A major split over the US blockade of Cuba has emerged between domestic “dissidents” in Cuba and their former partners in Miami. The US corporate media is paying attention to what appears to be a new anti-Cuban strategy.
A letter signed by 74 of the “dissidents” on the island calls for an end to Washington’s ban on US citizens travelling to Cuba. On the other hand, most of the Cuban-American members of Congress are fiercely defending the nearly 50-year-old economic blockade in all its forms. The “new contras” are now up against the old.
The split represents a genuine difference in counter-revolutionary tactics, but is also linked to squabbles over money. For many years, “dissidents” in Cuba have privately complained that most of the millions of dollars pledged by Washington — for a “transition” to capitalist “democracy” in Cuba — is snapped up by Miami.
There have been scandals over the misuse of the millions of US government dollars funnelled into propaganda media outlets aimed at Cuba. Miami-based Radio Marti and Television Marti were recently criticised by US Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry as corrupt, ineffective and of little interest to young Cubans.
The occasion for the current disagreement is debate over two bills before US Congress that would significantly alter the blockade, which is condemned every year by the United Nations. In 2009, 187 countries condemned the US’ economic blockade of Cuba.
In February, the Travel Restriction Reform Act and Export Enhancement Act were introduced into Congress. The travel act was developed by the powerful Foreign Relations Committee and the export act by the House Agriculture Committee.
They are sponsored by dozens of representatives from both US parties.
The Export Enhancement Act would allow “normal” banking procedures to sell produce to Cuba; it says nothing about purchasing anything from the little socialist country.
The Travel Restriction Reform Act would allow US citizens to travel freely to Cuba. US travel agents expect a strong response by tourists if the bill passes.
Prominent “dissidents” including Yoani Sanchez, Guillermo Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez oppose the “isolation” imposed by the blockade, saying “any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society”.
However these “new contras” are famous for their support in the US, rather than in Cuba.
In their letter, dated May 30, they say, “We know that major non-governmental organisations support this bill, including to name only a few: the United States Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Amnesty International, [and] Human Rights Watch.”
They claim that “if the citizens of the United States, like those of the rest of the world, increased their presence on our streets” they could become “witnesses of the suffering of the Cuban people” and “offer solidarity and a bridge to facilitate the transition we Cubans so greatly desire”.
Apparently the 2.5 million tourists that visit Cuba every year are unable to be such “witnesses”, nor provide the solidarity these “dissidents" seek. Indeed, few foreigners visiting Cuba have much interest in old Cold War agendas. Very few provide any funds for Cuba’s contras, new or old.
Nevertheless, it is true that greater traffic between the US to Cuba would open up the possibility for more US government contacts, lessening the mediation role of the old guard in Miami. Fearing this, the old guard are hanging on to the almost universally condemned blockade.
South Florida Congressperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said last year: “How could anyone credibly argue that lounging on the beaches of Varadero or partying in the nightclubs until the wee hours of the night will bring freedom and democracy to the Cuban people?”
Florida Congressperson Connie Mack screamed: “This is a Castro bailout, Mr. Chairman ... a bailout for tyranny.”
The Cuban government has always strongly opposed the travel ban. When the country was opened to large-scale tourism in the mid 1990s it was accepted as logical that US citizens would become the largest group of visitors.
To many, the prospect of millions of US tourists coming in one’s direction is daunting; but Cubans have their typical confidence that they can handle the onslaught.
[Slightly abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Tim Anderson is a senior lecturer in political economy at the University of Sydney.]