ISA Director Louis Pérez on WCHL 97.9 FM, Who’s Talking show


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Louis Pérez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill and Director, Institute for the Study of the Americas, gives background about Cuban history and politics to help us understand today’s events. The host asks about the new travel rules as it relates to the People to People framework,  the pros and cons of the new rules, and more. Listen now!

‘Castro Was a Living Reminder of the Limits of American Power’–FAIR Media Watch interviews Louis Pérez about the influence of Fidel Castro

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Janine Jackson: Fidel Castro, who died November 25 at age 90, will be remembered as someone whose work changed, not just Cuba, but the wider world. With US media ringing with denunciation—with some left over to denunciate those who aren’t denunciating enough—there’s little oxygen left for discussion of that work, and what it meant and still means.

We’re joined now for some context on Castro and Cuba by Louis Pérez. He’s professor of history at the University of North Carolina and editor of Cuban Journal, and author of, among other titles, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. He joins us now by phone from North Carolina. Welcome to CounterSpin, Louis Pérez.

Louis Perez: Good day.

JJ: To hear the TV talkers tell it, Fidel Castro was not just an evil monster, he was a sort of Svengali who somehow tricked millions of people into supporting his project. There’s a sense that the only reason not to despise him is delusion. And that seems to disavow any agency on the part of the Cuban people, among other things; they’re seen as engaging in some sort of idol worship. I have heard you say that Fidel resonates because the Cuban Revolution resonates. Can you give us some context for why that’s the case?

LP: The most extraordinary facet of the coverage of the last five, six days in this country has been the utter lack of self-reflection and ignorance of context, and I think you’ve used the word “context” already twice in your introductory comments. It is so easy and so facile to focus on one man—Americans love the Great Man thesis—one man to whom one can attribute everything that torments one. It is so easy to identify the outcomes in Cuba, the outcomes in Central America, the outcomes in Africa to one guy.

That liberates anybody from exploring context, from exploring process, from exploring history, from understanding how this phenomenon that Fidel Castro represents unfolds. And so what we have here is just a utterly one-dimensional assessment of the past and the present, and Fidel Castro was that evil person to whom one can attribute everything that one doesn’t like about the world.

JJ: When Cubans talk about it, of course, there’s a completely different approach to it, and a completely different kind of reckoning with it. But, as you say, US readers have gotten, first of all, very little information, period, but then also the information has been kind of cartoonish. So what can you tell—and also for younger folks who don’t know—what was the Cuban Revolution, what did it signify, what did it change?

LP: The Cuban Revolution comes out of a history, comes out of a struggle by a people that has its antecedents in the middle of the 19th century, and it represents successive generations of Cubans who aspire—however unlikely it would appear, coming from a little country, a small population—the Cuban historical purpose for 150 years has been given to the pursuit of self-determination and national sovereignty. If the Cuban Revolution is about anything, it’s about self-determination and national sovereignty. And so that’s an idea that goes back to the 1850s, and it’s articulated by Jose Martí in the 1880s and 1890s, and it continues to circulate, and it becomes a politics in Cuba with the inauguration of a republic in 1902.

So Fidel Castro comes out of that history. He is formed by that sensibility. And so what the Cuban Revolution represents in January 1959—and certainly this is a point that Fidel Castro makes—it is the culmination of a process. It is, finally, a people who have achieved self-determination and national sovereignty, and the obstacle in the 19th century was Spain, and the obstacle in the 20th century was the United States. So the Revolution comes with this purpose of affirming Cuba for Cubans, and finally the prospects of agency, of seizing hold of those forces that govern one’s life, and that means, inevitably, to reduce the presence and the influence of the United States in Cuba.

And that’s the one condition that since the 19th century the United States was not willing to acquiesce to Cuba. From Jefferson until George W. Bush and perhaps even Obama, the idea of Cuban national sovereignty and self-determination has been and it continues to be an anathema.

JJ: As in other places as well, but I think it’s such an important understanding of the relationship. Reuters in their write-up said that Castro “built a Communist state on the doorstep of the United States,” which I find funny, as though the proximity of this tiny island were an affront or a provocation to the United States.
It reminds me of the comic and activist Professor Irwin Corey, who was a big supporter of the Revolution. He told my colleague Steve Rendall that he had complained to Castro, “For 40 years, you’ve refused to remove your country from around our military base.”

LP: [laughs] It is, of course, the relationship with the world superpower, it is that sovereignty that drew the admiration of people, of oppressed people, the world over, that defiance. And how strange to present it still today as a threat to the United States.

LP: I think the word you use is correct, the affront. Fidel Castro was a breathing, living reminder of the limits of American power. How is it possible that the United States could not do something about this guy? And successive generations of American political leaders, 11 presidential administrations, more or less all take power saying they’re going to do something about Fidel Castro. The presidential terms come and go and he’s still there. And he survives the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the Cuban Revolution continues, admittedly limping, but still continues to survive.

So I think it’s that defiance that just galled Americans, the inability to will the world according to their wishes in a place that they had always willed the world. There’s something profoundly psychological. Fidel Castro becomes a highly personal issue to Americans, and the multiple attempts to assassinate — can’t make it any more personal than that.

JJ: What you’re talking about, the importance of sovereignty, that, as I understand it, became an overweening focus on sovereignty, and then the security state that is understandably lamented. Now, you see that as a kind of cautionary tale.

LP: That’s exactly how I see it. I see the Cuban developments. Does the system resort to repressive techniques? Absolutely. Has it spawned an elaborate surveillance and intelligence system? Absolutely. It has done all these things.

I think it’s important to bear in mind that this has a context. This was a state, a government, administration, rulers, who were confronted with the most powerful country in the world, that had as a single overriding determination, regime change.

And when the Cubans invoke national security, then all bets are off, as we are learning in this country. When one invokes national security, then civil liberties, constitutional freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of thought—that space begins to contract, get smaller and smaller.
And, again, when I said earlier the lack of self-reflection, I think anybody has to go to the Alien and Sedition Laws at the end of the 18th century, after the American Revolution, when the Americans felt threatened by the French, and they passed the sedition laws. And anybody who published or said anything against the United States government would be subject to imprisonment. And how about the Japanese-Americans who the United States, feeling threatened by Japan, rounded up, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans, and put them in camps.

