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September 11 Remembered - Cautionary Tale for Iraq

September 11 Remembered - A Cautionary Tale for Iraq

By Julie Webb-Pullman

The United Nations has at least one good reason to remember September 11 - it was on that day in 1980 that the first ever assassination of a U.N. diplomat occurred. The victim - Felix Garcia Rodriguez, Cuban representative at the U.N. The place - New York City. The assassin - Pedro Remon , assisted by Eduardo 'Omar' Arocena, head of Omega 7.

Since August 19 the U.N. has had 22 more good reasons to reflect, and consider the contribution its tardy, and selective, responses to international terrorism have made not only to the deaths of U.N. representatives, but also to the situation that now prevails in Iraq. Despite the plethora of examples internationally, I will confine myself today to comparisons between Cuba and Iraq, as they are particularly resonant. I hope these musings give Mr Annan pause in his rush to "consider a U.N. 'political facilitating process' to help devise a constitution and plan elections" in Iraq, as reported by Reuters on Monday.

Forty-two years ago it was not the 'war' in Iraq that was drawing to a close, but another United States invasion - that of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Unlike Iraq, however, Cuban forces defeated the United States within 72 hours - forces composed of workers, farmers, students, professionals, ordinary men and women who fought alongside their military to defend their successful popular revolution of 1959. Clearly, the Cubans were united, and fighting a just and defensible cause - the protection of the sovereignty and survival of their country and their freely chosen popular socialist government. And just as clearly, many Iraqis are continuing to fight to protect their sovereignty, and the right to choose their own social, economic, political and cultural system. A quick trip down history street illuminates many similarities between Cuba and Iraq in their relations with the U.S., and the dangers lurking therein for Iraq. It also sees themes emerge that should give the U.N., and the rest of the world, cause for considerable caution in how they now proceed, if it is not to be a one-way cul de sac.

Annan's comments echo the U.S. catch-cry since the 'end' of the Iraqi 'war' - "…to shift as much authority as we can to the new Governing Council after they create and ratify a constitution", in the words of Bernard Kerik, former New York Police Commissioner, now senior adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. (CNN 22 August 2003) Let's look at Cuba's first 'U.S. assisted' constitution….and where it got them. The U.N. is off the hook for this period, at least.

Cuba's Colonisers Spain established its first town in Cuba in 1512, and within a few decades had almost completely annihilated the three indigenous Indian peoples, the Tainos, the Siboneys, and the Guanajatabeyes. By 1542 only a few thousand remained, and Spain was forced to look elsewhere for free labour - the Portuguese slave trade. The cruelty and abuses of Spanish rule, based on slave labour, continued for the next three and a half centuries, until the success of the Cuban war of independence in 1898.

However, Spain was not the only country with interests in controlling Cuba. Successive United States administrations, beginning with Jefferson in 1805, were expressing their intent to take possession of Cuba for strategic reasons, sending secret agents to the country continuously from 1809 onwards. In April 1823, US Secretary of State John Quinsy Adams formulated his "ripe fruit theory" or "La Fruta Madura", stating "There are laws of political gravity, like there are laws of physical gravity, and Cuba, separated from Spain, will necessarily fall into the hands of the United States, the same way a ripe fruit detached from a tree has to necessarily fall to the ground." This has been the basis of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba ever since.

Cuba's War of Independence Against Spain The first independence war against Spanish rule began in October 1868, and lasted 10 years, ending with the signing of a peace treaty, without independence, in 1878. (Hang in there Iraq - you have a few years to go yet.) The following stage of Cuban history, leading up to the resumption of the independence war, is known as "The Rewarding Truce". During this time, a new independence effort gained in momentum, but so also did U.S. investments, mostly in the sugar, mining, and tobacco industries, the U.S. replacing Spain as Cuba's main trading metropolis. (Move over, Russia and France.) In 1895 the final military campaign for independence began, and by early 1898 half of the country was in Cuban hands, and the U.S. feared that Cuba would win independence and slip through its fingers. The explosion of the U.S. battleship "Maine" on 15th February 1898 in Havana Bay, with the loss of 266 crew members and two officers, gave the U.S. the excuse it needed to intervene. Replace the 19th century economic staples of sugar, mining, and tobacco with the 21st century staple of oil, and the Maine with the Twin Towers, and "terrorism"…and do we hear echoes of Iraq?

