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Kerry in Havana Restoring the US Embassy

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

After 54 years the U.S. embassy in Havana reopened. The U.S. flag was flying high as the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And indeed we remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith with a commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully where institutions are answerable to those they serve and when civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.

PERIES: To discuss this historic moment I’m joined by historian and author Gerald Horne. He wrote The Counter-revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Gerald, thank you so much for joining us today.

GERALD HORNE, PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF HOUSTON: Thank you for inviting me.

PERIES: So Gerald, this is really a de facto recognition of the socialist state of Cuba, just 90 miles from its shores, 54 years later. What are your thoughts on that?

HORNE: Well, I see it as a historic retreat by U.S. imperialism. I also see it as an attempt to destabilize the Cuban revolutionary process by other means. It reminds me of the fact that the United States did not recognize the Haitian revolution, which reached success in 1804, but was not recognized by Washington until 1862. That is to say, 58 years later.

Here we have the Cuban revolution reaching triumph in 1959 not recognized till 2014, 2015, which is fewer years than the 58 that it took to recognize Haiti. So to that extent we can see progress. But if you take that Haitian example one step further you will also uncover that relations between Haiti and the United States became even more complicated, even more complex, even more destructive after 1862. In fact, 2015 marks the centennial of the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, which was then followed by the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic which shares the island of Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola in 1916. And so therefore I would say buckle your seatbelts with regard to what to expect in Havana-Washington relations going forward.

PERIES: And on the eve of the reopening of the embassy, in reference to the embargo Fidel Castro wrote, Cuba is owed compensation. The equivalent of damages, amounting to many, many millions of dollars, as our country has reported, irrefutably documented at the United Nations, he wrote, and he’s of course referring to the embargo and the cost it has had over the last 54 years. Do you think this is a reasonable claim?

HORNE: Well, absolutely it’s a reasonable claim. I think that there might be an underestimation, however, in former President Castro’s figuring. I figure that the U.S. probably owes Cuba billions given the fact that this blockade has not only attempted to strangle Cuba but also has sought to impose penalties on third parties, third countries, that have sought investment and trade in Cuba as well.

You may recall as well that I published this book last year, Race to Revolution: the United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow, and in that book I detail how after the U.S. takeover of the island from colonial Spain in 1898 that the United States sought to impose a very rigorous system of Jim Crow and apartheid on Cuba, which it’s fair to say suffocated the life chances of African people too numerous to mention. And the calculations as to what they are owed, it seems to me, is quite tremendous.

PERIES: And do you think this kind of a claim will have–I read that the Cubans were taking this [inaud.] to an international body, international court. Do you think it will have any life there?

HORNE: Well, I see it as a negotiating tactic. It’s a way to get leverage over the United States. It’s a way to get Cuba to say okay, we won’t ask for the billions we’re owed. We’ll ask instead for millions. But instead President Obama has to use his administrative powers to ease the more draconian aspects of the blockade, and of course needs to move more aggressively to shut down the prison camp at Guantanamo and evacuate U.S. forces from Guantanamo, which of course is on the far end of the island of Cuba. To evacuate altogether.

PERIES: Now, one of the more interesting things about restoration of relations is that the liberal elite is now taking credit for putting Cuba-U.S. relations back together. And if you hear Kerry today he was actually talking about the interest in the Cuban dissidents, and democracy, and he’s talking about restoring Cuba with these pillars of democracy and open society, and open political processes. But what are the real motivations here on the part of the U.S. for restoring relations?

HORNE: Well first of all, a footnote. By raising this question of so-called dissidence, Secretary Kerry opens the door for Cubans to raise the question of police killings of black people in particular in the United States of America. So I trust that that will take place. With regard to the real story of U.S. attempts to normalize relations with Cuba, set aside the question of U.S. benevolence. That’s a fairy tale for children. You have to look at the larger geopolitical picture.

You have to look at the fact that relations with Moscow and Beijing on the part of Washington are plummeting precipitously. There have been incredible reports. The Russian bomber planes off the coast of California and in the Gulf of Mexico. So many high-level numbers of the standing committee of the political bureau of the Chinese Communist Party have been visiting Havana of late you would think they’ve taken up residence there. Washington feels that it’s a national security priority to get things right with Cuba, in light of the deteriorating relations with Moscow and Beijing. Because we all recall the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 when the world came to the brink of nuclear destruction precisely because of a drop in relations between Moscow and Washington.

PERIES: And finally, Gerald, Cuba–how do you think Cuba, Cubans will respond to the new capital waiting to disembark on its shores? U.S. tourism, I read, is up already 37 percent. And this is in spite of the fact that travel restrictions have not yet been totally lifted.

HORNE: What concerns me is Cuba’s neighbors. Keep in mind that before 1959, before the triumph of the revolution, Cuba was a tourist magnet for U.S. nationals. But after 1959, you saw the strengthening of tourism, of U.S. nationals towards Montego Bay in Cuba, towards Nassau in the Bahamas, towards Barbados, towards all the Caribbean islands. I’m very concerned that with this flood of U.S. tourists to Cuba there will be a dropoff to these other islands which could be quite damaging to their economy.

With regard to this flood of tourists to Cuba, I’m prepared to say that since Cuba has been entertaining a flood of tourists from Canada, from Italy, from France, and from Britain, they’re quite prepared and well prepared to confront whatever the United States has to offer.

PERIES: Gerald Horne, as always, we are very privileged to have you as a pillar on the Real News Network. Thank you for joining us.

HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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