So it’s that lack of context, it’s that lack of appreciation. It’s like people say, wow, the economy’s in shambles in Cuba. It is. But to what degree is the shambles of the Cuban economy the outcome of a punitive embargo that had as its direct purpose to make the Cuban economy one of shambles? So it is this loop of opinion that feeds on itself, and we just can’t seem to break or get out of it.

JJ: Well, let me just ask you, finally: We had started to see, it was being called a “thaw,” we saw some diplomatic relations being established earlier this year with Cuba. Now, you know, things are different. What do you imagine happening now, in terms of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, and what do you think would serve Cubans?

LP: If the new, incoming administration presumes to act on the utterances of this past weekend, then I think anybody, any persons of good will, any persons who derive comfort at the process of normalization of the last two years, cannot but despair and feel very anxious. The words of the president-elect, saying that he wants to withdraw the “concessions,” quote unquote, unless the Cubans, among other things, open up their economy for market reform, free political prisoners, hold elections, allow political parties—we are now going to be plunged back to the worst days of…I don’t even know what the comparison would be, the Reagan years, the George W. Bush years.

Because these are the demands that the Cubans have resisted for 55 years. Because this is, again, a throwback to the curtailment and the challenge to the Cuban insistence upon self-determination and national sovereignty. So if these folks who are coming in in January proceed to act on those politics, then we’re in for some very, very difficult times in US/Cuban relations.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Louis Pérez, professor of history at the University of North Carolina and author of, among other books, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. Louis Pérez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

LP: You’re very welcome.

ISA Director on the revival of racialized representations of Cuba in travel relations with the US

The North American Congress on Latin America featured an article by ISA director Louis A. Pérez, Jr. who discusses the transformation of “people-to-people” into an element of U.S.-Cuba policy. Louis A. Pérez, Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and is the author of, among others, Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos (UNC Press 2011) and The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purposes of the Past (UNC Press 2013), which has just been reissued in paperback. Thank you to our friends at the North American Congress on Latin America for publishing. See the original post below or click here

“Visit Cuba, Before It Changes!”

As relations with Cuba move toward normalization, the transformation of “people-to-people” travel into an element of U.S.-Cuba policy revives old racialized representations of the island and its people.

Louis A. Pérez, Jr.

Over the course of 55 years, the United States has pursued change in Cuba with implacable tenacity and almost single-minded resolve: one armed invasion, scores of assassination plots, years of covert operations, and decades of punitive economic sanctions.  An embargo—“harsher than on any other countries in the world,” as Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson acknowledged in 2015—was designed with malice of forethought: to inflict adversity upon the Cuban people and deepen Cuban discontent through economic privation, in the hope that hardship would bestir the island’s people to rise up and, in one fell swoop, precipitate the overthrow of the Castro government.

Starting in 2014, the Obama administration introduced a new lucidity to U.S. policy—one informed with a more nuanced appreciation of the perils attending political change obtained through economic collapse. The United States’ 55-year-old policy had not worked, the President affirmed outright on December 17, 2014:  “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”

In principle, Obama’s words represented a remarkable paradigm shift. However, in practice, the President’s actions have thus far been less a change of ends than a change in means. That is to say, a reset of U.S. strategies for change: if not change of regime, in the short run, then change in the regime, in the long run. For 55 years, the United States had insisted upon political change in Cuba as the precondition to normal diplomatic relations. Under the Obama administration, that policy has been turned on its head, establishing that normal diplomatic relations are the condition to obtain political change. “Through engagement,” President Obama explained, “we have a better chance of bringing out change than we would have otherwise.” He elaborated on this when speaking with CNN’s Candy Crowleylater in December 2014: “If we engage,” Obama said, “we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country… I think we should seize it, and I intend to do so.”

The new policy of “engagement” contemplates political change induced from within, not imposed from without, and is a strategy intended to “empower” the Cuban peoplethemselves to act as agents of change.  According to Assistant Secretary Jacobson, “We would hope to bring about change in the regime. And simultaneously, we would hope to empower the Cuban people to be able to make that change.”

People-to-People’s Subversive Intent

Few “change-in-the-regime” strategies have attracted as much policy interest and public attention as the expansion of “people-to-people” travel initiatives. Originally conceived during the 1990s, the idea of people-to-people was informed with subversive intent, as the United States was persuaded that an expanded U.S. presence in Cuba would serve to diffuse American values among the Cuban people, and thereupon to hasten political change. As Fidel Castro warned in 1995, “They seek to penetrate us… weakening us… and destabilizing the country.”

In 2007, then Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) called American travelers the U.S.’s “most potent weapon.” (In October 2000, Dodd maintained that “There is no better way… to communicate America’s values…than by unleashing the average American men and women to demonstrate, by daily living, what our great country stands for, and the contrasts between what we stand for and what exists in Cuba today.”) Americans “will take new ideas, new values and real change for Cuba,” predicted Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in January 2015. “We’ll see a dramatic change in Cuba if there is more travel.” Indeed, American travel to Cuba has today assumed something of a strategic imperative.  As Vicki Huddleston, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, affirmed in her 2010 book Learning to Salsa: New Steps in U.S.-Cuba Relations (co-authored with Cuban-American diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual), “People-to-people contacts… are a fundamental tool serving a new strategic perspective: change in Cuba must come from within.”

In recent years, the Obama administration has revived people-to-people initiatives and acted quickly to expand authorized travel Cuba. Throughout 2015, the Treasury Department implemented new measures to facilitate licensed travel to Cuba. In early 2016, a U.S.-Cuba civil aviation agreement authorized as many as 110 daily flights between the United States and Cuba, potentially increasing the 4,000 charter flights annually to as many as 45,000 scheduled flights, a “key element” within the President’s broader policy of normalizing relations. U.S. travelers were thus enlisted as agents of change, whose very authorizations to travel to Cuba were granted in function of U.S. policy.

