Saul Landau: "The Cuba Conundrum"

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri May 2 12:18:35 MDT 2003

(From Radio Progreso May 1, 2003 )

The Cuba Conundrum
By Saul Landau

"What is Fidel doing?" asks a Mexican American who
has supported the Cuban revolution for decades.

While U.S. bombs and Cruise Missiles rained down on Iraqis
and Bradley fighting vehicles blew away their opponents and
lots of civilians, the Cuban government tried 75 'dissidents'
and sentenced them to long terms. After U.S. forces
occupied Iraq and soldiers fired into crowds at Mosul,
killing 10 and wounding 100, the Cuban government arrested
several boat hijackers, summarily tried them and executed
three of them.

As a result of these two separate, yet judgmentally
connected actions, Cuba has lost more progressive
intellectual friends than it has since the infamous 1971
case of Heberto Padilla, the Cuban poet detained for 38 days
for something he wrote, said, thought or who knows?

On April 14, Nobel Prize winning novelist Jose Saramago of
Portugal wrote an open letter in El Pais which stated, "Cuba
has won no victory by executing these three men, but it has
lost my confidence, damaged my hopes, robbed me of my
illusions." Eduardo Galeano, the soul of Latin American
resistance, wrote in the April 18, La Jornada, that "Cuba
hurts," describing his feeling over the jailing of people
for their ideas and lightning application of the death
penalty. When Cuba executed the boat-jackers on April 11,
I felt the kind of pain Galeano referred to. I cannot justify
the death penalty. I cannot invent reasons for its swift

Some U.S. leftists joined others around the world in
petitions criticizing Cuba's actions and in the April 20
Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times the prestigious
Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes reiterated his opposition to
Cuba's undemocratic government while opposing Bush at the
same time. We should assume that most of the people on the
left who have recently criticized Cuba have done so for
noble motives. For many honest progressive and
revolutionaries, Cuba has represented one of the few sources
of hope, even at those times when Cuban leaders made
judgments that we disagreed with. Because of the
extraordinary accomplishments of the Cuban revolution,
including its leading role in affirming the mostly forgotten
UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, every
progressive worth a salt has invested some part of his or
her soul in that process.

What Cuba has yet to do in the two separate causes (arrests
and executions) is present the pertinent facts and reasons
for arresting and condemning people whose organizations it
had penetrated and controlled and explain why it had to
execute with lightning speed the boat-jackers. Similarly,
those quick to condemn Cuba might study more carefully the
facts of the cases as well. The 'dissidents,' who defined
themselves as economists, journalists and human rights
activists, did not face trial for expressing dissenting
opinions, at least not formally. The Cuban government
accused them of working with and taking money (or gifts and
services) from the U.S. government in order, in the words of
Cuba's Ambassador to Canada, "to destabilize the country,
undermine and destroy Cuba's Constitutional order, its
Government, its independence and its Socialist society."

Yes, Cuba has made it illegal to work with the United States
to subvert the Cuban government. Having affirmed that right
of self defense, as would any state in the world, Cuba
should present all the necessary facts and analysis. We know
that U.S. diplomats openly promoted the weakening of the
Cuban government. James Cason, the head of the U.S. Interest
Section in Havana organized Cuban citizens and paid them
small sums or gave them gifts and services to promote

So what's new? For 40-four plus years, Washington has tried
every criminal method short of direct military invasion to
destroy Cuba's revolution. The government has wreaked havoc
on Cuba's social and economic order and Cubans have every
right to suspect the U.S. government of the most malicious

But why did the Cuban government bother to arrest and
prosecute people whose actions they monitored so closely?
State security agents had not only infiltrated, but had
actually set up some of the 'dissident' organizations. The
infiltrators had not only won the trust of Cason, but had
gained access to the U.S. Interest Section and to the homes
of the leading U.S. diplomats. So why bust these people
whose national following did not amount to any significant
public, whose internal reputation was a joke, and whose
political coherence depended on handouts from the U.S.
government or on ideas generated by Cuban agents, some of
whose opinion pieces appeared in The Miami Herald?

Cuba has not answered these questions. I can imagine,
however, that Cuban leaders might claim that after Iraq, the
imperialists now possess the will to try to crush any
country. And members of the policy elite have stated that
they do not consider Cuba off limits for military attack.

Suppose, six months before the 2004 election, the U.S.
economy remains stalled and Republican planners decide that
Bush needs another "win." Given the enthusiasm of the
Castro-hating Florida Cubans for such an idea, Bush might
well make the island his target -- if he saw even a shred of
vulnerability in Cuba's defenses.

