MALTA– Merging historical timelines offers an interesting perspective into imperialism and its snares: April 17, 1961 saw the Bay of Pigs invasion — one of the counter-revolutionary activities against Cuba that was planned during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency and carried out during John F. Kennedy’s years in the White House. The attempt failed, with Cuba’s mobilized forces and revolutionaries defeating the mercenaries within 72 hours.
Later that year, on Nov. 3, Kennedy launched the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, a program ostensibly meant to promote “social and economic development,” even as on Feb. 3, 1962, Kennedy ordered the now decades-long Cuban embargo.
Quoting Kennedy, the USAID website promotes the program as a “moral obligation” incumbent upon a country no longer dependent upon others, and thus reflected in the United States’ “political obligations as the single largest counter to the adversaries of freedom.”
USAID is a prime example of the inevitable links that form between politics, surveillance, humanitarian aid and human rights abuses. Clinging to the democratic platform endlessly evoked in attempts to undermine resilient opposition to imperialism, the U.S. program has embedded the concept of freedom into its rhetoric — hence the strategy of building upon an agenda that mirrors the exact violations which the imperialist entity has fomented around the world.
As the dynamics of U.S. foreign intervention have evolved, so has USAID. Each decade until 2000 is defined by particular targets, two of which are of significant interest in exploring the wider framework of oppression under the guise of freedom.
In 1970, USAID focused on “basic human needs.” This coincides with the same era when the U.S.-backed dictatorship in Chile ensured the obliteration of the social program implemented during President Salvador Allende’s brief socialist tenure. In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, the resilient island served as inspiration for other Latin American countries seeking social change.
Chile, with its long tradition of democracy, might have provoked a far-reaching impact had Allende’s government not faced covert action by the U.S. As Henry Kissinger said in 1970: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” Chile’s neoliberal experiment was the first in a series of atrocities carried out by U.S.-backed military dictatorships across the continent. While countries such as Chile and Argentina grappled with macabre realities, such as the “disappeared” opponents of the dictatorships, the U.S. was able to impose its own brand of democratic horror. In this manner, destruction and subservience are maintained by addressing only a fragment of the imposed violence through different forms of aid.
In the 2000s, following former President George W. Bush’s strategy of pre-emptive war, USAID ironically turned its focus to “War and Rebuilding” in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq — countries invaded to pave the way for imperial domination in the Middle East. In Iraq, for example, USAID meticulously outlines various human rights issues while also failing to articulate a context for such deterioration since the imperialist intervention that generated perpetual instability.
Shadi Mokhtari provided insights into USAID, human rights and the Middle East in her 2009 book “After Abu Ghraib: Exploring human rights in America and the Middle East.” While populations in the region are aware of the “soft-power” projection which the U.S. seeks to convey, different strategies have been adopted with regard to funding, ranging from rejection to acceptance with the aim of furthering a challenge to imperialism.
However, countries’ acceptance of funds also promoted the twisted agenda of the U.S., bringing the question of independence among countries accepting USAID into serious dispute. Evidence points to a vicious cycle of perpetrating human rights abuses and disseminating financial aid, which in turn creates compromise and further subjugates the oppressed, as is necessary to maintain imperialist politics depending upon the mutation of violence.
In the case of Palestine, meanwhile, USAID funds the Palestinian Authority in efforts “to build a more democratic, stable and secure region, benefiting Palestinians, Israelis and Americans.” The jargon is a mere euphemism for expanding Israel’s settler-colonial project — an exercise in providing Palestinians with less than the basic necessities in order to facilitate Israel’s gradual process of exterminating the indigenous population.
When it comes to Cuba, there’s an abrupt shift in USAID rhetoric. Resentment over the success of Fidel Castro’s anti-imperialist stance so far embodied by the island is evident in the entity’s description of Cuba as “a totalitarian state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control.” While the U.S. strives to involve organizations engaged in human rights discourse within the country it professes to “help,” the Cuban government’s anti-imperialist stance has prompted the funding of dissidents in Miami. The tactic itself is not innovative, with the U.S. having instigated recurrent sabotage activities in Cuba, apart from the constantly thwarted attempts to murder Fidel Castro while he was head of state.
The imperialist inability to bring about government change in Cuba recently prompted another series of counter-revolutionary actions — this time exploiting people’s growing reliance on social media. In April, The Associated Press reported about a covert plan denounced by the Cuban government — a Twitter-like messaging system called ZunZuneo — which purportedly provided a social networking platform for Cubans. The platform was launched a short while after USAID contractor Alan Gross was imprisoned in Cuba for implementing programs intended to destabilize the Cuban government.
AP stated that the intention was to gradually alter ZunZuneo’s content in a manner that would shift attention from mundane subjects to political dissent, with the ultimate goal being that such dissent would navigate away from the networking site and into the streets. The aim was, according to AP’s quoting from an alleged USAID document, to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” USAID rejected the basis of the AP article, stating that “discreet does not equal covert,” before countering the published information.
With the exception of Cuba, which has so far resisted against imperialist domination despite decades of economic isolation, countries targeted by USAID exhibit the dynamics of submissive gratitude. The so-called renegotiation of power has shaped U.S. foreign policy for decades. While imperialist persistence hasn’t waned, the varied concepts of power, state and society embraced by different countries facing covert action has determined the successes and failures of U.S. interference. As is evident from the different tactics employed, foreign intervention under the auspices of democracy has created a chain of dependency and humiliation — a continuous degradation of humanity in which human rights discourse is mired in compromise.