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Cuba in the American Imagination

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Source CUBARTE 16.02.2015

Cuba in the American imagination-Metaphor and the Imperial ethos.
Cuba in the American imagination-Metaphor and the Imperial ethos.

Words at the presentation of the Cuban edition of the book by Louis A. Pérez Jr. on January 27, 2015 at the UNEAC (Cuban Union of Writers and Artists).

The Cuban edition of this, one of the most recent books by Louis A. Pérez Jr., is added to the fetile harvest of one who is a profound researcher of Cuba and its ties with the United States. Its publication has special importance now when the re-establishment of diplomatic relations has provoked so many commentaries, speculation and also more than a few illusions. On this subject, that of our position towards the powerful neighbor, Martí dedicated reflections which will always be fully applicable, among them his recommendation of examining with judicial eyes that which was and would have to be, a determining factor for the destiny of the Cuban nation. 

The apostle was still an adolescent when The Father of the Country discovered that “apoderarse de Cuba” (taking over Cuba) was “el secreto de la política norteamericana” (the secret of North American policy) and to carry it out they would seek the right moment and the most favorable conditions. Martí was referring to the hard facts and malevolent attitude; Martí knew that society like few people and promptly warned of the fatal danger that it held for Cuba.

The book by Louis A. Pérez, also the fruit of an in depth understanding of North American society, is the result of meticulous research that encompasses all areas, from politics to daily life, including the most diverse forms of culture.

Its reading can surprise those who have limited the matter to conjunctural contradictions and disputes confronting two good neighbors after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the so-called “diferendo” (differendum) a euphemism widely abused on both sides of the Florida Straits.

“Cuba in the American imagination” proves that it deals with something much more complex and long-standing, prior to the emergence of the Cuban nation. Its origin goes back to the years immediately following the Independence of the Thirteen Colonies and has endured, as an invariable constant, throughout two centuries, during the entire process of formation, expansion and development of the United States.

The idea that Cuba belonged to them, that its incorporation was necessary for the very existence of the North American Union and consequently, determining the future of the Island was an inevitable obligation for it, it is the true starting point in order to understand the dynamic of the relations between the two countries from then until today.

That idea, coupled with a distorted view of Cuba’s reality and the Cubans, always paternalist and descriminating and many times racist, will be present in the speaches  by statesmen and polititians, in editorials, caricatures and newspaper articles, in academic dissertations, in books, sermons, poems and songs and also, of course, in official and confidential documents. The pretenxe of dominating Cuba, clearly shown in the latter, would require counting on the support or acquiescence of the North American people, who in their hearts always had affection and freindly sentiments towars the inhabitants of a country close to them for many reasons. To control and direct the mind set of the people has been the permanent objective of  the owners of the United States.

The author sums up the result:

“Cuba has long occupied levels within the North American imagination, often all at the same time, of them almost all functioned in service of the interests of the United States. The relationship of North America with Cuba was most of all to serve as an instrument. Cuba-and the Cubans- were a means to an end, they were dedicated to be a way of satisfying the needs of North Americans and to carry out their interests. The North Americans came to know Cuba mainly by way of representations that were completely of thier own creation, that suggests that the Cuba with which the North Americans chose to relate was, in fact, a product of their own imagination and a projection of their needs. North Americans rarley relate to the Cuban reality on its own terms or as a condition that possesses an internal logic or with the Cubans as a people with an interior history or as a nation that possesses its own destiny. It has always been this way between the United States and Cuba (1).”

The root of this way of representing itself to Cuba – and also to the rest of the world – was the representation that the North Americans have made for themselves, equally a product of their own imagination. The first great myth is to attribute a revolutionary character to the proprietors of the Thirteen Colonies in order to become independent from the British Crown. Subsequent research reveals that the principal motives of the process were the interests on the part of the colonists to extend their dominion over territories beyond the limits established by London and the concern in the face of unstoppable advance in the metropolis of abolitionist sentiments that threatened to end, which happened, the traffic and exploitation of slave labor. Among those who confronted their British Majesty were representatives of the most advanced thinking of the era, such as Tom Payne and popular sectors which also aspired to also change the structure of the colonial society, but were defeated and repressed by the Founding Fathers and their followers. Profesor Gerald Horne is not exaggerating when he titled one of his most recent studies, “The Counterrevolution of 1776”.

Another great myth is that which ties the new republic with the idea of democracy. This one turns out to be particularly notable since from the beginning Hamilton, Madison and Jay dedicated their efforts to demonstrating the contrary and insisted in making sure that the country would always governed by its masters, the owners of its material wealth.

Those conjured up myths encourage the idea of North American “exceptionalism” and a messianic character, providential, of its role in history. This belief has upheld the discourse of all the rulers from Washington to Obama. The efficacy of its projection is obvious. With it, they have acheived to intoxicate, even the brutalization, of a very wide segment of its population and to many in other countries.

The function of the wording, and communication as instruments of political control, with diverse and ever more sophisticated tecniques, already reach a power difficult to escape. It has been almost half a century since Brzezinski predicted that the new technologies would be capable of not only “manipulating the emotions” but rather of also “controlling the thought” of  modern man.

When as early as 1805 Thomas Jefferson designed a destiny for Cuba, which in his firm conviction was indispensable for the future of his own country, at the same time he defined the strategy to accomplish it. The United States would have to take over Cuba but the conditions would have to exist to facilitate it.

Back then the North American sovereignty did not go further than the Mississippi. The two Floridas, from the great river to the Atlantic, continued under Spanish rule. Cuba and the United States were not yet neighbors.

