The Case of Cuba: “Human Rights” as a Club

Submission to United Nations Human Rights Commission,

Geneva, Switzerland

By Ike Nahem

(This documented was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Office of the Commissioner, based in Geneva, Switzerland in the name of Cuba solidarity organizations in the New York-New Jersey area of the United States. These are the political views and analysis of the author.)

The first members of a team of 165 Cuban doctors and health workers unload boxes of medicines and medical material from a plane upon their arrival at Freetown's airport to help the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, on October 2, 2014.  Florian Plaucheur—AFP/Getty Image

The first members of a team of 165 Cuban doctors and health workers unload boxes of medicines and medical material from a plane upon their arrival at Freetown’s airport to help the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, on October 2, 2014. Florian Plaucheur—AFP/Getty Image

The purpose of this submission is not to draw up a list contrasting the false propaganda narrative on Cuba over human rights and democratic freedom, with the actual facts and reality of Cuba’s legal and criminal justice systems; its prisons; its media; the rights of free speech, assembly, and the organization of labor; Cuba’s actual electoral system and voting procedures; and the truth regarding mass political participation in decision-making on the island. The facts on these realities would no doubt come as a surprise to those only exposed to the propaganda and half-truths of the US government and “Western” big-business commercial media.

With this submission I am rather more interested in the political framework that “human rights” becomes a cover and a false club for Washington’s anti-Cuba policies.

While it is certainly necessary to formulate principles and guidelines on human rights, as codified in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba has signed, half-truths, demagogy, and grotesque hypocrisy and double standards should never stand unanswered. Assertions, no matter how often repeated, are not necessarily facts. Half-truths can be the most dangerous type of lie.

Today political opponents of socialist Cuba grudgingly concede massive Cuban advances in the fields of medical care and universal education, which in any case are hard to ignore. It is also hard to ignore the amazing history of Cuban medical and disaster-relief internationalism benefiting many millions worldwide. This was highlighted most recently by Cuba’s decisive role in containing the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014.

Nevertheless, Cuba’s political system, human rights practice, and democratic space is continually subjected to malevolent attacks by conservative and liberal US political leaders and corporate media. There is, as well, other generally unreasonable criticism, wrenched out of the context – the overwhelming fact and reality for the Cuban people – of Washington’s never-ending pressure, alongside great economic and military coercion, against the Caribbean island. The US economic and political war against Cuba is presented by these forces — in a classic Big Lie – as an “excuse” for “repression.” This puts the truth on its head.

Who is Isolated and Who is Not?

The Donald Trump White House has stepped up anti-Cuba rhetoric and threats. On September 19, 2017 President Trump gave a bellicose, threatening speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In addition to harsh attacks on North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela, Trump singled out Cuba, reading traditional US government boilerplate from his teleprompter. It was delivered to a notably muted response from the assembled delegations.

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration announced it is rewriting travel regulations aimed at cutting back on individual travel by US citizens and legal residents to Cuba. This is to be done by threatening stricter enforcement of existing US travel sanctions eased in the last two years of the second term of the Barack Obama Administration. Nevertheless, the Trump Administration has chosen not to abrogate the establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana that was implemented in 2015. This registers the political weakness and isolation of US anti-Cuba policy over the past decade, registered not only in UN votes, but also in diplomatic gatherings and summits across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trump’s UN demagogy had the political aim winning allies, especially in Latin America, for a campaign to isolate Venezuela and Cuba, and create the political conditions to implement “regime change” in both countries. It is more likely that Trump, his Administration, and the US government as a whole, will be found politically isolated. It remains to be seen how many of the Hemispheric governments the Trump White House is courting will be comfortable aligning themselves with Washington against Venezuela and Cuba. Crucially for US policymakers, there is also the overwhelming popular consciousness against US anti-Cuba policies, across the Americas and internationally. It should be clear to Trump and Washington as well that there will also be great and mounting opposition and resistance to these policies from inside the United States.

On November 1, the UN General Assembly will again, in an annual exercise since 1992, register the stunning isolation of US anti-Cuba policies when it again votes overwhelmingly in favor of the “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo by the United States of America Against Cuba.” For years the annual UN vote has been a major political embarrassment for various US Administrations and Congresses, with lopsided, near-unanimous support for the Cuban government-sponsored Resolution at the General Assembly vote.

Results of 2017 UN General Assembly vote against US “economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba

Results of 2017 UN General Assembly vote against US “economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba

Many mistakenly thought the US economic, commercial, and financial embargo – which has a central “extraterritorial” component that has inspired unanimous opposition around the world – had ended or been significantly ameliorated with the restoration of diplomatic relations. That was not the case and enforcement of the US embargo and sanctions has never stopped or been reversed legally.