People-to-people programs are licensed by the Treasury Department, and authorization is based on whether the tour itinerary “is structured to enable participants to have direct and individual people-to-people dialogues with the Cuban people and how the trip will allow for such dialogues.”  Until March 2016, people-to-people programs were limited to group tours organized by travel agencies and tour operators, offered under the auspice— per Treasury Department regulations— of “an organization that sponsors and organizes educational exchanges,” including college alumni associations, local chambers of commerce, museums, and educational groups, among others.  In March 2016, the Treasury Department expanded licensed travel to allow “individual people-to-people travel,” with the proviso that the “traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

Selling Cuba

“Selling Cuba” has become a subject of expanding interest among travel agents and marketers at travel conventions and in trade publications—often for exorbitant prices.Changing U.S. policy has propelled Cuba travel into a growth industry.  Scores of licensed tour providers, travel agencies, and tour consultants compete for institutional clients and individual customers in an increasingly crowded, but highly lucrative, market environment.  “Selling Cuba” has become a subject of expanding interest among travel agents and marketers at travel conventions and in trade publications—often for exorbitant prices. In fact, a host of survey companies are presently engaged in ascertaining the demographics of prospective American travel to Cuba.

The fiction that the people-to-people program is a form of “cultural engagement” and not “tourism” is assiduously maintained. In fact, something of a colonial anthropology, as if taken from tourist ethnographies of the nineteenth century, informs the discourse of people-to-people engagement, with Cubans presented as a people with exotic charm who are eager to please American visitors.  “The natives welcome Americans with open arms,” one travel writer has assured visitors to the islands. The Cultural-Explorations tour has promised travelers “a local perspective” through “interactions with welcoming natives.” According to a tour offered by Arizona State University, Cubans are a “warm and friendly people,” who approach life with “an ability to dance and sing even in the most difficult times.”

The most commonplace facets of everyday life, ordinary people—boys and girls, the elderly and the ill, farmers and fishermen—going about their daily lives in ordinary ways, have been incorporated into the sightseeing itinerary of many people-to-people tour operators. The Friendly Planet tour includes a visit to a Havana primary school for travelers “to interact with children in their classroom.” InsightCuba has promised the opportunity to “indulge and laugh and play with Cuban school children” and the Travel Experts tour visits a Cuban daycare center and holds out the promise that “the children may even delight you with a song or two.” A Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce tour includes a visit to Pinar del Río, “where you will get to know an authentic tobacco farmer [and] enjoy a visit inside the farmer’s home,” which is touted as an “exciting encounter” and “a superb opportunity to witness up-close how Cuban families live in a rural setting.” The Travel Experts tour of Pinar del Río notes:  “Before you know it, you’ll be part of the family and will be made to feel very special.” A recent tour offered by Arizona State promotes a visit to a daycare center where “children can share stories with you and you can relate through stories of your children or grandchildren,” while the Road Scholar tour offers multiple opportunities to engage in people-to-people interactions.  In Havana: the opportunity to “meet members of either a Senior Center or Down’s Syndrome community center to share conversation and perhaps exchange a song or two.” In Cienfuegos: “At the Farmers Market, try making purchases with Cuban Pesos to understand the cost of living for Cubans and learn how much basic necessities cost.” In rural Camagüey: “Meet the teachers and students of the two room schoolhouse and discuss how education works in this remote village.  Visit the humble homes and meet the village families.  Try a few words of Spanish and perhaps share a few moments of true intercultural exchange.”

Cuba’s “locals” are represented as a curious lot, for whom the traveler is asked in advance to exercise benign forbearance.  “Some locals dress outrageously,” a tour with the University of Arizona tour alerted travelers, “[They] pose eagerly for camera-ladened tourists.  Of course, after a click, they eagerly reach their hand for a peso.”

In all of these descriptions of Cuba that are offered by people-to-people travel programs, Cuba appears as a place of the mysterious Other—at once a post-colonial and post-revolutionary destination, a country previously prohibited and proscribed to which Americans suddenly have access, and a “long-forbidden island” with “forbidden shores.” The prospective traveler is asked to contemplate Cuba variously as “a mystery to most Americans;” “a mystical place;” an “exotic location,” and “one of the world’s most enigmatic countries.”

The Cuban Time Warp Trope

To visit Cuba is to experience changelessness, to move among a people in the throes of hard times, contemplating the prospects of better times and improved circumstances, to be sure, the very imminence of which threatens to spoil Cuba as a sightseeing experience. Time is of the essence. “Want a chance to see Cuba before it changes forever?” the tour operator InsightCuba, recently asked its prospective customers.  “Better run!” Meanwhile, the GeoEx tour predicted in 2015 that Cuba’s “culture will inevitably change,” and emphasized that “the time to go is now!” Similarly the words used by Cuba Explore tours are almost rhapsodic: “Imagine a nation still pristine and innocent—where strip malls, billboards, neon lights, McDonald’s and Starbucks are absent.  One-in-ten cars are more than 60 years old.  Cuba’s like a time machine with the dial set to the 1950s…There’s a real feeling that everyone wants to get there before it changes too much…”

The narrative of changelessness allows too the inclusion of arrested economic development as a reasonable sightseeing attraction: Cuba as a “time warp” in which to delight in the sensation of time having stood still in a neo-colonial past. Havana “looks firmly stuck in the 1950s,” CNN has marveled.  “Vintage cars roam the streets, the landscape is absent of strip malls and global chains, and the buildings—though crumbling—hark back to a grander time.  It is these throwbacks that lend Havana, the country’s capital, an undeniable charm.  A charm that, some worry, is in peril once the U.S. embargo lifts.” To visit Cuba is to enter a time capsule, to experience life as it was lived a half century ago.

The implication is that to visit Cuba is to time travel, an opportunity to see a people actually living real life in the past, making do and getting by as they did more than a half-century ago. Not a few contemplate the future of Cuba preserved in the past as a living and lived-in museum, to be experienced as a way of life on the cusp of extinction. Perhaps the promise of Cuban resurrection is to be fulfilled with Cuba as a parody of itself, preserved in the cinematography of the American imagination as an “atmospheric” condition, all of course to the deepening dismay of many Cubans—circumstances that, as Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez (writing for the New York Times) indicated, produce among Cubans “the annoying experience of being viewed as something like an exotic species.”

The “frozen-in-time” metaphor serves as the narrative logic through which to delight in Cuban adversity— “crumbling and captivating,” is how one exulted traveler put it recently. The University of North Carolina tour of Old Havana has promised “a step back in time, to observe the neglect.” Rough Guides offers a tour to Centro Habana, “full of broken sewage systems, potholed roads and piles of rubbish,” and adds that the city “It isn’t for the faint-hearted.” Meanwhile, a program run by Bryant University describes the island as a place of “faded glamour,” that is “now a shadow of its former prestige,” and “a world where time is held captive.”

