More re 'dreams and nightmares'

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Wed May 21 2003 - 01:17:00 EDT

Dear friends and comrades,
        I confess to impatience with people who talk about gross human rights
abuses and repression with respect to the recent trials of so-called
dissidents in Cuba--- without any sign that they have done any
investigation beyond reading an Amnesty International press release (if
that). The most significant repression in Cuba (where I have been-- except
for trips to Venezuela--- since early February) has been the repression of
law-breaking--- first and most significantly against an emerging drug
network and extending to prosecution of people renting apartments without
licenses, serving food obtained through the black market in the paladares
and even to people selling peanuts on the street without a license.
(Policing and fines for traffic violations are also up substantially.)
Since so many people rely heavily on getting a little (and in some cases, a
lot) on the side, this crack-down has had great impact, and my personal
view (not the Cuban official position) is that it is an important part of
the explanation as to why there was an upsurge in hijackings (not only the
ones which made the headlines but also the 27 foiled plots)--- and why
people with criminal records were prominent in these.
        That's not the repression, though, that people mean when they go on about
the plight of independent journalists, librarians, trade unionists, human
rights activists, etc--- as if these people were tried for this rather than
for receiving money and instructions from the US. Please, folks, take a
little time to read the text of the Helms-Burton Act--- eg. sections 205
and 206 on the regime change demanded (character of the 'transition
government' and who cannot be part of it) or sections 109 and 115 on the
money to be provided for the overthrow of the existing government openly
through the USAID and secretly. Look, too, at the official US declarations
of the over $22 million devoted to this purpose by the USAID. And, finally,
read some of the evidence on-line (eg., copies of hand-written notes giving
instructions and sending money for the establishment of the Varela Project,
'conceived, financed and directed' from the outside) or, for a shorter
version, look at the text of Felipe Perez Roque's press conference
(available on-line at many sites, including When you've
read some of the statements by the Cuban undercover agents who were
receiving as much as $450 US a month--- over 20 times the average Cuban
salary) and their evidence about writing articles for foreign circulation
on specific subjects suggested by US officials, you'll understand why the
so-called dissidents are viewed in Cuba as mercenaries working on behalf of
the US government to overthrow the Cuban government. Of course, it's so
much easier to recoil with horror at the concept of independent
journalists, etc being persecuted!
        In contrast to my feelings about the defenders of those mercenaries, I
respect people whose criticism of Cuba proceeds from their view of the
absolute sanctity of human life--- including those who signed statements of
condemnation or demonstrated against Cuba for this reason-- if  they have
done so in opposition to capital punishment in their own countries and in
the United States (including that country's heinous torture of people---
teenagers among them--- in occupied Cuba, i.e. Guantanamo). There have been
very strong statements about capital punishment made on this list---
suggesting that capital punishment must be viewed as a moral (and/or
political) absolute and that no circumstances could ever justify it.
Accordingly, having resorted to capital punishment recently, from this
perspective Cuba must be condemned. (This position is to be distinguished
from one which argues that the use of capital punishment was a tactical or
strategical error--- one which has reduced support for Cuba at this
critical time.)
        I think that it is unquestionable that state murders cannot be part of the
society that we want to build. From my perspective as a Marxist, though,
central to a dialectical world-view is that parts do not exist separate
from a whole; their properties are those that they acquire from being in a
particular whole--- ie., from a particular combination with other parts.
(Eg., money has different qualities if it mediates exchange between
independent peasants and craftsmen than it does mediating exchange within
capitalism.) From this perspective, one always has to consider context and
combination. If you are willing to accept in principle that under some set
of extreme circumstances, ie., in a particular context, capital punishment
may be acceptable, then our discussion becomes not one of absolutes but,
rather, whether the context in Cuba in any way justified capital
punishment. (I.e., as George Bernard Shaw said in another context, we've
established the principle, and we're just haggling over the price.) But,
then, you really DO have to investigate the context--- and not be satisfied
with making ill-informed comments about repression in Cuba.
        Although I've argued in the past about the necessity to separate the
capital punishment question from the spy trials, I now think that the two
