In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a CIA operative placed a beacon on the beach known as Playa Girón, to literally light the path for a paramilitary assault on Cuba. The infamous Bay of Pigs invasion has become an enduring symbol of US aggression against the then-fledgling Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. For Cubans, Playa Girón remains a proud symbol of their David-versus-Goliath triumph over the Colossus of the North. For imperially minded US policy-makers and a diminishing but still politically powerful generation of hard-line Cuban exiles, the defeated invasion remains a symbol of unfinished business.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the imperious administration of Donald Trump chose the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs to launch another round of US aggression against Cuba. On April 17, the State Department announced that it would, for the first time, implement a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that opens the door to tens of thousands of lawsuits against international companies doing business in Cuba, in an effort to deter much-needed foreign investment on the island. The same day, National Security Adviser John Bolton traveled to Coral Gables, Florida, outside Miami, to speak at a commemorative luncheon of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, where he denounced “the disastrous Obama-era policies” of peaceful coexistence and promised to “finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism” by levying new sanctions against Cuba.
Those sanctions will be aimed not at the Cuban military or government but at the Cuban people and US citizens. The Trump administration will cap remittances—unlimited under Barack Obama’s policy of encouraging the growth of Cuba’s private sector through informal support from relatives in the United States—at $4,000 per person a year. And, Bolton said, the administration would soon gut Obama’s policy of people-to-people engagement by cracking down on what Bolton called “veiled tourism” and restricting the freedom of US citizens to travel to the island.
The speech marks his second foray to the Cuban exile stronghold in less than six months—a pattern that smacks of political pandering to potential Trump voters among Florida’s exile community. The votes of native-born Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans, Politico reports, “could prove pivotal in November 2020 in a state that’s essential to Trump’s reelection fortunes.” Bolton’s April speech was a sequel to his November 2018 “troika of tyranny” presentation in Miami just days before the midterms, when he declared economic war on Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua in an avowed effort to rid the hemisphere of those he calls the “Three Stooges of socialism.”
Like Trump in his February State of the Union address, when he blasted the failure of socialism in Venezuela and segued into an attack on the Democratic Party for its alleged socialist tendencies, Bolton all but called on his audience to get out the vote for Trump. “We will need your help in the days ahead,” he declared. “We must all reject the forces of communism and socialism in this hemisphere—and in this country.”
At the heart of Trump’s new attack is an effort to roll back the foundation of Obama’s policy of engagement: travel. To advance his efforts to normalize relations, the Obama administration expanded the categories under which US citizens could legally conduct “purposeful travel” to Cuba. To facilitate the flow of visitors, he restored commercial flights and authorized US cruise-ship operations. Nearly 500,000 Cuban Americans traveled to Cuba last year, along with over 600,000 US citizens who traveled as individuals, in cruise ships, or on educational tours—including trips organized by The Nation—to see for themselves what is happening in that country.
“We condemn these newest attacks on Cuba and on the freedom to travel of the American people,” said the leaders of Marazul Tours, the veteran Cuba travel company, who noted that Bolton’s threat to “restrict” non-Cuban-American travel remained vague. Indeed, not only are the constitutional rights of US citizens to travel in potential jeopardy, but so are the livelihoods of thousands of self-employed Cuban entrepreneurs and small businesses that cater to US travelers and survive on the economic support that such “veiled tourism” provides to Cuba’s growing private sector.
“Since the U.S. re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba, thousands of Americans, including many families from my own community, have visited, and numerous businesses have explored new markets,” Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) pointed out. “These activities have not only opened new economic opportunities for Americans and Cubans alike; they serve as an integral part of our efforts to promote the spread of democracy and ensure the security of our region.”
“Unfortunately,” Castor concluded, “the Trump administration has once again doubled down on its return to Cold War policies that have failed for the past 60 years and have done nothing to help the Cuban people.”
But the administration’s regression takes US policy much farther back in history than the Cold War. “Today,” Bolton asserted, “we proudly proclaim for all to hear: The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.” The doctrine, enunciated by President James Monroe in 1823, designated the Western Hemisphere as the dominion of the United States and warned European powers to stay away. For well over 100 years, Washington repeatedly invoked the doctrine to justify gunboat diplomacy against and protracted military occupations of nations like Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and Cuba. By invoking it now, the Trump administration appears to be setting the stage for escalating US intervention in the region.
“Cuba will be next,” Bolton declared last week, after predicting that the embattled government of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro would soon collapse under the weight of US sanctions. “Together,” he told the cheering audience of aging Bay of Pigs vets, who paid $100 a plate to hear him speak, “we can finish what began on those beaches, on those famous days in April, 58 years ago today.”
In a forceful reaction, Cuban officials reminded the world of the realities of history: On those beaches, Cuban militias defeated the CIA-led brigade in less than 72 hours. “Aggressive escalation of #US against #Cuba will fail,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez responded via Twitter. “As in Girón, we shall overcome.”