This is Cuba mired in circumstances of adversity as a photogenic object of the sightseer gaze, and an island living under impoverished material circumstances whose plight as a historical condition offers a visitors’ attraction. An exultant Steven Rattner, writing for the New York Times, traveled to Cuba to bear witness to an “economy crumbling,” and discerned in Cuban prostration a cautionary tale that he wanted his own children to witness up-close: “I wanted my children to see firsthand the ineffectiveness of socialism at creating prosperity.”

All in all, the moral of their story is simple: capitalism works while socialism does not.  Therein lays the supposed promise of U.S. capitalism: to rescue the island from the follies of Cuban socialism. The traveler is expected to offer words of wisdom, to point out to Cubans the error of their ways and tout the virtues of capitalist system. This is not to suggest insidious intent or mischievous purpose.  On the contrary, Americans—mostly—of good will, eager to be helpful during times of adversity, will offer counsel about this and make suggestions about that, all with the best of intentions: something of a “people-to-people” capitalist exchange. All in all, the moral of their story is simple: capitalism works while socialism does not.  At the “people-to-people” level, this is seductive stuff, particularly in an era ofcuentapropismo—that is, a time when small Cuban entrepreneurs are launching their own new businesses and making a go of it in an emerging market environment, with a little bit of help from their new-found friends.

Adversity serves as an opportunity for Americans to understand “the very real challenges [Cubans] face every day,” a tour operated by Penn State has suggested. Classic Journeys has satisfied the voyeurist impulse by enabling travelers the opportunity to “shop in the local [Havana] markets on a typical Cuban’s budget for food;” and Friendly Planet’s tours visit “alocal ration store,” where the Cuban host “will explain the system of rationing.” Travelers on the Arizona State tour visited a small farm, an experience to provide insight into “the challenges” faced due to the “lack of modern equipment.”

Beyond depicting the Cuban economy as stuck in a ruinous past, tour itineraries have also prepared Americans to anticipate Cubans as needy recipients of Americans largess, thereby discharging the humanitarian purpose for which the Treasury Department authorized travel.  Penn State has provided numerous sightseeing occasions in which to enact the humanitarian exchange and encourage donations: a visit to a maternity center, a primary school, and a senior citizen center. An environment-friendly Cornell tour to Pinar del Río provides the occasion to “plant a tree with your fellow travelers.”

These voyeuristic experiences of adversity provide an opportunity to further a U.S.-centric narrative that disseminates U.S. values. These are, it bears repeating, the very function of the visitsWhat is sinister about these efforts is not the donations themselves, but the auspices under which they are presented. These voyeuristic experiences of adversity provide an opportunity to further a U.S.-centric narrative that disseminates U.S. values. These are, it bears repeating, the very function of the visits, and while it would be facile to suggest that these “dialogues” occur on every occasion, of course, there is no doubt that these interactions do occur. People-to-people travel, International Expeditions explains to prospective travelers, requires participation “in cultural experiences and direct contact with the Cuban people to learn more about them and their culture, while they [Cubans] learn about the American way of life.” Bloomberg News recently reported on U.S. contact with ordinary Cubans by contending that “Fueling [Cubans’] rising expectations is a powerful subversive act.”

These are threshold moments, a time in which peoples of both countries are in the process of renewing familiarities.  It would be an extraordinary turn of events indeed if, after 60 years, Americans presume to renew their relationship with Cubans with a combination of the arrogance and ignorance that informed their attitudes during the pre-Revolution period of 1950s. But to date, that has largely been the case as people-to-people tourism revives the tropes reminiscent of “First World meets Third World” narratives. Only now, to such narratives is added a triumphalist claim: that a change of U.S. policy will rescue Cubans from the straits into which they have plunged themselves.  These are the early formative moments of the next phase of an evolving and complex Cuba-U.S. history, but they represent an inauspicious beginning indeed.

A conversation with Oscar Zanetti, “50 años de la historiografía cubana”


A conversation with Oscar Zanetti, “50 años de la historiografía cubana,” Monday, April 18, 2016,  at 4 p.m. in Hamilton 423.

Zanetti: a distinguished historian of Cuba, holdings appointments in the Institute of History of Cuba and the University of Havana, President of the History Section of the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC), member of the Academia de la Historia de Cuba, and the Academia de Ciencias de Cuba.  His most recent books include: La escritura del tiempo: historia e historiadores en Cuba contemporánea  (2014) and Esplendor y decadencia del azúcar en las Antillas Hispanas (2012).

Director Lou Pérez featured in University “Well Said” podcast


In a 13-minute interview, Director Lou Pérez discusses Cuban history and what restoring diplomatic relations means for the two countries.

ISA Director Lou Pérez featured on “Well Said” Podcast


Cuban flags fly in Havana, Cuba

Listen to the University’s new “Well Said” podcast, which  features Lou Pérez, director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Pérez discusses Cuban history and what restoring diplomatic relations means for the two countries.


Cuba Then and Now


Cuba: Then and Now

A Workshop for Educators

For additional information please contact: Emily Chávez UNC-Duke Consortium Outreach Coordinator, | (919) 681-3982




Louis Pérez,Ph.D | J.Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and the Director of Institute for the Study of the Americas,UNC-Chapel Hill
Holly Ackerman,Ph.D | Librarian for Latin American,Iberian, and Latino/a Studies in the
Duke Libraries, Department of International and Area Studies
Miguel Rojas-Sotelo,Ph.D | NC Latin American Film Festival Director and
Special Events Coordinator, Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Bradley Simmons | Adjunct Lecturer of West African Music and History,
Director of the Duke Djembe Ensemble

Change Through Impoverishment: A Half-Century of Cuba-U.S. Relations, Part Two

perez_louisWritten by ISA Director Louis A. Pérez, Jr.
Published 12/17/2015 North American Congress on Latin America

By the early 2000s, the efficacy of the paradigm of economic sanctions and political isolation as the policy framework for regime change in Cuba could no longer stand up to close scrutiny.  The Castro government had survived the worst years of the post-Soviet crisis and endured the years of the severest U.S. sanctions.  A new relationship with Venezuela had relieved the island’s most pressing energy needs.  Cuba had completed, uneventfully, a transition of political leadership from Fidel to Raúl.  For all but the most intractable hardline defenders of political isolation and economic sanctions, the rationale for a change of policy was as self-evident as it was self-explanatory.  “There’s nothing more naive,” candidate Barack Obama insisted in May 2008, “than continuing a policy that has failed for decades.”  And to the point:  “It’s time for a new strategy.”

