August 26, 2002
Earlier this summer, my wife and I made our second one-week trip to Cuba.
We were part of a group of 26 that brought humanitarian aid to the island, primarily
medicines, totaling almost a quarter of a million dollars.
People cognizant of my interest in Cuba frequently challenge me. "You're aware that over ten-thousand Cubans have signed a petition for a referendum seeking reforms. What have you got to say about that?" my friend Stan asked. "Well," I answered, "if over ten-thousand Cubans are willing to affix their signatures to that petition, their government may not be as oppressive as we have been led to believe."
A few weeks later he remarked, "Over 99 percent of the Cubans have voted for Castro. Now don't tell me that you actually believe that someone could capture so large a vote?" I had to correct Stan. It was not a vote for Castro but a referendum in favor of the existing Constitution as opposed to an amendment favored by the dissidents. As to the high percentage I pointed out to him that our own president -- not even legitimately elected under a system that does not permit the direct election of presidents -- was authorized by Congress to commence a war against any country he deems to be aiding terrorists. In essence, he has been granted dictatorial powers -- the power to commence a war against any country at its will -- in apparent violation of the constitution. This measure passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Only one lone member voted against it -- a percentage quite comparable to that of that Cuban referendum vote! *
Learning from Foreign Travel
I take a one-week tour of Cuba and suddenly I am an authority on the island! What do we learn from foreign travels? Not much in one week, but it's a start. For a first time visitor it can create an interest in the country for further study about its history and its current activities. The return visitor can obtain confirmation or refutation of matters he has learned about since his previous trip.
Although a discerning tourist can gain some insight of a country through careful observations, the endeavor must be done with a critical eye and an acute understanding of the prevalent culture and local idiosyncrasies. After all, each country tries to show itself off in the best possible light. It will display its attributes and cover up its negatives.
Observe! What is the spirit of the people: are they friendly? Do they smile? Do they appear depressed? Do some live on the street? Do they look hungry? Do they beg? What is the condition of the infrastructure? Is it being properly maintained? Is there a good deal of new building taking place? Is there complete freedom to travel throughout the country? Are authorities rude or hostile? Are there warnings about crime?
Cuba is a controversial subject today for many reasons. It was born in revolution; has chosen to follow a different path, socialism, than others in the region; and in spite of the antagonism shown by its strong northern neighbor it has persisted.
Interest in Cuba
My interest was stirred by a search for the truth! I subscribe to what the late great journalist I. F. Stone stated -- "Governments lie" . He did not preface those two words with any adjectives. It was not Russia, China, Cuba, Germany, Japan, the United States, dictatorships, democracies; no, it was all governments, our government, our friend's government, and our enemy's government. I am skeptical of every positive comment made by any government on its behalf and on behalf of its friends and allies and every negative comment made against its supposed enemies. Accordingly, I disbelieve the assertions made by the US against Castro and have attempted to learn the truth.
I realize that in searching for that truth sympathies or antagonisms should be overcome to prevent invalid conclusions. Bertrand Russell described this phenomenon as follows: "What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way."
Fate of US Enemies
That Castro and the Cuban revolution have survived for over 43 years is something that I find astonishing. Since the end of WWII whenever the US government turned thumbs down on a foreign government it attempted to obliterate that regime. The spooks in the CIA together with their agents and allies were given the task and usually were successful.
The defeated leaders and regimes comprise quite a list. An honor roll of a few of some prominent ones chronologically are:
1953 Iran - Muhammad Mossadeq;
1953 Guatamala - Jacabo Arbenz;
1957 Indonesia - Sukarno;
1963 Dominican Republic - Juan Bosch;
1973 Chile - Salvador Allende;
1989 Soviet Union - Mikail Gorbechev;
1989 Panama - Manuel Noriega;
1990 Nicaragua -- The Sandanistas; and
1999 Yugoslavia - Slobodan Milosevic
Most leaders were democratically elected charismatic nationalists who were sincerely attempting to reform a prior colonial or corrupt government for the overall benefit of most of its citizens. Many by expropriating properties had antagonized foreign investors, primarily American corporations, that had been unjustly exploiting their country for years. Some were friendly to the Soviet Union or permitted the Communist Party to exist as a legitimate party in their country. Noriega was a cruel dictator but a former favorite of the US who learned that you become persona non grata should you show independence. A few were subjected to brutal wars, economic and political pressures that so exhausted and demoralized a loyal population that they finally accepted defeat.
Fate of US Friends
It would seem from the sample above that for a foreign government to survive its leader better dance to the US tune. Those leaders who become big brother's clients are rewarded with substantial military, economic, and political support. But, guess what? SURPRISE! Even with all those important goodies provided they too are overthrown. A representative sampling of these old US friends in chronological order shows:
1978 Nicaragua - The Samoza dynasty;
1979 Iran - The Shah;
1986 The Philippines - Ferdinand Marcos;
1988 Chile - Augusto Pinochet;
1989 Haiti - The Duvalier dynasty ('Papa Doc' and 'Baby Doc'); and
1999 Indonesia - Suharto
Here again there were many characteristics shared by this group. All were extremely brutal, corrupt dictators who maintained control through the cruel and murderous actions of their armies and secret police - SAVAK, 'Tontons Macoute', etc. They were portrayed in the US, until overthrown, as enlightened democrats who were modernizing their countries. Suharto achieved his position with the slaughter of perhaps a million of his countrymen and departed as one-third of a neighboring country were murdered by his military. Pinochet was so brutal that two countries have attempted to try him for crimes against humanity; he invited in esteemed economists of the University of Chicago whose accomplishments were extolled - but those accomplishments eventually devastated the economy.
