The Clinton-Helms-Burton Travesty

Against the Current, No. 62, May/June 1996

The ATC Editors

WHEN THE “BROTHERS to the Rescue” Cuban exile group sent planes into Cuban air space, they probably assumed, rightly or wrongly, that they could ignore with impunity the increasingly sharp warnings from the Cuban government. When the Cuban government ordered the planes to be shot down, it probably assumed in turn that the U.S. response would be limited to a strident but brief diplomatic flurry.

These miscalculations have brought tragic and perhaps long-lasting results. But one thing must be clear: It is the United States government that bears total responsibility for the climate in which these events occurred. For thirty-five years now, successive U.S. administrations have engaged in ongoing terrorism and economic warfare against Cuba.

The latest measure, the passage of the Helms-Burton bill — to which Bill Clinton’s name should rightfully be added — represents a continuation of this aggression. Indeed, by seeking to punish other countries’ economic relations with Cuba, this bill goes much further, as if seeking to roll the clock back to the 1902 Platt Amendment.

At a time when Cuba’s economy is wide open for business with multinational capital, and when virtually every major capitalist country in the world except the United States is talking advantage of the opportunities, the Clinton-Helms-Burton bill — which allows Cuban-Americans to sue foreign corporations in U.S. courts for use of confiscated property — has provoked sharp protests from this country’s major international trading partners.

Whether the bill will prove to be more than symbolically enforceable remains to be seen. Already, however, investors have been chilled. (The stock of one Canadian nickel company operating a mine in Cuba, for example, dropped 24% after the “Brothers” incident.) Prices in the hard-currency stores have also reportedly risen dramatically in the last few months.

The Cuban government’s miscalculations in the affair apparently consisted of forgetting that U.S. policy on Cuba is driven not only by Washington’s long-term hostility to Cuba’s independent stance, but now more immediately by the 1996 electoral vote in Florida, where right-wing Cuban exile money and muscle exercise extraordinary influence.

Yet despite the efforts of this lobby, prior to the “Brothers” incident it seemed highly likely that the embargo would be relaxed following the November election. Now the embargo, which before Helms-Burton was only an executive order, can only be ended by repealing the law, a politically unimaginable prospect for the foreseeable future.

Placing responsibility where it belongs — on the U.S. government’s shoulders — means identifying the aggressor and defending the sovereignty of Cuba, the victim of aggression. It does not mean promoting illusions about the Cuban government itself.

It’s probably not coincidental that shooting down the “Brothers to the Rescue” plane, demonstrating the government’s toughness, came shortly after a crackdown and several arrests of non-violent Cuban internal dissenters, who were attempting to hold a conference in Havana to promote a dialogue with the regime. Such repression shows that the one-party state has no intention of opening up genuine space for political debate outside the tightly constrained limits tolerated by the party.

The unfettered expression of all points of view among the people of Cuba — and especially, the right to organize parties to express their views — are the Cuban people’s greatest needs. Neither the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro nor the Cuban American National Foundation’s aspiring ruler-in-exile Jorge Mas Canosa, and certainly not Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, intend to extend these rights to the working people of Cuba.

ATC 62, May-June 1995