Carter Does Cuba
By Mumia Abu Jamal
In an interesting exercise of informal diplomacy and inter-party rivalry, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba to speak to the Cuban people about U.S.-Cuba relations, the Embargo, and his pet post-presidential project, Human Rights.
Carter addressed a live and TV audience, in a soft, southern-inflected, drawled Spanish, and was at times critical of the Havana government for alleged human rights violations. Perhaps anticipating criticism of the U.S., Carter admitted the U.S. system was far from fair, noting problems in the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, the vast U.S. prison population, and the racist, class character of the American death penalty process.
The Cubans, including President Fidel Castro, Foreign Minister Alarcón, and a host of other party elites took his speech with calm and grace, offering polite (if unenthusiastic) applause at the concluding remarks.
If the proud, nationalistic (and internationalist) Cubans had a formal response or rebuttal to Carter, it never made its way into the American corporate press. As clever and savvy politicians, perhaps they felt any angry reply might have detracted from what was, undoubtedly, a major propaganda coup for Havana. Carter, although he issued his somewhat obligatory critique of the socialist system, hastened to praise the nations educational and health care system (both of which are free). He also took Havanas side in the growing tiff initiated by the U.S. State Dept. when it claimed the island government was involved in the spread of biological weapons abroad. Carter, citing his recent talks with U.S. intelligence sources, said he found no evidence of this. If Americans listened to Carter, they may have learned that the island had a literacy rate higher than the U.S., a lower death per capita rate, and an identical mortality rate. This, for a country that has suffered over 40 years under a crippling U.S.-backed economic embargo (one which, incidentally, Carter advocated an end to)! While Cuba may feel politically constrained from shooting from the hip with Carter (and thereby cooling a period of the warmest relations in over 40 years) this writer has no such constraint.
Carter spoke about a number of things, all of them remarkable, considering his status, as former U.S. president. He even went back 100 years in Cuban history, speaking about the years of European colonialism. For those with a smattering of knowledge about U.S.-Cuban history, it is also interesting what he didnt say.
He didnt speak of the two invasions of Cuba by U.S.-backed armed forces in 1850 and 1961. Neither attempted invasion had anything to do with freedom. The first was to extend slavery southwards, to increase U.S. slave territory; the second was to extend U.S. exploitation and wage slavery to Cuba.
He didnt mention the (at least) 11 times that the U.S. CIA tried to assassinate his gracious host, Dr. Fidel Castro. He didnt mention the times the U.S. sprayed toxic agents on sugarcane fields, destroying hundreds of acres; or when the CIA poisoned thousands of herds of Cuban swine. These did not seem worthy of mention, explanation, nor of apology.
Being a great and powerful empire must mean never having to say, sorry.
But the Cubans are not stupid; they know American history, better than many Americans. They know that Americans have a sham democracy, where a bare minority even bothers to vote. They know that the 2 major U.S. political parties are but handmaidens to Big Business. They know all these things.
But they also know that this extraordinary political moment may prove a turning point in U.S.-Cuba relations (which U.S. big business is hungry for). They can wait.
So they cannot insult their guest with memories of the long history of low-intensity conflict. (Well do it.)
Copyright 2002 Mumia Abu-Jamal