News and Facts about Cuba

The Cuba/U.S. relationship – It’s complicated

The Cuba/U.S. relationship: It’s complicated
By Susan Grigsby
Sunday Mar 06, 2016 · 8:00 PM CEST

Obama will be in Cuba for the Tampa Bay Rays’ exhibition
baseball game against the Cuban National Team later this month. While
that may not be the main reason for his trip, his visit will be only the
second one by a sitting U.S. President—but it’s no doubt the first visit
to include a baseball game. (Former President Jimmy Carter has traveled
twice to Cuba, once in 2002, and again in 2011.)

To the great surprise of absolutely no one, White House hopefuls and
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have both expressed their indignation
that the president is visiting Cuba before it is “free.” Apparently,
they both think that can only exist under an anti-Communist
dictatorship, which is what ruled Cuba before the 1959 revolution that
led to ’s long reign.

Our history with this neighbor predates that revolution, although we are
unlikely to hear much about our relationship prior to 1928, when
President Calvin Coolidge visited the island. But our nation’s desire
for Cuba arose long before the sinking of the USS Maine, the
Spanish-American war of 1898, and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill.

Throughout the 1800s, American politicians had covetously eyed the
island that was a mere 90 miles off the coast of Spanish Florida. In
1808, five years after the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson offered to
buy Cuba. refused. In 1823 after acquiring Florida, Secretary of
State John Quincy Adams wrote to our Ambassador to Spain
and described “the likelihood of U.S. ‘annexation of Cuba’ within half a
century despite obstacles.” And more than a decade after President
Madison warned Britain in 1810 that we would not sit idly by should she
make any attempt to gain possession of Cuba, President James Monroe made
clear our intent to claim dominance over the Americas through the
doctrine that today bears his name.

By 1841, slaves accounted for more than 50 percent of Cuba’s population.
Meanwhile, its growing sugar trade (83 percent of its exports by
1850) allowed it to become one of the anchors of the Triangular Trade
that brought Cuban sugar to the U.S., where it was processed into rum,
which was then sent to Africa in exchange for slaves, who were then sold
to Cuba. In 1848, President Polk secretly attempted to purchase the
island from Spain for $130 million. Spain once again refused. In the
late 1850s President Buchanan tried to talk Congress into buying Cuba,
but the lead-up to the Civil War had Congress otherwise occupied.

After 1807, slaves could no longer be legally imported into the U.S.,
and once the Wilmot Proviso (which would have banned slavery from
territory acquired from the Mexican War) debate revealed a growing
sectional divide among the Democrats, Southerners looked to annex Cuba.
According to Edward Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told:
Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism:

A Virginia-born State Department official, writing to Secretary of War
Jefferson Davis in around 1853, said that expansion into Cuba was
“essential to the South both in a political and a geographical point of
view.” Because of Cuba’s size and population, it could be carved into
multiple states, each one sending proslavery senators and
representatives to Washington to rebalance Congress.
The Civil War and its aftermath ended our acquisition attempts. For a while.

At least until the end of the century, when Cuba’s continuing struggle
to free itself from Spain gave President McKinley the excuse to send the
USS Maine to Havana to protect American citizens in the city from
possible . It mysteriously exploded. Congress quickly
granted McKinley’s request for a declaration of war against Spain,
adding the Teller Amendment which made clear that the U.S.:

“hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty,
jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification
thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to
leave the government and control of the island to its people.”
But we were only kidding, and superseded the Teller Amendment with the
Platt Amendment three years later. The Platt Amendment allowed the
United States:

“the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the
maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life,
property, and individual liberty…”
Which we did. Repeatedly, until the Platt Amendment, which had become
part of Cuba’s Constitution (written under U.S. supervision), was
abrogated in 1934. We still held on to our naval base at Guantanamo Bay,
but would no longer automatically send Marines onto the island whenever
workers attempted to upset the status quo.

Desperately needing cash after the Spanish-American War (which
destroyed 893 of Cuba’s 1,100 sugar mills), land was sold off cheaply,
mostly to foreign investors, for as little as $1 an acre. By 1912,
United Company was bringing in their own work force and setting up
company towns to process the sugar cane grown on their massive
holdings. Marcelo Bucheli, in a paper on the United Fruit
Company, quotes a passage from the 1935 work, The Banana Empire: A case
Study of Economic Imperialism by Charles David Kepner, Jr. and Jay Henry

“[This] powerful company has throttled competitors, dominated
governments, manacled railroads, ruined planters, choked cooperatives,
domineered over workers, fought organized labor, and exploited
consumers. Such usage of power by a corporation of a strongly
industrialized nation in relatively weak foreign countries constitutes a
variety of economic imperialism.”
And while the United Fruit Company was only one of the American firms
interested in profiting from Cuba, the description suited most of the
other firms as well. They were all strongly supported by the U.S.
government. And that government was willing to support whichever Cuban
President was willing to do business with our corporate interests.

