You’ve probably been reading some of the bad press on Cuba lately. So you might find of interest this little article I wrote to try to counter it.
The “Human Rights Campaign” Against Cuba
by Cliff DuRand May 20, 2010
Miami and New Jersey are the home bases for the most rabidly anti-Castro Cuban-Americans. They would do anything to bring about regime change in Cuba and for 50 years have been able to count on support from the U.S. government, and still can, even though sentiment in the Cuban-American community has shifted away from their hard line position. Whenever a new administration comes into office in Washington they create a way to make any rapprochement with Havana politically impossible. For instance, when Bill Clinton became president they feared a warming of relations with Cuba. To head that off they created an incident. Miami based Brothers to the Rescue planes flew over Havana, dropping anti-Castro leaflets. Cuban authorities warned them and U.S. authorities that this was an unacceptable violation of sovereign air space. Imagine what would have happened if Cuban planes had done the same over Washington D.C. ! Well, Cuba responded in the same way. The next time three Brothers to the Rescue planes entered Cuban air space two of them were shot down. That made it politically necessary for the Clinton administration to adopt a hard line on Cuba and we got the Helms-Burton law. Mission accomplished.
We are now seeing a similar scenario with the Obama administration. Fearing that the new administration might live up to his promise to actually talk with leaders with which the U.S. has differences and his pledge to respect the independence of countries of the hemisphere (at a time when they all were calling on the U.S. to end its embargo of Cuba), the Miami mafia realized that something had to be done to head off this danger. And so we are now seeing a concerted campaign against “Cuban human rights abuses.” Minor incidents are hyped into something major and trumpeted through the mass media, especially in the U.S. and Europe. Let’s look at some of these incidents we’ve been hearing so much about.
There is the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner in a Cuban jail who died February 23 after a prolonged hunger strike. He is proclaimed to be a political dissident protesting the Castro dictatorship. In fact he was a petty criminal who had been in and out of jail for various actions (the most serious of which was whacking someone with a machete) none of which were in the least bit political. His hunger strike was because prison authorities refused his demand that he be given a cell phone, a TV and a kitchen in his jail cell. Dissidents seized upon his protest to present him as a fellow dissident and even got Amnesty International to declare him “a prisoner of conscience.” He became the dissident’s poster child for political repression in Cuba, especially after he died in spite of receiving the finest medical care available.
Who then are these political dissidents in Cuban jails? Doesn’t that prove political repression? What’s wrong with that conclusion is that they are imprisoned not for their political views or even for expressing those views, but for violating a law against taking money from the U.S. government. The same act in the U.S. – being an unregistered foreign agent – would land you in jail here too. (1) But when in 2003 Cuba arrested, tried and sentenced to jail 75 dissidents for being agents of a foreign government sworn to bring down the Cuban government, this was portrayed by the U.S. as a human rights violation. I attach an article I wrote on this matter at the time.
These 75 dissidents have come back into the news of late. Their wives have been having peaceful marches every Sunday after church asking for the release of their husbands. Calling themselves Damas en Blanco, this small group of women walk silently down Fifth Avenue in the Miramar section of Havana. These demonstrations, which have been going on virtually unnoticed for seven years, have now suddenly become major international news. This is because some Cubans, angered by the media campaign against their country, have been conducting counter demonstrations to repudiate the Ladies in White. That has led to some ugly confrontations that have been portrayed as serious human rights violations by the Cuban government. You can view pictures of these confrontations on the Miami Herald website. http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/18/1534853/protesters-punched-drag… Remember, this is a newspaper hostile to the Cuban Revolution and thus expected to show the most damning photos. But if you look closely at what seems to be going on in these pictures you will see two things the police are doing. 1. They are restraining the angry crowd, protecting the Ladies in White. 2. They are loading them into a bus, removing them from the scene. The Ladies in White are not arrested or thrown into jail. They are removed for their own safety and freed to return the next Sunday for another demonstration. There is no evidence of police brutality. The Ladies practice passive resistance, going limp so they have to be carried away by the police. But there are no scenes of beatings, no police clubs, mace or tasers.
Now, as one who has himself practiced nonviolent civil disobedience, I cannot help but admire the women’s quiet courage and determination in the face of a hostile crowd. But that does not make their cause a just one. Nor does it make their removal a violation of human rights. But that is the way it has been presented in the international media campaign to discredit Cuba.
So why does the suicide of this one prisoner in Cuba – the only one in many years – become major news when there are more suicides by U.S. soldiers every week? Why do demonstrations against protesters in Cuba become major news when in Honduras death squads are killing leaders of the opposition to the coup engendered government (but U.S. backed) government there? It’s not that these events in Cuba are not news, it’s the hyping of them out of all proportion that concerns me. It certainly appears to be part of a campaign to dampen any prospect of a rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba by discrediting the Cuban government.
In this narrative Cuba is presented as intolerant of criticism and unwilling to change. The reality is very different from this caricature. What this ignores is the lively debate now going on in Cuba about a number of key issues. But these are debates about how to improve socialism, whereas what the dissidents seem to be proposing (in so far as they have any program at all) is a return to capitalism. That’s why they are supported by the Miami mafia and by the U.S. government. And that is why they have no real following with Cuba.
Rafael Hernandez, editor of Temas, Cuba’s leading journal of social analysis, gives us a helpful list of the issues in the real public debate:
decentralization; participation and effective political control of the bureaucracy by the Popular Power; reordering the economy and making it more efficient; enlarging the private sector; extending cooperatization; improvement in income levels consistent with work and buying power; an end to generalized subsidies and bonuses; new social policies for the most at-risk sectors; public opinion reflected in the media; enlargement of spaces for free expression; strengthening of laws and constitutional order; and the democratization of institutions (including political institutions). (2)
This is the real civil society in Cuba. It is alive and well and does not need “strengthening” by the U.S. It simply needs to be accepted and left alone by our government and its allies in Miami who long for a return to a neocolonial and capitalist Cuba. For the Cubans, that option was decisively rejected a half century ago.
1. The US Penal Code, under Chapter 115 entitled “Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities,” Section 2381 stipulates that any US citizen who “adheres to” or gives “aid and comfort . . . within the United States or elsewhere” to a country that US authorities consider to be an enemy “is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000.”
2. Rafael Hernandez, “The Cuban Opposition’s Resources” (March 29, 2010)
Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=76929&q=RafaelHernandez&h=,