Recently, the Trump administration has been gearing up for the overthrow of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro. At the same time, it is directly attacking Maduro’s closest allies as part of its overall foreign policy strategy.
The Helms-Burton Act
In mid-April this year, the US State Department announced that it would put into practice a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which will allow lawsuits by US citizens against dozens of Cuban companies and other entities that have found their way onto Washington’s Cuba Restricted List. This will enable Americans to pursue legal claims in the US against companies which operate on properties expropriated by Cuba following the Cuban revolution.
Since the legislation’s inception, every US president since Bill Clinton has suspended the provision due to international backlash (Canada and Europe have significant business holdings in Cuba); and the potential of opening the floodgates to unmanageable litigation (estimated at over 200,000 possible lawsuits).
As we know, however, Trump is no ordinary president. Recall that he once ordered a raid in Yemen that even Obama was reluctant to execute, which ended up being a complete fiasco and resulting in the murder of an eight-year-old American citizen. As such, Trump has allowed the partial activation of this provision, which may open the pathway to further sanctions on the island.
Cuba has often said that it would gladly reimburse the owners of properties nationalized after the revolution, but only if it were in turn reimbursed for billions of dollars’ worth of damages which it has suffered during a 60-year US trade embargo.
While the new US Cuba strategy didn’t go so far as to target foreign investments in Cuba, most of the media are reasonably confident that the Trump administration’s decision is paving the way for doing so in the not-so-distant future.
Unsurprisingly, the European Union (EU) was not on board with this latest move by the Trump administration to isolate yet another country on the world stage, which it views as the “extraterritorial application of unilateral restrictive measures… contrary to international law.” When the law was first enacted, the EU filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and sought to outmaneuver the rules.
“We are writing to respectfully call on the US to adhere to the terms of our agreement and to maintain a full waiver of Title III for EU companies and citizens,” reads a letter from the EU’s Federica Mogherini and Cecilia Malmstrom, sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. The letter warned that if the US does not honor this request, the EU will look to other means to protect its interests.
While I am no expert on the Helms-Burton Act, one would have to wonder about the international precedent it would set if US courts could exercise jurisdiction over property owned by non-Americans nationalized by a sovereign government. This is particularly true when the country in question has invaded and occupied more countries than I can be bothered to count.
The Monroe Doctrine
They say that when a magician is showing you something with his right hand, you watch what the left hand is doing. In the case of the Trump administration, you watch what the law-unto-himself John Bolton is doing behind closed doors.
Taking a break from beating the drums of war against Iran and Venezuela, on the same day as the State Department announcement on Cuba, Bolton took a trip to Coral Gables, Florida to speak at a commemorative luncheon of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. You see, approximately 60 years ago, Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba that resulted in the overthrow of a US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. As the US tends to do, it then commissioned CIA director Allen Dulles to put together a plan to overthrow Castro, which eventually led to then-president Kennedy giving the green light for an invasion at the Bay of Pigs in southwest Cuba.
During his speech, Bolton, in spectacular fashion, attacked the “disastrous Obama-era policies” and vowed to “finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism” by launching a new round of sanctions against Cuba. He also declared that the “Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”
“Cuba will be next,” Bolton told his audience. “Together, we can finish what began on those beaches, on those famous days in April, 58 years ago today.”
Wow. The great thing about Bolton, of course, is his brute honesty, so the rest of us no longer have to swallow the usual nonsense that the US foreign policy strategy is motivated by human rights, freedom and democracy.
And what could be more Boltonesque than sanctions that don’t actually target the Cuban government but instead, as the Nation’s Peter Kornbluh points out, target Cuban people and US citizens. Bolton also promised to crack down and restrict the movement of American citizens traveling to Cuba. The Trump administration is also going to cap remittances from residents in the US at $4,000 per person a year. Currently, Cubans are sending $3 billion to family in Cuba, and hundreds of thousands traveled to visit the island in 2019 alone.
So why is all this necessary? I bet those of you who follow honest political commentary regularly already know the answer. As a State Department official told Reuters, “Cuba continues to maintain close relations to Russia and China and has destabilized Venezuela, leading to mass flows or refugees and of course public health threats.”
The most nonsensical part of the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory is that Trump’s entire foreign policy centers around a strategy of opposing and undermining Russia and China at almost every turn. But perhaps he does all that just to fool us. (After all, these unilateral attacks typically push the victim nation into the open arms of Russia and China anyway.)
Then again, there could be another, simpler theory behind Trump’s recent attacks on Cuba. As Reuters noted (in its second-to-last paragraph):
“Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a key political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.”
As it transpires, this is 100 percent true. As domestic American politics is not exactly my forte, I will put that issue aside and redirect my focus to the geopolitical situation currently unraveling across the region.
Troika of tyranny
We all know the Trump administration’s stance on Venezuela, as the media have been gearing us up for yet another US-backed coup (don’t call it a coup though) in the South American nation. What we hear less about, however, is Venezuela’s proximity to Cuba, which has been one of the country’s main supporters. Trump even labeled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro a “Cuban puppet” in February this year. During a speech in Miami last year, Bolton accused Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua of forming a “troika of tyranny,” claiming that the three nations represented “the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked.”
I don’t know about you, but sitting here in Christchurch, New Zealand, I don’t feel even remotely threatened by Nicaragua, Venezuela or Cuba. I do, however, feel quite threatened by white nationalists who openly declare Trump a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” who could shoot me down at any passing moment. Though that is a separate topic for another time.
The US appears to be looking to employ tried and tested regime-change strategies in both Venezuela and Cuba simultaneously. According to William LeoGrande, a professor who specializes in Latin America, the US hopes “that by toppling the Venezuelan government and cutting off oil exports to Cuba, they can bring about an economic crisis in Cuba that causes political collapse there as well.”
In the case of Cuba, history shows that a forceful hand from Washington barely delivers the results the ruling elite have been after. While it is likely that Cuba will take a hard hit following the crackdown on travel, the cap on remittances and the commencement of potential lawsuits (the threat of which could be enough to put a halt to some businesses), the Cubans seem resolute in their willingness to fight back, as they did quite convincingly at the Bay of Pigs.
John Bolton would dream of re-igniting the embarrassing bloodbath that took place that day, and anyone who falls for Bolton’s warmongering rhetoric probably deserves what’s coming next.
By Darius Shahtahmasebi