Note from El Equipo: Startup Cuba does not endorse this candidate, nor any other political candidate, nor any particular statements or perspectives from this article and/or interview.
Environmental and labor activist Howard Gresham Hawkins, 67, is co-founder of the Green Party and its nominee for President of the United States in the 2020 election. He is a self-described democratic socialist who believes that those on the American political left need an alternative to the Democratic Party, which has again nominated a moderate candidate despite losing with one against Donald Trump in 2016. He believes the “Bernie Sanders approach” of building a progressive “party within the party” has failed, as evidenced by Senator Sanders’ consecutive losses in the presidential primaries. Hawkins encourages disenchanted progressives not to “waste (their) vote on what (they) don’t want” by voting for a moderate candidate in former Vice President Joe Biden, and to instead take a look at the Green Party.
Back in 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won more than 1.4M votes representing more than 1% of the popular vote and finishing fourth overall (the third-place finisher was Libertarian Gary Johnson with more than 4.4M votes). Hawkins hopes to build on her success this time around.
Hawkins has spent his life as an everyman, from getting drafted into the Marines in 1972 to his career unloading trucks at UPS. He has also been a life-long advocate for strengthening the independent working-class political movement, starting as a teenager during the years of the Vietnam War. Repelled by the racism he witnessed in both major parties, he has fiercely supported third-party movements ever since. He has run for office some 24 times, all unsuccessfully, with his most successful bid seeing him capture 48% of the vote for a district council seat in Syracuse, NY, in 2011.
His advocacy work includes founding the Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear-power organization in New England. He also was a leader in the movement against corporate America’s business ties to apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 80s. Since then, he has fought for single-payer healthcare in the United States and was the first political candidate in the US to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010.
Hawkins’ platform aims to transform the United States. He advocates for a socialist economic model — an economic bill of rights that includes universal and free healthcare and education, and a job guarantee, expanded voting rights, a 75% reduction in the military budget, the abolishment of nuclear weapons, open borders, and a publicly-funded media.
Hawkins’ running mate is Angela Walker, a veteran working-class activist with decades of experience working for racial and economic justice in social movements and unions.
In an exclusive interview with Startup Cuba, we asked Hawkins about his stance on Cuba policy and other issues related to Latin America. Hawkins advocates for fully normalized relations with Cuba and argued to make the third detente effort the strongest one yet while recognizing that doing so will require overcoming significant obstacles.
“I think it’s in the best interest of both the Cuban people and the American people to have normal —commercial, trade, and diplomatic— relations,” he said. “For 60 years, it’s been pretty consistently economic sanctions and blockade against Cuba. There were two détentes, which were steps in the right direction. I think after 60 years, we should maybe take another approach and open up, normalize and see what that brings.”
Hawkins took a positive view of the previous normalization efforts, pointing out that, “There was a lot more tourism from this country…Cuba is not a military threat to the United States. I think once people visit there and talk to Cubans, they realize these are people with similar aspirations and hopes for their lives and they’re not really a threat to us. I think that is a good result..”
“The United States has a terrible history of trying to impose rulers…and that’s what we are doing with Juan Guaidó. We have no right to do that. What happens in Venezuela should be up to the Venezuelan people.”Howie Hawkins
Hawkins staunchly defended the rights of nations to be free from what he describes as American-imposed rulers, such as Juan Guaidó in Venezuela, saying, “The United States has a terrible history of trying to impose rulers…and that’s what we are doing with Juan Guaidó. We have no right to do that. What happens in Venezuela should be up to the Venezuelan people.” Hawkins is calling for the withdrawal of diplomatic recognition of Guaidó and for the US to normalize relations with the government of Nicolas Maduro, including the lifting of sanctions and the resumption of trade and aid to help fight the pandemic.
But he was also clear that the United States has the right and duty to speak out in favor of democratic norms —including in Cuba and Venezuela— but must be able to do so with credibility, saying, “People have a right to determine their own form of government, and we have a right to say what we think is good in terms of democratic norms…There’s probably good reasons to criticize some of the practices of the Venezuelan (Maduro) government in terms of democratic norms, but given our problems in this country, we can’t even credibly make those statements.”