With all the benefits bestowed on the above regimes by the most powerful nation on earth, those Humpty Dumptys couldn't be put back together again. Apparently survival of a government must have some minimum of popular support to remain in power. The phrase in the Declaration of Independence, "consent of the governed," must be the necessary ingredient.
Survival of Castro and the Cuban Regime
What is so amazing about the survival of Castro and the Cuban government is that it defies both of the factors above -- he's been considered an enemy by the US and it is claimed he does not have the 'consent of the governed'!
If we are to believe the Cuban dissidents, our government and its subservient media, Cubans under Castro are living under a most onerous, corrupt and brutal dictator and for almost its entire existence we were told that they were on the verge of overthrowing him. No effort was spared to assist them. Just a sampling of those efforts are:
Military: An actual military force attacked the island at the Bay of Pigs. It was claimed that this attack would be the spark to ignite a revolt.
Assassination: The CIA, an organization with a multi-billion dollar annual budget, was unable to accomplish Kennedy's task to assassinate Castro. Numerous plans were tried, including assistance from some of the most notorious members of the mob.
Boycotts and Embargos: Eisenhower started by canceling Cuba's sugar quota, employing sanctions and imposing an embargo. Over the years, the embargo and sanctions were tightened to include food and medicine and secondary boycotts against foreign companies doing business with Cuba. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy collapsed and new Congressional bills further tightening the embargo were greeted with statements predicting the fall of Castro in a few weeks. Annual UN resolutions to end the embargo have been approved by overwhelming majorities. The US can only rely on Israel to vote against those resolutions though, ironically, Israel is a major investor in and trading partner with Cuba.
Travel: US citizens who violate travel restrictions to Cuba can be hit with fines up to $250,000 and jail terms up to 10 years.
Biological: Agriculture was dealt a severe blow when a swine flu virus was slipped into the island. 500,000 hogs were slaughtered to prevent the virus from spreading.
Bombings: Cuban dissidents, many of whom were CIA agents, have for instance bombed a Cuban airliner killing 73, numerous hotels in Havana causing one death, and foreign embassies.
In view of all the hostile actions (the above are just a small sample) and all the benefits that the Humpty Dumptys acquired, isn't it amazing that Fidel Castro has survived so long -- through the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton? All of them were expecting his imminent collapse... And isn't it ironic that the Cuban people rallied around Castro to overthrow his hated predecessor, Batista. The dissidents were apparently so happy to live under Batista that it was only after his fall that they scampered out of the country!
Comments from Respected Authorities
To counter the US's negative portrait of Cuba one can find quite a few complimentary comments from some unexpected sources. (Quotes from the same individual may come from different interviews, speeches or articles.)
Nelson Mandela: "Not only did they [Cuba, Libya and Iran] support us in rhetoric, they gave us the resources for us to conduct the struggle and win . . . when the United States, as other Western powers, at the time of the struggle were really helping our enemy. . . Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers."
James Wolfenson, President of the World Bank: "Cuba has done a great job on education and health . . . I have no hesitation in acknowledging that they've done a good job, and it does not embarrass me to do it."
General Barry McCaffrey, former head of the US war on drugs: "Cuba is an island of resistance to the drug threat . . . They are very keen on cooperating in the fight against drugs . . . They are sincere . . . I feel safer walking Cuban streets than anywhere else in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . I am convinced these people do not intend to be, and represent no national security threat to us."
Wayne Smith, the first Chief of Mission at the US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, who retired after 25 years with the Department of State where he was recognized as their leading expert on Cuba: ". . . the more Americans who travel to Cuba and see Cuban reality with their own eyes the more is the pressure for a change in US policy . . . Cuban reality is not as it is portrayed . . . I would favor a total lifting of the embargo and immediate normalization of relations . . . indicate to the Cubans we are prepared for a new relationship . . . Castro is something of a guarantee of continuity and stability in Cuba. So, we must -- if we wish to see that peaceful transitional process, we must engage while Castro is still -- is still president of Cuba. And, after all, so long as things are moving in the right direction, so long as the process is taking place, what do we care whether Castro's there or not?"
In guise of a conclusion
Armed with a greater knowledge of Castro and Cuba my wife and I made our second trip to question and verify what we had been pondering since we were there a year and a half previously. Aware of the profound quote of Bertrand Russell, we were quite circumspect in how we judged what we saw, heard, felt and tasted. We found no surprises -- many positives and a few negatives.
Our verdict on Castro and Cuba: THUMBS UP!!!
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Notes and References
* Authorization for Use of Military Force: Authorizes the President to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons. SJ Res 23; HJ Res 64. 9/18/01. Became Public Law: 107-40
Exploding Cigars & Dueling Presidents, by Deck Deckert (May 2002)
The Remarkable Mother of Invention, by Michael Stowell (May 2001)
A Few Cuban Resources, compiled by Gilles d'Aymery (May 2001)
This Week's Internal Links
Gulf War II - by Gilles d'Aymery
The 1991 Gulf War Rationale - by Gilles d'Aymery
Open Letter on Iraq - by Edward S. Herman, Anthony Arnove, Rahul Mahajan & David Peterson
Iraq: A Formula For The Future - by Philip Greenspan
Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich
Enduring Enmity, Radio And America: Field Marshall Lord Kitchener - by Milo Clark
One Of Us - by Alma Hromic
Talking Past Congress - by Deck Deckert
Tree Folk - by Michael Stowell
Relative Value - by Milo Clark
Strange Times In A Strange World - by David A. Garrett
Going Home: viii - Ancient Ashes - Poem by Alma Hromic