Of all the leaders, Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar may have been our
favorite. Long before he ran for the office of president in 1940, his
position in the Cuban armed forces gave him control over Cuban
Presidents. In 1933 he was a leader in the coup that overthrew Gerardo
Machado. Later, he worked with U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles to topple
the presidency of Ramón Grau San Martín. As a colonel, he acted as the
strongman behind puppet presidents until he ran for, and won, the office
in 1940. Losing the 1944 election to Ramón Grau (whom he
deposed earlier) Batista left the country for a few years. He returned
in 1948 after being elected as a senator while he was living in the States.

When he lost the presidential election of 1952, he simply took over in a
coup d’etat and suspended the constitution that he had introduced twelve
years earlier. President Truman recognized Batista as president and
his government as legitimate within two weeks of his coup.
Batista’s reign is noted for its corruption and utter brutality, and
lasted until New Year’s Eve, 1958, when he fled the country with $300

TJ English’s colorful work, Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba—And
Then Lost It to the Revolution, describes the involvement of organized
crime in Cuba, from Prohibition, when it was a transshipment point, to
the 1959 Revolution. In 1933, realizing that with the end of
Prohibition they would have to find other sources of income, Charles
“Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky called a meeting of regional Mafioso
bosses. In order to begin gambling operations in Havana, Lansky would
need cash to offer to his contact in Cuba—half a million a piece. Lansky
approached Batista with the cash and with a guarantee of $3 to $5
million a year, and a share of all profits to come from the casinos.

“Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante, and Albert Anastasia
all play major roles in creating a gambler’s paradise in Havana. The
meeting of the mob leaders was not held in 1958 as depicted in the
Godfather II, but actually in 1946, when Batista was spending his
self-imposed exile in Daytona Beach. The crime syndicate did divide up
the gambling operations at the 1946 meeting. In 1952, Batista
established a Commission and named Meyer Lansky as a member. It
all ended on New Year’s Eve, 1958, when Batista fled the country. Fidel
Castro did not approve of gambling and most of the mobsters were able to
leave the island just before he gained control.

In March 1959, Cuba passed the Agrarian Reform Law and appropriated
foreign land holdings, which represented 75 percent of the
island’s arable land. Compensation was offered via 20-year bonds at 4.5
percent interest rate and was based upon the assessed tax valuation of
the land. Of course, the assessed value, which had not been changed for
30 to 40 years, was well below its actual value, which allowed the
foreign owners to pay less in annual taxes. The U.S. owners
screamed bloody murder at the audacity of the Cuban government in using
that same valuation as a basis for compensation. The other nations all
agreed to accept Cuba’s terms. We slapped on an instead.

The Boston Globe, in a 2014 article, suggests that the existing land
claims that date back 50 years now total $7 billion dollars.

Some of these assets were the vacation homes and bank accounts of
wealthy individuals. But the lion’s share of the confiscated
property—originally valued at $1.8 billion, which at 6 percent simple
interest translates to nearly $7 billion today—was sugar factories,
mines, oil refineries, and other business operations belonging to
American corporations, among them the Coca-Cola Co., Exxon, and the
First National Bank of Boston. A 2009 article in the Inter-American Law
Review described Castro’s nationalization of US assets as the “largest
uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in

Today, the nearly 6,000 property claims filed in the wake of the Cuban
revolution almost never come up as a significant sticking point in
discussions of a prospective Cuban-American thaw. But they remain
active—and more to the point, the federal law that lays out the
conditions of a possible reconciliation with Cuba, the 1996 Helms-Burton
Act, says they have to be resolved.
The article does explain the original offer of the Cuban government, and
the U.S. rejection of that offer. Here lies the a difference between the
attitudes of the legal, government-supported corporations and the
underground, crime syndicate. The corporations expect to be
repaid for the expenses of their unethical actions. The Mafia, on the
other hand, would never expect the victims of a home invasion robbery to
be asked to pay for the bullets.

Source: The Cuba/U.S. relationship: It’s complicated –

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