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Vol. 78/No. 41      November 17, 2014

‘NY Times’ puts focus on
rulers’ Cuba policy debate
(front page)
The New York Times Nov. 3 urged the White House to swap the three members of the Cuban Five who remain in prison for U.S. agent Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for carrying out a covert State Department operation that involved distributing sophisticated communications equipment to counterrevolutionaries on the island. The editorial was the latest of four by the paper over the last month calling on the Barack Obama administration to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and end Washington’s more than five-decade trade and financial embargo against the island.

The Times’ campaign has been met with sharp criticism by the Washington Post, the major liberal daily based in the U.S. capital, and other big-business media. The ensuing debate has brought differences over U.S. ruling-class strategy aimed at undermining the Cuban Revolution into the open. And it has shone a new spotlight on Washington’s unending hostility toward Cuba and the frame-up of the Cuban Five at a time when hundreds of Cuban volunteers are carrying out an unparalleled effort to combat Ebola in West Africa.

Since the popular insurrection of 1959 that overturned the U.S.-backed tyranny of Fulgencio Batista and brought workers and farmers to power, Washington’s policy toward Cuba has been guided by one singular goal: to restore capitalist exploitation and U.S. domination of the island. The U.S. rulers’ shifting tactics over the decades have included military invasions, assassinations, bombings, biological weapons and nuclear threats. One aspect of U.S. policy that has remained fairly constant, however, is economic warfare designed to impose maximum hardship on the population.

In 1960 the Eisenhower administration initiated a partial trade embargo against Cuba. In 1962 Democratic President John Kennedy imposed a near-total economic blockade, which remains in place to this day. The embargo was reinforced when Democratic President William Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill in 1996, which increased financial costs to Cuba and restricted the country’s access to medicine and medical equipment. A cornerstone of U.S. state policy, it has been enforced under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and use of its crippling provisions have been stepped up under the Obama administration.

On Oct. 10 the Times ran a front-page article titled, “In Rickety Boats, Cuban Migrants Again Flee to U.S.” The next-day editorial, published in both English and Spanish, carried the headline “End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba.”

Obama could win “a significant foreign policy success,” the Times editors argued, restoring Washington’s waning influence in Latin America and the Caribbean and undercutting Cuba’s ability to “blame the embargo for its shortcomings” and “keep ordinary Cubans largely cut off from the world.”

The Times called on the White House to “remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations” and “lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island,” pointing to Cuban government measures to “liberalize and diversify” its economy to alleviate the island’s economic crisis (which has been exacerbated by the U.S. embargo).

“Starting in 1961,” the editorial said, “Washington has imposed sanctions in an effort to oust the Castro regime. Over the decades, it became clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure.” Closer ties, it argued, would “better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms” and help lead to the release of “Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuba.” That piece was silent on the Cuban Five.

Eight days later the Times ran a second editorial titled, “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola,” saying that Cuba “stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.”

“It should be lauded and emulated,” the editors say. Pointing to a Granma column where Fidel Castro said “the United States and Cuba must put aside their differences” to combat Ebola, the editorial concludes that “he’s absolutely right.” More than a week earlier the Post ran an article titled, “In the Medical Response to Ebola, Cuba is Punching Far Above Its Weight” and the Wall Street Journal published a piece under the headline “Cuban Doctors at the Forefront of Ebola Battle in Africa.”

In decades past the Times was a major voice of the U.S. ruling families, but today it represents a narrower section of bourgeois public opinion. Instead, it has come to more reflect the prevailing views among meritocratic professionals centered in academia, the media, “think tanks,” “nonprofit” institutions and the like.

Speaking for the great bulk of the U.S. propertied rulers, the Post responded Oct. 20 to the Times’ campaign for a shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in an editorial titled, “Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Denying Freedom to Its People.”

Saying there is “no sign that the Castro brothers are loosening their grip,” the Post editors dismiss the Times’ recommendations. “Lifting the embargo,” they conclude, “would reward and ratify their intransigence.”

On Oct. 25 the Times published a third editorial arguing the White House “should not continue to anchor American policy on a failed course that has strained Washington’s relationship with allies in the hemisphere, prevented robust trade with the island and offered the Cuban government a justification for its failures.”

Church leaders: Free Cuban 5, Gross
As this debate was coming to the fore, John McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, a humanitarian religious coalition, and two other leaders of the group visited Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five, in prison in Marianna, Florida, Oct. 13.

McCullough has announced plans to lead a church delegation to Cuba in November to meet religious leaders and the families of the Cuban Five and to visit the other two still-imprisoned members of the Five, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, when he returns.

“CWS is calling for the humanitarian release of Mr. Gross by the Cuban government and of the remaining Cuban 5 prisoners by the U.S. government,” he said.

On Nov. 3 the Times editors called for “A Prisoner Swap with Cuba,” saying, “Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.”

Admitting that “Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment,” the editors call for Obama to win his release by commuting the sentences of the three remaining framed-up Cuban Five prisoners, who have spent more than 16 years in U.S. prisons.

The Times says releasing them is “justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial,” and most importantly, “the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.”

This, the paper argued, would position “the United States to encourage positive change in Cuba” — i.e. to roll back the revolutionary gains conquered and defended by Cuba’s workers and farmers.
Related articles:
Now is time to step up efforts to free Cuban Five!
‘Unbroken tide of solidarity will carry us home’:
Sister of Antonio Guerrero talks about brother’s new prison paintings at colloquium for Cuban 5 in Havana
Who are the Cuban Five?
UN condemns US embargo of Cuba for 23rd straight year
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