Aug '02 [Home]


Socialism In One Country …or… Haven't We Had This Conversation Before?

by Pete Dolack

Part One:
Literacy and Health Services
The Embargo:  Cruelty for Cruelty's Sake
Bio-Terrorism:  Never Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story
The Old-Fashioned Kind of Terrorism:  As American as Miami

Part Two [in this issue]
Human Rights Violations in Cuba
Social Forces Collide in Cuba and the U.S.:   Repression of Dissent
Isolation in a Global Econony

Links to published opposing views:
Cuban Spies, A Latent Persistent Danger:  An Old Betrayal Revived
Yes, Cuba is a Terrorist Nation
"Pastors for Castro"

. .


A billionaire and a homeless person have the same rights to buy Congress. Therefore, we have democracy.

"Now, just a minute," some may say. "Don't we get to elect our leaders?" Well, sure, if we are one of the five Supreme Court justices who form the court's hard-line right wing. Oops, cancel that argument. And as if Al Gore were so different from George W. Bush.

"All right, so our system is not perfect, but look at all the things we can buy," the same folks might reply. "It's not like Cuba, where there isn't anything to buy." It is true that there are far more goods to buy in the United States than in Cuba and— before our imaginary chorus chimes in again—it is true that Fidel Castro does not submit to an election of the entire Cuban voting population. But it is also fair to ask why this is so, what this means and whether the U.S. is really democratic heaven and Cuba really totalitarian hell. We might also study the effects of the United States total embargo on Cuba.

We might also ask why a small island nation should be expected to provide for all its needs when no other country, not even the United States, does so. So, let us look beyond the television talking heads and that official government newspaper, The New York Times, and see for ourselves.

Literacy and Health Services

Because well-being extends beyond who has the biggest pile of toys, let us start with an examination of health and literacy rates, as these are good indicators of the health of a society. The Cuban literacy rate is widely reported as 96 percent. By way of comparison, Guatemala, which has a similar population and land area, has a literacy rate of 56 percent.

Before the 1959 revolution, a majority of Cubans were illiterate and public health was poor. Cuba was a playground for the rich, run under the ruthless dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, with the full support of the United States. In 1960, the Cuban infant mortality rate was 65 per 1,000 live births; in the U.S. at the time the rate was 26 per 1,000 live births. By 1996—after decades of embargo and five years after the cessation of all subsidized trade from the former Soviet Union—Cuba had reduced its infant mortality rate to 7.9 per 1,000 live births, comparable to the 7.3 for the U.S.[1] The infant mortality rate in Havana is half that of Washington, D.C.

In 1959, Cuba had three medical schools, six blood banks and a lack of medical facilities;[2] what little there was served only the rich. The entire nation had only 9,000 doctors, 6,000 of whom left after the revolution.[3] In 2000, Cuba had 39 medical training centers, 75 blood banks and 60,000 doctors, giving the island the world's highest doctor-to-patient ratio.[4] "The most remote areas have full-service hospitals and clinics," writes Dr. Don Sloan in Public Affairs magazine who reports that "mountain-top villages, reachable by only horse and wagon or chain-driven vehicle, have doctors and nurses in attendance at all times." (4/27/00)

All Cubans have access to health facilities; in contrast, 43 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, a number sure to rise as the American economy continues to flounder. If Cuba, a poor country with few resources, can provide medical care for its entire population, then why can't the richest nation on earth do so?

The American embargo on Cuba is, however, having a negative impact on the island's health. It is important to remember that the U.S. embargo is total, covering all categories of trade, including food and medicine. It also applies extraterritorially; thus, ships that dock in Cuba are banned from also docking in the U.S. for six months, even if those ships bring only humanitarian goods, and companies outside the U.S., including Canadian companies, are subject to U.S. sanctions. Many traders that wish to conduct business with Cuba do not because they would lose access to the vastly larger U.S. market.

The embargo has naturally had much tougher effects on Cuba since the Soviet bloc began disintegrating in 1989. In the 1980's, Cuba imported about half of the protein and calories needed for human consumption.[5] Importation of foodstuffs declined 50 percent from 1989 to 1993,[6] a severe blow given the necessity of food imports, which also led to an increase in the rate of calories consumed in form of refined sugar. Shortages have forced a reduction in nutritional supplements:  Guaranteed daily milk rations used to be provided to children up to the age of 13; since 1992, these rations have been provided only to children up to the age of 7.7.

