Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts: Fidel Castro’s relationship with United States

Clare Ramirez | Presentation Director

Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, died on Nov. 25 at the age of 90. He was a polarizing figure, both despised and beloved internationally.

The Daily Orange spoke with Avi Chomsky, a historian and Latin American studies expert at Salem State University, about the revolutionary’s relationship with the United States throughout his long life.

The D.O.: How did the U.S. get involved with Cuba?

Avi Chomsky: The United States basically completely dominated Cuba since 1898 when we claimed it as our own. We turned it into basically a protectorate. We wrote the Cuban constitution and we wrote in the Platt Amendment, which gave the U.S. the right to control Cuba’s foreign policy, Cuba’s financial decision making and to land troops in Cuba anytime we felt it was necessary. U.S. corporations owned almost all of Cuba’s major sugar industry (and) it was sort of an economic dependency.

The D.O.: Why was Fidel Castro important in the United States?

A.C.: Fidel Castro was important to Americans in terms of the American government but I would also say that Fidel Castro was important to America in terms of popular movements and political mobilization.

One of the main goals of the Cuban Revolution was to take back control of their country from the United States. Clearly there were a lot of corporate and government interests there. (The U.S. government) sort of played it up through a Cold War lens but if you look at their internal correspondence at the time, what they’re really afraid of is Cuban nationalism. Cubans intended to take control of their own economy which they saw as detrimental to U.S. businesses.

It’s for those same reasons that so many oppressed groups in the United States found the Cuban Revolution so inspiring.

The D.O.: When did Fidel Castro become a household name to Americans?

A.C.: Probably 1958. While the revolutionary war was going on, Herbert Matthews of the New York Times spent some time with the guerrillas and wrote some really sympathetic coverage of the revolutionary movement. Then the revolution became successful in 1959.

The D.O.: How has Fidel Castro’s Cuba been portrayed in America?

A.C.: The United States made the determination by the middle of 1959 that Castro’s government is not worth saving. The determination was made for a military solution.

It’s absolutely crystal clear to the U.S. personnel on the ground in Cuba that, and this is an actual quote, “the Cuban population is united in adulating Fidel Castro. They love him. They support this revolution.”

So the United States is debating, “How are we going to frame that we are overthrowing this government that the Cubans seem to like so much?” Really, I think the whole question of human rights issues was basically invented to justify their hostility toward the revolution.

This does not mean that there were no human rights violations in Cuba. I cannot name a country in the world that has been free of human rights violations. There have been human rights violations in Cuba but I think the decision by the United States to emphasize them was completely political.

We have no trouble supporting governments that carry out horrific human rights violations. The only thing that determines if we overthrow a government or not is how they treat U.S. corporations. That’s where you find the consistency.

The D.O.: When Fidel Castro ceded power to Raul in 2006, why didn’t Raul become famous like his brother?

A.C.: I don’t think it’s the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul that makes (younger) generations not aware of Cuba, I think it’s the real undermining and collapse of the Cuban economy that makes it a less formidable enemy.

The D.O.: Where are U.S. and Cuban relations now?

A.C.: Cuba is really opening itself to foreign investments, so U.S. companies are being shut out. U.S. corporations which, back in the 1960s, had been clamoring for the overthrow of the Cuban revolution are now clamoring for better relations with Cuba so they can invest there.

 

In December of 2014, Barack Obama made the announcement that he and Raul Castro had been negotiating and they had agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. So there’s been a definite warming of relations. However, if you look closely, President Obama still repeats the old imperial lines that imply really it should be up to us to decide what kind of government Cuba has it shouldn’t be up to the Cubans.

 

The D.O.:When Raul steps down in 2018, what will that do to U.S. Cuban relations?

A.C.: In itself, I don’t think it will do anything. I don’t think it’s about the person. It’s not about Fidel and it’s not about Raul. I think there’s a lot of other factors that will determine what happens in U.S.- Cuban relations. I don’t think there will be any radical changes.

 

The D.O.:Does Fidel Castro’s death change anything?

A.C.: I think he was a really important historical figure. And I think that his death is important because his life was important. I don’t think anything changes because of his death but it’s important to mark because of his place in history.

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