Last summer, protests erupted in Cuba against the communist regime over poor economic and health conditions within the country. No doubt operating under pressure from the Pentagon and the CIA, President Biden used the Cuban government’s suppression of the protests as an excuse to strengthen the decades-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
Biden proclaimed that he was supporting the Cuban people in their quest for freedom, but his proclamation rings hollow. The entire purpose of the U.S. embargo on Cuba has long been to bring death and suffering to the Cuban people, with the aim of encouraging them to violently revolt against Cuba’s communist regime and reinstall a regime similar to that of Fulgencio Batista, the brutal and corrupt pro-U.S. dictator who was ousted from power by Cuban revolutionaries in 1959.
Biden was also undoubtedly responding to pressure from Cuban-Americans, many of whom love the embargo even while downplaying its horrific economic effects on the Cuban people. They say that it is Cuba’s socialist system, not the embargo, that is the root cause of Cuba’s woes. For their part, Cuban officials, not surprisingly, blame the horrific economic and healthcare conditions on the embargo, suggesting that if the embargo were lifted, Cuba’s socialist system would finally produce its desired paradise.
The truth is that it is both Cuba’s socialist economic system and the brutal U.S. embargo that have jointly wreaked untold suffering on the Cuban people. Ever since the communist revolution, the Cuban people have been squeezed within two sides of a vise, one side of which is Cuba’s socialist system and the other side the U.S. economic embargo.
The larger questions are: Under what legal and moral authority does the U.S. government target the Cuban people with its embargo? What effect has the embargo had on the liberty and well-being of the American people? Why are U.S. officials still so obsessed with regime change in Cuba?
The stultification of conscience
Decades of interventionism against Cuba reflect how profoundly the conversion of the U.S. government to a national-security state after World War II has adversely affected the consciences of the American people.
By and large, Americans have long prided themselves on being a moral and religious people. Yet, here we have an economic policy of the U.S. government that knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately targets innocent people in a foreign country with death and suffering for the sake of achieving a political goal. How can such a policy be reconciled with moral, ethical, religious, Christian, or Jewish principles? In fact, isn’t that why we condemn terrorism — because it targets innocent people as a way to achieve political goals?
The overwhelming majority of the American people have passively accepted this brutal and murderous policy for decades. The embargo, like economic sanctions, is simply considered a foreign-policy tool to pressure foreign regimes to comply with the dictates of U.S. officials. The fact that the embargo and sanctions target innocent people with death and suffering is airbrushed out of people’s minds.
We witnessed this phenomenon with the sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. When U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked in 1996 by “Sixty Minutes” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were worth it, she responded that while the issue was a difficult one, the deaths were in fact “worth it.”
As far as I know, not one single U.S. official, including her boss President Bill Clinton, condemned her statement, or even mildly criticized it. That’s undoubtedly because Albright had simply expressed the mindset of U.S. officials with her statement.
By the same token, there was no mass uprising among the American people against continuing the sanctions. Moreover, the mainstream press wasn’t publishing editorials and op-eds calling for an end to the Iraq sanctions. Church ministers, who emphasize that life begins at conception, failed to come to the defense of the lives of the Iraqi children.
In fact, the sanctions continued for another five years, with nary a peep of protest from the American people. The only reason they came to an end was because the 2001 invasion of Iraq made them moot.
There were some people who did protest. Three high UN officials — Denis Haliday, Hans von Sponeck, and Jutta Burghhardt — resigned their positions at the UN out of a crisis of conscience. They were ridiculed by U.S. officials, who, in their banality of evil, simply went on enforcing their sanctions.
There was also an American named Bert Sacks from the state of Washington who, acting from conscience, intentionally violated the sanctions by taking medicine and other vital supplies to the Iraqi people. U.S. officials fined him $10,000 for daring to violate their beloved sanctions and then relentlessly pursued him for years, doing everything they could to collect their fine. To his everlasting credit, Sacks refused to pay and, in the end, never paid them a dime.
That didn’t happen with most Americans, just as it hasn’t happened with respect to the death and suffering wreaked by the U.S. government’s decades-long embargo against the Cuban people. That’s because the conversion of the U.S. government to a national-security state ended up stultifying the consciences of the American people, causing them to place the Pentagon and the CIA above their moral and religious principles. In a very real sense, the national-security state became their god.
Assassination and conscience
Cuba provides a perfect example of the demise of conscience, especially when it comes to assassination.
Consider the CIA’s assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. When those attempts came to light, there was no shock or horror among U.S. officials, the mainstream press, or the American public. After all, Castro and his communist regime had not initiated any acts of violence against the United States. Under what legal or moral authority did the CIA have the right to attempt to murder him?
There is certainly no provision in the Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence, that delegates to U.S. officials the power to assassinate people. In fact, on the contrary, the Fifth Amendment expressly prohibits federal officials from depriving anyone, including foreigners, of life without due process of law.
Today, when the mainstream press brings up the CIA’s assassination attempts against Castro, they inevitably mention in a yuck-yuck laughing manner the CIA’s plans to use exploding cigars to kill Castro. But actually there is nothing humorous about it. The CIA was trying to murder a person who had never invaded the United States or committed an act of terrorism in the United States.
