For over four decades, US imperialism has attempted to starve the people of Cuba into submission through a draconian economic blockade of the island republic that has dared to assert its independence and social system in the face of unrelenting US hostility and the ever-present threat of invasion. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) of 2000 created a chink in the embargo, making it possible for Cuba to import agricultural produce from the US in return for “cash in advance”. As a result, over the past three years Cuba has jumped from last to 22nd place among US agricultural export markets, with sales of $400m (€301m, £206m) in 2004 and a total of $1bn since 2001.
Cuba is the eighth largest market for the egg and chicken industries of the US, with sales totalling $60m a year. US rice exports to Cuba have gone from zero, three years ago, to 160,000 tonnes in 2004, catapulting Cuba to the third export market after Mexico and Japan.
The fast-increasing food trade between the US and Cuba, undermining as it does the embargo, and with it the US efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, has irked the Bush administration and its neo-conservative fascistic ideologues, who have been seeking to close the crack created by the TSREEA and thus sabotage the sale of food by American farmers to Cuba. With this in mind, some officials in the Bush administration have come up with the idea of giving a new meaning to the words “cash in advance”, challenging the practice of payment for the cargo after it is despatched from the US but before it is released to the Cuban importers, insisting on the arrival of the payment prior to the departure of the cargo.
The US government’s policy has been, first, to do everything possible, by every legal and illegal means, to undermine Cuba’s ability to earn foreign exchange; second, to burden Cuba with increased costs for her imports. The demand for payments from Cuba before the goods destined for export to Cuba are despatched is designed precisely to achieve the above two purposes. Quite rightly, Pedro Alvarez, head of Alimport, Cuba’s food importing agency, has retaliated by saying that if the US implements this arrangement Cuba will import food from elsewhere. “Such a requirement,” Alvarez told 350 US politicians and businessmen in Havana, who were there mid-December to mark the third anniversary of the food trade, “makes our purchases almost impossible to proceed.” (Cited in Financial Times, 20 December 2004)
The attempts of the Bush administration to scupper US food trade with Cuba brings it into conflict not only with Cuba but also with its own food industry. The reasons are not difficult to fathom. In the words of the Financial Times: “Washington’s Cuba policy, once the exclusive domain of cold warriors and anti-Castro exiles, has become a bread-and-butter issue for farmers in the rice-growing Mississippi delta, the corn and soya fields of Iowa and apple orchards and cattle ranches of the north east. Gulf Coast port workers, employees of Georgia’s chicken-processing plants and executives of agribusinesses now link jobs and income with the land many knew only for its trouble-making president, Fidel Castro, and a revolutionary called Che Guevara.” (Ibid)
The farm lobby in the US is quite naturally upset at the prospect of losing serious money and apprehensive about the dire economic consequences on farmers and communities, should the blinkered Bush administration carry out its threat. While he was on first name terms with a large number of US state-level officials and almost everyone else inside the Havana Convention Centre, absurdly Mr Alvarez is banned from visiting the US on security grounds. What is clear is that, hemmed in by its narrow outlook and driven by an insensate hatred for Cuban independence and socialism, the US is prepared to go to the extent of jeopardising $400m of farm exports to a growing market just 90 miles off the US coast. It does not make commonsense. But, then, nor does the entire capitalist system in the 21st century.
In view of the fact that US imperialism is set on a course bound to lead to a further deterioration in US-Cuba relations, the Cuban government is not relaxing its vigilance. In December, Cuba staged its largest defence manoeuvres in 18 years against a hypothetical “imperialist fascist aggression”. At the same time a senior US diplomat was in his latest row with the Cuban government after making a provocative reference to imprisoned counter-revolutionaries (dissidents, if you like) in the US diplomatic mission’s Christmas display facing Havana’s seafront. Cuba answered by placing hoardings bearing red swastikas and pictures of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and children accosted by US soldiers.
The proletariat in the imperialist countries is duty bound to stand shoulder to should with the Cuban people in their heroic defence of Cuban independence and socialism against US imperialist bullying, trade blockades and threats of invasion and aggression.
Victory to the Cuban people!
Death to US imperialism!