Health rates began to decline in the mid-1990's and the mortality rate began to rise, although both remain comparable to those of the wealthiest industrial nations. But health problems in Cuba are directly attributable to a lack of supplies which, in turn, is the result of the U.S. embargo. The continuation of the embargo serves only to punish innocent human beings; after 43 years it quite obviously has failed to bring down Fidel Castro, the supposed aim of the inhumane policy.

The Embargo: Cruelty for Cruelty's Sake

Although the Cuban pharmaceutical industry is among the world's most advanced, it can only produce so much. After all, Cuba is a nation of only 11 million, and its economy is still agrarian-based. Many medicines and medical products are made by U.S. companies and, thus, cannot be acquired by Cuba. In 1994, the only major non-U.S. pacemaker in the world was sold to a U.S. company on condition that sales to Cuba would be discontinued. [8]

The American Journal of Public Health, in its January 1997 report on the effects of the embargo on Cuban health, reported that medical products outside the U.S. cost Cuba an estimated 30 percent more, at shipping costs of up to 400 percent higher. Cuban production, with imported primary materials, of 24 common pharmaceutical products is estimated to cost an extra $1 million per year because of the embargo.[9]

Meanwhile, U.S. embassy personnel have reportedly threatened firms in countries such as Switzerland, France, Mexico and the Dominican Republic with commercial reprisals unless they canceled sales of goods to Cuba such as soap and milk.[10] Amazingly, the American Journal of Public Health report quoted a July 1995 written communiqué from the U.S. Commerce Department stating that such sales contribute to "medical terrorism" on the part of Cubans.

Consistent with the declaration of soap and milk as instruments of terror, in May of this year, the White House further tightened the embargo, issued further denunciations of Castro, and accused Cuba of manufacturing biological weapons. (No evidence whatever of such manufacture was offered.) By a remarkable coincidence, former President Jimmy Carter was just then in Cuba to call for an end to the embargo. Characteristically shrill and simplistic, President Bush asserted that Cuba's "legacy of freedom  . . . ha[d] been insulted by a tyrant who used brutal methods to enforce a bankrupt vision."[11] Legacy of freedom? Under Batista's corrupt dictatorship?

President Bush proposed tightening restrictions on travel to Cuba. Already, Americans traveling to Cuba are subject to jail terms of up to 10 years, $1 million in corporate fines and $250,000 in individual fines. Additional civil penalties of $55,000 per violation can also be assessed.[12] Among Americans recently fined for trips to Cuba were a 75-year-old retired school teacher who took a bicycle trip, and a man who scattered the ashes of his parents at the church they had founded.[13]

The embargo is so anachronistic that even American conservatives have joined calls to end it, as well as congresspeople from such heartland places as Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Bio-Terrorism: Never Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story

Also not so coincidentally, the Bush administration took the occasion of former President Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba to announce its "belief" that Cuba is producing biological weapons. John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for arms control, made the accusation, though offering no proof of any kind. Perhaps even Bush administration officials are capable of embarrassment inasmuch as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell (who is Bolton's boss) "distanced themselves from the charge,"[14] which, translated from the genteel language of The New York Times, means "Oops, that's too much of a lie even for me."

In a speech given in response to the accusation, Castro noted that Mr. Bolton "made not the slightest mention of the fact that scarcely five months earlier, on November 19, 2001, he himself made absolutely no mention of Cuba in a speech  . . . [at] the Convention of Biological Weapons in Geneva when he cited many countries that were a source of concern to him as potential biological weapons producers."[15]

Predictably, the American corporate media repeated Mr. Bolton's unsubstantiated accusations without examination. But the rest of the world took a more critical look. The Mexican news agency Notimex reported on May 6: "The United States refused to produce evidence it claimed to have to back up the accusations made against Cuba" and noted that "in view [of efforts to relax the embargo] and bearing in mind that his brother Jeb will be seeking reelection as governor of Florida this year, President Bush wants to ingratiate himself with the Cuban exile community." We will return to this theme.

