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July/August 2003 • Vol 3, No. 7 •

Cuba: The Uniqueness That Can’t Be Bought

By Augusto R. Zamora

In 2002, 1060 people were executed in China. In the United States around 400 have been executed since 1990, an average of 35 a year or three a month. Hundreds more executions have taken place in other countries, and that’s without counting the unofficial executions and state-sponsored massacres which in Africa are just part of the landscape.

In general, the issue passes without comment. Apart from detailed reports and the condemnations by human rights organizations like Amnesty International, the execution of human beings rarely makes it onto the news pages, saturated though they are in blood and death.

In contrast to this general trend of silence and indifference, the execution of the three hijackers of a passenger boat in Cuba unleashed a political and media storm—with its epicenter in the United States. In Spain it produced a demonstration in front of the Cuban embassy in Madrid, in which, unusually, government ministers and leaders of the two main parties took part.

This is not the only area where Cuba gets treated with a special micro-scale measuring rod of its own. The constant pleas for democratization of the island give the impression that Cuba is the only country in the world with a one-party system, also that the European Union and the U.S. apply the same standard to all countries which don’t fulfill the requirements of what they understand by democracy.

Double standard

Nothing is further from the truth. Tunisia, so close to Europe, has a president who in 2002 made himself president-for-life in a referendum supported by 99.52 percent of the voters and with a record participation of 95.5 percent of those eligible to vote. As far as we know, no European government protested against this crude electoral fraud.

When there was a coup in Venezuela in April 2002 the Spanish ambassador rushed to greet the ephemeral president, Pedro Carmona. Spain and the U.S. were the only countries that supported the coup attempt, which was condemned by the Organization of American States (OAS).

A similar path is followed when it comes to the theme of human rights, invoked as often in the Cuban case as it is forgotten in other regions of the world. The fixation with Cuba is almost hypnotic, as shown by the U.S. obsession about obtaining a yearly condemnation of the country by the UN Human Rights Commission.

Nothing similar happens, for example, in relation to Colombia, where 35,000 die every year from political violence and where they kill the greatest number of the world’s trade unionists. Or with Guatemala, where they carry on murdering human rights activists and the courts acquit confessed criminals, without forgetting the cycles of peasant and indigenous slaughters in Bolivia, Mexico and Peru.

It’s almost compulsory to leave out Africa, given the indifference of the rich countries to the atrocities suffered by her populations, but one case comes to mind. In Guinea Bissau an army chief accused of rebellion was executed and the vice-president of the Human Rights League thrown into jail. Despite this the European Union granted Guinea Bissau an 80 million euro cooperation loan, just maybe motivated by the major fishing interests that it enjoys in that country.

The existence of political prisoners is another hobbyhorse. Of course, no believer in freedom can accept that a person should be imprisoned simply because of the ideas that he or she professes. Nonetheless, a hundred or so countries suffer from this blight, and for less clear motives that those invoked by Cuba.

In Tunisia there are hundreds of political prisoners. Equatorial Guinea is an even more ominous case. Each year it receives millions of euros from the Spanish budget, used by the tyrant Obiang to increase repression and prop up his tyranny. The Spanish ex-colony not only gets no sort of sanction, not even symbolic, but each year enjoys generous funding from the Spanish government.

Turkey is the bloodiest case. Last December a young woman political prisoner died after 512 days of hunger strike, taking to 58 the number who has lost their life this way in Turkish jails. From 1990 to the present day, 4500 cases of torture have been revealed and in 2000 the bodies of 56 persons murdered by paramilitary groups were found. At the same time the persecution of the Kurdish minority, deprived of its rights, continues.

Socialism R.I.P?

Experts abound who make ferocious criticisms of the failure of socialism, singing the requiem of its economic system. The criticisms would be valid if Latin America presented an encouraging economic and social scene against which Cuba could not stand comparison. The opposite is the case. Despite the blockade imposed by the US, despite the denial of credit and the fact that Cuba must pay in cash, despite the stinginess of so many, Cuba continues to lead the continent, including the US, on the basic indicators of education, health and equality.

