Want to understand the historical context for the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba? Then read Listen, Yankee! Why Cuba Matters, by activist and author Tom Hayden. Along with high-ranking Cuban insider Ricardo Alarcón, quoted extensively in the book, Hayden is uniquely positioned to provide insightful political and cultural background to this new era in US-Cuban relations. Order Listen, Yankee! now from Truthout by clicking here.
In this interview, activist and author Tom Hayden discusses his new book, Listen, Yankee! Why Cuba Matters, and explains the changing nature of Cuban-US relations and the legacy of the Cuban Revolution.
Mark Karlin: Can you explain what you call the legacy of the superpower superiority complex in relation to Cuba?
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Tom Hayden: It’s the same thing as an individual’s superiority complex applied to a nation-state. The sense of superiority or entitlement blinds the nation-state to its own limitations, as the US learned from the Bay of Pigs forward. It also implies that the other power, in this case Cuba, is inferior, which makes reaching a state of mutual respect impossible.
Other than some GOP presidential posturing, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba has been met with a relatively small amount of opposition. Any ideas on why?
There will be continuous opposition, especially through the US Cuban right-wing efforts to destabilize Venezuela and cut off the oil supplied to Cuba. But opposition has waned among Cuban-American voters in Florida, who are against communism but favor travel, exchange and diplomatic relations. Also, the unity of Latin American opposition to the US policy means that better relations with the region require first going through Havana.
How can Cuba keep the conquest of US capitalism at bay once the Helms-Burton Act (boycott) is lifted – which is likely to happen within the next few years?
In my own view, realistic Cubans and realists everywhere understand that a completely state-owned economy won’t improve the lives of people. The Cubans will open their tourist economy, as they have done for Canada and Europe, which brings revenue they badly need to maintain their core programs in health care and education. They will open an entrepreneurial sector where there’s no direct threat to the public interest. In foreign policy, their main programs of humanitarian assistance will remain among the best in the world. All this will happen slowly and gradually. North Americans will be very happy they can use credit cards. That itself will hollow out the embargo from within.
Can you discuss a little the first part of Chapter 3 about the historical relationship to Cuba and the New Left?
I wanted to restore a memory of how significant Cuba was in the early ’60s formation of the New Left. Many of your readers weren’t even born. There is plenty of memory of the American civil rights movement, the student movement and the Beat Generation of the early ’60s, and Cuba was a central part of the awakening. When Fidel [Castro] visited the US, for example, he drew huge crowds in both Harlem and at Harvard.
Can you explain the importance of Ricardo Alarcón, your relationship with him and his role in the book?
I met Ricardo on my first visit to Cuba in 1968. He has always been an anchor, UN ambassador, foreign minister, president of the National Assembly [and] leader of the Cuban Five support committee. Since our discussions beginning in 2007, he has shown an interest in exchanging views and reflections. The embargo has made it almost impossible for him to share his views here in our country on many issues of joint importance. I wanted to co-author something with him. My publisher said Ricardo wasn’t known in this country, so I had to be the lead author. It tells you something when I am better known than a leader of a country next door. We have embargoed ourselves!
What has been the changing nature of the second and third generations of the Cuban exile community in the US, particularly in Florida?
They accept that the Cuban regime cannot be overthrown from the outside, and they want to come and go to Cuba for traditional reasons like culture and family. The younger ones support Obama, who has won Florida as a whole in two election cycles.
In what ways did the Cuban Revolution go global?
The Cubans were an inspiration globally as a country that defeated US imperial control. They directly supported Latin American guerrilla insurgencies. They sent thousands of troops to Africa to fight the Portuguese and white South Africans. They have sent tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers and technicians to aid countries in need. And they are exporting the world’s best baseball players – how amazing is that?
You write in your epilogue, “Power becomes middle-aged, and then simply old.” Then you apply this as an analogy to the Cuban Revolution. If that’s the case, what are some possible scenarios for the years ahead in Cuba?
A unified Cuban nation will evolve, especially around culture, in the whole Caribbean including Florida. The Cubans will find a way towards greater democracy without following the flawed example of the United States, where our democracy didn’t prevent 55 years of attacks on Cuba or deepening inequality.
If you don’t agree with what I say, you can judge for yourself by taking the next flight to Havana!