issues need to be understood together--- i.e., that the actions of the
Cuban government in both cases must be placed in a particular context.
There are two questions that I think everyone needs to ask: (1) why, after
several years of a moratorium on capital punishment (which has meant that
terrorists who bombed hotels, resulting in a death, in Cuba are still alive
in prison despite receiving a death sentence), did the government apply the
death penalty in the case of the hijackers of a small ferry? (2) Given the
clear isolation and ineffectiveness within Cuba of the 'dissidents', why
did Cuba choose this time to surface 12 undercover agents who were so
well-placed that they included the head of the Pro-Human Rights Party, the
'dean of Cuba's independent reporters' (so trusted by the US Interests
Section that he had a permanent pass into the US Interests Section) and the
secretary of one of the best-known dissidents-- so trusted that she had her
e-mail password)? I.e., why throw away years of investment in intelligence now?
        In part, the obvious answer is the escalation of the US campaign to
overthrow the Cuban government--- starting from James Cason's taking of
office as Head of the US Interests Office in Havana. (His actions---
including the setting up of a Cuban political party--- are
well-documented.) Add to this the recent welcoming of hi-jackers in the US;
rather than returning them to Cuba and sending the signal that hijacking is
not rewarded, they are out on bail (and walk the streets of Miami along
with other Cuban terrorists). Add to this the fact that, despite an annual
quota established by treaty for a minimum of 20,000 legal immigrants from
Cuba, since October (the beginning of the year), the US Interests Section
had by March given out only 505 visas. Add to that recent statements from
US officials that they would view a mass illegal emigration from Cuba as a
threat to national security, the demands in Miami that Cuba be next after
Iraq and Rumsfield's comment that there was no intention of attacking Cuba
'now'---- and you can understand why Cuba might feel that the US was
attempting to provoke an incident in order to justify an attack.
        But, there's more than just the direct provocations and assaults on Cuba.
The essential context in which to understand Cuba's actions is the US war
against Iraq--- both the execution of that war and the impunity of
opposition to it. The US determination to go ahead despite the historic
world-wide demonstrations against the war revealed that, whatever long-run
effect the mobilisation might have, in the immediate situation the
demonstrations could not stop an aggressor nation determined to have its
way; i.e., as long as there was business as usual, no high costs to be felt
by the aggressor, every country was on its own. Cuba was on its own. (Do
you think that the leaders, eg., in Venezuela were not making the same
observations when watching the US proceed to ignore the UN and world
opinion?) This is why the Cubans speak about a Nazi-Fascism stalking the
world. In this situation, I think Cuba opted for its own 'shock and awe'
campaign. It surfaced its undercover agents to demonstrate to the US how
skillful Cuban intelligence is. (Lest anyone not get that message, Felipe
Perez Roque underlined it at the press conference, noting 'that no one in
Cuba is a fool, that we have revealed only a small part of what we know;
... our people have learned to defend themselves.') And, Cuba took the
dramatic and painful act of executing the hijackers. As Fidel told the
foreign participants to the Marx conference at an unannounced evening
gathering (and subsequently told a Mexican journalist), the choice was
between those deaths and many more which would result from the US plan to
provoke an immigration crisis which would be used 'as a pretext for a naval
blockade, which would inevitably lead to war'.  '"We know full well this
has a price, since a great number of friends - and many of our best friends
- for various reasons, whether religious, humanitarian or philosophical,
are opposed to the death penalty," Castro explained. But he insisted that
"we didn't have the right to hesitate, and we will not hesitate."' That
part was meant to send a message both to those within Cuba, thinking about
hijacking planes, etc and being let out on bail in the US, and also to
those within the US planning for Cuba to follow Iraq. The message was that
Cuba was prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself.
        I think that some of those friends of Cuba who are criticising Cuba at
this moment should explain what they would do at this time--- not by
reference to what they would do in their ideal socialist society but what
they would do in Cuba's shoes in this real situation. And, if they differ
from what Cuba has done, they should explain why they think they know
better the real threat that Cuba faces than Cuba's own intelligence
network. And they should explain what they are prepared to do to help Cuba
defend itself.
        in solidarity,

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Cuba. Can be reached via:

Michael Lebowitz
Calle 13 No. 504 ent. D y E, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba
Codigo Postal 10 4000
(537) 33 30 75 or 832  21 54
telefax (at night): (537) 33 30 75

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