Cuba and Chile: A Tale of Two Policies

Since the right seems unwilling to discuss Augusto Pinochet’s legacy through any frame other than comparisons with Fidel Castro let’s just say that, yes, Castro’s regime over its many decades in office has tallied up a more destructive record. That said, America’s policies toward Pinochet and Castro represent a single disastrous conservative approach to Latin American issues. Cuba, as of the 1950s, was under the dictatorial rule of Fulgencio Batista without apparent objection from the United States which had no particular concern with Cuban democracy. A revolt broke out, came to be led by Fidel Castro, and took control of the country in 1959 at which point many former regime figures were killed. The United States government, fearing that the new regime would implement a pro-Soviet foreign policy and a socialist economy policy that would be detrimental to US strategic interests and the financial interests of American business enterprises began an effort to isolate the new regime in the hopes of precipitating its collapse. This didn’t work, but did ensure that the risk of a pro-Soviet foreign policy was destined to become a reality. At this point, the US government engaged in various efforts to overthrow or kill Castro, including the Bay of Pigs invasion in which the US sponsored an invasion of the country by Cuban exiles associated with the old regime.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US ceased active efforts to overthrow Castro. It continued, however, to wage economic warfare against Cuba, subjecting the country to broad unilateral sanctions in the hopes that shackling the country economically would somehow lead to the collapse of the regime. At the same time, America’s borders were opened unconditionally to Cubans wishing to emigrate to the United States.

Some decades later, Salvador Allende came to power through the democratic process in Chile. Here, again, the US government feared the implementation of pro-Soviet foreign policy and socialist economic policy, again damaging America’s strategic interests and the financial interests of American business. The US began working with anti-Allende elements in Chile to destabilize the country politically and economically. Eventually, we supported Augusto Pinochet’s efforts to mount a coup against Allende. The justification for this coup was that events in Chile were leading in the direction of a Communist dictatorship, and the cure was to implement an anti-Communist dictatorship. Having removed Allende from office, the coup leaders did not, say, organize a swift transition back to democracy. Instead, they remained in power for almost two decades, during which time their political opponents — including opponents who were democrats in good standing — were subjected to various forms of persecution including murder, torture, etc.

In contrast to Cuba, the US did nothing to assist the anti-Pinochet opposition, did lot welcome refugees from Chile and, indeed, turned a blind eye to the murder of opposition figures and their allies on US soil. Meanwhile, the campaign to isolate and impoverish Cuba has succeeded in making Cuba even poorer than it otherwise would have been had it merely been subjected to Castro’s poor economic policies. It has not, however, made any noteworthy progress in bringing about the end of the Castro regime which, in fact, has now significantly outlasted the Soviet Union and its other main allies. Meanwhile, our insistence on sanctioning Cuba and efforts to implement secondary sanctions on that country has from time to time strained America’s relationship with various European and Latin American countries.