“I think the most powerful thing we have to promote democracy is a good example. The more we can become a good example of a multi-racial democracy where different points of view and all kinds of people have their right to speak up and participate in the political process. The more we demonstrate that, the more attractive it becomes to more and more people around the world. So I think that’s our most powerful way of promoting democracy.”Howie Hawkins
He went on to point out deficits in the American immigration system, saying, “It’s terrible what’s happened with the Cubans and others trying to get into this country. We basically stopped processing applications for immigration and asylum, which is really against our own laws. That’s just got to stop…I think it’s a crime against humanity what’s being done with the immigrants. Those who got in and are detained, sometimes families separated on this side and those that are camped out on the other side waiting for the opportunity to apply for immigration or asylum.”
He also pointed to the American criminal justice system, saying, “We have the largest prison system in the history of the world. We have 4% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. So we need to clean up our own act, and then if we have criticisms of how the Venezuelan (Maduro) government is conducting itself, we can make those criticisms credibly. Right now, I don’t think we are too credible.”
“I think the most powerful thing we have to promote democracy is a good example. The more we can become a good example of a multi-racial democracy where different points of view and all kinds of people have their right to speak up and participate in the political process. The more we demonstrate that, the more attractive it becomes to more and more people around the world. So I think that’s our most powerful way of promoting democracy.”
Hawkins’ platform calls for extensive changes to the American electoral system, including abolishing the U.S. Senate and Electoral College, along with mandatory voting and public campaign financing. He also calls for ranked-choice voting in which voters rank their choices in order of preference. He believes these changes would improve American democracy so it can better serve as an example for the world.
When asked about supporting dissidents and democracy promotion in Cuba while navigating normalized relations with its single-party authoritarian government, he said, “I think we should speak up for what we call First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights in our constitution as democratic norms that are also basically embodied in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I think it’s fine for us to speak out about those things although we won’t be very credible until we correct those problems in our own country.”
Hawkins also recognizes that there are outstanding issues to be resolved, including what to do about the American naval base and prison at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama Administration tried and failed for eight years to close Guantanamo, but never discussed the idea of closing the base and returning the property to Cuba. Hawkins doubled-down when pressed about taking the additional step of returning Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, saying, “We don’t need a base in Cuba. I mean, we got bases, what, ninety miles away in the United States? That’s just a thumb in the eye of Cuba. That’s not necessary.”
“Cuba is not a military threat to the United States. I think once people visit there and talk to Cubans, they realize these are people with similar aspirations and hopes for their lives.”Howie Hawkins
Hawkins also addressed the outstanding issue of the return of American fugitives living in Cuba, one of the American demands to normalize relations. He said, “If somebody really did a heinous crime and still should be brought to justice, I would consider that. The person that usually comes up is Assata Shakur, who is, in my view…a political issue that goes back 50 years (Ms. Shakur was convicted of a 1973 of killing a New Jersey State Trooper) I would not hold up normalization to try to bring her back. She escaped from prison and by now she would have served her time.”
There’s also the issue of tensions between Cuba and its exile community in the United StatesHis message to the Cuban-American community is, “Let’s look to the future and what the younger people want. Normalized relations is going to be good for both sides in terms of economics, cultural exchange, and hopefully expanding freedom and democracy in both societies. I think when you put up economic barriers, you’re basically fighting the Cold War, and that gives countries excuses to be repressive. You open up, have the exchanges, people get to know each other — I think it’ll open up things in terms of civil liberties and democratic rights.”
At the same time, he looks towards Cuba’s model of guaranteeing certain rights, such as education and healthcare, while allowing individuals to take the risk to work as cuentapropistas, saying, “I am a democratic socialist. I believe that the major means of production should be socially owned and democratically administered. But I think when we do that, we’ve created the public avenue for private commerce. It’s much better for small-business people, people that want to work for themselves, cooperatives because they can go out and take the risk, but if they don’t succeed, they’ve got the healthcare and the income supports and the other things to fall back on. We have an economic bill of rights with a job guarantee, and we can protect the small businesses from monopolies.”
Hawkins’ foreign policy platform is based around “The United States…using its wealth to be the world’s humanitarian superpower instead of its imperialist superpower.” He wants to abandon regime change efforts in Venezuela and Cuba and instead normalize relations to improve lives through trade and humanitarian aid. Hawkins wants the United States to serve as a model for the world, and he believes he has the platform to do just that.