Aug '02 [Home]

Pete Dolack:  Socialism in One Country… (cont'd)

Human Rights Violations in Cuba
Social Forces Collide in Cuba and the U.S.:  Repression of Dissent
Isolation in a Global Economy
[Part I]

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Human Rights Violations in Cuba

The human rights records of both Cuba and the United States leave much to be desired. But there is less of a difference between the two than most Americans would like to admit. Moreover, as will be analyzed later in this article, there is a correspondence between the relative strengths of the two countries and the intensity with which each represses dissent

In its latest report on Cuba, issued on May 20, 2002, Amnesty International reported that "a number of fundamental rights continue to be denied against the backdrop of the United States' economic embargo."[33] Amnesty reported that six "prisoners of conscience" were being held in Cuba. In a previous report, Amnesty reported Cuba held thirteen "prisoners of conscience," among "several hundred" believed imprisoned for political offenses at the end of 2000.[34] In its May 2002 report, Amnesty stated: "Although the number of 'prisoners of conscience' has decreased significantly from past years, dissidents are still being targeted both by state officials and government supporters." The Cuban government, according to Amnesty, is shifting from long-term prison sentences to short-term detentions, investigations, warnings, intimidation, loss of employment and evictions.

Although Cuba has not abolished the death penalty, an unofficial moratorium is in place.[35] In 2000, eight Cubans were put to death, a rate of 0.71 executions per 1 million people.[36] By comparison, eighty-five Americans were put to death in 2000, a rate of 0.31 executions per 1 million people.[37] To provide another comparison, the state of Texas, in 2000, when George W. Bush was still governor, executed 40 people,[38] a rate of 1.92 executions per 1 million people—a death rate nearly three times that of Cuba.

Amnesty reports numerous Cuban examples of roundups of dissidents who are held for short terms then released and reports Cuban prison conditions are "poor and in some cases constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions."[39] This, however, is also the case in the United States; but here in the U.S., dissidents are usually rounded up at demonstrations and demonized as "violent" in the corporate media. Amnesty reports that U.S. prisons contain "cruel conditions, where prisoners are held in prolonged isolation," and reports extensively on violence behind bars.[40] Amnesty has been barred from touring prison facilities by both Cuba and the United States.

A primary difference between Cuba and the U.S. in terms of repression of dissent is that Cuban dissidents are arrested on obviously political charges such as "disrespect," while in the U.S., dissidents are not given long jail terms until they show a capacity for leadership: Then they are framed for crimes they did not commit. Thus, Geronimo Pratt served twenty-seven years for a murder he did not commit. On the day in question, he was four hundred miles away in a Black Panther meeting. Authorities knew he had an alibi; the FBI was spying on the meeting. When Pratt's lawyer found out about it and demanded production of the FBI records for the day, the FBI claimed they were lost.

One major difference between Cuba and the U.S. is the manner in which dissident literature is handled. In the U.S., dissenting viewpoints are systematically censored and ridiculed in the corporate media. As rarely as an alternative report does surface, it is presented as a one-time aberration and quickly consigned to oblivion and not followed up when the next round of propaganda is launched. Alternative viewpoints can be sought out, with some effort, and there is no prohibition against reading them. In Cuba, no literature opposing the government is allowed, and that includes Socialist opposition.

Given that the Cuban Communist Party has Stalinist characteristics, like the former Soviet Union, it fears opposition from among Socialists perhaps more than from Capitalists. The International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), a Trotskyist group with branches in several Western countries, reported, in a 1992 article, on the suppression of Cuban Trotskyists in the early days of the Cuban revolution. "POR members unconditionally defended the revolution against imperialism, but they also criticized the bureaucratism of the new regime. Castro's political police answered by smashing their printing press, breaking up the plates of a Spanish-language edition of Trotsky's Permanent Revolution and throwing five POR members into jail."[41]