Almost a century passed during which Jefferson’s successors did not sit by idly. They tried to buy the Island, they held off the cravings for it by other European powers, dedicated themselves to thwarting the liberating Bolivarian Project, encouraged the annexationist current of the Creole “sugarocracy” and, during our wars for independence, they refused to recognize the Cuban institutions and the belligerence of the Liberating Army, while they allowed Spain to arm and equip their fleet and use their ports as bases in order to block the insurgent territories.

The auspicious moment to go into action arrived, as we know, in 1898.

As this book explains, that year overflowed with the campaign to win the hearts of the American people and convince them that it was necessary to participate in the war which Spain was at the point of losing. The realization of the imperialist interest executing, finally, a long contemplated plan, was presented, nevertheless, as fulfilling an moral obligation, altruistic, one of going to the rescue of a neighbor in distress.

The book examines the role of the metaphor, the symbols, in order to acheive political objectives by conditioning in a more or less subtil manner the way of thinking and the spirit of the receiver. In this respect it offers an abundant repertoire of official documents, speeches and declarations and also artistic representations as well as the editorials and newspaper articles and no lack of an ample representation of caricatures of the era. Cuba appears as an abused young girl asking for help, or as a small boy helpless or neglected and filthy and Uncle Sam as a knight coming to rescue the damsel, or the teacher dedicated to bathing and educating the wayward child. The images keep changing according to how the events go; from the abandoned beauty –the mambises (Cuban fighters), let’s remember, did not exist- to wayward children, preferrably negros, in urgent need of bathing and discipline.

This valuable study encompasses the 19th century and the first years of the 20th. The revolutionary triumph of 1959 would begin another stage in the manipulation of symbols and would also perform a primordial function. It became fashionable then to speak of an imaginary distancing between Washington and Batista, supposedly decisive for the overthrow of the dictator.  It was necessary to wait until 1996 in order to know the text of the last message by the Secretary of State to his Ambassador in Havana, when the year 1958 concluded the year in which Mr. Herter recapitulated with bitterness the help given in all areas until the moment when the tyrant was overthrown.

Or the incessantly repeated legend about the “millions” of Cubans who “escaped” from the island after the January victory and who have served as an instrument in order to dennigrate Cuba and grossly manipulate the migratory issue. According to its own official statistics, however, it is now in the 21st century, that this emmigration, including its decendency born there, surpasses the first million. And something that is usually overlooked, although it is shown in their very own governmental records, in 1958 the Cuban emmigration was superior to that of the entire continent excluding Mexico. 

The made up tale and false images disseminated in the years of the revolutionary period would be interminable. Allow me to pay homage only to the “prowess” exercized in April of 1961 by the intrepid navigators who disembarked at the port of Bayamo.  

That event, the one of 1898, was a successful campaign. The solidarity of the American people, amply demonstrated since the uprising by Céspedes, had intensified thirty uears later. The natural sympathy was joined by the rejection of the Weylerian cruelty. The grass roots support of the Cubans reached very notable levels and was reflected, beyond the political speeches, in the theater, the music and the poetry.

The intervention in the conflict was not viewed for what it was, an imperialist conspiracy, but rather as the realization of a noble and pure ideal. Joining forces with the mambises and fighting alongside with them was the desire of many. Just look at Mark Twain and Carl Sandberg.

That generous vision, unfettered, would appear in the Joint Resolution by way of the Teller ammendment which, nevertheless, contradicted the real official plan which would be set firmly in the text by Senator Oliver Platt.

What came later is known. Frustrated dreams, the constantly renewed struggle since that January dawn and after a half century of resistance and creation, on the part of those partaking in the feat and the sacrifices, the moments of bitterness and happiness, but above all, the certainty of having arrived at the promised land conceived by our grandfathers.

Now, when a new chapter is announced in this long saga, it is important to not let forgetfulness cast a shadow on the road so painfully travelled.

Because as Cintio Vitier warns, in a text that must be remembered today as well as tomorrow: “at this hour in Cuba we know that our true strength is in assuming our history”.  

 

Note:

  1. ‹‹Cuba in the American imagination-Metaphor and the Imperial ethos››. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2008, p. 22-23.

 

Ricardo Alarcón

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

Miembro del Buró Político del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba. Fue Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, desde 1993 hasta el 2013.

Fundador del Partido. Doctor en Filosofía y Letras.

Participó en la lucha revolucionaria contra la tiranía batistiana, realizando diferentes actividades como Miembro del Movimiento 26 de Julio en la provincia de La Habana y Responsable de la Sección Estudiantil de esa Organización.

Es Miembro del Comité Central del Partido desde 1980 y fue Diputado a la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular desde 1993 hasta el 2013.

Ha ocupado, entre otros, los siguientes cargos: Presidente Nacional de la Federación Estudiantil Universitaria, Miembro de la Dirección Nacional de la Asociación de Jóvenes Rebeldes, Miembro del Buró Nacional y Secretario de Relaciones Exteriores de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas; Director de Países de América Latina y de América del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Embajador Representante Permanente de Cuba ante la Organización de Naciones Unidas, Embajador Concurrente en Trinidad y Tobago, Viceministro, Viceministro Primero y Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores.

Entre sus funciones como Representante Permanente ante la Organización de Naciones Unidas, desempeñó la Vicepresidencia de la Asamblea General, y fue Presidente del Consejo de Administración del Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD) y Vicepresidente del Comité de Naciones Unidas sobre el Ejercicio de los Derechos Inalienables del pueblo palestino.

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