The decades-long U.S. interventionist policy against Cuba failed to achieve its goal of removing Fidel Castro from power and replacing him with a pro-U.S. regime, similar to the pro-U.S. Batista regime that the Cuban revolution ousted from power in 1959. More important, interventionism against Cuba ended up attacking the freedom and values of the American people.
During the Cold War, U.S. officials claimed that their interventionist policy against Cuba was justified because Cuba posed a grave threat to U.S. national security. Yet not once did Cuba ever attack or invade the United States or even threaten to do so. Moreover, there was never any possibility that the Cuban military could defeat U.S. military forces in a full-scale war. Throughout the Cold War years, it was always the U.S. government, especially the Pentagon and the CIA, that was the aggressor in the conflict with Cuba.
Consider the brutal economic embargo against Cuba, which exists to this day, more than 25 years after the Cold War supposedly ended. In combination with Cuba’s socialist system, the embargo has squeezed the economic life out of the Cuban people, helping consign them to extreme poverty verging on starvation.
Americans have become so accustomed to economic sanctions and embargoes as a tool of U.S. foreign policy that many of them hardly give a thought to how they operate. Sanctions and embargoes target the population of a foreign country with economic suffering, with the aim of bringing about a change in their government or in how their government operates. The idea is that if the civilian population can be made to significantly suffer, either their regime will abdicate in favor of one that is acceptable to U.S. officials, the regime will agree to comply with U.S. dictates, a military coup will take place, or the civilian population will initiate a violent revolution.
With Cuba, the U.S. government’s regime-change objective has never been achieved. To this day, the communist regime that ousted the U.S.-supported Batista regime from power still governs Cuba. But what has been achieved is the continued infliction of economic harm on the Cuban people, along with the continued attacks on fundamental rights of the American people.
Where is the morality of intentionally inflicting harm on the population of a country with the aim of achieving a political objective? That is not what America was supposed to be all about. That is not one of the principles on which our nation was founded.
Proponents of the embargo point to tyrannical actions on the part of the Castro regime to justify the embargo, including its post-revolution executions, seizures of properties and businesses belonging both to Cubans and to Americans, denial of elections, censorship of the press, suppression of dissent, and the adoption of a socialist economic system.
But those are things that took place entirely within Cuba, which is an independent and sovereign state. None of those actions involved a military attack on the United States. They are matters that are the business of the Cuban people, not the business of the U.S. government.
What about the properties and businesses belonging to Americans that were seized? When an American company does business in a foreign country, it takes its chances. Nationalization is one of the dangers that every business confronts when it operates in a foreign country. If a company doesn’t want to take that risk, it should stay at home. When it encounters problems in a foreign land, it should not expect the U.S. government to come bailing it out.
The same goes for American citizens. If they don’t want to take the risk of being arrested, incarcerated, or executed by some foreign regime, they have a simple remedy: Stay at home. If they choose to go abroad, they assume the risk that bad things might happen to them. If they encounter trouble in a foreign land, they should not look to the U.S. government to be their daddy.
Lost in the effort to achieve regime change in Cuba was a much more important aspect of the Cuba embargo — its infringement on the rights and liberties of the American people, specifically freedom of travel, private property, and economic liberty, which are among the principles on which America was founded. For more than a century, Americans were free to travel wherever they wanted and spend their money any way they wanted. If an American decided to travel abroad, he just did so, without asking for permission from federal officials.
With the embargo, Americans learned that if they traveled to Cuba without official permission and spent money there, they would be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, incarcerated, or fined, not by the Cuban government but rather by their own government. With the embargo, the federal government confirmed its power to control where Americans went and how they spent their money. The irony, of course, is that that type of control was being wielded by the Castro regime with its communist and socialist system.
Consider the repeated attempts by the CIA to assassinate Castro, along with the assassination partnership that the CIA entered into with the Mafia. “Assassination” is really just a fancy word for murder. What moral or legal authority did the CIA have in trying to murder Castro? Remember: Cuba never attacked or invaded the United States.
The CIA held that because Castro was a communist, the CIA’s attempts to murder him were justified. But since when does a person’s political or economic ideology justify snuffing out his life? Does that mean that the CIA wields the legal and moral authority to murder anyone who believes in communism, or is it limited to presidents and prime ministers? How about political leaders who are perceived to be sympathetic to communists or communist regimes?
The CIA had no moral or legal authority to engage in murder attempts against Castro. Perhaps that is why it did everything it could to keep its assassination attempts secret, along with its partnership with the Mafia.
