North, South, East, West: America’s South-of-the-Border Complex

The United States has a special kind of complicated love-hate relationship toward the country to the south of its border, Cuba. This can be seen even in just Obama and Trump’s reactions to the death of Fidel Castro. The current president offered his regrets to Castro’s family, saying that the United States would “extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” whereas the president-elect had a completely different and tough attitude. “Fidel Castro is dead!” Trump said. These two extreme political attitudes accurately reflect the diverse nature of feelings toward Cuba in American society. This can be traced back first to the Monroe Doctrine of President James Monroe, who held office in the early days of the United States during the 19th century. The doctrine’s motto was “America for Americans.” There was also the adventurer’s paradise that was the before and aftermath of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, as well as the rise to power of the left. Cuba is a next-door neighbor, but also an ideological enemy; it was also a utopia of the soul that American intellectuals perceived far away through the mist.

The Monroe Doctrine was a clear warning from the United States to the great powers of Europe, who were stirring the waters with their intent to encroach on Latin America. It was simultaneously the beginning of the United States regarding Latin America as its backyard. In terms of economic strategy, the newborn United States of America was most keen on Latin America’s endless supply of manpower and natural resources; right up until the present, the cheap labor that enters the country from Latin America, especially Mexico, is one of the reasons for the economic competitiveness of Texas and California. As for geographic strategy, America’s control of Latin America was tantamount to clutching a vital passage to the world. With both the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan in its hands, interactions on the transportation routes to the Taiping and Yellow Seas would be completely within its control. Cuba was only 145 kilometers (approximately 90 miles) away from the United States’ southernmost point. Its north side faced America’s southern hinterland. Its strategic location was self-evident.

Cuba’s relationship with the United States is like one of a student, where the power is asymmetrical. United States politicians hoped to control Cuba to avoid being attacked front and rear, whereas the people yearned for Havana cigars and the sentimental heart of the Latino world, which was different from the English-speaking world. Because of this love-hate relationship, America-Cuba relations took the strangest form in the world. There was a huge gap between the attitudes of American society’s intellectuals and the officials in important buildings like the White House and the Pentagon. As luck would have it, Ernest Hemingway’s feelings toward Cuba are a topic of conversation in American literature. He lived in Havana for 22 years. His closeness to Castro is evident from the latter’s attendance at the inaugural ceremony of the Hemingway Museum in Havana. It should be mentioned that American intellectuals bore the burden of guilt for having allowed evil to reign unchecked in Cuba and cause great harm under the previous decade of Batista’s authoritarian rule before the Cuban Revolution. More than a few works bear the traces of that time. The film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1974, “The Godfather: Part II,” is about the American Mafia’s attempt to flex its muscles in Cuba during the ongoing Cuban Revolution under Batista’s rule, and its subsequent panicked flight back to the United States in the dead of night after the unexpected success of Castro’s Revolution.

The Threat of Cuba’s Ability to Defeat the United States

However, the romance of literature cannot possibly ward off real-life cruelty. Castro rose to power during the most heated time of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the United States was almost destroyed by one Soviet Union general. In the end, Kennedy played the nuclear war card to scare Khrushchev. Luckily, the U.S. and the Soviet Union evaded the huge calamity of destroyed countries, and Soviet influence was expelled from the Caribbean region. During that crisis, the closest that humankind had ever come to nuclear war following the end of World War II, the United States Military Strategic Air Command Unit was ordered to DEFCON 2*, which was unprecedented. This signified that the U.S. could be ready to deploy a nuclear missile with only six hours’ notice. At the time, high officials in Washington, D.C. were evacuated. Huge lines of people formed outside churches, praying with shared anxiety that their country would avoid a nuclear disaster. After this conflict, the crisis of nuclear war was temporarily averted. To the United States, however, Castro’s Cuba was not only an ideologically socialist country, or a politically authoritarian country, but also a threat with the capability to defeat the United States.

The nature of the political dividing line meant that in the final analysis, the United States and Cuba were unable to come together for peace. The United States wanted to tidy up its backyard by maintaining a unified situation in Latin America. Cuba, however, was always stroking the whiskers of the tiger that was Washington, D.C., challenging America’s 100 years of discursive and practical power in Latin America. Tiny little Cuba challenging super-powerful America all on its own became the most classic spectacle of the Cold War era. It also became a target of imitation by every newborn leftist regime after the war. Up until Castro’s death, the anti-Castro school criticized his authoritarian human rights violations that took place over half a century and the pro-Castro school praised his lifelong defiance of hegemony, while between the anti-Castro and pro-Castro groups, America’s diplomatic strategy in Latin America of mainland realism after the Cuban Missile Crisis was hardly touched upon. American foreign affairs scholar Walter Mead points out in his award-winning book, “Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World,” that during the Cold War, Nixon’s foreign strategy was that as long as a foreign power would resist the Soviet Union, taking into account the overall framework of global relations, the United States would not hesitate to give it aid. Mead also says of the military overthrow of the popularly elected leftist regime in Chile in 1970s Latin America, “Nixon’s government supported its creation.”**

Chilean leftist leader Salvador Allende took office after a popular election in 1970. The next year, Chile established diplomatic relations with Cuba, and Castro paid a return visit to Chile. Two years later, on Sept. 9, 1973, Commander-in-Chief Pinochet plotted a coup d’etat to overthrow Allende. On Sept. 11, 1973 Allende died, finished off by the insurgent forces, though the military called it a suicide. Pinochet took power and Chile entered a long 16-year era of authoritarian rule, a dark era with no sunlight. This gory seizing of power is what Mead was referring to when he said “the Nixon government supported its creation.” It was widely known that the Chilean coup d’etat was a military scheme engineered by America’s Central Intelligence Agency. The goal was to eliminate powers from Latin America that were on good terms with the Soviet Union, and to consolidate its backyard. In 2011, Kissinger, secretary of state in the Nixon era, agreed to participate in a filmed interview with National Geographic. The reporter suddenly asked a question about Chile. Then and there, Kissinger demanded that the filming stop. Afterward while responding, he stuttered and was unable to convey his thoughts clearly. America’s using its great power to support pro-U.S. authoritarian regimes in Latin America in the 60s and 70s is exactly the same as its attitude during the same period toward anti-Communist authoritarian regimes with human rights abuses in Asia, such as South Korea and Taiwan.

In the long river of endless history, it is difficult to make snap judgments. After all, history is not a neatly divided dynastic chronology, complete with introduction, development, transition, and conclusion. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union divided up the whole world. The Cold War led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which in turn led to the American blockade of Cuba. There was also half a century of authoritarianism in Cuba, where human rights were violated and tossed out to sea. Looking back at South Korea and Taiwan on this side of the great ocean, the first half of the spectacle of their path of authoritarianism was identical with Cuba’s, but the second half of the spectacle was when they walked the path of democracy on their own. This demonstrates that nothing is bestowed or given. Whether thoughts will ripen into actions depends on the self; other people cannot be counted on. In terms of the three big players in the Cuban Missile Crisis, other than the United States and Cuba,there was the then-Soviet Union, which has become present-day Russia. Russia seems as though it is a stranger; Putin is “too busy” and cannot go to the funerals of former comrades. Thinking back on the former days when the Chinese Communist Party used to call Cuba “Little Tyrant” and many military personnel traveled to Africa to act as the vanguard of the Soviet Union, I am broken-hearted that now I see neither engaging one last time with other countries. Comrades and brothers, we are drinking ice water in winter. It is dripping into our hearts.

*Editor’s note: DECON refers to the DEFense readiness CONdition, an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces.

**Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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