When the late Phil Agee described his job application process with the CIA in the late 1950’s, he talked about undergoing repeated lie detector tests where he deliberately lied about various things, just for the hell of it. He resented being judged by a machine and wanted to see if he could beat it. At first it seemed that he failed. The tests were repeated. Again, an unhappy result. He was sent home. Just as he was feeling most desperate, sure he would never be hired and on the verge of admitting what he had done and begging forgiveness, he was suddenly approved. There are only two ways of viewing such a process. Either the CIA’s application process is inept, or it deliberately recruits liars.
With that in mind, you have to wonder about the credibility of any former CIA employee, particularly one who has parlayed their CIA career, not into any effort to make amends, as Agee did, but into much more lucrative Washington think-tank work. As Russell Mokhiber, the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter recently pointed out, “Most people, when they arrive in Washington, D.C., see it for what it is – a cesspool of corruption.” Some “run away screaming in fear,” others “stay and fight back” and the third category “stay and [are] transformed. Instead of seeing a cesspool, they begin seeing a hot tub. The result – profits and wealth for the corporate elite – death, disease and destruction for the American people.”
When Mokhiber referred to the American people, he was really talking about U.S. Americans, not the inhabitants of the entire American continent, but the sentiment holds true either way. The death, disease and destruction emanating from Washington are unconstrained by national borders.
And so it is that one finds the likes of Brian Latell figuratively relaxing with a chardonnay in the Washington cesspool, while he spins the tales his clients want to hear. “Stovepiping” is what this kind of “intelligence” work was called during the Bush administration, because the predetermined result goes straight up the chimney, uncontaminated by any evidence to the contrary. Latell is a CIA retiree who augments his pension by scanning news articles about Cuba, the same way he used to scan tailor-made intelligence reports, going on to sell his predictable “analysis” to the highest bidder. (Latell may actually spend most of his time maintaining his tan in Miami, but he remains a senior, albeit non-resident associate at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, which means he is still umbilically connected to the heart of the cesspool.)
Over the past several years, both through CSIS and the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, Latell has taken on the task of chief marketer for the idea that between Raúl and Fidel Castro, there is a huge, perhaps even biblical conflict. Raul is the “pragmatic” one, Fidel the “intransigent” one. Raúl would like nothing more than to turn Cuba into the next China, complete with most favored nation trading status, but Fidel is holding him back. It’s an idea that apparently sells well among Latell’s corporate media clients (the Wall Street Journal, NBC) desperate for any hint that Cuba’s socialism is moribund, that capitalism with all its attendant glories will inevitably return to Cuba. Especially once Fidel dies.
Latell’s latest product is no surprise. He loathes Fidel, and is sure that Fidel is maneuvering to torpedo any possible rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba. He reaches deep in his vocabulary toolbox to call Fidel “snide,” “arrogant,” “scornful” and “abusive.” In Latell’s world, Raúl has been trying to open a dialogue with the United States and has been duly chastised and “humiliated” by his brother for his efforts. This is apparently the kind of analysis upon which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, another adept cesspool lounger, rests her own.
The problem with such “analysis” is that it relies on a worldview that ignores inconvenient facts. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that Raúl feels chastised or humiliated, nor is there any divergence at all between his public statements and those of Fidel.
Latell is untroubled by this, and insists, “recently, Fidel Castro shot down hopes for a better relationship with the United States.” In case you missed the shootdown metaphor, Latell is happy to club you over the head with it later on, claiming that Bill Clinton was working hard to mend relations with Cuba when suddenly “in February 1996 Cuban MiG fighters shot down civilian aircraft over international waters, killing American civilians.” Note again, the purposeful reference to “international waters,” something that has been surfacing quite a lot lately, and not purely coincidentally. Gerardo Hernandez, the Cuban convicted by a kangaroo court in Miami of the preposterous and evidentially challenged claim that he was involved in a Cuban conspiracy to shoot down those planes in international airspace is awaiting word this week from the Supreme Court as to whether it will hear his case. You may well assume that any mentions of the incident in the mainstream press are meant as a crude reminder to the Justices.