The same article also reports on the social traditionalism that is another hallmark of the Cuban government. "Cuban children learn at an early age that women are responsible for childcare, cooking and cleaning," the IBT report asserts. "Women remain concentrated in traditional female jobs. The higher the administrative layers of the party and state bureaucracy, the lower the proportion of women."[42] Moreover, there are frequent reports of homophobia. According to the IBT report, the First National Culture and Education Conference in 1971 virulently denounced the "pathological character" of homosexuality and resolved that "all manifestations of homosexual deviations [were] to be firmly rejected and prevented from spreading."[43]

Reports of intolerance toward homosexuals has also been reported in the newspaper of the Freedom Socialist Party, a Trotskyist group based in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and also by Liberal gay and lesbian groups. There have been reports of forcible confinement of people who are HIV-positive, although some Cuba supporters say that HIV-positive people are actually being provided special health care.

Social Forces Collide in Cuba and the U.S.:  Repression of Dissent

We can digest numbers and make statistical comparisons, but in the end we must ask why the Cuban revolution has to struggle for its survival, why the Castro government continues to hold a monopoly on power, and identify the nature of oppression in embattled Cuba and in the U.S., land of runaway triumphalism.

A basic definition of "democracy" must include personal autonomy and a voice in decisions which directly affect the citizenry. Cuba, a nation where access to information is controlled, falls short of this basic definition. Democracy is lacking as well in a nation where a small class of immensely wealthy people make all the important decisions—wealth acquired and power exploited at the expense of the rest. That American voters get to choose which of two candidates gets to carry out the demands of the rich and powerful has little effect on the underlying principle. George W. Bush and Al Gore may have been backed by different energy companies, but the energy companies will be in charge, regardless of which is elected. This happens locally, too — all mayors of New York City act on behalf of the financial and real estate industries, which run the city. Some, like Rudy Giuliani, are particularly vicious about it. Michael Bloomberg, who has continued Giuliani's policies with a shrug and a smile, represents an increasingly common phenomenon: the millionaire stepping directly into public service instead of buying the office for his man.

Where, as here, the rich and powerful are firmly entrenched, they can afford to hold the reins relatively loosely (though challenging the system can still bring the authorities down on you). In Cuba, the exploiters who lost power to a revolution still retain the patronage of the world's only superpower; their influence is impelling reason to suppress dissent. Little wonder that the Castro government uses the ongoing embargo and attacks by the U.S. to justify its political monopoly.

In a series of lectures given in 1967 on the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution, the historian Isaac Deutscher spoke of these social forces. Although he was referring to the Soviet Union, his analysis can be applied to Cuba and is worth repeating at length.

Deutscher acknowledges that freedom is necessary for progress, including under Capitalism, then adds:

Yet in bourgeois society it can be a formal freedom only. Prevailing property relations render it so, for the possessing classes exercise an almost monopolistic control over nearly all the means of opinion formation.  . . .  Society, being itself controlled by property, cannot effectively control the State. All the more generously is it allowed to indulge in the illusion that it does so.  . . .  In a society like the Soviet Union, freedom of association and character cannot have so formal and illusory a character: either it is real, or it does not exist at all. The power of property having been destroyed, only the State, that is, the bureaucracy, dominates society; and its domination is based solely on the suppression of the people's liberty to criticize and oppose.[44]

Capitalism could afford to enfranchise the working classes, for it could rely on its economic mechanism to keep them in subjection; the bourgeoisie maintains its social preponderance even when it exercises no political power. In post-capitalist society no automatic economic mechanism keeps the masses in subjection; it is sheer political force that does it. True, the bureaucracy derives part of its strength from the uncontrolled commanding position it holds in the economy; but it holds that too by means of political force. Without that force it cannot maintain its social supremacy; and any form of democratic control deprives it of its force."[45]

To be fair, there is considerably more democracy in Cuba than there was in the Soviet Union of 1967; Cuba has free elections at the local level, for instance, and considerable debate is encouraged on the best ways to implement policies, which, of course, is not the same as getting to set the policies.