The momentous announcements of December 17, 2014 outlined the framework for the “new strategy.”  The United States, President Obama affirmed, could not “keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” hence, the President determined, it was time to “end an outdated approach” and “to try something different.”  The old policy, the President asserted, “hasn’t worked.” Obama repeated the argument one month later in his January 2015 State of the Union address:  “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” In Jamaica, en route to the April 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama, the President again explained his thinking: “We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past.  When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it; you try something new.”

The Obama administration brought a new lucidity to U.S. policy, informed with a far more nuanced understanding of the perils of a policy seeking regime change through economic ruin and political collapse.  It was counter-intuitive and indeed counter-productive, the administration understood, to seek regime change through civil conflict and social turmoil. As Obama explained:

“It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked— and it hasn’t for 50 years— we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos… We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.”

All in all, a long distance from Representative Torricelli’s determination to “wreak havoc in Cuba.”

To abandon “something that hasn’t worked” for 55 years and instead “try something new” spoke to an eminently rational logic, of course.  But it’s also true that power tends to assemble the parameters of logic in accordance with its needs.  What had not “worked” was the use of political isolation and economic sanctions to achieve regime change, the overriding purpose to which 55 years of U.S. policy was given.  Rapprochement was the form that trying “something new” assumed, less a change of ends than one of means: from a punitive policy devised to impoverish the Cuban people into rebellion to a benign policy designed to empower the Cuban people as agents of reform.  The telling phrase of the new policy took hold early: “to empower the Cuban people.”  Not a changed relationship with the government of Cuba, but a changed relationship with the people of Cuba– what the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, explained to the Harvard Crimson as “extending a hand to the Cuban people.” A portentous distinction, to be sure, one that implied more than a semantic detail, and invited the inference that to try something new meant to try a new way to initiate regime change.

The purport of U.S. policy was made explicit in the first sentence of President Obama’s December 17 announcement:  “Today the United States is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” To engage the Cuban people, the President indicated weeks later at his year-end press conference, offered “the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people…Through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change than we would have otherwise…And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.” The renewal of diplomatic relations, Secretary of State John Kerry exulted, promised “thebeginning of a new era of a new relationship with the people of Cuba.”

“We want to try and go directly to the Cuban people,” Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson explained to Congress.  “I believe that we also will get some things that matter inopening our embassy and hopefully the ability to travel throughout the country and see more people, and support more people.”  The United States, Jacobson emphasized, was “committed to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which will allow us to more effectively represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people,” a way “to have conversations” with the Cuban people, with “as many of the 11 million Cubans as we can.” Among the “11 million Cubans” the United States identified for empowerment were — Jacobson indicated—“cuenta propistas (the self-employed), emerging private sector, whether it is artists, cultural figures, or whether it is human rights activists, emerging independent media voice, bloggers, journalists.” There were very targeted sectors of the “Cuban people” indeed.

The proposition of engagement as a means to “empower” the Cubans loomed large in the new policy narratives.  “We strongly believe,” Secretary Jacobson insisted, “that having an embassy in Havana will enable us to do more things that help us more effectively empower the Cuban people.”  At another point Jacobson contended that, “Our efforts are to empower the Cuban people to take their lives into their own hands.” The United States, the Department of State pledged, “will remain focused on empowering the Cuban people and supporting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.” State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon emphasized that “our desire and hope [are] that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny.” Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Tomasz Malinowski, summarized the U.S.’s purpose succinctly: “The empowerment of the Cuban people must be the bedrock of our new policy towards Cuba, and it will be.”

The Americans envisioned the emergence of “civil society” as a means of U.S. influence, explained Daniel Erikson of the Office of Cuban Affairs, a way to “increase U.S. leverage on the island.”The President’s announcement of December 17 thus represented a significant reset of a 55-year-old policy protocol.  “Our previous approach to relations with Cuba over a half century,” explained Jacobson, “though rooted in the best of intentions, failed to empower the Cuban people…As a result, unfortunately and unintentionally, those most deprived were the Cuban people.” (“Unfortunately,” true; “unintentionally,” false.)  “After 50 years of experience with the embargo,” explained Malinowski, “we have to face the hard truth that it has not weakened the repressive apparatus of the Castro government.  It has not strengthened Cuba’s civil society.  It has not given us the leverage we need to press for change.” The Americans envisioned the emergence of “civil society” as a means of U.S. influence, explained Daniel Erikson of the Office of Cuban Affairs, a way to “increase U.S. leverage on the island.”
The salient facets of American intent stood in sharp relief as a matter of historical continuity. The United States pursued normalization of relations as a matter of instrumental purpose: to provide moral support and material assistance as a means to “empower” Cubans to act on behalf of the change the Americans deemed to be in their best interest, to achieve from within what could not be accomplished from without. This was the interior meaning of “trying something new.”  If not exactly change of regime, in the short run, then change in the regime, in the long run—“to contribute to the democratic development and prosperity of the country,” explained the White House. “We would hope to bring about change in the regime,” Secretary Jacobson acknowledged.  “And simultaneously, we would hope to empower the Cuban people to be able to make that change.” The U.S. commitment to support the “emerging private sector in Cuba,” Jacobson predicted, would result in “many more of these entrepreneurs emerging” as well as the hope that they would “be able to prosper and expand and be agents for change within Cuba.”

“Empowerment” contemplated a strategy designed to drive a wedge between the Cuban people and the Cuban government, to wean the Cuban people off their “dependence” on the State by subsidizing the emergence of a market economy and the creation of a civil society. The expectation was that the Cuban people would in this way be “empowered” to act in defense of private economic interests, and thereupon to serve as agents of political change.  “The more people who are not reliant on the state for their economic future,” suggested Jacobson, “[free to] make their own economic decisions, I think politically and economically, the more it empowers people.”

