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March 16, 2000

Punishment Politics: Tug of War Over Cuban-Boy Refugee Is Symbolic of U.S.-Cuba Embargo Problems

Elian Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban boy, was found floating on an inner tube off the coast of Florida on Nov. 25, 1999, his mother and 10 others from Cuba having perished in a boat accident. Elian was rescued and is staying in Florida with relatives of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, a hotel doorman in Cuba. Elian’s father has demanded the return of his boy to Cuba. The case has become a cause celebre in Cuba, where hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand Elian’s return to his homeland. In the United States, Elian is the political flash point for an illegal and inhumane U.S. policy toward Cuba.

U.S. politicians who seek to prevent Elian from returning to Cuba point to the large numbers who have fled Cuba in recent years, many risking and some losing their lives in unseaworthy crafts to reach the shores of Florida. The desperate economic conditions in Cuba are a direct outgrowth of U.S. policy toward Cuba, which in turn mirrors the strength of the Cuban-American voting lobby. Because it is a potent political force in U.S. electoral politics, Congress and all presidents since 1959 (the year of Fidel Castro’s Marxist revolution) have been loathe to cross the Cuban-American lobby.

The Cubans who left Cuba after the revolution have wielded a powerful sword on the U.S. political scene. L.D. Mallory, a state department senior official, wrote in a 1960 memorandum that, “the majority of Cubans support Castro,” and “there is no effective political opposition.” Thus, he maintained, “the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” He stressed that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba,” and he proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

Later that year, the Eisenhower Administration declared a partial embargo on trade with Cuba in an attempt to pressure Cuba to change its form of government. Vice President Richard Nixon described this policy as an “all-out ‘quarantine’ – economically, politically and diplomatically – of the Castro regime.” The Kennedy Administration in 1962 announced a total embargo of trade with Cuba.

Successive administrations have honored this embargo, and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 was the first Congressional legislation to expand the scope of the embargo. It strengthened further in 1996 with the adoption of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, commonly known as the Helms-Burton Act, which empowers the U.S. government to cancel foreign aid to nations that grant preferential treatment to Cuba. According to Richard Garfield, of the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, the U.S. government used “Mafia-type pressure tactics” to dissuade foreign sales to Cuba of ingredients for making soap and detergents. An amendment to the act that would have carved out an exception to the embargo for the sale of medicine and food to Cuba lost in the House of Representatives. In the past seven years, the United States has extended the reach of the embargo by attempting to force foreign countries and corporations to participate in the economic blockade of Cuba.

The United States embargo – or economic blockade – of Cuba has had disastrous effects on the Cuban people. Its restriction on the sale of food, medicine and medical equipment is unprecedented. Even the U.N. sanctions against Iraq do not ban the sale of food or medicine, because, as stated in a 1991 article in the New York Times, it is internationally “unacceptable to cause the wide-spread suffering among civilians through impeding the shipment of foods and medicines” to a civilian population.

In 1997, after conducting a 12 month investigation into the Cuban health system, the American Association for World Health found the U.S. embargo “has caused a significant rise in suffering – and even deaths – in Cuba.” The AAWH report also states that, since the enactment of the Cuban Democracy Act, Cuban “patients going without essential drugs or doctors performing medical procedures without adequate equipment . . . has sharply accelerated.” According to the AAWH, Cuba has access to less than half the new medicines on the world market, and it cannot buy some life-saving medical supplies anywhere. Fatal heart attacks in Cuba have increased because the U.S. pacemaker monopoly will not sell to Cuba. New anti-cancer and AIDS drugs are not accessible to Cubans. The CDA’s prohibition on the sale of food, fertilizer, pesticide and animal feed to Cuba has resulted in a 33 percent drop in caloric intake. The AAWH also found that food shortages have caused low birth weight in babies and a significant increase in nervous disorders.

The economic blockade against Cuba is a crime against humanity, defined by the Nuremberg Principles as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds . . .” For 39 years, the U.S. government has punished the Cuban people because it dislikes their political system.

In 1948, the United Nations passed the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The United States and Cuba signed and ratified it, and it took effect in 1950. The Convention guaranteed “the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores . . . intended only for civilians . . .” and “. . . essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, expectant mothers and maternity cases.” A blockade on food, medicines and other objects indispensable to survival is not permitted even in times of war.

