tell their stories truthfully. That much must be respected.

Rather than waste words and time responding to erroneous social media posts about Cuba and its government, supporters of the Cuban revolution need to direct their energies into fighting the US blockade and engaging in positive initiatives that help the Cuban people.

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