The United States, Secretary Malinowski indicated, favored those policies in which “the Cuban people will be less dependent on their government and will have more power to shape their future.  That is what we hope will happen.”  One of the virtues of the black market in Cuba, Malinowski suggested, was that people, “in addition to enriching themselves, become more independent, and less dependent on the state.” It was with a sense of foreboding to ponder the implications of comments made in 2015 by Senator Ben Cardin on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “U.S. policy is directly responsible for helping the Cuban people improve their living conditions and achieve a new degree of independence from the Cuban government,” Cardin said. The proposition of the United States “helping the Cuban people” achieve their “independence from the Cuban government” was breathtaking.

The United States contemplated a “long view” of regime change, a strategy to engage in a politics of change as a process over time rather than an “event” of sudden collapse.  Normalization of relations offered a means to obtain change in Cuba, if not in the short run, then certainly in the course of time.  “Nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight,” President Obama cautioned. Change in Cuba “is going to take time,” Secretary of State Kerry predicted, adding that it would be “unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact.” Secretary Malinowski was lucid: “Authoritarian regimes don’t just give up their power voluntarily.”  Rather, in Malinowski’s view, change would come by “empowering people to demand change.” In the case of Cuba, this meant “making the Cuban people less dependent on the Cuban state for their livelihood…through information coming from the outside, and less control by the Cuban state.” And a large dose of international pressure.

The “change in regime” as contemplated by the United States implied assistance for entrepreneurial projects, the expansion of telecommunication facilities, expanded access to information, support for new technology infrastructure, and promotion of civil society.  The Treasury Department’s removal of limits on remittances, announced in September 2015, was designed as a means of “empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment, and in turn strengthening independent civil society.” The revision of regulatory policies to allow increased financial support for the emerging private sector, explained John Smith, Deputy Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, was meant to help “the Cuban people freely determine their own future,” based on the proposition that by facilitating “the flow of authorized funds directly to the Cuban people to help promote self-employment and increased private property ownership”  civil society would be “strengthened.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Matthew Borman explained the new regulations as a way “to empower the nascent Cuban private sector by supporting private economic activity” and “improve [Cubans’] living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.” By authorizing American companies to engage in telecommunications sales, Secretary Jacobson affirmed, “and acting to get information into Cuba, to work with entrepreneurs . . . we can begin to increase the pace at which people separate themselves from the state.” Asked how the United States would measure progress made under the new policy, Under Secretary of Commerce Stefan Selig responded:  “Fundamentally, have we supported and empowered the Cuban people?  Have we put them on the path to help build their nascent private sector, and given them greater economic independence from the state?”

The “license” of power is perhaps impossible to revoke.  It informs the very history from which the powerful obtain moral validation, from which the exercise of power assumes such utter common-place normality as to take on the appearance of the natural order of things, hardly noticed at all except as a confirmation that all is right in the world.  Cuba-U.S. relations have been conditioned by nearly 200 years of a history in which the warrant of entitlement has defined the very premise of U.S. policy.  The United States presumes authority to manage Cuban internal affairs, to seek to shape outcomes and to influence the course of events, a stance informed with the moral conviction that the Americans have the authority— indeed, the duty, to guide the affairs of Cubans for their own best interests— and further, that the Cubans have the obligation to accede to U.S. guidance.  The practice has deep historical antecedents, and in the course of time has developed into something of a default stance from which the United States has presumed to engage Cuba.  “If we engage,” President Obama explained to CNN’s Candy Crowley, “we have the opportunity toinfluence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country.  And I think we should seize it and I intend to do so.” Secretary of State Kerry advanced the same argument, indicating that rapprochement “will enhance our ability to have a positive impact on events inside Cuba and to help improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

The Cubans have engaged the process of normalization within a paradigm of mutual respect, in the words of Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, “on the basis of respect and equality, without any prejudice to the independence and sovereignty of Cuba, and without any interference in our internal affairs.”

The United States embarked upon normalization to change Cuba, to restructure the economy, to remake its political system, to reorganize the character of Cuban society, all in the guise of righteous motive and noble purpose; the exercise of power represented as the performance of beneficent intent and deeds of disinterested ideals, in the best interest of the Cuban people, for their own good.  The United States, Jacobson explained to Congress, wished to help the Cuban people “to be able to do what they wish.  To be able to make their own decisions,” to enable “the Cuban people to freely determine their own future,” and prepare them “to take their lives into their own hands.”

Under Secretary of Commerce Stefan Selig expressed the desire “to see if we can do the right thing for the Cuban people… to create freedom, and prosperity, to bring people out of poverty …to really help.” Normalization, Secretary Kerry predicted, “will contribute to an empowering [and] helping the Cuban population.” And Kerry at another point: “We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

The United States purports to lift Cuba up from a state of backwardness–to assist in “the modernization of the Cuban economy,” Secretary Jacobson indicated, specifically to bring Cuba into the modern world.  “Through a policy of engagement,” explained President Obama on December 17, 2014, “we can more effectively . . . help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.” A “talking point” was born: to “help the Cuban people move into the 21st century,” as Secretary Jacobson affirmed; or, as Deputy Assistant Secretary Borman repeated, “to bring the Cuban people into the 21st century.”

These are recurring tropes deeply inscribed in the assumptions that have guided U.S. policy all throughout the twentieth century.  The objective of the U.S. military occupation of 1899-1902, the United States claimed, was to bring Cuba into the twentieth century, according to papers from the Library of Congress.  “We are dealing with a race that has steadily been going down for a hundred years,” Governor General Leonard Wood explained in 1900 as he justified the the need for U.S. occupation, “and into which we have to infuse new life, new principles and new methods of doing things.” In 1933, when Ambassador Sumner Welles arrived to Cuba, he explained his motivations similarly: “to assist the Cuban people themselves to solve the political crisis which had developed and to provide, by cooperation between our two Governments, a means for the rehabilitation of Cuba’s national economy.”  Welles ultimately “solved” the Cuban political crisis by aiding and abetting the rise of Colonel Fulgencio Batista.