The CIA justified its assassination attempts on the ground that Castro was a communist and, even worse, had aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union. But so what? Since when does that authorize the CIA to engage in murder? Cuba is purportedly an independent nation. Why can’t it align itself with anyone it wants without having its officials taken out by U.S. officials through assassination?
But the American people passively accepted the CIA’s power of assassination. When it became clear that the CIA had orchestrated the assassination of Congo leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, the mindset among most Americans was passive indifference. Most Americans had decided to place their trust in the national-security establishment to keep them safe from the supposed communist threat and were willing to go along with whatever the Pentagon and the CIA decided.
Deference to authority
After the debacle of the CIA’s plan to have Cuban exiles invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, there were many laments and complaints over how President Kennedy and the CIA had handled the invasion. But hardly anyone questioned the U.S. government’s authority to invade an independent nation for the purpose of regime change. That type of war had been condemned as a war crime at Nuremberg. Yet, when the U.S. government did it, Americans passively deferred to its authority, convinced that anything was justified in the name of the anti-communist crusade being waged by the national-security establishment.
When it came to Cuba, the consciences of the American people simply went dead. That’s why there was never any massive outcry against the assassination attempts and the cruel and deadly embargo against the Cuban people. It’s also why the response was the same when Americans learned that the CIA had actually initiated terrorist strikes inside Cuba. Again, no big deal.
Where in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to initiate an economic embargo against a foreign country? Nowhere. But who cares about that? Ever since the U.S. government was converted to a national-security state, the Constitution has been a dead letter, as we can easily see with respect to assassinations, embargoes, sanctions, and acts of terrorism.
Empire and Guantanamo
Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when the Pentagon and the CIA decided to construct their post 9/11 torture camp and prison center, they decided to do it at their imperial outpost at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Why Cuba? Because the Pentagon and the CIA intended to establish a Constitution-free zone there. They figured that if they established it inside the United States, they might be subject to the principles of the Constitution and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. They decided that by establishing it in Cuba, they would be free of the principles in the Bill of Rights and free from interference by the federal courts.
The dark irony, of course, is that U.S. military officials take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. What a joke that oath is, given the Pentagon-CIA desire to establish a Constitution-free zone in Cuba.
With the establishment of Gitmo, followed by indefinite detention and kangaroo military tribunals, there was, once again, no mass outcry among the American people. Their founding document was being sullied and dirtied in a communist country by their own government officials. People being brutally tortured by U.S. officials, a grave violation of the most fundamental principles of morality, religion, and right conduct. Yet, once again, the response was one of virtually complete deference to authority. The idea was that U.S. officials were now keeping us safe from the terrorists and the Muslims, rather than the communists. It was believed that their judgement on how to do that left no room for the exercise of individual conscience.
Under what legal and moral authority does the U.S. government even hold that property at Guantanamo Bay? Where in the Constitution does it delegate the power to maintain torture centers and prison camps in foreign countries? Indeed, where in the Constitution does it authorize federal officials to establish military bases on foreign lands? Is Cuba authorized to buy some land on the Florida coast and establish a military base there? How would the Pentagon and the CIA react to that?
The U.S. government’s base at Guantanamo Bay actually stretches back to the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in 1898, which show how far back the U.S. obsession with Cuba goes. When the Cubans were fighting for their independence from the Spanish Empire, U.S. officials came to their assistance. When Spain surrendered, U.S. officials double-crossed the Cubans by telling them that the U.S. government was now stepping into the shoes of the Spanish government. From then on, Cuba was ruled by a succession of brutal and corrupt dictatorships that followed the dictates of U.S. officials.
That’s how the U.S. government got its base at Guantanamo Bay — by ordering one of its puppet regimes in Cuba to grant the United States a perpetual lease for a very nominal rent.
This doesn’t seem to bother most Americans. When it comes to empire, conscience is dead there, too.
Destroying liberty at home
There is something important to keep in mind about the embargo. It is a direct assault on the fundamental rights and liberties of the American people themselves, specifically, the rights of economic liberty, freedom of travel, the right to spend one’s money any way he chooses, and freedom of association.
Keep in mind, after all, that when an American travels to Cuba and spends money there without the official permission of the U.S. government, he will be arrested on his return by U.S. officials and then prosecuted, convicted, incarcerated, and fined.
Thus, the dark irony of the embargo is that it operates on the same socialist principle on which the Cuban Communist regime is based — the principle that holds that government officials wield the power to control how people spend their money, where they can travel, and with whom they can associate.
Finally, we would be remiss to not point out that many of those who rail against Cuba’s socialist system are also ardent supporters of socialism here at home, in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, central planning, drug laws, income taxation, occupational licensure, public (i.e., government) schooling, fiat (i.e., paper) money, travel restrictions, a Federal Reserve, public (i.e., government) housing, and other socialist programs found in Cuba and other communist regimes.
What we need in America is some serious soul-searching about how we started out as a nation, how we got to where we are, and what we need to get our nation back on the right track. Essential to that inner exploration is the desperate need for a resurgence of individual conscience within Americans all across the land. We will know that is achieved when the American people force the U.S. government to leave Cuba and the Cuban people alone.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.