Letters

No Man Is An Island

Ignacio Ramonet is right that public protests haven’t erupted in Cuba since Fidel Castro handed power to his brother last year (“Was Fidel Good for Cuba?” January/ February 2007). But that isn’t because Cubans don’t want change. It’s because Castro’s repressive machinery remains fully intact. Cubans know what they can expect when they call for ...

Ignacio Ramonet is right that public protests haven’t erupted in Cuba since Fidel Castro handed power to his brother last year (“Was Fidel Good for Cuba?” January/ February 2007). But that isn’t because Cubans don’t want change. It’s because Castro’s repressive machinery remains fully intact. Cubans know what they can expect when they call for change: surveillance, harassment, mob violence, loss of employment, enforced separation from family abroad, and prison.

Ramonet is also right that Castro’s Cuba has made important progress in education and healthcare. But he’s wrong to suggest that these advances justify the systematic denial of fundamental freedoms. A high literacy rate doesn’t justify punishing people, as Cuba does, for what they write. A low infant-mortality rate doesn’t justify holding doctors hostage on the island, as Cuba does, denying them permission to visit relatives abroad on the grounds that their brains are "government property."

Ramonet is right that the U.S. embargo on Cuba has been an unmitigated failure. The embargo has hurt ordinary Cubans and only benefited Castro’s government, providing it with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses. Washington’s heavy-handed policies have allowed Castro to play the part of a Latin American David standing up to the American Goliath, a role he exploits brilliantly to win supporters abroad. Take Ramonet himself, for example. Here is a leading European journalist actually defending a government that for decades has denied its citizens the right to practice his own profession: independent journalism. Carlos Alberto Montaner, meanwhile, is too optimistic in his prediction for Cuba. It will take more than Castro’s death to bring change to the island. Even an end to the U.S. embargo will not be enough. What’s needed now, more than ever, is a measured and multilateral effort by the international community aimed at pressing Cuba to respect the basic freedoms it has denied its people for so long.

-José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas Division
Human Rights
Watch
Washington, D.C.

-Daniel Wilkinson
Deputy Director, Americas Division
Human Rights Watch
Washington, D.C.

—-

It is difficult to believe that a blatant defender of Fidel Castro’s totalitarian dictatorship — like Ramonet — still exists. Ramonet’s defense of totalitarianism is extreme and caricaturesque. His justification of a people’s subjugation with the allegation that Cubans have not "rebelled" against their oppressors is inconceivable. To make such an argument when Cuba’s prisons remain full of men and women of all ages because of their opposition to the totalitarian regime is disgraceful. It would be more appropriate for Ramonet to "stop looking at Cuba through an ideological prism and twisting the facts to fit in with a preconceived scheme of things," as he himself writes in reference to Montaner’s well-informed and reasoned analyses.

Castro has instituted a totalitarianism in Cuba unprecedented in its ferocity in the Western Hemisphere, a racist regime that constitutes the historical revenge of Spanish colonialism. In Cuba today, young black men are routinely rounded up and thrown in prison without charge under Castro’s policy of "preventive detention." Hundreds of political prisoners languish in Castro’s dungeons while Ramonet defends their jailers.

It should surprise no one that the Castro family has been purchasing significant landholdings in Spain and transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign bank accounts. They, more than anyone else, know that their era is coming to an end.

-Lincoln Diaz-Balart
R-Florida

Member

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

—-

During the years that Cuba benefited from its markedly favorable trade relationship with the Soviet Union, it developed the most egalitarian society in the world. Its citizens couldn’t speak their minds, perhaps, but they were guaranteed food, housing, free healthcare, and education. Fifteen years after the Soviet Union disappeared, the Cuban Revolution is still going strong, and the country’s economy is posting impressive growth: 8 percent in 2005, and closer to 12 percent in 2006. Cuba has new and crucially important economic relationships with Venezuela and China. The price of nickel, one of the country’s main exports, is at an all-time high, and a new oil field is being developed off its north coast, with other nations already bidding for drilling rights.

