By Philip Agee (THE GUARDIAN, 10/03/07):
There is a wave of progressive change sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean after the many lonely years in which Cuba held high the torch, with free universal healthcare and education, and world-class cultural, sports and scientific achievements. Although you won’t find a Cuban today who says things are perfect – far from it – probably all would agree that compared with pre-revolutionary Cuba, there is a world of improvement.George Bush, the antithesis of this process, is now in Brazil at the start of a mission to lure five countries away from regional economic integration. However, the many thousands in the streets demonstrate the region’s vast repudiation of Bush and what he stands for, something polls reflect unanimously.
All Cuba’s achievements have been in defiance of US efforts to isolate Cuba; every dirty method has been used, including infiltration, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, economic and biological warfare and incessant lies in the media of many countries. I know these methods too well, having been a CIA officer in Latin America in the 1960s. Altogether nearly 3,500 Cubans have died from terrorist acts, and more than 2,000 are permanently disabled. No country has suffered terrorism as long and consistently as Cuba.
The Cuban revolution has always needed intelligence capabilities in the US for defence purposes, even before it took power in 1959. Such was the fully justified mission of the Cuban Five, who have been in jail since 1998 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in Miami, where they had no chance of a fair trial. Their sights were set exclusively on terrorist operations against Cuba – activities ignored by the FBI – and they neither sought nor received any classified government information. Their cases are still on appeal, and will be for years, but their biased convictions rank with the legal lynching in the 1920s of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the anarchist immigrants, among the most shameful injustices in US history.
Current US policy can be found in the 2004 report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (updated last year with a secret annexe). A fundamental goal – the same, I remember, as in 1959 – is the isolation of Cuba to stop this bad example spreading. If successful, this would mean no less than annexation by, and complete dependence on, the US, in fact if not in law. Other goals still intact are to foment an internal political opposition and economic hardship, leading to hunger and despair.
Yet nearly 50 years of US economic warfare hasn’t worked, even though Cubans estimate the cost to them at more than $80bn. After the freefall in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economy began to recover in 1995. By 2005 growth was 11.8% and in 2006 12.5%, the highest in Latin America. Exports of services, nickel and pharmaceutical and other products are booming, and the US has not been able to stop this.
In the end efforts to isolate Cuba have failed. Last September Cuba was elected, for the second time, to lead the Non-Aligned Movement of 118 countries, and two months later the UN voted for the 15th consecutive year to condemn the US embargo, by 183 to 4. In 2007 Cuba has diplomatic or consular relations with 182 countries, and Havana hosts seemingly endless international conferences. In recent years Cuba’s resorts have been attracting more than 2 million tourists annually. Far from isolating Cuba, the US has isolated itself.
More than 30,000 Cuban doctors and health workers are saving lives in 69 countries, many in difficult areas. Meanwhile 30,000 young people from dozens of countries are studying medicine in Cuba on full scholarships. All come from areas lacking doctors.
Cuba’s literacy programme, known as “Yes I can”, has been adopted in nearly 30 countries, with thousands of Cuban volunteers teaching. The scheme, conducted in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Creole, Quechua and Aymara, has helped some 2 million people to read and write, most of whom continue their education afterwards.
Thanks to this international assistance, Cuban prestige and influence – and international solidarity with Cuba, – have never been greater. It was to defend these worthy programmes that the Cuban Five, unjustly convicted, went to Miami in the 1990s. Freedom for them should be the cause of everyone for whom human rights and justice are important, both in the US and around the world; and that cause can be supported in 300 Free the Five solidarity committees in 90 countries. Philip Agee, a former CIA secret operations officer, is author of Inside the Company: CIA Diary. He travels in Cuba and Latin America as a campaigner, and manages an online travel service to Cuba.