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly has condemned the embargo annually for the last eight years. This year, only the United States and Israel voted against the U.N. resolution. Ill. Gov. George Ryan, whose delegation visited Havana in October, recently urged an end to the economic embargo against Cuba. He observed that it “has been largely driven by political strength of the Cuban exile community in South Florida.” Ryan’s report states, “Clearly the 40-year-old U.S. policy of embargo and isolation against Cuba has not succeeded in driving Castro from power, and it is unlikely to ever be successful.”

Meanwhile, the embargo continues to take its toll on the people of Cuba. In addition, the U.S. government broadcasts anti-Cuba and pro-U.S. propaganda to Cuba on Radio Marti. As a result, many Cubans have left, crossing the Florida Strait in unsafe boats. In 1994, the United States and Cuba issued a Joint Communique, providing that “migrants rescued at sea attempting to enter the United States will not be permitted to enter the United States.” Cuba pledged to try to prevent unsafe departures using mainly persuasive methods. A joint statement between the United States and Cuba in 1995 stated that “Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the United States and attempting to enter the United States will be taken to Cuba.” The “wet feet-dry feet” policy, however, allows only Cubans caught on U.S. shores to become permanent U.S. residents and legal workers. Those intercepted at sea go back.

Although rescued at sea, Elian Gonzalez has not gone back to Cuba. Immigration and Naturalization Service Director Doris Meissner acknowledges that “U.S. law, and I think Cuban law, says a parent [Elian’s father in Cuba] has the primary custody right. But we will create an opportunity for those who have an interest in the boy’s well-being to be heard,” Lawyers for Elian’s Cuban-American relatives have filed a political asylum claim on his behalf. They claim Elian has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in Cuba if he returns, which can depend on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Judging from the Cuban outpouring of support for Elian, no one seems to have a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The frivolous asylum claim made by Elian’s American relatives has served to focus attention on the economic deprivation in Cuba, which caused his mother to flee with him and others in an unseaworthy craft. The U.S. economic blockade of Cuba has led to the tragic conditions in Cuba. The blockade must end at once. Elian Gonzalez must go back to his homeland.

May 21, 1999

The Dark Side of the Bombing of Kosovo

The bombing of Kosovo is being justified as a tactic to prevent “ethnic cleansing.” But the primary motivation is to use NATO to secure the U.S. as the sole superpower. The U.S. has historically used its military force for intervention to protect its own economic and political interests. According to a 1996 New York Times article, “Now, in the years after the cold war, the United States is again establishing suzerainty over the empire of a former foe. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has prompted the United States to expand its zone of military hegemony into Eastern Europe (through NATO) and into formerly neutral Yugoslavia. And – most important of all – the end of the cold war has permitted America to deepen its involvement in the Middle East.”

Why does the U.S. desire control over Eastern Europe? Because the Caspian Sea region rivals the Middle East with its extremely rich oil and gas resources, estimated at $4 trillion by U.S. News and World Report. The American Petroleum Institute, the Washington-based voice of the biggest U.S. oil companies, called the Caspian Sea region, “the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East.”

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been an ongoing competition between Russia and the West for access to this oil. Retired Navy Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, who until recently oversaw all U.S. naval forces in Europe, including the Caspian area, said, “I think within the next decade, the Caspian and Black Sea area will become the next Persian Gulf, with the same enormous potential for positive engagement as well as trouble.”

The Caspian Sea is landlocked between Russia and a group of former Soviet republics (including Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan). The key problem is how to transport this oil to world markets. Russia wants the pipelines to run through its territory, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The U.S. wants them to go through its ally,Turkey. If the U.S. were truly concerned about ethnic cleansing, it would not do business with Turkey. In recent years, that country has prosecuted its own ethnic cleansing campaign, killing 100,000 Kurds and forcing millions more off their land. That vile campaign has not daunted the U.S.; Turkey is the third largest recipient of U.S. financial aid.

Five years ago, Clinton became aware of the importance of Caspian Sea oil. Former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sent by Clinton as an emissary to Azerbaijan, observed, “Clinton became rather directly involved.” Clinton created an ambassadorial position in the State Department to deal with Caspian projects. Richard Morningstar, Clinton’s Caspian energy advisor, was a keynote speaker at “The U.S. Caspian Ambassadors’ Tour,” held in New Orleans earlier this month. He outlined Clinton’s goals of providing commercial opportunities to U.S. firms, mitigating regional conflicts among Caspian nations and promoting energy security for the U.S. and its allies. “For these countries to be independent, the resources have to be able to get out freely without undue influence from competitive countries,” Morningstar noted.