What has constituted “normal” in nearly 200 years of Cuba-U.S. relations has been the presumption of U.S. entitlement to impose its will on Cuba. Today Cubans face a new challenge: to defend the historic project of self-determination and national sovereignty under circumstances of normal relations, in which the Americans have presumed the condition of “normal” as the environment in which to effect change in Cuba.  In other words, Cuba engages the United States defending historic claims to national sovereignty and self-determination while the United States renews relations with Cuba determined to “bring about change in the regime.”  These two versions of “normal relations” will be difficult to reconcile, and indeed raise the specter of the continuation of the adversarial tensions of the last 50 years, only now in a different form and as a new phase.  In fact, there are no usable models for “normal relations.” What has constituted “normal” in nearly 200 years of Cuba-U.S. relations has been the presumption of U.S. entitlement to impose its will on Cuba.  The historic model of “normal relations” casts the United States as the arbiter of Cuban destiny— always in the name of what “best serves” the interests of the Cuban people.  In tone and tenor, in hubris and chutzpah, in the breezy way that self-righteous certainty professes selfless moral purpose— “the people of Cuba would be best served”— the American purpose reenacts its history.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme…


Change Through Impoverishment: A Half-Century of Cuba-U.S. Relations

perez_louisWritten by ISA Director Louis A. Pérez, Jr.
Published 12/14/2015 North American Congress on Latin America

Expectations soared on December 17, 2014: “Sweeping changes ushering in a transformational era,” exulted the New York Times. “A truly historic moment,” pronounced the Huffington Post. Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami rejoiced over the “game changer” announcements, and the Brookings Institution predicted “seismic change” in the offing. A “bold new policy,” proclaimed the Chicago Tribune.

That the joint announcements in Havana and Washington on December 17 portended change could hardly be gainsaid, of course. Some things did indeed change. Cubans and Americans, at the highest levels of government, were speaking to each other – instead of at each other. That was something. To re-open embassies in Havana and Washington: that was something too. All to the good, of course. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was most assuredly correct to note that “diplomatic relations and having embassies is incredibly important in a relationship like this where you have so much to overcome and where you have differences.” Given the long dismal state of affairs between Cuba and the United States, resumption of diplomatic relations could not be seen in any way other than the most salutary development since the establishment of Interests Sections in 1977. The change of policy was welcomed.

But it’s also true that some things had not changed, and therein lurked the specter of a past foretold, for much of what had not changed was precisely what had been at the source of the rupture of the past 55 years. An old politics appeared in the guise of new policy. These are times to contemplate an unfolding history as a cautionary tale, a time from which to divine present purpose from the past.

The Cuba-U.S. estrangement began early. It didn’t take long at all – less than 10 months, in fact – for the U.S. State Department to conclude that it was “unrealistic to assume that we shall ever be able to do business with the Castro Government on a basis which could be termed even reasonably satisfactory.” Six months later, the United States had committed itself to a policy of regime change in Cuba.

The policy was pursued with a single-minded resolve: through political isolation, an armed invasion, countless numbers of assassination plots, years of covert operations, and decades of punitive economic sanctions. All in all, a 55-year-old policy given to the overthrow of the Cuban government – or perhaps more correctly, given to the creation of conditions that would produce the overthrow of the Cuban government.

Of all the methods devised to obtain a change of regime, none seemed as compelling as the use of political isolation and economic sanctions. Officially designated as an “economic denial program,” sanctions expanded into a full-blown policy protocol designed to induce economic hardship in Cuba. It should not be supposed that the Cuban people were unintended “collateral damage” of U.S. policy. On the contrary, the Cuban people were the target. Cubans were held responsible for, and made to bear the consequences of, the programs and policies of their government. “For all practical purposes, we are now in virtual open conflict with the Castro government,” Assistant Secretary of State R. Roy Rubottom concluded by mid-1960.

“We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans… [T]he Cuban ‘people’ have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and out-maneuvered, assuming that some of them have been alert, by the communists.”“We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans… [T]he Cuban ‘people’ have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and out-maneuvered, assuming that some of them have been alert, by the communists.”

Undersecretary of State Douglas Dillon agreed, and endorsed policies designed to have a “serious effect on the Cuban people,” noting: “We need not be so careful about actions of this kind [i.e., sanctions], since the Cuban people [are] responsible for the regime.”

Sanctions were designed to produce economic havoc as a way to promote popular discontent, to inflict adversity as a permanent condition of daily life. They were meant to “exert a serious pressure on the Cuban economy and contribute to the growing dissatisfaction and unrest in the country,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann explained. That is, U.S. sanctions were intended to politicize hunger with the expectation that, driven by despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up against the Castro government. “If they [the Cuban people] are hungry,” President Dwight Eisenhower predicted confidently, “they will throw Castro out.”

The intent was to “weaken [the Castro government] economically,” explained one State Department briefing paper, to “promote internal dissension; erode its internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion.” Sanctions were designed to create “the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research explained, to obtain the downfall of the Castro government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.” The idea was to use “economic pressures . . . in order to engender more public discomfort and discontent,” explained Assistant Secretary Rubottom, in the form of “a relentless, firm pressure, [and] a steady turning of the screw.” The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester Mallory concluded in 1960, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”  Mallory recommended that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba, . . . [to deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of government.”

Punitive sanctions were meant to deliver a message, a way to “inform” the Cuban people that relief from U.S.-induced hardship would not be forthcoming until they had bestirred themselves to remove Fidel Castro. The “primary objective” of U.S. policy, Eisenhower emphasized was “to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies and of his Soviet orientation.” The President continued:

“I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this communist orientation. We hope, naturally, that these measures will not be so drastic or irreversible that they will permanently impair the basic mutuality of interests of Cuba and this country.”“I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this communist orientation. We hope, naturally, that these measures will not be so drastic or irreversible that they will permanently impair the basic mutuality of interests of Cuba and this country.”

Covert operations against Cuba during the 1960s were planned in coordination with the economic denial program, principally by laying siege to the infrastructure of the Cuban economy through the infiltration of sabotage teams assigned to disrupt Cuban agriculture and disorganize industry. The Central Intelligence Agency planned a “strategy of economic strangulation to weaken and undermine the regime,” to “tighten the economic noose around Castro” in order to create “economic chaos” based on “efforts to destroy the Cuban economy by sabotage, sanctions, and other measures of economic warfare.” General Edward Lansdale, charged with the coordination of sabotage against the Cuban economy, explained the objectives of covert operations this way:

“Basically, the [covert] operation is to bring about the revolt of the Cuban people. The revolt will overthrow the Communist regime and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace …The political actions will be assisted by economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba’s economic needs, [and] psychological operations to turn the people’s resentment against the regime.”