Cuba does have experience with bioterrorism—but on the receiving end. The United States is believed to have carried out numerous biological attacks on Cuba since 1961. A list compiled by AfroCubaWeb, a Cuban solidarity Internet site, lists 26 separate incidents from 1962 to 1996 that appear to have been biological attacks,[16] based on a variety of disease outbreaks among crops, animals and humans. A 1981 epidemic of haemorrhagic dengue fever affected 350,000 Cubans, with 158 confirmed deaths. This specific fever has never been seen anywhere in the world except for New Guinea in 1924. The beginnings of the outbreak occurred near international air corridors and, reportedly, the entire personnel of the U.S.'s Guantanamo naval base was vaccinated against dengue just prior to the outbreak.[17] The magazine Covert Action published an article suggesting the dengue outbreak might have been a CIA plot (8/6/82).

A biological attack by the United States against Cuba in 1996 was later tacitly admitted to by the U.S. government. On Oct. 21, 1996, an airplane registered by the U.S. government and operated by the State Department was flying over western Cuba's Matanzas province in an air corridor regularly used by international flights. This plane, a fumigation aircraft flying at about 1,000 feet, was observed by a Cuban pilot flying nearby who reported seeing the release of a mist from the American plane. Upon receiving this report, a Cuban air controller asked the American pilot whether his craft was having technical problems; the pilot replied "no." Some weeks later, a plague began striking plantations along the flight path.[18]

When the Cuban government formally asked for a response, the U.S. government did not even bother to deny the discharge. The U.S. claimed that the American pilot, unsure whether he was visible to the Cuban pilot, had released smoke from his plane's "smoke generator" to indicate his location.[19] The Cuban government conducted an investigation, and its permanent mission to the United Nations released a 25-point report on April 29, 1997. The plague was found to have been caused by the insect Thrips palmi karay, never before seen in Cuba. This plague spread to four provinces and is said to "infect practically all crops, weeds and ornamental plants."[20] The population of Thrips species expands rapidly— they have as many as eight generations per year— and they can spread long distances by floating on the wind.[21]

Moreover, the State Department plane is equipped with two sprinkling systems, one for aerosols and liquid particles; the other for solids. It therefore is capable of dropping the substance seen by the Cuban pilot and the Thrips discovered along the flight path. Moreover, the plane does not have a smoke generator, nor is the release of smoke a normal identifying procedure.[22]

The Old-Fashioned Kind of Terrorism: As American as Miami

Plenty of terrorism has been directed at Cuba from Washington, D.C. The long list of attempted assassinations of President Castro has been known since the 1975 Church congressional hearings. But these days, terrorism against Cuba is conducted by Cuban exiles based in Miami. Those there who oppose the extreme hard line against President Castro experience threats, shootings, bombs, and sometimes murder. American authorities turn a blind eye to this ongoing violence and assist terrorism conducted in Cuba or in third countries.

Convicted terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, who killed 73 people when he blew up a Cuban airliner, operate with impunity. Mr. Posada has even worked directly for the U.S. government.

In a report published on April 20, 2000, in the Miami New Times, Jim Mullen compiled a list of terrorist acts committed by Cuban exiles in the Miami area, a list Mr. Mullen says is "incomplete, especially in Miami's trademark category of bomb threats." Mr. Mullen lists 71 acts of violence from 1968 (all but two from 1974) through April 2000.[23] The list includes seven people, six of whom were exile figures, murdered in a three-year span. Then there's the radio reporter whose legs were blown off by a bomb after the reporter condemned exile violence, dozens of actual bombings, several beatings of demonstrators, including a nun, and bombings of cultural events.

Far from attempting to stop this terrorism, Miami officials seem to encourage it. In a well-documented 1968 attack, the notorious exile leader Orlando Bosch, fired a bazooka at a Polish freighter from MacArthur Causeway, the main bridge between Miami and Miami Beach, because the freighter had stopped in Cuba. The city of Miami later declared "Orlando Bosch Day."[24] In 1982, then Miami mayor Maurice Ferre defended a grant to the terrorist group Alpha 66 on the grounds that the group "has never been accused of terrorist activities inside the United States" and a year later, a Miami city commissioner sought to honor an exile terrorist who killed himself when his bomb accidentally detonated.[25]

Perhaps Miami officials take their cue from the federal government, which not only encourages acts against Cuba but harbors as many as 1,000 torturers from around the world, providing a safe haven for them.[26] Amnesty International reports that at least 150 suspected torturers are living in the U.S., and not one has been prosecuted.[27]