Interestingly, former U.S. Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and James Baker as well as Brzezinski have earned large consulting fees for oil companies working in the region.

NATO, in its eastward expansion, has incorporated the former Soviet nations that border the Caspian Sea, into its sub-group, Partnership for Peace. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, described the difference between membership in NATO and PFP as “razor-thin.”

How does Caspian oil tie in to the war in Kosovo? The April NATO bombings of bridges at Novi Sad and other points on the Danube River blocked international cargo traffic moving to the Black Sea. The Danube crosses from Yugoslavia into Romania just east of Belgrade, and carries oil from the Caspian into Europe.

The U.S. is attempting to establish military dominance at the choke point for Caspian Sea oil, thus assuming effective military control over all of the oil resources for the entire industrialized world.

Russia and China have been particularly threatened by the new NATO expansion and the air war in Serbia. Russia’s defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, worries the situation in Yugoslavia “could happen anywhere.” Many Russians are concerned NATO could use Kosovo as a precedent to intervene in Russia’s breakaway province of Chechnya, also a hot spot along proposed routes for oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea. Last year, Boris Yeltsin told an interviewer, “Some seek to exclude Russia from the game and undermine its interests. The so-called ‘pipeline war’ in the region is part of this game.”

And China, whose Belgrade embassy was bombed recently by NATO, is the subject of a formal protest by Azerbaijan for reported arms deliveries to Azerbaijan’s rival Armenia, claiming China is trying to disrupt Caspian oil exports.

Even though the Soviet Union has dissolved and Russia is weakened by internal economic and political problems, the U.S. is vying to maintain its status as sole superpower in the world. Meanwhile, the people of Serbia suffer. The bombing must stop.

May 4, 1999

Stanford Redux: Staying True to the April Third Movement

The April Third Movement was a life-changing experience for hundreds of Stanford students in the 1960s and 1970s. Sent to Stanford by our parents who anticipated we would receive a top-notch education, we found ourselves transforming the very world we were studying. As we read about the War in Southeast Asia, we came to understand the role of the United States, and of Stanford University, in conducting and perpetuating that War. We saw films of the Vietnamese people, living and working and educating their children under ground, to avoid the bombs being dropped by the United States. We witnessed the destruction of their small country, as the bombs devastated the crops and the countryside and the people. We were haunted by anguished women and children running from U.S. planes loaded with deadly napalm.

Our reactions to what we saw and read were colored by our knowledge that Stanford University was complicit in this war on the people of Southeast Asia. We learned that research to develop chemical, biological and other high-tech weapons, as well as electronic warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, was being conducted at Stanford. The War was being waged in our own backyard. And we felt personally responsible.

We spent countless hours studying, discussing and strategizing to end the War. No action was taken without lengthy study and debate as we tried to implement “participatory democracy.” Hundreds of students sat in buildings, occupied the Stanford Industrial Park and defended ourselves against tear gas when the police reacted to our civil disobedience. We risked our futures as many of us were arrested or disciplined by the Stanford power structure.

Our political awakening was inextricably bound up with our personal development. We found ourselves in the midst of a cultural revolution, as we questioned authority, elevated love over destruction and underwent profound transformation in our lifestyles. We strove for equality – between races, between sexes and between classes. We studied together, we worked together, we lived together. Our values were reflected in the music we loved, performed by the poets of our time – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.

Ultimately, we were successful. Our efforts contributed to ending the War. But it didn’t stop there. Many of our lives have been guided by the values we internalized during our days in the April Third Movement (named for the date in 1969 when we decided to sit in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory; the occupation lasted eleven days). We have continued to do progressive work as community organizers, educators, lawyers, journalists, farmers, doctors, poets, politicians and scholars (to name a few). And we salute the activism of the current Stanford students as you try to make the world a better place, by supporting workers, minorities, gays and lesbians and environmentalists in their struggles for justice.

The University must be a laboratory for both theory and practice. It is here we have the opportunity to study; but it is here we also have the responsibility to use our knowledge to change ourselves, and in turn, our community. Please join us this weekend as we look back at the 60s and 70s as well as ahead to the next century. Let us work together to make the world a more humane place for all.