US intervention against Cuba has from the outset been accompanied by an economic, commercial, and financial embargo aimed at nothing less than the asphyxiation of Cuba to prevent the carrying out of the Revolution’s bold, revolutionary measures, genuinely transformative, to advance policies of: eradicating illiteracy; guaranteeing access to health care and free education for all Cubans; the eradication of legal race discrimination and the huge advances in the position of Cubans of African origin; a commitment to and again huge advances in the position of women in every field, overcoming the depredations of the Batista era; an independent foreign policy based on international solidarity and revolutionary struggle, and much more in that spirit. That is, the spirit of a genuine revolution that was of the oppressed, by the exploited, and for the poor.

It is absurd to the point of obscene to downplay decades of US intervention, attempts at economic isolation and blockade, and aggression against Cuba in discussing the question of “democracy” in Cuba. The historical record of US aggression is no secret anywhere in the world, including in the United States. This actual record frankly makes Cuba’s real achievements in human rights, including in the political space, rights, liberties, and mass participation for all Cuban citizens in decision making, and how that has expanded, nothing less than astonishing. Cuba is certainly not a capitalist parliamentary democracy, where formal “democratic” institutions and mechanisms are under increasing pressures and encroachments under conditions of economic crisis, social polarizations, and the domination of big money and private media oligopolies. Cuba’s political system unfolded and has developed institutionally under the conditions of the extreme pressure of the US blockade.

Some 3500 Cuban civilians have died from violent counter-revolutionary action and terrorism of every kind. It is a fact that all of this was largely organized from US territory (in violation of US law) and politically supported, financially sustained, and armed with the direct or indirect support of the United States government and its “national security” and “intelligence” agencies. There have been many billions of dollars in damage and sabotage against the Cuban economy from US attempts to seal the island in an economic blockade. Every year the US governments spends tens of millions of dollars openly – and who knows how much covertly in projects kept “secret” by US legislation (although they are regularly exposed by the Cuban government and then collapse).

It is clear that the only possible road to the further opening of political space for the pro-capitalist political forces and tendencies who look to the United States government for inspiration and support, would be for bipartisan Washington to establish normal relations with Cuba. The establishment of formal diplomatic relations is a necessary precondition, which President Donald Trump has chosen not to abrogate, for this. Normal relations can only mean: 1) the ending of all economic, commercial, financial and travel sanctions by the US against the Cuban state; 2) the immediate withdrawal and return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba; and 3) the end of all “regime change” programs directed at Cuba by US government agencies.

“Repression”

We can dismiss with derision any sincere desire on the part of successive US White Houses and Congresses for more democratic space in Cuba for two overriding reasons.

First: One must distinguish fine words from actual practice. US intervention in the Caribbean and Latin America since the Spanish-American War of 1898 has involved a shameless (and shameful) history of organizing, installing, supporting, and sustaining numerous bloody military regimes and dictatorships in the interests of US capital and Latin American oligarchies and opposing progressive and revolutionary democratic struggles. This is an almost endless list: from Somoza’s Nicaragua to Duvalier’s Haiti to Batista’s Cuba, and on and on. The military dictatorships in Brazil (the 1964 coup there was strongly motivated by the Goulart regime’s maintenance of diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba), Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s.

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and its development – under US military pressure and the CIA-organized mercenary invasion of 1961 – into a socialist revolution and a workers state, these brutal US policies and alliances with Latin American oligarchies has been presented with an anti-communist mask. Cuba, by contrast, has an exemplary history of supporting democratic and revolutionary struggles against these dictatorships and providing asylum to fighters against them. This first reason begs the question of double-standards and hypocrisy.

Second: it is, of course, the very aggressive, interventionist, and violent policies – crowned by an economic war aimed at asphyxiation – that makes it necessary for Cuba to be vigilant, and defend itself by any means necessary. These politically and morally justified measures are then labeled “repression” and used to rationalize, speciously, the US economic and political war.

