Cuba policy argument ignored facts

First off, it’s hard to take anyone seriously who can say, “Cuba’s praised ‘social indicators,’ medical system, educational system … were inherited from the previous governments.” This is objectively untrue. It is widely known that Batista squandered the country’s resources on the military, the upper class and American investment, allowing the standard of living of Cuba’s poor majority to suffer-a sharp contrast to Cuba’s current government.

In pre-revolutionary Cuba, four-fifths of rural workers lacked access to health care. The rural Oriente province, for example, had only one doctor for every 2250 people. A 1951 World Bank report found that 80 to 90 percent of children in rural areas suffered from internal parasites; in addition, over 26 percent of the population was illiterate. The revolution brought free health care to all Cubans, and in 1997, there was one doctor for every 275 citizens, a ratio superior to that in the U.S. (one per 421). Illiteracy stands at four percent today, and government funding of higher education has dramatically increased opportunities for lower class Cubans to go to college. These facts about Cuba are quite well known. It’s surprising that the author who “would urge the [Witness for Peace (WFP)] delegation and friends to take a deeper look into Cuba” hasn’t encountered them in his study of and experience on the island.

Without even considering the increased standards of living of the vast majority of Cubans since 1959, the analysis fixates on alleged “atrocities that Castro has propagated against his own citizens and the citizens of the U.S,” labeling Cuba’s first independent government “murderous and repressive.” Such accusations appear fanatical and outdated when one looks at the history of the revolution. Castro’s violent excesses against former Batista officials and secret police immediately following the revolution were the result of popular backlash against that brutal and oppressive regime. Forty years later, government violence against citizens appears meager when compared with other Latin American countries. For instance, half of the 140 union leaders killed in the world last year were murdered by military and paramilitary forces in Colombia alone.

Amnesty International, the international monitor of human rights (of the individual, political, American variety), reported 13 executions in Cuba in 2000, compared to 98 in the U.S. Neither country’s actions can be condoned, but those of the U.S., a First World country claiming to protect individual liberties, are more worthy of criticism.

Two more factual distortions in last week’s article deserve mention: The author makes a big deal over the 1996 incident which prompted Clinton to sign the Helms-Burton act. The author innocently asserts that the Cuban military “savagely murdered American citizens … when it shot down unarmed civilian aircraft flying a humanitarian mission over the Florida straits.” Contrast this rabidly anti-Castro viewpoint with that of a Cuba sympathizer, who would point out that these citizens were part of a Miami-based anti-Castro group (Brothers to the Rescue) which routinely violated Cuba’s airspace, flying over Havana dropping propaganda, in spite of repeated Cuban protests to the U.S. The Cuban fighters even attempted to force the invaders to land when they were caught. These are the two opposing positions on the incident, yet the author’s view constitutes the popular basis for debate in this country, and objective information has been ignored.

The author makes note of the fact that 10 percent of Cubans apply annually for visas to emigrate to the U.S. He then speculates, “Surely this figure would be higher if it were not a requirement for applicants to have relatives in the U.S. willing to provide financial support and take responsibility for their actions.” There is, in fact, no such requirement, and all Cubans are free to enter the lottery for the 20,000 visas allotted by the United States every year. Disagreement with Cuba’s political system and the possibility of family reunification both enhance the applicant’s prospects; neither is necessary.

The author’s fanatical blindness to reality shows through next: “Do not believe for a second that the 90 percent that do not apply for a visa want to remain in Cuba-they stay because they have no choice.” My own recent conversations with people in Cuba tell me this assumption is ridiculous. Most people our WFP delegation met on the street expressed a deep sense of pride in their country and a decided preference for the economic hardship of Cuba over the perceived classism, racism, crime, and empty values of the United States. Absolute percentages aside, it is certain that U.S. policy toward the island has strengthened feelings of devotion Cubans feel toward their homeland.

It seems that most Cubans realize the hypocrisy of many self-proclaimed advocates of Cuban democracy and free expression in the U.S. Such factions are responsible for a remarkable campaign of terrorism and aggression against Cuba; this effort began when the revolution deprived certain wealthy individuals now residing in Miami of their holdings on the island. The political undertakings of extremist Miami groups have included pirate bombings of Cuba’s industry and sugar mills during the ’60s, numerous assassination attempts against government leaders, the bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, and their vigorous support of the devastating embargo, which functions to deprive the Cuban people of medicines, drains the country’s resources by driving away would-be trading partners with its extraterritorial measures, and makes daily life for everyone in Cuba significantly more difficult.

The motivation of leading rightists in Miami was partially displayed in 1991, when, during a period of extreme poverty in Cuba, Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) leader Jorge Mas Canosa prepared to wrest power if the cash-strapped Castro government were to fall. CANF statements threatened that investment in socialist Cuba would “be considered as state property and disposed of accordingly,” by the “future Cuban government.” The dictatorial and repressive tactics used by such powerful figures are readily observable in Miami; the work of the CANF and other groups working for “democracy and freedom” in Cuba has included bombings of magazines and radio stations that express opinions that are not rabidly anti-Castro, blacklisting of politically moderate Cuban-Americans, and the cultivation of an environment of extreme intolerance and conformity to the views of the CANF.

Locally, posters and literature advertising the Witness for Peace delegation’s trip to Cuba and subsequent discussion panels were stolen last Friday from the Outreach office, by another champion of individual political rights and free expression-or so the note left behind claims. Again, the principles and agenda held by this strange faction are obviously suspect.

From the Cuban perspective, for the government to justify tight internal security and repression of dissidence, all it has to do is point to the American embargo, the approximately $9 million annual budget allocated by our government through USAID to dissident groups in Miami and on the island and the hostile actions of the CANF and others. The Cuban people realize these circumstances facing their country, and many would find humor in the claim that the U.S. government wants “democracy” for the island. Instead, they have their own ideas about what needs to change in the country, and these are the views which should be examined by anyone who cares about the fate of Cuba. For these views to be clearly articulated through democratic channels in a politically liberalized Cuba, the United States needs to get out of Cuban internal affairs and allow the people the self-determination it has historically refused them.

In reply to last week’s article, I find it absurd that someone who can so sanctimoniously criticize the WFP delegation’s efforts to study and explore Cuba in reality knows very little about the situation there. In general, for the debate about Cuba to shift in a direction which may actually benefit the Cuban people by making their lives economically and politically better, such fanaticism must be refuted with facts.