Note that the U.S. Government had sent the "Maine" to Havana three weeks earlier, signalling its willingness to directly intervene in the Cuban-Spanish war. A Spanish commission later found that the blast had occurred from inside the ship, and the theory of U.S. responsibility for the explosion was reinforced by the fact that almost all of the ships officers escaped the catastrophe because they were conveniently ashore at the time of the blast. The Spanish were convinced that the U.S. was seeking a pretext for war against Spain to further its ambitions regarding not only Cuba, but also other militarily and economically important Spanish colonies, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. History proved them right.

Military Occupations of Cuba by the United States However, U.S. government media savvy was already evident - they accused Spain of the bombing. In the following wave of popular indignation against Spain, the United States Congress granted US President William McKinley permission in April 1898 to put an end to the Spanish-Cuban war, saying, "The island of Cuba is, and by right should be, free and independent." Just like Iraq, and Afgahanistan, and Nicaragua, and Chile, and Vietnam….but I digress.

When hostilities came to an end in Cuba shortly after U.S. intervention, the U.S. prevented Cuban representatives from taking part in either the peace talks or the signing of the Paris Treaty. Thus on January 1st 1899 it was not the Cuban flag that was hoisted in Havana after their war of independence, but the American flag, and the government of Cuba was transferred from Spain to the United States. How history repeats!

Without consulting the Cuban people or their institutions, the first U.S. Governor, General John R Brooke, set up a civilian government, divided the island into seven departments ruled by U.S. governors, and created two repressive forces, the Rural Guard and the municipal police corps, both at the service of the U.S. occupation forces. (just like the Iraqi 'police'...) Within six months they had eliminated the national liberation movement's three representative institutions. However in the face of harsh opposition to their annexation plans in both Cuba and the United States, the U.S. War Secretary was forced to assure that the occupation was temporary. He announced that municipal elections would be held, a Constitutional Assembly set up, and that following general elections, the island would be handed over to the Cubans. Echoes of Garner, "Your country will be your democracy", Iraq, 27 April 2003. Unfortunately, Kofi seems to have fallen for it too…

First Cuban Constitution So what happened in Cuba? In the elections of September 1900 the people overwhelmingly voted for the pro-independence candidates, and from November 1900 - February 1901 the Assembly drew up and passed the first Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. But also in February 1901, President McKinley signed the Military Expenditures Law, which contained the infamous Platt Amendment. Amongst other things, the Platt Amendment gave the United States the right to military occupation of Cuba if the United States authorities considered that the rights, properties or life of citizens were in danger, and it recognised all actions carried out by the military occupation government. It also granted large portions of Cuban land to the U.S. to build naval bases, the most infamous of which is Guantanamo Bay. Looks little different from the 'burden-sharing' the U.S. is currently proposing to the U.N., not to mention Executive Order 13315 - but more on that later.

There were strong protests against the Platt Amendment within Cuba. The amendment had to be fully approved by the Constituent Assembly and attached as an appendix to the Cuban Constitution. Cuban objections met with an ultimatum - if the amendment was not passed in its entirety and without any change, the United States would not withdraw its occupation troops from the country. The amendment was reluctantly approved, with a majority of only four votes, and was the basis for the Permanent Treaty of Relations signed by Cuba and the U.S., significantly limiting Cuban sovereignty. Take note, Iraq. Take note, U.N.

The first elections in 1900 saw balloting restrictions that resulted in only 36% of voters being ruled eligible to vote. (Florida, circa 2000?) A U.S. puppet government with Estrada Palma at the head was thus elected unopposed in 1901, and oversaw the penetration of U.S. capital into the sugar and tobacco industries, real estate, railroads, mines and other branches of the economy. Within a year of taking office, there were huge popular protests against the unfavourable terms for Cuba of the Permanent Treaty of Relations, and the Treaty of Reciprocity. Now, anyone who has been reading their Scoop lately will be familiar with Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, which legitimises such asset-grabbing in Iraq under the guise of funding reconstruction.