Perhaps a lesson from US history would be useful here. There are defenders of the Southern slaveocracy, the “Confederacy,” and even some who claim the mantle of civil liberties, that criticize President Abraham Lincoln for restrictions and censorship of pro-slavery and pro-Confederate newspapers and suspending habeas corpus protections for suspected pro-Confederate agents and sympathizers. At the very time these forces were engaged in a war to defend the maintenance and expansion of slavery in the United States. As the Civil War unfolded by 1863-64 it was becoming a revolutionary war – especially with the infusion of some 200,000 African-American troops in the US Army and Navy – to abolish slavery. You can be sure that the Confederate Agents and their apologists had their political space and access to legal media completely evaporated by the government and people of the United States as the war radicalized. We should also recall that it was during the period of Radical Reconstruction under President Ulysses Grant and the Radical Republican domination of the US Congress, that the greatest advances in the rights of Black former slaves (as well as masses of poor white farmers) and democratic rights for the vast majority were enforced by the occupation of the United States Army and the repression of the social and political power of the former ruling slave-owning planter class. The end of that “repression” after 1876 and the withdrawal of US Army from the ex-Confederate states brought back unfettered white supremacy, the rise of white terrorist outfits like the KKK, and a body blow to democratic rights, political space, workers rights, and liberty that extended for many decades. It was a curse on the United States which only began to be lifted by the heroic mass struggles of Black working people and their allies in the 1950s and 1960s to overturn the Jim Crown system in the South and across the entire US – at least legally.

200,000 Black Union troops were a decisive factor in the revolutionary      abolition of slavery in the course of the US Civil War

200,000 Black Union troops were a decisive factor in the revolutionary
abolition of slavery in the course of the US Civil War

As long as the United States government is engaged in an open policy of subversion and the funding of clients promoting a policy of overturning the sovereign and socialist Cuban government (which could only mean returning Cuba to the status of a dependent US semi-colony) then it would be extremely naïve to expect the Cuban government and people to not be vigilant and defend themselves.

US Federal and Congressional bodies are currently investigating alleged “collusion” between the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump in 2016 with the government of Russia, with furious charges and countercharges flying back and forth between Trump and his opponents. This has occupied much political and media space in the United States whatever its intrinsic worth. The United States, like any other country, has clear laws on its books that criminalize certain “foreign” intervention, and financial manipulations, particularly covertly, in US elections. This has not prevented multiple US government agencies from covert action in the political life, including electoral processes, in many other countries over many decades and to this day.

It is also against Cuban law, based on decades of gross US government interference against Cuban sovereignty, for Cuban citizens to take payments and political direction from foreign powers. Insofar as one particular giant foreign power, the United States government, has had an open policy of “regime change” in Cuba, backed by deeds and covert projects up to and including, over many decades, violence and terrorism, it is naïve, if not utterly ridiculous, to expect the Cuban authorities, backed overwhelmingly by the Cuban people, to not take action – even if it is labeled “repression” by the financial and political conductors in Washington, DC – against these forces, who, it should be emphasized represent a tiny minority of Cuban society and political opinion.

Even if this US-directed and financed “dissident” activity is seemingly peaceful, and is generally tolerated, as is the case in Cuba today, it is also true that in periods of heightened tensions and stepped up US pressures and anti-Cuba campaigns, such forces inside can – as has happened many times since the Cuban Revolution – become points of support or pretexts for direct US aggression or terrorism organized from inside the United States, often from forces with historic ties to US intelligence agencies. This is not some wild-eyed conspiracy theory. This is thoroughly documented in even the partially released US documents and all serious scholarly research into the archives and accounts of the period. There was a time in the 1960s where the CIA ran its largest base ever in the Miami, Florida area and was full-time 24/7 planning, organizing, training, recruiting, and dispatching into Cuba exiled Cuban counter-revolutionaries into armed units and large forces for violent armed action in Cuba: assassinations, economic sabotage, setting off bombs in public places, and so on. In this same period and since, and this again is heavily documented, it is known that US intelligence agencies under President John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson ran so-called misinformation and disinformation programs – that is, programs set up to brazenly, if imaginatively, lie – that fed deliberatively false stories to commercial and other news or academic publications regarding Cuba, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and whatever else they could fling against Cuba. This was part and parcel of the policy of the US government to destroy the Cuban Revolution by any means possible. Such vile programs included spreading the rumor that Fidel Castro had ordered Camilo Cienfuegos executed or that Fidel had fallen out with, imprisoned and even executed Che Guevara, at the very time Che was engaged in revolutionary combat in the Congo and then preparing a Bolivia-based continental revolutionary war in 1965-66, with the full backing of the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro, and had necessarily dropped out of public space.

Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara

Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara

It is of course inevitable that under conditions of siege, when extreme revolutionary and military discipline is imperative, political polarization is also inevitable. A siege mentality can develop if it is not checked. It is a delicate test for any revolutionary leadership. Abuses can happen and have certainly happened in the course of the Cuban Revolution. What is remarkable is how few of these there have been, compared to other great social revolutions. What is also true is how abuses and errors have always led to debate, confrontation, and correction in many forms. This was also difficult given Cuba’s vulnerability to US attacks and its necessary alliances and economic ties with the Soviet Union and allied Eastern European governments, even as it maintained its national and political independence.

