U.S. in the Caribbean: Good Neighbor, Helping Hand, or Imperialist Predator? Here’s a Brief History, You Decide

September 9, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Caribbean islands are being battered by Hurricane Irma, the scenes of suffering and devastation heart-breaking. Now Hurricane Jose is about to hit and wreak even more destruction. The U.S. has portrayed itself as a “Good Neighbor” to this region, and now talks of lending a “helping hand” to those suffering so much. But what is the actual record of U.S. role in the Caribbean? Here’s a very brief history of some of its key actions.

The Spanish-American War, 1898. The U.S. defeats Spain and takes over its Caribbean colonies, occupying Cuba and annexing Puerto Rico. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the U.S. “right” to act as an “international police power” in the Caribbean, and threatened and pressured countries there to transfer control of their economies from European powers to the U.S.

Cuba. The U.S. took control following the Spanish-American War and made it a “protectorate” in 1902. The U.S. landed Marines in Cuba in 1906 (occupying the country until 1909), 1912, and 1917, then occupying the country as an economic protectorate until 1933. By the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuban utilities, 90 percent of Cuban mines, close to 100 percent of the country’s oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of the sugar industry. The U.S. embargoed and threatened Cuba for decades after its 1959 revolution, including invading in 1961 (the “Bay of Pigs”) and threatening war, possibly global nuclear war, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and today the Trump/Pence regime threatens renewed hostilities.

Puerto Rico. In 1898, U.S. troops landed in Puerto Rico for the first time and seized control of the island from Spain. This marked the beginning of military occupation, exploitation and poverty, cultural suppression and national subjugation. In 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico was an “unincorporated territory” of the United States—a colony with no path to statehood. A 1934 study found that Puerto Ricans working on U.S. sugar plantations were paid on average 12 cents a day. In 1950, U.S.-directed forces crushed a rebellion seeking independence. Puerto Rico remains a U.S. “Commonwealth”—i.e., colony. Today its infrastructure has been so weakened by years of debt crisis imposed by U.S. imperialism, that it faces a grave healthcare emergency. Even Hurricane Irma’s “glancing blow” has left millions of households without power, which the government has already said could take up to six months to restore. Another 50,000 people are without water.

Dominican Republic. The U.S. military intervened in 1905, 1907, and occupied the country from 1916 to 1924. The U.S. put the Dominican Republic under economic control (“customs supervision”) from 1905 to 1940. It put the dictator Rafael Trujillo in power in 1930, backing him until he was assassinated in 1961, with the help and supervision of the CIA. The U.S. invaded again in 1965 killing somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 Dominicans, in order to put a new pro-U.S. government in power.

Haiti. The U.S. military invaded Haiti in 1914 to impose its control and occupied it until 1934. In 1957, it backed the rise to power of the barbaric François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his thugs, the Tonton Macoute. In 1971, U.S. Navy ships stood guard in the capital’s harbor to ensure the transition of power to Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) to power. In 1991, the CIA organized a bloody coup d’état to remove the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power. U.S. troops were deployed to Haiti in 1994-1995 and again in 2004-2005 to maintain U.S. control. Nearly 100 years of U.S. imperialist dominance has left Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. An earthquake in 2010 killed hundreds of thousands, and left 1.6 million homeless. Then a cholera epidemic killed thousands, and last year Hurricane Matthew slammed Haiti, producing massive flooding and mudslides wiping out major highways and whole villages.

Grenada. In October 1983, the U.S. invaded in a military assault called “Operation Urgent Fury,” overthrowing the government and bringing the island under U.S. control.

Jamaica. The U.S. has repeatedly intervened to dominate Jamaica’s politics and economics. In 1976 the CIA attempted a coup against then-Prime Minister Michael Manley, and U.S. intervention led to Manley’s defeat in 1980. During his tenure Manley was forced to sign an agreement giving the IMF control of Jamaica’s economy, forcing into a spiral of deeper imperialist domination, debt and impoverishment. The 2001 documentary Life and Debt shows workers “who sew five-six days a week for American corporations to earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week,” some of the over 10,000 women were being superexploited by foreign companies.

The U.S. Virgin Islands. This group of islands, including Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, was bought by the U.S. government from Denmark in 1916 and remains a U.S. colony to this day. In 1989, the U.S. deployed over 1,000 military police, federal marshals and FBI agents to St. Croix to crush “looting” in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo. One young man told the Los Angeles Times, “When starvation comes, people are going to start breaking into people’s homes. People are afraid of running out of food and are taking stuff from the stores even if they don’t want to.”



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