Having just turned 80 on August 13 and undergone major surgery for what may have been stomach cancer at the end of July, a transitional time may be near in Cuba with Fidel Castro Ruz beginning to hand over power to his brother Raul and/or others in the months ahead. It passed without irony or mention of imperial arrogance in a brief front page comment in the August 19th issue of the Wall Street Journal that the US won't invade Cuba but a "dynastic succession" is not acceptable. It would have been too much to expect the Journal to have noted that same type succession happened in the US in 2000 and 2004 and in elections exposed and documented as badly tainted at least and likely stolen at worst on top of five arrogant Supreme Court Justices refusing to allow a proper recount of the disputed vote and, in effect, annulling the voice of the people and replacing it with their choice for president. It's called "democracy, American style." It also would have been too much to expect the WSJ to challenge the language it quoted asking what right does anyone in the Bush administration have to tell another nation what type succession policy is or is not acceptable.
No one can know for sure what lies ahead for Cuba or if Castro will even survive. But now beginning his ninth decade and clearly facing a long and difficult recovery, the Cuban leader may have no other choice than to step aside in handling the country's day to day affairs although his influence will always be felt as long as he's alive and lucid. When, not if, the time of transition arrives, an historic era will have passed for the Cuban people and the region. And, while it won't be easy for a successor replacing a 'legend," the history of just Israel and the US alone shows it can happen successfully. It likely will in Cuba as well because the great majority of people there won't tolerate a return to the ugly, repressive pre-Castro past even though most of them never lived through it.
Looking back, one thing for sure can be said about Fidel Castro. He's the longest serving political leader in the world having first gained power on January 1, 1959. For him and Cuba it marked the successful culmination of his quest to do so that began with his unsuccessful attack on the Moncada army post in Santiago de Cuba in July, 1953 for which he stood trial and was sentenced in October that year to serve 15 years in the Isle of Pines penitentiary. For his efforts and while in prison Castro fast became a legend which may or may not have helped him win amnesty and release in May, 1955 after which he first became a non-violent agitator against the US backed oppressive and corrupted Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. Because he was censored and banned from speaking publicly, that strategy got him nowhere and he was forced to leave Cuba for Mexico to plan what became his 26th of July Movement that would be the means to take by force what no opposition in Batista's Cuba could achieve politically. With few resources and little support, Castro and 82 of his followers returned to the Sierra Maestra Mountains in his country in December, 1956 to begin the revolution that would finally succeed when he and what grew to 800 loyal followers entered Havana on January 1, 1959. His small band of determined resistance guerilla fighters had defeated Batista's army of thousands and forced the Cuban dictator to flee the country. From that time forward, the rest, as they say, is history.
From the earliest days of Cuba under Castro, the US imposed harsh conditions on the island state and waged an unending undeclared war against it. It wanted to destabilize the government, kill Fidel Castro or at the least make life so intolerable for the Cuban people, they'd willingly allow themselves to be ruled again by the interests of capital and the dictates of so-called "free market" forces. That many-decade campaign of state-directed terror never worked and likely never will convince the great majority of the Cuban people to favor giving up the essential social gains they now have for a return to what they surely know was a repressive past. They understand if it ever happened, it would be a throwback not just to the days and ways of the hated Batista regime but also to the time US President McKinley "liberated" the island from Spain in an earlier war based on a lie. From that time forward until the Castro-led revolution, the US effectively ruled Cuba as a de facto colony and used it to serve the interests of wealth and power at the expense of the welfare of the people. In his time, McKinley promised to let the Cubans govern themselves after the Spanish-American war, but the dominant Republicans in the Congress had other ideas and were only willing to go along with the island's self-rule if under it the US was allowed "to veto any decision (the Cuban government) made."
One of the earliest examples of US dominance was the Platt Amendment the Congress passed in 1901 after the US "liberated" Cuba in 1898. This federal law ceded Guantanamo Bay to the US to be used as the naval base we've had ever since and granted the US the right to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it deemed it necessary. Theodore Roosevelt later signed the original Guantanamo lease agreement the terms of which gave the US jurisdiction over the territory that can only be terminated by the mutual consent of both countries as long as annual rent payments are made. The US thus gave itself the right to occupy part of sovereign Cuban territory in perpetuity regardless of how the Cuban people feel about it. The Castro government clearly wants the US out and through the years made its views clear by refusing to cash every US lease payment check it got other than the first one right after the successful revolution.