One most striking examples of this is how Cuban society and law overcame widespread prejudice and some appalling practice in the first decade of the Cuban Revolution toward LGBT rights to the reality today where Cuba is on the frontline of nations in the Western Hemisphere where those rights are most protected publicly and privately.

Coming Out of the “Special Period”

Cuba is emerging from an extended period of economic crisis and contraction following the overnight collapse of its economic relations with defunct Soviet-bloc governments in the early 1990s, the so-called “Special Period.” It’s slow, steady recovery was further interrupted by a series of devastating hurricanes a few years back. We can today add the damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017.

In recent years new economic policies being led and implemented by the Raul Castro-led government are starting to kick in. These policies aim at increasing labor productivity and efficiency; technologically modernizing and refitting industrial plant and infrastructure; boosting food production by offering land and other state support and subsidies to private family farmers and farming cooperatives; reducing state and government bureaucracy; and encouraging private wholesale and retail operations, especially in services. Further progress is contingent on attracting capital for investment. Much of this is coming from China, other Latin American countries, and Canada. A major port at Mariel Harbor opened in 2014, largely developed in partnership with Brazilian capital.

Personal Observations

I have traveled to Cuba on many occasions over more than 30 years and have certain firm, reconfirmed, and consolidated observations: Cubans, far from the bogus stereotype of a cowed, oppressed people, are quite contentious and argumentative in their views on how to move their society forward. They have no illusions or rose-colored glasses in looking at their grinding economic problems and challenges in labor productivity, technological backwardness, housing shortages, and so on. Cubans are very engaged in finding solutions. Cuban society is highly organized and mobilizes for campaigns from mass vaccinations to hurricane relief. There are many grass-roots platforms and mass organizations, particularly trade union organizations, by which ordinary Cubans debate and impact on the formulation and implementation of policies, such as the new economic policies and changes now being implemented. Nearly all Cubans expressed the hope, after the visit of President Barack Obama in 2015, that the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will lead to greater industrial and agricultural development for their country. Donald Trump seems to be aiming to reverse the very little, barely incremental changes carried out under Barack Obama after the important advance of reestablishing diplomatic relations.

For this observer, having visited Cuba many times from the worst depths of the economic cataclysm of the early 1990s to the present time, it is also apparent that the Special Period era is steadily receding into the past and being overcome at an accelerated pace. Along the famed Malecon ocean side drive and walkway, buildings continue to be rebuilt and repainted, and stylish new buildings have gone up. Old Havana, already a United Nations Heritage site, is renewing its status as an architectural gem. Cubans are mobilizing to repair the damage from Hurricane Irma in Havana and northern coastal areas.

There is an expansion and greater visibility for privately owned restaurants, called paladores, which are emerging from a quasi-underground existence. They are more visible today with nice signs and lighting on the outside and more comfort and menu choices inside. Cuba’s tourism industry remains, along with medical services, and nickel, a major source of foreign exchange.

Cuba is considered poor by “middle-class” US standards. But it is a strange “poverty.” You see nothing like the destitution of desperate, “crime-riddled,” drug-ravaged, “gang”-infested communities (hello West Baltimore!) that are widespread in every Latin American and Caribbean country, as well as in the US. Street crime in Cuba is almost unheard of and it’s not because of a heavy police presence on the streets. In fact, police seem few and far between. Addiction to hard drugs, and the thriving, profit-making, if nominally illegal, drug businesses that drive it, are also virtually non-existent in Cuba. (Before the Revolution, of course, Cuba was a center of the drug and organized crime rackets; Havana was the home base of top U.S. Mafia families. The Revolution wiped that out. (See The Godfather Part II.) While the most regular complaint I consistently hear from average Cubans is around housing availability, especially for new, young families, as well as bottlenecks and shortages for home repairs, there is also virtually no homelessness. Most Cubans own their homes or pay a pittance in rent.

Every Cuban child is in school getting a first-rate education totally free of charge, with an extensive network of technical, vocational, university, and graduate schools, all free. Cuba not only has long conquered illiteracy, but “exports” thousands of teachers to Latin American and African countries, where they organize literacy programs.

The Cuban health-care system is a marvel of organization and compassion, with clinics in every neighborhood, all free of charge, from checkup and vaccinations through heart surgery and even transgender and transsexual procedures and surgeries.

