[Full Transcript Below]
Interview with Carlos Eire
January 28, 2015
Conducted by Benjamin Marrow
BM: As you know the Obama administration opened up relations with Cuba in december—what do you think the purpose was behind this move?
CE: The purpose behind the move is for the man in the white house to make special claims for himself. That’s the real reason. Purely personal. And ideological because he’s the type of thinker who comes from a place in the political spectrum that has always thought there is something nice about the Cuban Revolution.
BM: So at its heart then, was this primarily motivated by economic, diplomatic, or human rights concerns, or something else entirely?
CE: Not at all. Human rights is off the table, and the state department has admitted that. Economic — as I’ll say in my debate, whatever arguments were made in that December 17th speech are totally unfounded on any sound interpretation of history or economics. I view this as really an ideological and personal agenda on the aprt of President Obama and the people who serve him.
BM: Marco Rubio said “I would love for America to have normal relations with Cuba, but for that to happen, Cuba has to be normal. But it’s not. It’s a brutal dictatorship”. and last month you wrote something similar, that “I long for the day when that regime is replaced by a genuine democracy.” Many people do see Obama’s moves as a step in the right direction. Why don’t you think this is the case?
Ce: Because there is no history of the Castro regime making any changes whatsoever, and I don’t understand how his moves make the United State any different from the rest of the world. The United States at this point was the only country that had a trade embargo on Cuba. Cuba was trading with the rest of the world and many were surprised to hear that last year Cuba hosted 3 million tourists. And those three million tourists and all their euros and Canadian dollars have made absolutely no difference. In fact, it’s just the opposite: they’ve made repression worse. 2014 is one of the most repressive years in recent history in numbers of arrests.
BM: The Treasury department increased the amount that can be sent to Cubans; it has allowed the export of certain cultural goods; and journalists are now given more license to travel. Do you think these are valuable steps, and are there any parts of the policy that you do think are movements in the right direction?
CE: There’s always a catch at the other end, in Cuba. It remains to be seen how these so called changed are spun at the other end or interpreted and even how they can be applied if they can be applied at all. I had a conversation once with a reporter for the Associated Press, who told me all about the number of bugs that were placed in his house and on his phone, how he was tailed everywhere. That’s not going to change. What’s also not going to change is, up until now, as this reporter explained to me, anyone who reports anything negative about Cuba or the Castro regime gets sent back home. And that’s not going to change either.
BM: If an incremental approach to democratizing and liberalizing the economy is not a first right step, then what is? In this century, we’ve seen alternatives to incremental approaches to implementing a free market and democracy, such as shock therapy and exogenous imports of democracy, which have, in many cases, resulted in returns to authoritarianism and radical governments. Is there a third way? What do you propose?”
CE: Well I don’t know of any case where that has worked out. China and Vietnam are usually brought up as examples, but they are still some of the most repressive regimes on earth, and that’s not real change. So, the only real solution that has been proven to work in recent history is the case of South Africa. South Africa was judged universally to have a regime that needed to change, so the whole world banded together and the entire world placed sanctions on South Africa, and look what happened – it worked. The reason the US sanctions and so-called embargo are seen as not working is because they didn’t have that effect on South Africa. Well it’s impossible when the country has relations with the rest of the world, and is not declared a pariah state. It was considered immoral in the 1980’s to travel to South Africa. Now, Cuba has 3 million tourists per year.
BM: So are you suggesting a more multilateral approach?
CE: Absolutely, yes.
BM: What are your thoughts on the past United States policy toward Cuba. Was it necessary but not sufficient? Was it effective? Are there ways it could have been improved?
CE: No it’s ineffective. I’ll tell you the first mistake was made under John Kennedy, shortly after he assumed office. It was the Bay of Pigs invasion, which he pulled the plug on. And he’s personally, single-handedly responsible for the failure of that operation, which could have turned everything around. The second misstep was also taken by John Kennedy: the October missile crisis of 1962. The agreement was signed that if missiles were removed, the US would never allow the Cuban refugees to launch another invasion, and that the US would leave Cuba alone. Those are the two biggest mistakes that the US has made and they have stayed in place. The embargo has been put in place and has remained in place as a containment device because Cuba is a state that has a long history of trying to undermine the United States and the United States’ interests. The embargo has been put in place not thinking it would bring democracy to Cuba, but really to make Cuba less dangerous than it could be.
BM: Changing the topic, as a historian, how do you contextualize this event? Some people—including the New York Times—are calling this the final end of the Cold War. Do you agree?
CE: No. The only event I can compare it to is Neville Chamberlains deal with Adolf Hitler in 1938 — total abject surrender with lots of hoopla and lots of declaration that it was a historic moment. Yes it was a historic moment and so is this. It’s not going to have the same effects of course, because Cuba can never be a third Reich, but give it a decade, if Cuba does manage to establish the kind of connections with the rest of Latin America that it now has with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, we could have the equivalent within a decade a formidable opponent and enemy right up against us—something the United States has never had to face.
BM: Moving forward, do you think that is the most likely course of action or is this a precursor to more reform? Are we going to see a more repressive regime?
CE: The repression has already increased. You don’t even have to guess. It has already happened.
BM: But a decade from now?
CE: A decade from now? If—and it’s a big if, if Cuba can pull it off—if Venezuela survives its economic collapse and the other countries that are now aligned with Cuba (and there are so many, it’s such a long list)—if in fact they can pull it off and they can work off that oil and other resources in South America, then repression will only increase. Repression has only increased in all the countries that have aligned themselves with Cuba. That doesn’t take some kind of crystal ball to look into. It’s there and you can examine it. I’m not very optimistic. I think the future looks bleak. The largest question mark hovering over all this is what will happen when both Castro brothers have passed away. But they have kept the secret of succession so tightly under wraps that if in fact they do have a plan, no one knows what the succession plan is. But the military literally own everything in Cuba and Cuba is run by a military Junta: despite their phony parliament and all these phony ministries, it’s run by generals. Most of them are in their seventies, some are in their eighties, the youngest, maybe in theirs sixties. They’re an old bunch and nobody knows what comes after them. There’s a designated successor of sorts but that’s like the kiss of death – whoever gets that succession always ends up in a bad state.