Whatever one's view of Fidel Castro Ruz, it's clear the achievements of the Republica de Cuba under his rule for nearly 48 years have been remarkable. He managed to do it in spite of the oppressive partial embargo the US imposed on the island state in October, 1960 that became a total embargo 16 months later in February, 1962 when it was expanded to include everything except non-subsidized sales of food and medicines and a month later banned the import of all goods made from Cuban materials regardless of where they were made. The embargo was further tightened with the passage of the Cuban Democracy (Torricelli) Act in 1992 that legalized the encouragement of pro-US opposition groups to act forcefully against the Castro government. It was made still far worse in 1996 after the passage of the outrageous Helms-Burton Act that allows the US government the right to sue any corporation anywhere that does business with Cuba.
Today the US embargo remains in place but is under siege because of its unpopularity among sectors of the US business community that want access to the Cuban market. They include oil and agricultural interests that see the profit potential of trading with Cuba and want to end the restrictions on it now in place. For US oil companies there are potential Cuban oil reserves they want access to, and for agribusiness there's a significant Cuban market for their exports. As a result, the pressure is mounting on the Bush administration which up to now has been defiant in its opposition to Fidel Castro and remains hostile and punitive. But of late the action has been in the Congress with attempts to pass legislation and avoid a Bush veto to ease the current restrictions and allow some economic relations with Cuba that for decades have been banned. For now it's uncertain whether the demands of US business will win out over the fiercely unyielding Bush administration's anti-Castro foreign policy. This and past administrations have always resisted all outside pressure to change their multi-decade hostile policy stance that included ignoring over a dozen overwhelming UN General Assembly votes to end the embargo. In all those votes (excluding abstentions), it was nearly the entire world voting to end it and two or three nations wanting to keep it - the US, Israel and one or another Pacific island.
Travel and Other Restrictions On US Citizens
To destabilize the Castro government, the US for over 40 years has also imposed travel and other restrictions on its own citizens. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, President Kennedy first imposed restrictions on travel to the island in February, 1963. Through the years, US laws have changed at times but have grown harsher under the current Bush administration. Technically no US citizen can legally travel to Cuba without a Treasury license to do so. Doing it otherwise will subject anyone caught to fines up to $10,000 and possibly much higher as well as up to 10 years in prison. Until 2001, the travel restrictions were loosely enforced with only 16 criminal prosecutions between 1983 and 1999. However, all that changed post-2001, and now anyone caught travelling illegally to Cuba stands a real risk of heavy fine and possible imprisonment in this time of USA Patriot Act justice and the fraudulent "war on terror."
For those US citizens allowed to travel to Cuba, there are further limitations on the amount of money they may spend there or send to the country in the case of remittances to immediate family members there or to a Cuban national living in a third country. Under US Treasury license authorization, a visitor is allowed to spend a maximum $50 per day for non-transportational expenses and an additional $50 per day for transportation expenses. It's also permissible for persons in the US 18 years of age or older to remit to an immediate family member in Cuba or a Cuban national in a third country a maximum $300 per household in any consecutive three month period.
And they no doubt would do it despite the fact that the right of free movement anywhere encroaches on the right to liberty which the Fifth Amendment specifically states citizens cannot be deprived of without the due process of law. This restriction also likely violates the First Amendment right of free expression and to be able to hear the speech of others, gather information and associate with others as we choose - activities that should be inviolate in a free and democratic society. In addition, the fact that freedom of travel was an unquestioned right when the Constitution was drafted is the reason for the Ninth Amendment which grants the states all other rights not specifically written into the Constitution. Any restrictions thus imposed and enforced in violation of constitutional law are a direct infringement of our sacred freedoms, fundamental rights and civil liberties and unless challenged and successfully reversed in the courts are dangerous steps toward a national security police state under which citizens and residents have no rights.
US restrictive laws also violate international law under Article 12 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees everyone the right to leave any country, including one's own, and return to it. Article 13 of the non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the same thing as does the 1975 US - Soviet Union Helsinki Agreement committing both nations to protecting the right of its citizens to move freely across borders. The US, especially since the advent of the current Bush administration, has shown its contempt for international and US constitutional law ruling instead by Executive Order to pursue whatever policies it wishes in a manner characteristic of a dictatorship and with no restraint put on it by the Congress or the courts.