There is in Cuba today undoubtedly a more relaxed political atmosphere and context in which debates and discussions take place among the Cuban people over the new economic and other polices and changes that are being implemented. These policies are debated out in continuous mass forums in workplaces and neighborhoods as well as in the trade unions and grass-roots mass organizations of women, private and co-operative farmers, students, artists and intellectuals, and within the Cuban Communist Party. This is the actual dynamic that frames and guides policy making decisions and legislation. And the fruits are already apparent in legal and other positive changes on questions ranging from expanded travel rights to ending all legal discrimination and vastly opening up social and cultural space for LGBT Cuban citizens. Any objective observer visiting the island – without malice or prejudice in their brain and heart – cannot but note the desire and ability of average Cuban working people to engage in no-holds-barred discussions on all the questions and challenges facing Cuba today, and debating the policies to overcome them.

Cuba is often criticized for its “one-party political system.” But what would any so-called “multiparty system” look like? It could only be imposed on Cuba by a hostile US government. These artificial parties would be largely funded in the United States by deep-pocketed opponents of Cuban socialism. Such outfits, completely outside of the struggles and political life of the Cuban people, with negligible popular support inside Cuba, have often been declared by so-called “dissidents.” Perhaps these “parties” can even be lavishly funded – on the money-driven model of the US, with mudslinging obfuscating TV ads thrown it. This will supposedly be more “democratic” than the elections that have been actually occuring in Cuba for decades that take place by secret ballot, with more than one candidate required by law, from nominations in large community meetings in every community and town. Any changes in the electoral or other mechanisms or procedures in the Cuban political system can only be the expression of the Cuban people’s right to self-determination.

The relative political weakening of Washington’s anti-Cuba policy, combined with the mounting changes in the political dynamics among Cuban-Americans, has paved the way for significant shifts in the political orientation and policies of the Cuban government.

For a number of years the Raul Castro-led government has been confidently engaging politically with the “Cuban Diaspora,” including in its South Florida heart. At the same time Cuba is less inclined to carry out legal prosecutions and punitive measures against those who collaborate and consort with US government agencies and their subversive schemes in obvious violations of Cuban law. The overhaul in Cuban travel regulations is one example. The release of all “dissidents,” some 75 in all, convicted and imprisoned following increased threats to Cuba in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, is another. Today, Amnesty International and the Cuban Catholic Church, who have both, to varying degrees, advocated in favor of these US-connected “dissidents” in the past, have declared that there are no more, as they term it, “political prisoners” in Cuba.

Cuba Holds the Moral High Ground

United Nations-linked organizations such as the World Health Organizations and many other genuine humanitarian and human rights organizations, with no particular political axe to grind, regularly commend Cuba for its outstanding international work of solidarity and humanitarian, and disaster-aid services over dozens of years. Cuba can be said to have carried out a decisive intervention is containing and reversing on the ground the Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa in 2014. On the political-military front, the revolutionary Cuban government, then led by Fidel Castro, was at the center of the retreat and rout of apartheid South Africa on the battlefields of Angola. This is now internationally recognized as decisive in the preservation of Angolan independence, the winning of Namibian Independence, and the unraveling and defeat of the apartheid state in South Africa, as repeatedly and eloquently cited by Nelson Mandela.

mandela

We are supposed to believe that this society, with this outstanding record and legacy of internationalism and the genuine promotion of human rights – in the face of decades of unremitting political hostility, economic war, military threats, and terrorism directed from Washington, is somehow also a vicious violator of its own people’s rights, freedom, and liberty.

In any case, the United States government is in no position to try and capture the moral high ground on human rights in Cuba or elsewhere. The United States government would do well to clean up its own grotesquely unequal, class-biased, and racist so-called criminal justice system, where it is nearly impossible to indict, let alone convict, killer cops. The United States government should hold off on righteous lectures to Cuba, spreading lies about conditions in Cuban prisons for example, while its prison system is a brutal system of dungeons, where authorities tolerate (and even organize) prison gangs, tolerate mass rape (and the commercial culture makes jokes about it), and guard brutality, mixes juveniles with adults, subjecting both to the torture of “solitary confinement,” and so on.

blacksoldiers

The question facing the UN Human Rights Commission regarding Cuba is whether the Donald Trump Administration is going to seriously attempt to abrogate the establishment of diplomatic relations and attempt to return to a policy of more open aggression. If that turns out to be the case, it is as certain as day turning into night that the Cuban government and people, in their large majority, will defend Cuban sovereignty and the Cuban Revolution by any means necessary. And they will do so with the solidarity and political support of the overwhelming majority of humankind. This will include mass opposition and resistance from inside the United States.

September 29, 2017

About July 26th Coalition

What became the July 26 Coalition began when supporters of the Cuban Revolution in New York and New Jersey joined together in 2003 to organize a major, united event to mark and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.
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