When the CIA’s assassination attempts became public, there was little outrage among the American public, which demonstrated what the Cold War and the U.S. national-security state had done to the consciences of individual Americans. After all, when the country was founded, the Framers did not delegate a power of assassination in the Constitution to the federal government. Murdering people, no matter how despicable their political or economic philosophy might be, was not what America or the American people were all about. In fact, it was the exact opposite: one of America’s founding principles was that people are free to believe in anything they want and to advocate anything they want, no matter how odious everyone else might consider it. Another founding principle was that no person anywhere could be deprived of life by U.S. officials without due process of law.
The fact that the CIA entered into an assassination partnership with the Mafia makes the situation even worse. The Mafia was the premier criminal organization in the world. Among its specialties were murder, torture, rape, and importing heroin into the United States. That fact that there was little outrage that the CIA would choose the Mafia as a partner in any endeavor, including murder and cover-up, speaks volumes about what the policy toward Cuba has done to traditional American moral values.
Of course, it wasn’t just Castro that the CIA targeted for believing in communism. Along with FBI, it also targeted American citizens. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the U.S. Communist Party, and the U.S. civil-rights movement were prime examples. No, the CIA and the FBI didn’t murder people in those organizations, as they were trying to do with Castro, but they did do everything they could to infiltrate, smear, and destroy them. In fact, while the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, whose membership included prominent Americans from all across the country, included people who were sympathetic to communism and socialism, its objective was simply to reestablish normal relations between Cuba and the United States, something that was anathema to the Pentagon and the CIA.
Even if communism, if fully adopted, would have destroyed America’s free-market economic system and maybe even its political system, that still would not justify governmental attempts to murder or destroy the proponents of communism. Most assuredly, freedom can be dangerous, especially given the possibility that people might be induced to embrace a bad idea or a bad philosophy. But the fact that freedom comes with risks does not justify governmental efforts to undermine freedom in the name of saving it. The way to fight bad ideas is not by using force to suppress them but instead by advocating good ideas.
Consider all the other foreign coups and regime-change operations that the CIA and the Pentagon engaged in, in the name of fighting communists and communism. The CIA’s coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile destroyed the democratic regimes in those countries and brought into power brutal right-wing regimes that murdered, tortured, raped, abused, disappeared, and incarcerated thousands of innocent people.
Through it all, the American people were taught to passively accept or even support what was going on. The fear of communism and communists that the U.S. national-security establishment had inculcated in the American people had stultified the conscience of many of them and paralyzed their sense of moral values.
Ambush, sabotage, and terrorism
In 1961, the CIA engineered a paramilitary invasion of Cuba, without any declaration of war from Congress, as the U.S. Constitution required. Only 20 years before, Americans had been outraged that Japan had initiated a surprise attack on the United States without first declaring war. Yet here was the United States doing the same thing to Cuba, with nary a peep of protest over the U.S. government’s surprise, undeclared attack at the Bay of Pigs.
The CIA’s plan entailed keeping its role in the invasion secret. It also called for John F. Kennedy to deny the CIA’s role in the invasion. Is that what the United States is supposed to be all about — secretly initiating wars of aggression against other nations and having the president lie about the government’s role in initiating the invasion?
There were the CIA’s acts of sabotage and terrorism inside Cuba. If the communist regime in Cuba had done those things here in the United States, there would have been tremendous anger and outrage among the American people, and rightly so. But when the U.S. government did them to Cuba, the reaction among many Americans was silence or even support.
When a Cuban airliner was bombed over Barbados, on the way back to Cuba, killing 73 people, including the members of Cuba’s fencing team, it had all the earmarks of a CIA anti-communist sabotage and terrorism operation. To this day, there has never been an official investigation in which the CIA is the specific target of the investigation. The CIA’s denial that it was involved in that particular act of anti-Cuba terrorism was sufficient to foreclose any possibility of an investigation that made the CIA a target of investigation. Never mind that the CIA has always been notorious for lying, as manifested by the criminal conviction of CIA Director Richard Helms for lies told under oath to Congress, for which he was honored and glorified by his fellow operatives in the CIA.
We also mustn’t forget that the CIA’s and Pentagon’s interventionist policy toward Cuba almost succeeded in snuffing out the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Americans are taught that the Cuban Missile Crisis was caused by the Soviet Union and the Castro regime. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was caused by the Pentagon and the CIA.
After the CIA’s surprise attack at the Bay of Pigs met with defeat at the hands of Castro’s forces, the Pentagon and the CIA became more determined than ever to oust the Castro regime from power and replace with it another pro-U.S. regime. From the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion in the spring of 1961 to the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, the Pentagon was exhorting the president to order a full-scale military invasion of Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff even came up with a plan called Operation Northwoods, which they unanimously recommended to him. The plan called for terrorist attacks and plane hijackings that would be carried out by U.S. operatives posing as Cuban communists, which then would have provided Kennedy with the pretext to order an attack on Cuba in “self-defense.” Garnering increased enmity from the Pentagon, Kennedy rejected Operation Northwoods, to his everlasting credit.