By the mid-1960s, the CIA could speak of a “concept of the covert action plan,” including “covert economic denial operations . . . designed to reinforce and be reinforced by our overt measures of economic pressure. Both types of activities directed against the economy are intended to aggravate existing economic difficulties and thus to increase the level of disaffection not only in the popular mass but particularly in the power centers of the regime.” Covert operations contemplated a program of “economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba’s economic needs,” thereby “to bring about the revolt of the Cuban people [and] to turn the peoples’ resentment increasingly against the regime.”

Infiltration teams sabotaged specific sectors of the economy. “Our covert activities,” presidential advisor Richard Goodwin reported to President John Kennedy in 1961, “would now be directed toward the destruction of targets important to the economy, e.g., refineries, plants using U.S. equipment, etc.”

Four key sectors of the Cuban economy were targeted: electric power facilities, including the destruction of electric generating plants; petroleum refineries, storage facilities, and tankers; railroad and transportation systems, including bridges, railroad tracks, and rolling stock as well as port, shipping, and maritime facilities; and production and manufacturing sectors, including the industrial facilities, sugar cane fields and mills, and communication systems. Particular attention was given to sugar production, a way to undermine the island’s principal source of foreign exchange. Covert operations included arson of cane fields, sabotage of machinery, and acts of chemical warfare, including the spreading of chemicalsin sugar cane fields to sicken Cuban cane cutters. During the late 1960s, the UPI reported that the United States engaged in seeding clouds to induce drought conditions as a means to ruin the Cuban sugar harvest.
In the years that followed, successive U.S. administrations devised new means and designed new methods to deepen economic hardship. The administration of Ronald Reagan introduced new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, suspending U.S. tourism to deprive the island of a key source of foreign exchange. The United States maneuvered behind the scenes to make Cuban foreign debt negotiations as difficult as possible. U.S. corporations operating in third countries were pressured to suspend trade with Cuba; new limits were placed on cash and gifts Cuban residents in the United States were able to send to the island. In 1982, the Reagan administration placed Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, further complicating Cuban financial and commercial transactions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in economic calamity in Cuba–optimal conditions, the Americans were persuaded, to deliver the coup de grâce to the faltering Castro government. The enactment of the Torricelli Law (1992) and the Helms-Burton Law(1996) expanded the scope and increased the severity of sanctions.  The Torricelli law prohibited subsidiaries of U.S. corporations in third countries from trading with Cuba and authorized the President to withhold U.S. foreign aid, debt relief, and free trade agreements with countries that provided assistance to Cuba. All ships trading with Cuba were denied access to U.S. port facilities for a period of 180 days after having visited Cuba.

“My objective is to wreak havoc in Cuba… My task is to bring down Fidel Castro,”Amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations prohibited travellers from returning to the United States with Cuban cigars and rum for personal use. Cuban-American spending on travel-related fees charged by the Cuban government was limited to an annual maximum of $500. The United States reduced the humanitarian aid packages U.S. citizens could send to Cuba. Luggage weight to Cuba was restricted to a maximum of 44 pounds per traveller, with no paid excess baggage permitted. These latter measures were especially harsh, for they limited the much needed clothing and miscellaneous consumer goods often carried by visiting family members.“My objective is to wreak havoc in Cuba… My task is to bring down Fidel Castro,” Representative Robert Torricelli blustered.

Helms-Burton expanded U.S. sanctions into domains of extra-territorial overreach, stipulating punishment of foreign companies, governments, and lending institutions that engaged in business transactions with, or provided financial services to, Cuba.  It banned sugar products from countries that imported Cuban sugar and denied entry to third-country citizens who engaged in business involving previously nationalized U.S. properties. Helms-Burton converted a policy into a law, making economic sanctions a permanent condition until a “transition government” undertook verifiable steps toward the establishment of a “democratically elected government” – defined specifically as a government that did “not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.”

For nearly 55 years, the United States pursued regime change in Cuba relentlessly through different measures and by way of diverse means. Covert operations against Cuba during the 1960s would today most assuredly rise to the level of acts of state-sponsored terrorism. Writing years later, presidential advisor Richard Goodwin, himself party to and participant in the planning of covert operations against Cuba under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, acknowledged that the U.S. efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro “included assassination, sabotage of the Cuban economy, guerrilla infiltration–a kind of state-sponsored terrorism.”

Post-Soviet policies during the 1990s were particularly harsh, for they sought to exacerbate Cuban hardship, to make daily life in Cuba as difficult and grim as possible, to deepen Cuban impoverishment and increase Cuban suffering at every turn and at every opportunity. These were years during which the Cuban people were reeling from a new round of shortages, increased rationing, declining services, and growing scarcities, where the needs of everyday life in their most ordinary and commonplace form were met often only by Herculean efforts. U.S. policy sought to bring the regime to a collapse in calamity through popular uprising, to provoke a civil conflagration as a means through which to remove all vestiges of the Castro government in one fell swoop, a clean break from which to start anew and install a government with which the United States could “do business.”

Charanga Carolina Fall Concert 2015


Tuesday, November 17, UNC’s World Music Concert, Hill Hall 107
Performance time: 7-9 p.m

Charanga Carolina is the only university-based Cuban Charanga ensemble in the state of North Carolina and in the country. The Cuban “Charanga” ensemble features flute, violins, brass, piano, bass, and Latin percussion. It is traditionally associated with danzón, a musical and dance style with roots in European light classical and Afro-Cuban music. The Charanga also played a central role in the development of salsa music in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City and continues to play an important part in contemporary Cuban and Latin dance music.

UNC’s Charanga Carolina specializes in Cuban danzón, contemporary Cuban salsa, New York-style salsa and occasionally performs other Latin American music styles such as merengue, bomba, bossa nova, and tango. The ensemble is committed to bringing these important musical repertories in the history of Latin American dance music to life for Carolina students, faculty, and staff and our surrounding communities.