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  March 10, 2016

Obama to Cuba: New Visit, Old Politics

Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of, says Obama's visit to Cuba extends rather than breaks old patterns of diplomacy between the two countries.
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Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.


JARED BALL, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I'm Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

On March 21 of this month, Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, since Calvin Coolidge made the trip in 1928. Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of returns for another edition of his Ford Report, this time to discuss what this visit means. Welcome back to the Real News, Glen.


BALL: So I was struck by this being the first visit of a U.S. sitting president in 88 years. And I thought we could start by asking you if you see any similarities between Obama's visit in 2016 and the previous one, where Calvin Coolidge said in 1928 that in the spirit of Christopher Columbus, all of the Americans have an eternal bond of unity, a common heritage bequeathed to us alone. Unless we together redeem the promise which his voyage held for humanity, it must remain forever void. This is the destiny which pan-America has been chosen to fulfill. 30 years ago Cuba ranked as a foreign possession, torn by revolution and devastated by hostile forces. Such government as it existed rested on military force. Today Cuba is her own sovereign.

So Glen Ford, is this spirit of Columbus still present in Obama's visit? And is there any real concern among U.S. presidents that Cuba be, in fact, sovereign?

FORD: That spirit is not existent today, in terms of a real respect for Cuban sovereignty. The Cubans see their own sovereignty, not after Coolidge visited on his battleship, but in 1959 with their revolution. And they had to reclaim that sovereignty with the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion just two years later. And they've been trying to get out from under the heel of the U.S. embargo that limits their real sovereignty as a nation ever since.

When Obama arrives, I think it's March 21, he won't be arriving on a battleship, but in a way having lost the battle over isolating Cuba, and finding the United States more and more isolated itself. Obama is in a sense launching himself as a kind of missile over Havana later on this month. He's going to try to penetrate the Cuban revolution's defenses with cluster bombs of potential American trade dollars, and by offering to dismantle the U.S. financial fortress which keeps the Cubans out of the world global financial system.

His most formidable and stealth weapon will be the internet. He, right now, there are corporations lining up to create the infrastructure that would bring the internet into every Cuban household. And with the internet, all of these cultural and political products that the United States carries over the internet, because even today the United States remains the hegemonic superpower in terms of the internet. So the U.S. is keen to get the internet saturated all over Cuba. That would be a kind of infiltration of Cuban society.

And I think that this is the real drama that's going to unfold after the Rolling Stone concert and the Tampa Bay baseball team that will play the first exhibition game in Cuba since 1999. The real question is, can the Cubans resist the soft power of U.S. cultural imperialism? And U.S. cultural imperialism is also based on the dollar. And part of the price tag of U.S. trade, which is not just in products that you can pick up or use, or wash dishes with, U.S. trade is also in those products that have political ideas and basically propaganda attached to them. How can the Cubans deal with that in a situation in which the embargo, if not totally broken, is eased in its impact?

I think that sovereignty means that a people, that a nation, have the right to resist the dehumanizing and destabilizing effects of a hostile system's cultural products, just like they have the right to resist any kind of military offensive. Cuba has a right to not, not allow the United States to once again invade Cuba via the internet, via trade, and by allowing the opposition in Cuba to be somehow empowered by U.S. cultural dollars. Obama can't be allowed to pull off a successful Bay of Pigs invasion this time with baseball players and Rolling Stones, and internet programming.

That's, I think, the real quandary for the Cuban government.

BALL: Well, just to follow up on that just very quickly, that last point you were making, what, from the perspective of the Cuban revolution, would Raul Castro be looking to get from this meeting, as far as you could tell? What benefits from this could they derive for the Cuban people?

FORD: Well, it was kind of upsetting and disconcerting when I was in Cuba last May to hear Cuban officials talk about needing everything. That is, they look forward to the embargo being truly ended, because Cuba has a need for just about everything. In fact, I remember one head of a cooperative farm saying that they look at the United States as a big kind of warehouse, where all the goods are stored. A Home Depot, where they could go shopping.

Well, that Home Depot is not just full of tools and things that one can use to physically build Cuban society. The Home Depot is also full of the cultural values produced by corporate capitalism. And they are formidable enemies of any society that's trying to create its own independence, and not to be subject to the former colonial ruler. And that's, of course, what that U.S. president who arrived on the battleship was. This one's going to launch himself into Cuba, but he's the same enemy.

BALL: Well, I know many Americans--well, I know many people, period, see his daughter on MSNBC every morning. But the father of Mika Brzezinski, Zbigniew Brzezinski, once wrote in 1997 that what will set the United States apart from previous empires of the past was the American control over the internet. So it sounds like your concerns here are well-founded, and we thank you for sharing them here at the Real News, Glen Ford.

FORD: Thank you. And the Cubans are talking about this.

BALL: And thank you all for joining us here, as well. And for all involved, again, here in Baltimore I'm Jared Ball, saying as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you're willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and vinceremos.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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