By Osmund Agbo
The United States is facing a crisis of gargantuan proportion at her southern border. Lack of economic opportunities at home to support a teeming youth population and widespread political instability brought upon by unbridled corruption is fueling a mass exodus of foreign nationals mostly from Cuba, Mexico as well as Central American nations of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to the United States. The Biden White House is struggling to contain what right-wing commentators have often described as an invasion.
“It was mid-afternoon, and we could clearly see smugglers across the river on the Mexican side, loading women and children onto a yellow raft. The coyotes, as the smugglers are called, waded it across, and with a final push the migrants drifted to the American bank and scrambled up. They walked down a dirt road until they spotted the Border Patrol. They walked right up to the agents.”
Looking down from a helicopter during a routine aerial surveillance, that was how one agent with the US Customs and Border Protection described the crisis many years ago. Things have since gotten worse but the United States is hardly getting any sympathy as many blame a big part of the crisis on the messy geopolitics it has played for far too long; a great case of chicken coming home to roost. Cuba for example, is one special case.
Between 1492 until 1898, Cuba was a Spanish colony and many Cubans today have ancestry dating back to Spain. Even during the period of Spanish rule, the United States has always shown keen interest in this Caribbean nation. As far back as 1820, President Thomas Jefferson described Cuba as “the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States.” The desire to procure Cuba intensified in the 1840s with more than one failed attempt to buy it from Spain, offering $100 million and $300 million at different times without luck.
During the struggle for independence, America provided all kinds of support to Cuba against Spanish colonialist. But it was the latter’s rejection of the offer to buy Cuba and an explosion that sank the American naval battleship, the USS Maine in Havana harbor, that ultimately led to the Spanish-American war that became known as the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence. On 10th December, 1898, the United States and Spain reached an agreement and signed the Treaty of Paris. In accordance with the treaty, Spain gave up all rights to Cuba, bringing to an end, the Spanish Empire in the Americas. It also marked the beginning of the United States political dominance of the region that lasted until 1902 when Cuba was finally granted formal independence.
During the U.S. declaration of war against Spain in 1898, it disavowed any intention of exercising “sovereignty, jurisdiction or control” over Cuba. Cuba in turn agreed under what was called the Platt Amendment to allow the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs if needed for the maintenance of good government. Cuba also committed to lease to the American government, land for naval bases on the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay and United States Naval Station had been established there since 1898. The amendments clearly defined the terms of U.S-Cuban relations for the following 33 years and provided the legal basis for American military interventions with varying degrees in Cuba.
The Platt amendment stayed in place till Ramon Grau, a Cuban medical doctor who became the president in 1933 nullified it. In protest, the United States denied recognition to his government and described it as “communistic” and “irresponsible.” The rise of General Fulgecio Batista as the de facto leader and President of Cuba for two terms (1940–44 and 1952–59) led to an era of close and increased cooperation between the governments of Cuba and the United States. The Batista era was remarkable for the almost complete domination of Cuba’s economy by the United States. In July 1953, however, an armed conflict was started by Fidel Castro against the Batista regime and U.S. weapons worth millions of dollars were sent to the Cuban government to help quash the rebellion without success.
Following the success of the Castro-led Revolution of 1959, bilateral relations between the two nations deteriorated substantially. On August 6, 1960, the Cuban government, under Prime Minister Fidel Castro, nationalized all American owned oil refineries located within Cuba’s national borders, along with sugar factories and mines. Castro also seized approximately $1.7 billion in U.S. oil assets. In October 1960, the U.S. imposed an extensive set of sanctions and restrictions against the government in retaliation. These sanctions have been in place up-till this day.
In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. and in 2016 he became the first sitting U.S. President in 88 years to visit the island. Surprisingly, many Cuban exiles in the United States and members of the Republican Party didn’t welcome this idea and wanted business as usual. On November 8, 2017, the Trump administration announced that those business and travel restrictions which were loosened by Obama would be reinstated. Not only that, he went further to announce new restrictions on American travel to Cuba.
Cuba under communist rule for sure has made progress in certain areas such as education and healthcare. In fact, it has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and with an average of 9 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants (compared to 1:10,000 in Nigeria according to the NMA). Cuba is today one of the best equipped nations in the world in the healthcare sector. That said, living conditions in Cuba, however, have long been precarious. Covid-19 pandemic and tougher American sanctions have crippled Cuba’s economy, deepening poverty and hopelessness, prompting the biggest migration mostly to the US since Fidel Castro rose to power.
Cubans are so desperate to leave that some are building makeshift boats and many have died at sea according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard had intercepted nearly 3,000 Cubans at sea in the past two months alone this year.
One Cuban narrated how he had tried eleven times to leave on boats made of wood, Styrofoam and resin and has a tattoo representing each failed attempt, some of which ended in boat mishaps and then being picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast guard and sent back home. According to the US government data, nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2 percent of the island’s eleven million population, have migrated to the United States over the past year alone, most of them arriving at the southern border by land.
On 13 May, 1787, the fleet made of two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships and six convict transports, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillips set sail on a journey that took over 24,000 kilometers and lasted over 250 days to eventually arrive in Botany Bay, New South Wales. The over 1400 Europeans and African settlers on board would become the first settlers in Australia. Also introduced to Australia with the first fleet was a breed of European rabbits for their utility as game animals.
Since their introduction from Europe, the effect of rabbits on the ecology of Australia has been devastating. They are believed to have had a great impact on the abundance of natural resource availability, primarily because of overgrazing. The animals would first deplete the natural pasture vegetation, then would eat up woody vegetation, including small shrubs, leaves and bark of trees. Rabbits are known to often kill young trees in orchards and forests.
Australia has applied various measures in an attempt to control the growing rabbit population, including shooting rabbits and destroying their warrens with limited success. The desperation in tackling this menace was such that in the 1950s, the Myxoma virus that causes myxomatosis was introduced into the rabbit population for its effect of severely reducing the herbivores’ population but the survivors have since adapted and recovered to a large extent, their previous numbers. What is clear is that all the gullies and many other adverse environmental effects caused by rabbits in Australia today are the unintended consequence of their introduction as game animals in the 17th century.
Granted that President Biden has begun to claw back some of Donald Trump’s policies toward Cuba, he has been a bit measured in his action for fear of angering the Cuban Diaspora and also incurring the wrath of Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and a powerful Cuban American who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The United States continues to maintain its commercial, economic, and financial embargo on Cuba, making it illegal for U.S. corporations to do business with this Caribbean neighbor.
“This is not rocket science: If you devastate a country 90 miles from your border with sanctions, people will come to your border in search of economic opportunity,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser under Mr. Obama and was the point person on talks with Cuba as reported in the New York Times. Out of fear of facing any type of competition from her neighbors in the Americas or for whatever reason known to the policy makers, America through her actions has played a destabilizing role in the continent and even beyond, on many occasions.
Unintended consequences are simply outcomes of a purposeful action that are not foreseen. This concept has long been talked about in social sciences and the American sociologist, K. Merton popularized it while Thomas Sowell, the economist, expanded on it. The United States as a country that produced these great thinkers needs her policy makers to spend a little more time learning this important concept. That is if she hopes to avoid constantly shooting itself in the foot.
Osmund Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com