American behavior goes far beyond harboring torturers. One of the most notorious terrorists was Posada, who gave a remarkable interview in 1997, apparently wishing to unburden himself as he was then near death. The Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported Posada's revelations, which detailed a series of bombings and other terror acts and connections with Cuban exile groups in Miami. Posada, then 70 years old, "revealed that key Cuban American lobbyists in this country financed his activities, in apparent violation of U.S. law, while the FBI and CIA looked the other way," according to a Los Angeles Times report.[28]

Posada, together with Jorge Mas Canosa, who was the leading Cuban exile figure in Miami and who ran the powerful Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) until his death in 1997, trained with the CIA in the 1960's. Posada and Mas Canosa were trained in guerrilla warfare and explosives, and Posada would go on to put his training to use. Posada was arrested in 1976 in Venezuela after the bombing of a Cuban Airlines civilian flight, which killed 73.[29] Posada escaped nine years later, after which prison officials admitted to taking bribes to allow the escape. Posada, in his 1997 interview, claimed that Mas Canosa's CANF had paid the bribes. (CANF has denied having any connections to Posada.)

Shortly after the jailbreak, Posada was hired to work on Oliver North's illegal Nicaraguan Contra supply network. After that gun-running operation was exposed, Posada fled, but when his whereabouts were exposed in 1986, the U.S. government took no action. Posada reportedly attempted an assassination of President Castro in 1994, a plot detailed in the June 7, 1998, edition of the Miami Herald. That same year, his attempt to establish a base in Honduras for commando raids into Cuba fell apart. Posada apparently capped his career in 1997, when he was discovered to be the mastermind behind a series of tourist-hotel bombings in the Havana area, also detailed in the Miami Herald.

The 1997 bombing spree ended when Cuban officials arrested a collaborator. The U.S. government took no action against Posada or anyone else for the bombing campaign. At the time of the bombings, however, the American media took the opportunity to launch yet another propaganda blast, filling newspapers with bogus reports of a split in the Cuban government and systematically ridiculing Cuban allegations of American complicity. The Journal of Commerce even went so far as to suggest that the bombings were the result of "the Cuban government [being] willing to harm its own economy so it has an excuse to crack down."[30] In a September 5, 1997, St. Petersburg Times report, CANF leaders carefully denied any role in the bombings, but nonetheless endorsed the terror attacks.

Mr. Bosch has also been linked to the 1997 string of bombings (charges he denies while defending the bombings as a "legitimate choice") and the Cuban airline bombing, among other acts. A report by the U.S. Justice Department asserts: "Beginning in the early 1960s, Bosch held leadership positions in various anti-Castro terrorist organizations. . . . Bosch has personally advocated, encouraged, organized and participated in acts of terrorist violence in this country as well as various other countries."[31] George Bush Sr. pardoned Mr. Bosch in 1990 and he lives free in Florida despite extradition requests from several nations.[32]

[Part Two continuation]


1 U.S. statistics from The World Almanac, 2001 edition; Cuba statistics from "The Children of José Marté," Tim Wheeler, People's Weekly World, Jan. 25, 1997.
2-4 Dr. Don Sloan, Public Affairs Magazine, April 27, 2000.
5 Richard Garfield and Sarah Santana, American Journal of Public Health, January 1997.
6 ibid, citing M. Benjamin, "No Free Lunch — Food and Revolution in Cuba Today," Institute for Food and Policy Development.
7 ibid.
8 ibid.
9 ibid.
10 ibid, citing H. Kaufmann, "The United States-Cuba policy: a Cuban Perspective," Harvard Journal of World Affairs, 1994.
11 The Guardian of London, dispatch dated May 20.
12-14 The New York Times, May 15, page A10.
15 Speech by Fidel Castro, official translation of the Cuban government, May 10.
21 University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project.
23-25 Jim Mullen, "The Burden of a Violent History," Miami New Times, April 20, 2000; available online at
26-27 Amnesty International, "US is a 'safe haven' for Torturers Fleeing Justice," 2002 report.
28 Robert Scheer, "A Startling Tale of U.S. Complicity," Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1998.
29 ibid; Jerry Meldon & Robert Party, "Uncle Sam's Favorite Terrorists," Consortium News, June 24, 1998.
30 Journal of Commerce, July 15, 1997.
31-32 Duncan Campbell, "Friends of Terrorism," The Guardian, Feb. 8, 2002.