Second Military Intervention Of course, Cubans were about as happy with this as many Iraqis are today, but the Cubans' responses were typically reasonable and measured, taking the form of civil disobedience. But their strikes were brutally put down, several workers were killed, and repression became the name of the game for the next four years. Democracy U.S. style resulted in electoral fraud, assassination of an opposition leader the day before the next elections thus withdrawal of the opposition party from the elections, and the unopposed return of Palma. Unrest following the arrests, incarcerations and assassinations of opposition independence leaders saw Palma request the second U.S. military intervention and occupation on 29 September 1906, which lasted a further two and a half years. Although some important democratic progress was achieved during this period, such as universal suffrage and the autonomy of the principalities, it also established the foundation for the unrestrained corruption that was to become one of Cuba's greatest social ills in the next four decades. Uday and Quday lived on….

The United States then completely dominated Cuba's political and economic life from 1909, with few periods of respite. Political and administrative corruption was the order of the day, with embezzlement of public funds, rampant vote-buying, threats, and falsification of voter registration lists. And this was years before Diebold even existed!

The military apparatus was used to silence the resulting popular protests. Democracy was a farce - for instance, elections were held in 1931 to set up a Constituent Assembly without the participation of opposing political parties, and only 10% of eligible voters went to the polls. This Assembly was in open violation of the 1901 Constitution.

U.S. seizes economic control U.S. capital took control of several strategic sectors of the Cuban economy, including mining, public services, banking, foreign debt and land, as well as almost entirely owning the electricity and telephone companies, numerous energy industries, and most of the railroad, cement, tobacco and canned food companies. And who has the contracts to 'rebuild Iraq'?

When mismanagement endangered U.S. financial interests, the U.S. General who had drawn up the Electoral Code that resulted in the election of President Zayas, brought in a team of U.S. financial and public administration experts, resulting in the "13 secret memoranda". These dictated to President Zayas what measures he should undertake, with failure to do so resulting in not receiving a promised loan, and in military intervention. U.S. newspaper "The World' described this process as 'preventive interference'. It is probably safe to hold your breath until you hear that one again.

As is occurring in Iraq, the Cuban people found the almost total domination of the Cuban economy by U.S. capital, and U.S. political intervention, even more shameful and irritating than the administrative corruption. In response to this, and to the repressive brutality of subsequent leaders such as Machado and Batista, there was a vigorous eruption of popular mass movements in Cuba's political and social life, culminating in the 1933 Revolution, and the 1940 Constitution.

Batista's Coup D'Etat According to 1940 Constitution, a new electoral process for general elections was due for 1st June 1952. However the U.S. Government and the Cuban oligarchy were aware that General Batista, the only candidate who could be counted on to ensure the perpetuation of their economic, political and military stranglehold on the country, did not have the slightest chance of being elected. Batista therefore seized power in a coup d'etat on 10th March 1952 (as distinct from Bush's coup de court in Florida), immediately abolishing the 1940 constitution and beginning a reign of tyranny and terror that saw political parties dissolved, elections postponed indefinitely, radio broadcasts with political content suppressed, and meetings, assemblies, rallies and public demonstrations of any kind prohibited. A wave of detentions, kidnappings, incarcerations and murders of ordinary Cuban men and women ensued. U.S. companies, by contrast, enjoyed numerous accords and benefits such as loans and concessions at the expense of the national budget, including monopolies on the electricity and telephone industries. The leading industries of sugar and tobacco production were forced to reduce production, putting them at the mercy of foreign competition. Cuba's crude potential was turned over to U.S. oil companies, and the third leading Cuban economic sector, that of the production of nickel and cobalt, was turned over to the Moa Bay Company and Freeport Sulfur. Four months after the coup, Decree Law 427 was passed, forcing small farmers to pay rents that amounted to the legalisation of land theft by U.S. and Cuban landowners. Executive Order 13315 just won't go away…

Then along came Fidel, and Camillo, and Che, and together with the majority of the country they overthrew not only Batista, but also U.S. control of their resources, and their economic, political, social and cultural life. It is worth remembering Fidel's "26th of July Movement" Manifesto #1, released on August 8th 1955, a few years before the triumph of the revolution, which analysed Cuba's general economic, social and political situation. Most significant about this document was that the struggle was conceived of not merely as being against the Batista dictatorship, but as being against the regime that had dominated the country over the last 50 years of neocolonial rule. A similar point seems to be escaping all those with dibs in Iraq….

Terrorism rears its head Okay, so we have a whole lot of demonstrable and potential similarities between U.S. interventions in Cuba and Iraq - so where does the U.N. come into it? About right where the unofficial official terror begins, if you get what I mean.