Compared to the devastating regional spectacle of countries sunk in misery, unemployment, hunger and desperation, Cuba presents First World-level indicators for such basic human rights. The difference is even greater if account is taken of the fact that Cuba, unlike Mexico (75 percent of the population in poverty according to its own government), Colombia (no comment) or Ecuador (a third of the country has emigrated), has no great oil deposits or coveted natural resources.

If we take the UN Human Development Index as a guide, the Cuban system doesn’t come off badly. According to the latest HDI, above Cuba (ranked 55) come only Argentina (a mysterious 34), Chile (38), Uruguay (40), Costa Rica (43) and Mexico (a curious 54). The rest come beneath, most by a long way, like Peru (82), Paraguay (90), Bolivia (114) or Guatemala (129).

No First World government or guru can admit that capitalism has failed almightily in almost the entire region (and the world) in the basic task of providing human beings with a decent life. They say nothing, not because the failure isn’t obvious, but because such a statement would threaten today’s main dogma, namely the inevitability of capitalism as a system.

What worries them about Cuba is not the democratic question (coups against inconvenient governments to safeguard illegitimate interests are always applauded). It’s not the death penalty (China and the U.S. lead the way), just as it’s not human rights or civil liberties (Western cynicism on these issues is enough to make one weep).

If we really want to find an intelligible explanation for the singularity of the treatment meted out to Cuba we have to search along different paths.

Above all, Cuba annoys because the U.S. hasn’t been able to break her for 45 years. Cuba is a thorn in the side of the empire, which has made Cuba a question of imperial honor. She is also a beacon that reminds Latin America and the world that you don’t have to be a great power to resist an empire’s siege.

Courage and dignity are enough to achieve that goal. As Karl Deutsch used to note, a small country with a government of unusual strength and a motivated population can maintain its independence, even if it must be at the high cost that its conquest entails.

Another reason is the Cuban commitment to persevere with the socialist system that Fidel Castro proclaimed in 1961, a system that has survived, against all forecasts and the Soviet collapse. From the point of view of capitalist fundamentalism, Cuban socialism is a serious anomaly to be corrected and Cuba put back on the right track, fully integrating her into planetary globalization.

In this way, Iberia would be able to buy Cubana de Aviacion, tobacco would go to Philip Morris, nickel to Anglo-American Corporation, the pharmaceutical industry to Glaxo-SmithKline and petrol to Exxon, with Macdonald’s opening a branch in José Martí’s birth place.

Next, ritual elections would be organized that would hand the country over to an obscene minority, who would be delighted to take part in sacking the country at the price of sinking the greater part of the population in misery. And all this with the IMF sketching out the economic plans and the imperial ambassador deciding on the political issues and forcing the payment of millions in compensation to the companies and citizens of the empire.

In this way Cuba would, yes, be reintegrated into the democratic world and enjoy all the advantages. The problem is that a great majority of Cubans, aware of the fate met by the countries of the region, show little enthusiasm for the model.

Nothing indicates that the Cuban system is on the way to falling apart in the immediate term. The worst phase (the so-called Special Period) now passed, the economic indicators have been improving.

On the HDI ladder Cuba has passed from 86th position in 1997 to 55th in 2002. The Economic Commission for Latin America is predicting 5 percent growth for 2003, while energy dependency is reaching historically low levels, just as structural reforms to adapt the national economy to the new situation are going ahead with the minimum possible impact on social spending.

Cuba’s situation in continental politics has also improved. The U.S. failure to obtain a condemnation of Cuba in the OAS shows that most countries in the region are not betting on the country’s drowning to death.

By the same token, the sanctions recently adopted by the EU against Cuba are negative, sterile and untimely. On the one hand they prop up the aggressive and extreme positions of the U.S., on the other, instead of encouraging the Cuban government to soften its restrictions, they intensify the feeling of siege that quite rightly exists in Cuba, aggravating the problems that the U.S. blockade is causing the population.

They are, therefore, counterproductive measures, explicable only by the desire of the EU to please the U.S. after the row produced by its aggression against Iraq. But we are getting used to this EU game of kicking the weak in order to please the strong, even if it involves a blatant injustice. And, let it be said in passing, it’s the pattern for the 21st century.

Augusto R. Zamora is professor of international public law and international relations at the Madrid Autonomous University.

Green Left Weekly, July 2, 2003





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