USA and Cuba

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes


The Island is an “object of desire” for North Americans

It was just after the conquest of Florida, in 1819. The United States was only 40 years old, and its territory did not extend beyond the Mississippi River. James Monroe was the president of the United States, but it was his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, who first spoke of the American attraction to Cuba. When he said, at a ministerial meeting of the Monroe government, that "there are laws in political life which are the same as those of gravitational physics: and therefore, if an apple is cut from its native tree - by the storm - it will have no choice but to fall to the ground ; just as Cuba, when it separates from Spain, will have no choice but to gravitate towards the North American Union. And by this same law of nature, Americans will not be able to keep it from their chests.”[1]. At that moment, Quincy Adams' desire was not yet to conquer the island, it was to preserve it, and for this reason he ordered his ambassador in Madrid to communicate to the Spanish government the “American repugnance to any type of transfer from Cuba to the hands of of another Power”.

In 1819, the American ability to project its power outside its national borders was still very small, but Quincy Adams' declaration made explicit a desire and anticipated a project, which would be fully realized from 1890 onwards. decade, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, published a classic book[2], who exercised immense influence over the North American ruling elite. About the importance of naval power, and the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific for the control of the oceans and the expansion of the great powers. Soon after, the United States annexed Hawaii, in 1897, and won the Spanish-American War, in 1898, conquering Cuba, the Philippines and some other Caribbean islands, where they established a system of “protectorates”, as a form of shared government of these territories. Soon after his victory against Spain, President William McKinley repeated, before the American Congress, in December 1898, the old thesis of Quincy Adams: “the new Cuba needs to be linked to us Americans, by ties of particular intimacy and strength. , to ensure your well-being in a lasting way”[3]. And this is what happened: Cubans approved their first independent Constitution, in 1902, but they had to attach to its text, a law passed by the American Congress and imposed on Cubans, in 1901 – The Platt Amendment – which defined the limits and conditions for exercising the independence of the islanders. The United States kept Cuba’s foreign policy and economic policy under its control, and the right of American intervention on the island was assured, in “case of threat to the life, property and individual freedom of Cubans”[4] In 1934, the Platt Amendment was abolished, and was replaced by a new treaty between the two countries, which ensured American control of the Naval Base of Guantanamo, and guaranteed the guardianship of the United States over the long period of power of Fulgência Batista, who took over the government of Cuba in 1933 aboard an American cruiser, and then governed Cuba, directly or indirectly, until 1959.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, however, the island ceased to be the “apple” of Quincy Adams, without ceasing to be the “object of desire” for North Americans. The new revolutionary government took charge of its economy and foreign policy, and provoked an immediate and violent reaction from the United States. First, there was the “economic embargo”, imposed by the Eisenhower administration, in 1960, and soon after, the rupture of diplomatic relations, in 1961. Then, it was the Kennedy administration, which promoted and supported the frustrated invasion of Bahia dos Porcos, the Cuban expulsion from the Organization of American States, and several attacks against Cuban leaders. At first, the United States justified its reaction as the defense of US properties expropriated by the Cuban government in 1960, and as containment of the communist threat, located 145 kilometers from its territory. But after 1991, and the end of the USSR and the Cold War, the United States maintained and expanded its offensive against Cuba, only now, in the name of democracy, despite maintaining friendly relations with Vietnam and China. At the height of the economic crisis caused by the end of its preferential relations with the Soviet economy, between 1989 and 1993, the governments of George Bush and Bill Clinton tried to checkmate Cuba by banning US transactional companies installed abroad. , to negotiate with the Cubans, and then, imposing penalties on foreign companies that did business with the island, through the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.

This precocious attraction and permanent obsession of the United States does not allow great illusions, in this moment of changes in both countries. From the American point of view, Cuba belongs to them, and is included in their “security zone”. Furthermore, in his eyes, the sovereign position of the Cubans turns the island into a potential ally of countries that intend to exert influence on the American continent, competitively with the United States. Finally, Cuba has already become a symbol and a resistance that is intolerable in itself for its North American neighbors. For this reason, the main objective of the United States, in any future negotiations, will always be to weaken and destroy the hard core of Cuban power. For its part, Cuba cannot relinquish the power it has accumulated from its defensive position, and from its victorious resistance. The hypothesis of a “Chinese exit” for Cuba is unlikely, because it is a small country, with low population density, and with an economy that does not have the critical mass indispensable for a complementary and competitive relationship with the North Americans. . For this reason, despite the international mobilization in favor of changes in relations between the two countries, the most likely thing is that the United States will maintain its obsession with punishing and framing Cuba; and that Cuba remains on the defensive and fighting against the law of “Caribbean gravity”, formulated by John Quincy Adams, in 1819.

Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

Originally published in the newspaper Economic value in February 2008.


[1] WC Ford (ed), The Writings of John Quincy Adams. Mac Millan, New York, vol VII, P: 372-373.

[2] Mahan, AT The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1873, Dover Publication, New York (1890/1987).

[3] Pratt, J.A. (1955) History of United States Foreign Policy. The University of Buffalo, p:414.

[4] Same, p: 415.



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