President Barack Obama has long been accused of being America’s “apologist-in-chief” by many of his conservative critics. Never mind that Republican presidents have been saying sorry from the earliest days of the GOP right up through modern times—Abraham Lincoln for slavery, Ronald Reagan for interning Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II, to name but two examples. Never mind that President Obama’s apologies have almost always been short on specific crimes and long on sweeping statements about America’s general imperfections.
Our nation has plenty to apologize for, and there are plenty of apologies that are yet to be—and may never be—uttered. Hiroshima, anyone? The United States has enslaved, ethnically cleansed, murdered, displaced, poisoned, maimed, invaded, occupied, bombed, traumatized and terrorized countless millions of men, women and children over the course of its history. It has waged nuclear war. It has overthrown many democratically elected governments and supported some of the world’s most brutal dictators. It has bankrolled genocide abroad and committed it at home against its own indigenous inhabitants.
Before it endeavored to dominate the earth and the heavens above, the United States first set out to control the Western Hemisphere—especially its closest neighbors. America conquered much of Mexico, exterminated and subjugated Native Americans from sea to shining sea and annexed Hawaii in a militant fit of manifest destiny. But it wasn’t enough, and a Splendid Little War with Spain netted the budding empire the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Crown Jewel of the Caribbean—Cuba.
The United States “liberated” Cuba from Spain. But one colonial master was replaced by another, and even after Cubans achieved nominal independence, American political and economic interests effectively controlled the island for half a century. Backed by business and criminal organizations, the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista ruled with an iron fist while turning a pious nation into a Yanqui whorehouse. Perhaps Obama should apologize for this, although one could be forgiven for chalking the first half of the 20th century up as ancient history.
The second half of the 20th century is a different story altogether. After Fidel Castro, widely hailed as a hero of national liberation by Cuba’s long-suffering underclass, seized power in a 1959 coup, he proceeded to clean house and embark on a radical political realigment, closing or nationalizing American-owned businesses and cozying up to the Soviet Union. It wasn’t long before he was Public Enemy Number One in Washington, and the economic embargo that still cripples Cubans to this day was ordered by President John F. Kennedy, who according to sympathetic historian and former aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wanted to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on his small southern neighbor.
And some terror it was! Along with the embargo, the US—especially the CIA—waged a decades-long covert war of terrorism against Cuba through a series of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Castro regime. The ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was the most infamous of these efforts. Lesser-known are the many assassination attempts against Castro under Operation Mongoose, which included exploding cigars and seashells, an aborted hit by a femme fatale lover and cooperation with Mafia leaders, who lost a fortune after Castro tidied up Havana after the revolution. The absurdity of Mongoose boggles the mind—there was even a plan to convince the Cuban people that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was nigh and that the only thing keeping the Lord from returning was Fidel Castro. The US Navy planned a massive “heavenly” explosion high over Cuba to add realism to this preposterous scheme. CIA critics called it “elimination through illumination.”
There was also Operation Northwoods, a top secret plan to carry out a series of false flag terrorist attacks in American cities, blaming them on Cuba in order to provoke a war that would ultimately remove Castro from power. The plan also recommended carrying out a false flag attack on a Navy ship: “We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame it on Cuba,” Northwoods proposed, “…casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”
Tellingly, the government that the United States planned to install following the ouster of Fidel Castro would have been a military dictatorship, not a democracy.
Kennedy tried to convince other countries in the region to join him in ridding the world of Castro, arguing that his revolutionary regime posed a grave threat to the hemisphere. In the end, the Kennedy administration resorted to bullying and threatening Latin American and Caribbean nations into shunning Cuba. Only Mexico demurred. “If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, 40 million Mexicans will die laughing,” quipped one of that country’s diplomats.
But this was no laughing matter. One would think that the Cuban Missile Crisis, which literally brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, would have had a pacifying effect. But just days after Soviet and American forces stood eyeball to eyeball in what Schlesinger called “the most dangerous moment in human history,” US-based anti-Castro exiles bombed a Cuban factory, murdering some 400 workers. The Kennedy administration was “operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean,” President Lyndon B. Johnson infamously declared shortly after taking office.
Much of that murder was committed by members of anti-Castro exile terrorist groups, who were given safe haven, weapons and training in the United States, especially in South Florida. These groups have committed scores of bombings, assassinations and other attacks in Cuba, the United States and other nations. Among these are the car bomb assassination of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier and his young American aide Ronni Moffitt in 1976 and the bombing that same year of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, which killed 73 innocent civilians in what was, until 9/11, the Western Hemisphere’s worst-ever act of air terrorism. Luis Posada Carriles, who along with Orlando Bosch and others plotted the Cubana Airlines bombing, admitted that “the CIA taught us everything. They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb; trained us in sabotage.”
The perpetrators of these and other attacks—including deadly strafing attacks on villages and tourist hotel bombings—have repeatedly been hailed as heroes among America’s Cuban exile population, including prominent Republican lawmakers and leaders who have championed their cause. Florida Republicans like US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who unapologetically supported anti-Castro terrorism, remain staunchly opposed to any attempts to loosen the economic noose strangling Cuba, and have helped protect the perpetrators of horrific acts of terror from facing justice. The city of Miami even celebrated ‘Orlando Bosch Day’ in 1983 to honor a man linked over 30 acts of sabotage and violence in multiple countries, including the United States. Instead of bringing this unrepentant terrorist to justice, aspiring Florida politician Jeb Bush lobbied his father—who was then president—on Bosch’s behalf. He died a hero, and a free man, in Miami. Posada Carriles still lives there. He even sat in the front row with Orlando Bosch at a speech by President George W. Bush.
Cuba claims 3,478 people were killed and another 2,099 wounded in terrorist attacks over the decades. It also accuses the US of inflicting more than a trillion dollars in economic damage over the course of the 55-year embargo. For 25 straight years the United Nations has voted to condemn these sanctions—last year, the vote was 191-2, with only the US and Israel dissenting. Yet despite overwhelming international condemnation the embargo continues, and the dirty tricks may not have stopped. In 2014, it was revealed that the US Agency for International Development (USAID, which has a long history of murderous subversion) secretly created a social media campaign in Cuba with the goal of stirring anti-regime action. That same year it emerged that USAID had also infiltrated Cuba’s burgeoning hip-hop scene in order to foment youth unrest.
For all of this and more, Obama should sincerely and profusely apologize to the Cuban people. More than that, he should announce a generous reparations package to compensate the Cuban government and people for their staggeringly immense losses incurred during more than half a century of US-sponsored terrorism against the impoverished island. He should acknowledge that the genesis of the US-Cuban conflict was not Castro’s revolution but, similarly to the US-Iran conflict that followed a generation later, decades of US-backed democracy suppression, oppression, torture, murder and inequality. Only then will true and full rapprochement between neighbors be possible.