Nationalism is defined as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country, often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries” and as “a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own.” The way I see it, Cuba’s relationship with the United States is reflected in the definition of nationalism, with the United States taking the belief that they are better and more important than other countries to heart, and with Cuba desiring to form a separate and independent nation of their own, with a bit of the “better than you” superiority complex that often butts heads with the US, as well.
It is natural for nation-states to feel a sense of nationalism through loyalty and pride, but it is the feeling of superiority that can be dangerous. I assume the feeling of superiority is what Fareed Zakaria was considering when he wrote about the dangers of the rise of nationalism in his book The Post-American World. Zakaria discusses globalization’s effect on the economy and the rise of developing countries and writes “As economic fortunes rise, so does nationalism…The desire for recognition and respect is surging throughout the world.” He brings the first part of the definition of nationalism to the forefront, saying “Americans take justified pride in their own country – we call it patriotism – and yet are genuinely startled when other people are proud and possessive of theirs” and uses the example of World War II, and how while Britain and America saw it as a fight for freedom, India only saw that they were forced to fight a battle that was being fought for the very thing, freedom, being denied to them by Britain. Zakaria continues to say “That sense of being governed by one’s ‘own’, without interference, is a powerful feeling in emerging countries, especially those that were once quasi-colonies of the West.” This last sentiment appears especially true for a country like Cuba, which was indeed previously ruled by countries of the West – and their pushing of their ideas onto Cubans, which is the basis of their fight for independence over the years.
Cuba’s history, especially the conflict between Cuba and the United States, displays the definition of nationalism quite perfectly, as I mentioned previously, and Zakaria’s example of “once-quasi-colonies of the West” being the most affected is also displayed in their history. Cuba was controlled by several Western foreign powers from the late 15th century until the 20th century. Beginning with Christopher Columbus claiming Cuba for Spain in 1492, to the British control of Havana from 1762 to 1763 before being returned to back to Spain. Then the United States taking control of Cuba after defeating Spain in 1898 in the Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898), followed by Cuba’s gaining formal freedom in 1902, and Cuba therefore achieving and emulating the second part of the definition of nationalism in their desire to be independent (Although, the Cuban constitution implemented the Platt Amendment, allowing the US to militarily intervene in Cuba and lease Guantanamo Bay, and later received loans from the US, which shows their complete independence from the US was not yet fully established). Next, the Cuban Pacification occurred where the US occupied Cuba from 1906 to 1909, and later in 1959, and the overthrowing of Batista by Fidel Castro during the the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) led to Cuba’s subsequent alliance with the USSR until the USSR collapsed in 1991, which further shows the diversity of Cuba’s governance over the years.
Despite expanding economic, social and political developments after becoming independent in 1902, the Cuban Revolution’s overthrow of Batista and subsequent governing of the Communist Party, led by Fidel and Raul Castro, caused the severing of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba as of 1961, with the trade embargo issued in 1962. This severing was due to the US wanting Cuba to remain under its influence, and Castro vehemently opposing US influence in Cuba. The democratic US and Communist Cuba have little they see eye-to-eye on, especially when it comes to social issues. Later, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis both widened the divide between the two countries. The US was not the only one that had issues with the socialist system enacted in Cuba by Castro, and many Cubans fled in dangerous ways to the US during the Cuban Exile.
This leads to my second topic, inequality in Cuba. The exile of Cubans to the US was largely due to the oppressive Castro government, the isolation and censorship forced upon Cubans, and the fact that speaking out against the oppression of human rights there led to imprisonment, or worse. There are many forms of inequality that have been, and continue to be, issues in Cuba. With Raul Castro coming into power after Fidel became sick and left office in 2008, and the re-opening of conversations between the US and Cuba, there are hopes that they can make strides toward cooperation and amends, with the US hoping to convince Cuba to work on human rights and with Cuba hoping to be recognized and no longer isolated, and therefore able to profit from the lifting of the embargo and opening of relations. During President Obama’s recent visit to Cuba, he gave a prime example of nationalism, and brought up inequality in Cuba:
“The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care. And perhaps most importantly, I affirmed that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation. Cuba is sovereign and, rightly, has great pride. And the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else. At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future. We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion.”
President Obama’s opposers of the push for human rights reform in Cuba, and the Cuban government, feel that this should not be as big of a deal and that it should not influence diplomacy, but supporters are hoping that the move to push for rights and no longer isolating Cuba will help move them forward toward democracy. The Human Rights Watch is closely watching human rights in Cuba. Cuba appears to be “frozen in time” when you look at life amongst its people. The lifting of travel bans has many Americans flocking to see Cuba, the country that still reeks of the 1950’s, but few know what life is really like there since they only see the glitz of the nicer areas.
Chris Sabatini, the director of Global Americans, said “This is a government that has survived through repression. It sees its ability to survive as being conditioned on the ability to control people’s lives politically, socially and economically.” Cuba is only just recently allowing Cubans access to the internet. To give you an idea of what a big deal that is, we can look at where censorship has been and is now in Cuba. An article by Josefina Salomon for Amnesty International online points out that freedom of speech or expression can send you to jail without trial, there is “freedom of press” but without private ownership of mass media the state controls almost all print and broadcast media, only 25% of Cubans use the internet and only 5% of households have internet, until 2008 DVDs and computers were banned, the internet that is available is censored, and internet and phone contact from human rights activists and journalists are monitored or disabled.
Cuba does not tolerate political opposition, and will arrest those that protest through speech or acts, sometimes punishing prisoners with torture or inhumane methods of punishment. Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. The prisons are crowded, and prisoners are regularly punished for not meeting 12-hour day work quotas.
As for religion, Cuba was a previously atheist state until 1992, having exiled hundreds of Catholic priests after the Bay of Pigs invasion, but now “permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groups to operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers.”
Members of the “Ladies in White,” a group founded by the partners and relatives of jailed dissidents that regularly protests against the Cuban government, demonstrate hours before U.S. President Barack Obama began his visit to Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Photographer: Eliana Aponte/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Women’s rights in Cuba are limited, while they are represented in Congress and allowed to be educated, there is still the Latin culture of Machismo very present, which views the women as property of her husband still, expects her to keep a clean house, and the representation in congress and jobs they are allowed to work are generally misleading of their actual representation and freedoms. Homosexuality is no longer legally punishable. Gender equality still has a way to go in Cuba. Human trafficking is also a major issue in Cuba, although the government does not speak on the issue for the most part nor do they comply with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Ibelsi Rodriguez at her home in Little Swamp.
Credit Eliana Aponte for The New York Times
Other major human rights issues in Cuba are the racial and income inequality that has been rising since the 1990s and seems to be heading for further disparity due to the emerging tourism economy. Income inequality is seen in the reforms passed by Castro to allow the DVDs, cell phones, internet and hotel tourism – which you need to be quite wealthy to afford due to the monetary conversion necessary to purchase such things. This also furthers the issue of racial inequality, as many of the poor in Cuba are black – relations of the slaves brought to Cuba, and discrimination in employment and living areas is very dominant still.
Cuba seems to feel that their guarantee of free education and healthcare should negate the oppressive issues – although they may be overestimating the quality of what they are offering and to whom, and also do not offer such things as informed consent or privacy in healthcare and pushing ideological content in schools, and that the United states should mind their own business anyway on human rights issues abroad. Cuba also sees the embargo placed on them by the US as a human rights issue, not allowing them to succeed economically. President Obama’s response is that “The goal of human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue, and hopefully that we can learn from each other.” The next few years will tell how far Cuba will go with human rights reforms.