Most every American is familiar with the decades-long U.S. embargo against Cuba, but I wonder how many of them realize that U.S. businesses played a major role in bringing about the embargo.
During the U.S.-supported dictatorships of Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista, there were many U.S. businesses operating in Cuba, just like in other parts of Latin America. Many of the businesses had millions of dollar in capital invested in their operations. These included many Mafia dons who owned casinos in Cuba and with whom Batista had a very cozy and financially beneficial relationship.
In 1958, as Castro’s revolutionary forces were approaching Havana, Batista skedaddled from the country, taking his personal fortune of $300 million, which he had amassed through grafts and payoffs.
Soon after Castro took power in January 1959, he began nationalizing foreign-owned businesses, which meant that the Cuban government was taking ownership and control over the businesses without paying for them. This was pursuant to Castro’s socialist philosophy, which entailed equalizing wealth by taking from the rich and giving to the poor.
Needless to say, American businessmen were not happy over the fact that their businesses were being confiscated.
But the fact is that there are always risks involved with opening a business in a foreign country, just as there are risks visiting foreign countries as a tourist. Nationalization is a risk for businessmen, just as being prosecuted on a bogus criminal charge is a risk for tourists. If one doesn’t wish to take such risks, then he shouldn’t invest his money in foreign countries or travel outside the United States.
But that’s not the way American businessmen operating in Cuba saw it. Rather than take their lumps because things had not panned out the way they had planned, they ran to their daddy — their political daddy, the U.S. government. They approached President Eisenhower and insisted that he do something — and that something meant ousting Castro from power and restoring ownership of the properties to the businessmen.
There was precedent for this type of welfare-warfare-state paternalism. In 1954, the people of Guatemala elected a communist named Jacobo Arbenz to the presidency. Pursuant to his socialist economic philosophy, Arbenz implemented “agrarian reform,” which entailed taking some of the vast real estate holdings of property owners and giving them to the poor.
Some of the seized land belonged to a big U.S. corporation named United Fruit, whose executives, not surprisingly, went ballistic over the seizure of some of their land. Rather than take responsibility for their decision to invest money in Latin America, United Fruit executives ran to their political daddy in Washington — the U.S. government — and insisted that their daddy do something. It didn’t hurt that United Fruit had extremely close ties with high U.S. officials.
The CIA embarked on one of its infamous regime-change operations, one that succeeded in ousting the democratically elected Arbenz from power and installing a brutal, unelected pro-U.S. military general in his stead. The regime-change operation instigated a civil war that lasted for three decades and that killed and injured millions of Guatemalans. But United Fruit got its land back.
Needless to say, U.S. officials did not justify their regime-change operation in Guatemala by what Arbenz had done to United Fruit. Instead, they justified it on grounds of “national security” — that is, the extreme threat to U.S. “national security” supposedly posed by a communist ruler in the Western hemisphere, especially a ruler who U.S. officials believed was nothing more than a pawn in a international communist conspiracy directed from Moscow.
Thus, American businesses had the success of the Guatemala regime-change operation as a precedent when they ran to President Eisenhower after Fidel Castro seized their land in Cuba.
In retaliation for Castro’s seizure of U.S. properties, U.S. officials imposed the embargo on Cuba. The hope was that it would force Castro to abandon socialism or at least restore ownership of the businesses that belonged to U.S. companies. At the same time, the CIA began planning an invasion of Cuba, a plan that would end in disaster at the Bay of Pigs after President Kennedy took office. Later, the CIA, in formal partnership with the Mafia, which had lost its casinos under Castro’s nationalizations, would make repeated attempts to assassinate Castro as a way to bring regime change to Cuba.
Just like with Guatemala, the regime-change operations against Cuba were justified not as welfare-warfare for American businessmen but rather on grounds of “national security” — that is, if Castro were permitted to remain in power, the United States supposedly would end up falling to the worldwide communist conspiracy directed from the Soviet Union.
One irony was that the embargo was actually an attack on the economic liberty of the American people, including U.S. businessmen. By threatening Americans with criminal prosecution for spending or investing money in Cuba, U.S. officials were adopting the same type of socialist-interventionist economic controls that Castro was imposing on the Cuban people. In other words, U.S. officials were using socialism to fight socialism, and U.S. businessmen were cheering.
Another irony is that the embargo never affected Castro or his cronies. Instead, decade after decade, it has squeezed the economic life out of the Cuban people, especially in combination with Castro’s socialist policies. The idea was that if the Cuban people could be made to suffer enough, they would oust Castro from power and install another U.S.-supported Batista-like dictatorship in his stead.
Another irony is that Fidel Castro is still alive today and his brother, also a communist, is still in power. Yet, the United States has still not fallen victim to the worldwide communist conspiracy supposedly directed from Moscow.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there was a bit of hypocrisy in the reaction of U.S. officials to Castro’s nationalizations. After all, some years before, President Franklin Roosevelt had nationalized gold coins belonging to the American people and compensated them with debased, irredeemable paper notes. Keep in mind that pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, gold coins had been the official money of the American people for more than 125 years.
Moreover, the entire concept of the welfare-state way of life that FDR foisted onto the American people in the 1930s was based on the same socialist principles that Castro was bringing to Cuba — equalizing wealth by taking from the rich and giving to the poor. That’s why Americans today take as much pride in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, and other socialist programs as Castro does.
The decades of U.S. regime-change operations against Cuba show how America’s welfare-state, paternalistic mindset and system intersected with America’s warfare-state, national-security mindset and system to produce horribly pathetic results. Fortunately, it seems that the decades-long embargo against Cuba is now going to be lifted. Wouldn’t it be great if the lifting of the embargo was accompanied by the dismantling of America’s welfare-warfare state apparatus?