Capitalism has been able to battle against its class enemies from many economic, political and cultural lines of defence, with much scope for retreat and manoeuvre. A post-capitalist bureaucratic dictatorship has far less scope: its first, its political line of defence, is its last. No wonder it holds that line with all the tenacity it can muster.[46]

Cuba of course is more vulnerable than the 1967 Soviet Union was, and this vulnerability must contribute to the intensity with which the Cuban political monopoly is maintained.

Isolation in a Global Econony

Cuba is forced to be self-reliant to an extent that other small nations are not, and the isolation forced on it by the U.S. contributes to its economic difficulties. The material wealth of advanced industrial nations (however unequally held) depends, not only on a large industrial base, but rather, on trade with other nations and on domination of less developed countries. Few countries can be entirely self-sustaining; one need only to look at the grinding poverty of the nations of Central America and the Caribbean. It is pointless to condemn Cuba for a standard of living that is clearly below that of the U.S.

The proper comparison is between Cuba and the region's other small nations. It is undeniable that the average Cuban lives better than the average Haitian or Guatemalan; the average Cuban has vastly better health care and educational systems and is free from violence. Hundreds of thousands have been massacred in U.S.-backed countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala; speaking up in any way used to mean a certain bloody death by squads supported and trained by the U.S. Even today, this still sometimes happens. There has never been anything comparable in Cuba.

In Central America, land is taken by force, and virtually all the better land is owned by a handful of families and a couple of corporations. In El Salvador at the end of the 1970's, for instance, 60 percent of the land was owned by 2 percent of the population.[47] In Cuba, ironically, land ownership is much more evenly distributed. Contrary to the images usually presented, farming is a family occupation in Cuba and is subsidized. Cuban farmers have an income higher than the national average, receive a guaranteed price and pay taxes of only 5 percent. In return, farmers must give some of their produce to hospitals and schools, and students who receive an agricultural degree must spend two years at an assigned location.[48] State-owned farms have been turned over to families in return for low-interest payments to the state and most land is farmed by cooperatives in which groups of small private farmers pool their land.[49] Most farming in Cuba is now organic, although that is a "choice" forced on the country by the embargo.

Another "choice" is the Castro government's creation of a tourist industry which, in the process, unavoidably creates a parallel economy that has introduced inequality. The Cuban need for capital has created this dose of Capitalism in which hotels and other tourist facilities are "dollar- (and euro-) only" enterprises that have created a dual economy. The results are social instability, including a rise in crime, the return of prostitution and a cleavage into "have's and "have not's," social phenomena not seen in forty years. It is no small irony that the introduction of Capitalism has exacerbated social tensions in Cuba and also ironic that this introduction of Capitalism, an expedience to alleviate the island's poverty, is precisely what has been subject to terrorist attacks.

Capitalism, more powerful than ever as it mounts sustained attacks on all national controls, even the control of its greatest proponent, the U.S. government, has an iron grip on the world's economies and only a willful act of blindness can deny that Cuba is caught in this stranglehold. It is precisely Cuba's unwillingness to knuckle under to capitalism that makes it the object of unremitting hostility toward it. The solution to the grave difficulties of the Cuban people is global, as is the solution to the problems of people in the United States and elsewhere.

(Poet and journalist Pete Dolack is a frequent contributor to the magazine. He lives in New York City.)


33 Amnesty International, "Some Improvements, But Human Rights Violations Continue," May 20, 2002.
34-36 Amnesty International annual report for Cuba, covering the period January to December 2000, issued in 2001.
37-38 Amnesty International annual report for the United States, covering the period January to December 2000, issued in 2001.
39 Amnesty International annual report for Cuba, covering the period January to December 2001.
40 Amnesty International annual report for the United States, covering the period January to December 2000.
41-43 1917, Journal of the International Bolshevik Tendency, No. 11, Third Quarter 1992, page 37.
44-46 Issac Deutscher, "The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967," page 106-107. "Property" here refers to factories, larger businesses and other economic entities in private hands.
47 Alexander Cockburn, "Wild Justice," New York Press, Nov. 18-24, 1998.
48-49 Ken Stemo, "Cuba's Organic Revolution," Common Ground magazine, British Columbia.