For example, the 10,000 plus Cubans who signed a U.S.-backed
"Varela Project" petition demanding basic reforms could
become a dangerous symbol under such conditions. Did Fidel
fear that Washington would take the veneer of "dissident"
success as a sign of the revolution's weakness and then
pursue a military course to provoke Cuban leaders to surface
12 of the agents they had masterfully planted inside the
"dissident" organizations?

"See, 10,000 signatures collected in a totalitarian state.
In addition to their biological weapons, we now have
evidence of deep-seated discontent," Bush might say as a
prelude to whipping up invasion spirit. After all, he used
such exaggerations to prepare the public for the invasion of
Iraq. Indeed, Cuban officials may have feared that the
dissidents, no matter how well penetrated, could convert
themselves into at least a symbolic 'fifth column' on the
island, while Washington tightened the embargo and travel
ban to create outside pressure on Cuba's weak economy. Also,
buying 'dissidents' with small amounts of money could end up
corrupting a less manageable sector, enough perhaps to offer
orchestrated TV cameras images of crowds welcoming U.S.

Cuban leaders must have sensed some overt threat before
taking such drastic steps. A new migration crisis that Bush
could use as a pretext that Cuba was encroaching on U.S.
national security? A military provocation around Guantanamo?
I await the revelation of the facts.

Those in Washington who know the island's realities would
discourage such aggressive plans. But suppose Fidel worried
that the Bushies might believe in their own inventions?
Fantasies that Cubans are defiantly rising in the thousands
(as one hears on some of the hysterical shows on Miami
radio) could well lead to calls for serious invasion
scenarios. In addition, high level U.S. officials and Radio
Marti have for months repeated the baseless charge that
Cuba has bio-terrorism weapons and harbors terrorists.

Indeed, in Miami where anti-Castro terrorists walk proudly
down the streets or sit with the President on his platform,
pro-war demonstrators carried placards equating Fidel with
Saddam Hussein. Given the success of Bush's spin linking
Saddam to 9/11, who knows what polls would show about
percentages of gullible Americans falling for propaganda
that promoted "the invasion of Cuba as a way of securing the
U.S. homeland."

So, it's possible that Cuba's jailing and harsh sentencing
of "dissidents" and executing of hijackers derives from
military crisis not normal political thinking. As a result
of the lessons taught by the sentences of the 'dissidents'
and the hijackers, Cubans will less likely accept gifts from
dubious sources.

If this analysis is correct, will Cubans try to repair the
political damage done in their military mode? Perhaps they
might make public the basis for their actions rather than
repeat accusations and demand blind solidarity. Such
revelations would hardly justify their use of the death
penalty, but at least it would help explain their behavior
to bewildered comrades throughout the world.

Many left critics of the procedural issues surrounding the
'dissidents' case have not properly informed themselves of
the intricacies of Cuba's legal system. For example, most of
the accused did have the right to choose their lawyers or
received court appointed defense if they did not make a
choice. They did know exactly what charges Cuba leveled
against them. Cuba did not hold secret trials.  Indeed, the
relatives of the accused and other observers sat through the

Yes, in accordance with Cuban law, the 'dissidents' received
summary trials. But this does not automatically deprive them
of their procedural rights. The Cuban defense lawyers work
with the prosecutors on the indictment and if there are
holes, the defense lawyers inform the judges, who should
then dismiss the cases. The government had airtight cases
that the accused had taken money, goods and services from
the arch enemy and had performed anti government acts
writing, speaking and publishing what the U.S. government

But to dismiss the 75 as simply traitors hardly suffices.
Military thinking produces absolutes that in turn lead to a
serious political downside. As Galeano indicates, by trying
and condemning them, Cuba turned "groups which openly
worked from James Cason's house, the representative of
Bush's interests in Havana, into martyrs of freedom of
expression." Indeed, as Cuba's security agents testified,
with no refutation from the United States, Cason actually
established a political party (the youth section of Liberal
Cuban Party).

By bagging these pathetic people, Galeano concludes that the
"Cuban authorities have paid homage to them, and have
granted them the prestige that prohibited thoughts acquire."
The Uruguayan writer continues: "This 'democratic opposition
' has nothing to do with the genuine expectations of honest
Cubans.  If the revolution hadn't done it the favor of
repressing it, and if in Cuba there was full freedom of
press and of opinion, this so-called dissidence would
disqualify itself. And it would get the punishment it
deserves, the chastisement of loneliness, for its notorious
nostalgia of colonial times in a country which has chosen
the way of national dignity."