Castro was well aware of the Pentagon’s and CIA’s desire to invade Cuba. He knew that his forces, like all Third World armies, were no match for the U.S. military. Therefore, to deter another invasion of his country and, alternatively, to provide Cuba with the means of defending against an invasion, Castro invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles on the island.
To obfuscate the defensive purpose of the missiles, U.S. officials and the U.S. mainstream press often refer to the Soviet missiles as “offensive” missiles. The implication is that the Soviet Union and Cuba were threatening to initiate a nuclear attack on the United States.
The truth was that the Soviet missiles were entirely for the purpose of deterrence and defense — to deter the Pentagon and the CIA from invading Cuba again and, if that failed, to have a means of defending against such a U.S. invasion.
Americans have been taught that it was the Soviet Union that “blinked” during the crisis. That is just not true. It was actually Kennedy who “blinked.” The deal that he reached with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev entailed a promise that neither the Pentagon nor the CIA would invade Cuba again. Kennedy also promised the Soviets that he would remove nuclear missiles based in Turkey that were pointed at the Soviet Union. In return for Kennedy’s promises, the Soviets removed the missiles and returned them to the Soviet Union.
Cuba had gotten what it wanted — a U.S. presidential guarantee against another Pentagon-CIA invasion. Needless to say, the Pentagon and the CIA were livid. Gen. Curtis LeMay, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, called it the worst defeat in U.S. history. The military brass and the CIA hierarchy considered the president to be weak, a coward, an appeaser, even a traitor for leaving Cuba’s “communist dagger” pointed at America’s throat permanently in power.
It’s a good thing, however, that Kennedy did blink and did not give the Pentagon and the CIA the invasion they wanted. Unbeknownst to Kennedy, the Pentagon, and the CIA, the nuclear missiles had been fully armed and Soviet commanders on the ground had been given battlefield authority to use them in the event of a U.S. invasion. If Kennedy had succumbed to the enormous pressure that the military and the CIA were putting on him to invade, it is a virtual certainty that nuclear war would have engulfed the United States and the Soviet Union.
One of the most interesting aspects of the of the decades-long policy of interventionism against Cuba pertains to two former U.S. government officials, Kendall Myers and Ana Montes, each of whom is now residing in a federal penitentiary. Their crime? Spying for Cuba. While they were working for the U.S. government, they separately and independently delivered classified information to the communist regime in Cuba.
Why is that interesting? Because keep in mind that Cuba had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. The aggressor in the Cuba-U.S. conflict had always been the U.S. government, especially the Pentagon and the CIA. Thus, while Americans are not permitted to know what precisely was the classified information that was delivered to Cuba, at worst it had to be information relating to acts of aggression that the U.S. government was carrying out or planning against Cuba, such as assassination, sabotage, terrorism, embargo-tightening, or other regime-change operations.
What motivated Myers and Montes to do what they did? They believed it was morally wrong for the government for which they were working to be waging a war of aggression against a country that had never attacked the United States. Thus, they felt morally bound to help Cuba defend itself from acts of aggression that were being undertaken by U.S. officials against Cuba.
Needless to say, U.S. officials didn’t see things that way. That includes the federal judges who issued a life sentence without parole to Myers and a 25-year sentence to Montes. In life under a national-security state, governmental officials are expected to keep the secrets of the regime, even if they consist of murder, coups, and wars of aggression. In a national-security state, “national security” trumps everything, including conscience, as well as such principles as due process of law, freedom of travel, economic liberty, and private property.
Finally, it is worth mentioning an ironic aspect of the U.S. government’s decades-long policy of interventionism against Cuba — the similarities between Cuba’s socialist economic system and America’s welfare-state, regulated-economy system. Such socialist and interventionist programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, a central bank, paper (i.e., fiat) money, economic regulations, trade restrictions, licensure, and income taxation are core elements in both the Cuban and American systems.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Pentagon’s “judicial” system at Guantanamo Bay more closely resembles that of the Cuban communist regime than that of the United States, given its trials of accused terrorists by military commission, its use of evidence acquired by torture, its admission of hearsay, its denial of the rights of speedy trial and due process of law, its destruction of the attorney-client privilege, its presumption of guilt, and its preordained verdict of guilty.
Throughout the long U.S. decades of interventionism against Cuba, the notion has always been that the means justified the end of regime change. Too bad that such means entailed an attack on the freedom and values that once characterized the United States and the American people.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of Future of Freedom.