Latell tosses off the remark quite casually. But for anyone interested in the 1996 shootdown – any non-CIA type, that is, the actual history is a bit more complex. The U.S. Government wheedled, delayed and pressured the U.N.’s ICAO to site the shootdown in international waters, despite the fact that the Cubans provided immediate and convincing evidence to the contrary. Also, the only wreckage that has ever been found was discovered in Cuban waters, by the Cubans, partly because the U.S. steadfastly refused to look there. Were it not for the United States’ heavy-handed diplomatic footwork, an entire cascade of events could never have unfolded, beginning with codification into U.S. law of the blockade (which U.S. Americans are constantly soothed into believing is only a simple embargo). That was followed by the Miami mafia’s seizure of Cuba’s multi-million dollar frozen U.S. bank account, and ended with the torture and victimization of five Cubans, one of whom was Hernandez, arrested for doing what the FBI refused to do – uncover the terrorist plots being hatched in Miami against Cuba.
None of that is of the least interest to Latell. In his cosseted world, the last fifty years have been a non-stop parade of efforts by the U.S. to mend relations with Cuba, always thwarted by the bearded one. The nearly 6,000 Cubans who have died or been permanently injured by terrorist actions launched from the U.S. since 1959 are completely irrelevant. He views any possible negotiation to end the blockade as a simple quid pro quo, whereby both sides have to give a little, to “get to yes.” We already know what the cesspool thinks Cuba needs to give (for starters, because the real goal is everything): freedom to the Cubans who are currently in prison for taking U.S. money to overthrow their government, an election process that rewards moneyed interests (a.k.a. U.S. style democracy), and human rights, left deliberately vague but presumably similar to those enjoyed by U.S. citizens – the right to be homeless, to be sick and untreated, the right for a woman to sacrifice her career for lack of good, affordable daycare for her children, the right not to be paid when one is injured on the job, the right to remain ignored when one’s government engages in genocidal warfare. Except when the bill comes due. How on earth the U.S. could presume to give lessons in democracy or human rights to anyone is a mystery that can only be explained by the slow cooking of intellects stewed in the cesspool.
Cuba does not owe the United States an apology. Quite the reverse.
The suffering caused by the blockade is real, although well out of sight for most U.S. citizens, thanks to the prohibitions on their ability to travel to Cuba to see for themselves. What is truly abusive and scornful is the fact that Cubans are forced deeper into poverty because they must pay premiums to unseen middlemen for every single thing they buy, in order for the middlemen to recover the costs of doing business with the untouchable Cuba. It is humiliating that Cubans are forced to construct ladders and platforms in their own houses to accommodate their growing familes, until the houses resemble ants’ nests, because there is no money left over from the middleman tax to build housing. One of the first things the Cuban government has promised to address, were the blockade to be lifted, is the serious housing shortage.
But no, according to Latell and his friends swilling wine in the cesspool, the U.S. Government must maintain this cruel, crippling blockade to use as “leverage” for those other things, U.S. style elections and so-called human rights. And besides, lifting it would be playing into Fidel’s hands, because then he would be able to claim complete victory, and as long as he’s alive, we must deny him that, no matter what the cost. The irony is that Latell, through his shootdown argument, is also saying that Fidel actually prefers the blockade remain in place, as a useful enemy. But Latell can’t have it both ways. What logic is there in keeping the blockade in place as “leverage” if the other side secretly desires for it to be maintained? This is the crux of the problem in U.S. Government reasoning on Cuba policy. The people who think this way are chasing their own tail. As Ricardo Alarcon once pointed out, if this is what you really believe, then put it to the test. Call the bluff. Lift the blockade, just for six months, and see what happens. It can always be reinstated if the results are not to your liking.
We all know that’s not going to happen though. U.S. foreign policymakers and the sycophants who whisper in their ears are not known for their sense of nuance, their innovative approaches, their sense of risk. Risk is anathema to real capitalists. Once all of the shifting demands on Cuba are put aside – get out of Africa, stop supporting Nicaragua, change your political system – Cuba’s original sin remains. As Gerardo Hernandez put it, “Cuba’s worst crime is to be free and sovereign — without the U.S. Ambassador dictating as he did for about half a century. That’s why Cuba cannot be forgiven; for wanting to have its own system.” And so, when all is said and done, the cesspool remains a warm and relaxing place, the blockade a disembodied “tool.” Latell and those like him who are fully immersed have no interest, financial or otherwise, in stepping outside into the cold air the rest of us breathe, in looking the blockade straight in the eyes. It would be a little like submitting to a really functional gigantic lie detector, and the game would be up.