Even those defending the actions fail to answer the
criticism. In the April 12 La Jiribilla, Angel Guerra refers
to "the Bush doctrine of 'preemptive war' and the
preparations for aggression against Iraq, justified with any
lie and invoking the right of the United State to bring
about 'regime change' wherever and whenever it considered it
necessary. Why not in Cuba, which after all appears on all
the inquisitional lists of the State Department, among them
the list of countries that sponsor terrorism and, of course,
the countries that systematically violate human rights?"

Guerra also cites "the Miami mafia, leading a mobilized mob
last Sunday in support of the intervention against Baghdad,
which raised the cry, 'Iraq today, Cuba tomorrow.'" Four
words that reveal the purpose that today determines their
actions, as well as those of their satellites on the Island,
even if they disguise themselves as independent journalists
or human rights defenders.

"The issue would not deserve any comment," Guerra
continues, "if it were not for the extraordinary influence the
terrorist group in Miami has in defining Washington's
political agenda toward the Island. These events are not
fortuitous," he concludes, "but are the product of Bush
administration complicity with the Miami mafia, determined
to fish in troubled waters."

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba's Ambassador to Canada,
wrote in the April 10 Globe and Mail that Cuba's critics
employed "double standards." True, but this does not address
what Cuba did. If Cuba's behavior derived from security
fears, then Cuban officials should confront that issue and
explain their actions accordingly.

He points correctly in his letter to "abuses of Afghans,
Arabs and citizens from different countries detained in
Guantanamo base. in Cuba. No secret military trial like the
ones established in the United States has been nor can be
carried out in Cuba.  There do not exist thousands of
detainees still ignorant of the charges against them and
whose names have not been released in totality, as is
happening in the United States since September 11, 2001.
None of the individuals tried in Cuba have been submitted to
solitary confinement, to psychological torture or cruel
separation from their families like the five Cuban unjustly
suffering prison in the United States."

True, but most of the leftists critics strongly opposed U.S.
procedural violations in the very cases he cited. U.S.
officials reach new heights of hypocrisy when they try to
smear Cuba's human rights record. Can one conceive of a more
gross human rights violation than waging aggressive war?

Or compare the trials of the dissidents to that of the five
Cubans tried and sentenced in Florida (the five had
infiltrated U.S.-based anti-Castro terrorist groups because
the FBI did not stop their terrorism. The government charged
them with espionage and sentenced them to long terms) and
you'll conclude that Cuba offered more procedural rights
than the U.S. did. As Fernandez de Cossio asserts,
the five "are still waiting to read over 50 per cent of the
documentation used to incriminate them because it was
declared secret."

Critics on the left do not question Cuba's right to protect
itself from the U.S. monster. But in so behaving, it handed
its enemies the public relations chance of a decade: Cuba
imprisons its dissenters and summarily executes people. As
Galeano wrote, "Freedom and justice march together or they
don't march."

When I first visited Cuba in 1960, I felt that the
revolutionary spirit had changed my life, provided me with
reason and inspiration to seek justice. I agree with Galeano
that over the decades "the revolution has lost the wind of
spontaneity and freshness that has driven her from the
start. I say it with pain. Cuba hurts."

Yet, after forty plus years, I still look to the island as a
place from which superior, not inferior forms of human
behavior will arise. I dismiss the puerile criticisms of
Cuba from U.S. government hacks who have made
careers of creating dictators in the third world, and
who possess the moral authority of a flea.

Speaking of moral fleas, George "Death Penalty" Bush as
Governor of Texas celebrated 152 executions. He can teach a
"how to do it" course on that subject. So Cuba rightfully
dismisses W's judgments, but it should not dismiss as
enemies those progressives who felt appalled over the
execution of the boat-jackers. They are appealing to Cuba's
conscience. Can the death penalty coexist with a moral
socialism? The critics may have signed petitions without
possessing the necessary facts, but that in and of itself is
not sufficient reason to deride honest people who abhor the
death penalty and question trials of people whose crimes
consisted of writing and speaking  no matter in whose
interest or that they took money.

George W. Bush's name may engrave itself in history's pages
as the first fascist president. Fidel Castro has already
entered the history books as the man who led the Cuban
people from the marginality of informal U.S. colonial status
to a heroic role in world history. The Cuban Revolution has
made its mark. It has no reason, no matter how real the
threat, to turn its back on friends and supporters who
criticize specific actions from principled positions.

Cuba may well be a viable target of the Bush fascists. In
such circumstances, shouldn't revolutionary Cubans maintain
dialogue with honest progressives who disagree with jailing
dissidents and carrying out the death penalty? And shouldn't
the progressives keep their lines open as well?

Saul Landau is the Director of Digital Media and
International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters,
Arts and Social Sciences, California State Polytechnic
University, Pomona. His new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE
STREETS, is available through The Cinema Guild.

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