The expectation in Miami and Washington has always been that if Castro disappeared from the scene, the whole revolutionary edifice would come tumbling down. Certainly, it was said, the Cuban people would never accept Raúl Castro’s rule. Wrong again. Seven months later, there has been not a single sign of unrest. We would of course all like to see Cuba move in the direction of a more open society with more civil liberties for its people. But the Bush administration’s policy of threats and pressures is exactly the wrong way to achieve that. We could achieve far more by reducing tensions, opening travel, and beginning a dialogue.

-Wayne Smith
Senior Fellow
Center for International Policy

Washington, D.C.

Montaner and Ramonet are two well-respected authors, but they perpetuate the status quo. Their debate hardly adds to the informed reader’s understanding of modern Cuba. Why have they not instead recognized that there are indeed human rights violations in Cuba, while accepting that there have been numerous successes in medicine and education on the island? Cuba is neither the dictatorial hell that some believe nor the socialist paradise that others choose to see. It is a complex, changing, and remarkable place with creative, inventive, and capable citizens. The Cuban people deserve a higher level of discourse.

-Catherine Moses
Assistant Professor of Government and Sociology
Georgia College and State University
Milledgeville, Ga.

—-

Carlos Alberto Montaner replies:

Lincoln Diaz-Balart hits a sore spot that the Cuban government always hides: Racial discrimination persists in Cuba despite the official discourse. After half a century of revolution, blacks and mulattoes continue to populate the poorest layers of Cuban society.

I completely agree with the observations made by José Miguel Vivanco and Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watchan organization that has always defended persecuted Cuban activists — but I would like to clarify two points. It is true that Castro has used the U.S. embargo to justify his dictatorship. But in Latin America, there have been hundreds of tyrannies, and they all have found an excuse. Communism is not legitimized by the hostile actions of other nations. What’s more, the United States was criticized throughout the 20th century for having good relations with Latin American dictators. Is it fair to also criticize it now for having bad relations?

The rationalizations made by Wayne Smith remind me of those made by the Nazis: The regime wasn’t so bad because, after all, Hitler put an end to inflation and constructed the best highway system in Europe. It is also surprising that he would take seriously Cuba’s official economic data, which are riven with falsehoods and manipulations.

Catherine Moses not only has difficulties making moral judgments (placing on the same scale, as she did, violations of human rights and an extensive education system) but also misinterprets my views. I wrote that there is an extensive health and education system in place in Cuba, but its existence does not justify the dictatorship. A healthy and educated society does not deserve to produce so little and, as a consequence, to live so miserably.

—-

Ignacio Ramonet replies:

Although I generally respect the work of Human Rights Watch, I disagree with Vivanco and Wilkinson when they assert that there haven’t been public protests in Cuba since the summer because of "Castro’s repressive machinery." They are seriously mistaken. On the other hand, the United States puts pressure on the country not only through the trade embargo but also through military interventions and support for attacks that have caused the deaths of more than 3,500 Cuban citizens. Cuba exists in an abnormal reality, and the United States is solely responsible for this abnormality.

Diaz-Balart, as the most hostile legislator toward Cuba in the U.S. Congress, obviously exaggerates. When he evokes "a totalitarianism… unprecedented in its ferocity in the Western Hemisphere," what country is he talking about? The Haiti of Duvalier? The Nicaragua of Somoza? The Paraguay of Stroessner? The Argentina of Videla? The Chile of Pinochet? Or the Guatemala of Ríos Montt? All of these cruel dictators were put into power by U.S. administrations, the majority of whom were from Diaz-Balart’s own party.

In response to Moses, I don’t see Cuba as a "socialist paradise." Paradise only exists in tourism advertisements. But for the tens of millions of people who live in the concrete jungle of the contemporary real world—without shelter, work, food, medical care, education, electricity, or potable water — Cuba just may be, in spite of its imperfections, a desirable paradise on the horizon.

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