By Saul Landau and Nelson Valdes
U.S. foreign assistance empowers those in Cuba who are working towards positive change to advocate for fundamental freedoms and free market-oriented solutions to meet the needs of Cuban citizens. – U.S. AID web page, March 2011
On March 12, after a two day trial, a Cuban court sentenced Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” referring to his role in a “subversive project” designed by Washington “to undermine” Cuba’s government. The prosecutors had asked for a 20-year sentence. He can appeal this decision to Cuba’s high court.
Gross lied on his immigration forms (five times he called himself a tourist to cover his work to distribute clandestine communications technology for the U.S. government). Gross worked for DAI, a company that won a contract from AID (State Department). Gross’ job, according to AID’S Cuba program, was to “increase the free flow of uncensored information to, from, and within the island through the provision of informational materials and internet access, as well as building the capacity of Cuban independent media.”
It’s hardly surprising that AID’s charter does not authorize U.S. aid to independent Cubans who critique the results of U.S. policy in Cuba. For example, if some independent blogger wanted satellite phones to organize a march outside the U.S. Interest Section (embassy without formal ambassadorial relations, broken by Eisenhower on Jan 3, 1961) and maintain a vigil there to confront each U.S. diplomat with the thousands of violent crimes committed by U.S. agents against Cuba, AID would not finance such a project. Imagine a civil society-building movement that attacked the Cuban government for doing too little against a country that murdered its citizens!
Indeed, Cubans demanding justice from the United States would have facts, thousands of declassified documents authorizing assassinations and sabotage of Cuban property — and a CIA-backed invasion of the island. Former CIA officials testified to Congress about these programs.
What baffles Cubans is the nature of its northern neighbor: “self-righteousness” under the rubric of “American democracy.” Note: do not call it U.S. democracy because Washington applies the concept to all the territory God ordained as a U.S. (unofficial) protectorate (See Monroe Doctrine and discussion of Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century).
Since God selected a few English of Puritan bent to cross the ocean to Massachusetts to preach His revealed word to savages and make proper (capitalistic) use of the rich land they were to conquer, the chosen had a serious obligation to fulfill. Those conquered or subdued from Patagonia to Mexico should be coaxed or forced to adopt as their political norms the perfect system elaborated for them by the U.S. Founding Fathers.
By the 20th Century, most of Latin America understood the basic precepts of living under the guidelines set forth by the U.S. “democracy.” Elections had to result in obedient (to Washington) governments. Disobedient winners repeatedly got removed and new elections eventually provided compliant ones. (In the 1960s, when Juan Bosch prevailed in the Dominican Republic, the United States helped un-prevail him; more recently Haitian voters chose Jean Bertrand Aristide and Washington officials conspired to kidnap and exile him – and insure he would not return.)
In addition, Americans insist on legislatures, courts, and a privately owned “free press” with paid advertisements. Underlying U.S. rules rests the supreme assumption: protection of God’s most sacred entity, private property, especially American property.
If one understands U.S. democracy in this way, and there’s plenty of history to illustrate it, then one can also grasp what much of the world views as Washington’s obsession with Cuba since 1959: Cuba nationalized U.S. property.
This fixation sometimes leads U.S. officials into embarrassing situations. For example, Secretary of State Clinton routinely criticizes Cuba for having “political prisoners” – U.S.-paid dissidents. Cuba released almost all of those prisoners, but the United States holds some 200 prisoners – without formal charges at Guantanamo base. But that’s different. Those held at Guantanamo might threaten “American” security whereas Cuba’s political prisoners only threatened Cuban security; therefore, Cuba had no right to imprison them. The American government has rights; Cuba has responsibilities.
As everyone has witnessed, the lack of certain freedoms in Cuba paled in comparison to repression in other states Washington maintains friendly relations with. In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt rolled out the red carpet for Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “He might be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch,” said FDR. More recent SOBs like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, for example, got massive amounts of U.S. money in aid.
AID in Cuba, however, indirectly employed Alan Gross as a contract agent to “aid” the Cuban people. Gross’ job was to get Cubans to use better communications for a made-in-the-USA “civil society.” This U.S.-designed perfect model of democracy remains as one of the few commodities still manufactured in the United States for export only.
Alan Gross actually acted his part in the Washington play designed 50-plus years ago. In March 1960, the CIA scripted “… a means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition.” The Agency claimed “a CIA controlled action group is producing and distributing anti-Castro and anti-Communist publications regularly.” (CIA, A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime, March 1960)
Satellite phones and laptops have replaced printed matter, but the U.S. goal remains. Gross claims no government official warned him the Cuban government had decades of experience in duping U.S. agents – even “experts” in sophisticated technology. Perhaps a history lesson would have taught Gross, and Secretary Clinton, more than they pick up from their tweets.
Saul Landau’s new film, WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP, is distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. Nelson Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.