After all, this utterly outrageous and unacceptable demonstration by Cuba of the exercise of self-determination and sovereignty since 1959, could not pass unpunished. God forbid, other countries might get the idea that they too, could control their own resources and their own economic, social and political systems. Forget that they're guaranteed by U.N. instruments, such as Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) , and Article 1(1) of both international covenants based upon the UDHR . Listen up, Iraq, there's democracy and there's democrUSAy, so you just make sure you get it right. Look what happens when you choose badly… I don't want to labour the September 11 point, but hey, Chile, 1973, Allende - get the idea …. And if you thought 12 years of economic sanctions were bad, just try a 40 year blockade!

Despite all of this, Cuba has hung in there - and been rewarded with the unenviable status as the country that has suffered the most terrorist attacks in the world. This overt and covert terrorist war waged against Cuba since 1959 either by, or with the complicity of, the U.S. is well-documented. The U.N. is curiously silent on this. Note that Cuba has never itself committed any acts of terrorism or permitted its territory to be used for such purposes. Note also that the majority of attacks on Cuban interests have been launched from U.S. territory in violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act, not to mention Article 51 of the U.N Charter.

Be warned, Iraq - and don't put all your eggs in the UN basket. Cuban attempts to get a Security Council Resolution against terrorism after the bombing of Cubana Aircraft CU 455 in flight from Barbados on October 06 1976 were singularly unsuccessful. This terrorist act, masterminded by U.S. residents Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, killed all 73 passengers, including one of the founders of the first Aboriginal legal service in Sydney, Australia. Equally unsuccessful were Cuban attempts to get the Permanent Member State of the Security Council in whose country both terrorists resided, and one of whom was in the employ of its Government, to provide information and evidence relating to these terrorists. No prizes for guessing who harboured them - one currently walks Miami a free man, giving media interviews propounding his intention to commit more violent terrorist acts against Cuba. The other shares a prison with Felix Garcia's assassin in Panama, facing charges of conspiring to assassinate Fidel Castro in 2000 - we have come full circle.

Contrast the response to attacks on Cuba and Cuban interests in the last 40 odd years with the response in 2001 when the U.S. was the target… and Australians in Bali. And get used to it, Iraq, if you're not with US, you're against US, because we have power of veto - and that's the U.N. rules. Rules which are only applied if we approve - get it? I mean, how did you get into this mess, anyway?!

UN Role September 11 is a wake-up call to the U.N. - the world remembers Garcia's assassination, and the lack of U.N. and U.S. commitment to ensuring the perpetrators were brought to justice by U.S. authorities. The Security Council's failure in 1976 to condemn the bombing of the Cuban passenger plane, or to meaningfully discuss, let alone pass, the Cuban draft resolution condemning terrorism, brings shame on the U.N., especially in the light of subsequent events at the Twin Towers. But most shameful of all is the tacit approval of almost 45 years of terrorist activities against the sovereign state of Cuba, in contravention of the most basic human rights to self-determination and sovereignty, and in contravention of the international instruments the U.N administers. The message this sends to fledgling states such as Iraq, and to other peoples seeking self-determination and justice, is loud and clear. If the U.N. now legitimises the U.S. invasion, and props up in Iraq the sort of regime foisted upon Cuba in 1901, current indications are that the outcome will be at least equally, if not more, brutal and exploitative, and ultimately unsuccessful.

If notions of self-determination, sovereignty, and human rights are to have any currency in the 21st century, they must be applied without fear or favour. If the United Nations as an organisation is to have any credibility in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, it will not be through the selective, arbitrary, capricious and unfair exercise of veto by Permanent Member States, the ignoring of U.N. resolutions by rogue states such as the U.S., Britain and Australia, or the kowtowing of other Permanent Member States to get their slice of the pie. If Garcia and the other U.N. staffers' deaths are not to have been in vain, it can only be through the genuine "…realisation of the right of self-determination…", and more importantly, "…respect [for] that right…", in keeping with U.N. instruments of international law. In the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in the words of Ali G: RE-SPECT!

If Iraq wants or needs help, let them ask for, and receive it, on their own terms, in keeping with international law. To voice a heartfelt sentiment in a large proportion of Latin American, Balkan, African, Asian, Pacific, and Middle and Far Eastern countries, as well as Iraq: "Yanquis, go home".


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