Thursday, March 25, 2004

Below is a lengthy email correspondence between myself and an Assistant Editor at the Charleston Post and Courier Paper, Robert Cox. I was responding to his story - Visitors to Cuba Shouldn't Leave their Conscience at Home - on his recent vist to Cuba. I am a bit of a Cuba-phile (ok... the word Cuba probably comes out of my mouth more than any other), so I try try to write every writer who pens a negative piece (basically everyone) to keep them honest. Usually they end up telling me how much they loved their visit there and how the people were the nicest ever and how they felt uncommonly safe ... but this never makes it into the article. This hopefully will save me repeating myself one day down the line.

-----Original Message-----
I should be used to the double standards and lazy journalism that normally come with a mainstream US piece on cuba, but yours didn't even try to be even handed.

Why not include just once in your piece that all of those arrested had illegal contacts with either/or US money, US resources or US government officials. You might also have noted that in this country, we arrest people for far less - last week Maryland woman was arrested for delivering a letter to her cousin (after apparently accepting Iraqi money). Can you possibly claim that those affected in cuba were clean from US assistance - a country that has attacked it before, now bent on regime change under a leader who has shown no bones about taking such illegal action (far more of a threat than Iraq ever was to us). Do you believe it would be ok if i were to take money tomorrow from North Korea to try to organize on behalf of its interests and against my own county's?? If so, please opine agains the arrest of Susan Lindauer. Or even better, how about the freedom of the innumerable innocents remaining in Guantanamo... who have been jailed and held incommunicado in our prisons for 2 years now? Or how about the 5 Cubans who were working to prevent terrorism by infiltrating known US based terrorist organizations - because the FBI would not go after these groups, even after specific incriminating information was given to them! These 5 are looking at jail for life here in america for doing nothing at all. Lets here it for liberty everywhere - and in our own country first.

As someone who was in cuba a year ago during this whole affair, I can tell you what i saw with my own eyes about this "monsterous regime." Maybe it is more instructive to say what i didn's see (and what i see every day here in Los Angeles) - homelessness, slums, segregated communities, a divided people, an ignorant people, a hopeless people, an unhealthy people. i met people on the street who wanted nothing more than to have a conversation, cook me dinner and perhaps go out for dancing or to a baseball game the following night. I met people my age from extremely humble origins who are studying to become a doctor and going to haiti or africa to serve humanity. I saw Fidel Castro get a stontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation as he walked on the street outside of my hotel. I learned that there is virtually no AIDS in cuba, that its achievement in culture and sports (and foreign affairs) are unrivaled per capital anywhere in the world. I saw an alternative model for the developing world that you and Washington are scared of more than anything, and that is why stupid things such as Helms-Burton, the embargo and travel bans exist. ADMIT IT!


>>> "Robert Cox" 03/22/04 01:35PM >>>
Dear Leftside:
Perhaps you might see things differently if you met some of the dissidents, as I have. Most of them are socialists, not particularly admiring of the United States. I spent 20 years in Argentina and during the right-wing dictatorship (which, for sheer murderous brutality certainly outdid Castro), I had to listen to visiting Americans who told me how wonderful Argentina was under the military boot. Their words were a mirror image of yours. They liked right-wing dictatorships. You apparently like left-wing dictatorships. I abhor both.

You make some valid points about the United States. I have lived here long enough to be disappointed and somewhat disillusioned. Where is that shining city on a hill? But I don't have to believe a lie, as the people of Cuba do if they want to avoid a visit from the Minint spooks. I don't think Castro's totalitarian regime can be defended on relativist grounds.

Thanks for writing. It's no more possible to be even-handed about Castro's
dictatorship than it would be to be even-handed about Nazi Germany or
Stalin's Soviet Union. The dissidents, of course, have not engaged in any
activities that would be illegal in a democracy, but in a dictatorship (of
the left or right) every independent thought or act is considered illegal.
All the diplomats of the democratic countries try to help the dissidents as
much as they can. I don't think that U.S. policy makes any sense and it's
certainly unfortunate that concern for human rights has been politicized.

I hope that you continue to help the Cuban people as much as possible. That's what matters.
Would you be interested in a copy of Raul Rivero's book? Best wishes,
Bob Cox

-----Original Message-----
From: Leftside
Sent: Monday, March 22, 2004 7:50 PM
Subject: RE: cuba libre

Thank you very much for your reply. And yes, I would love a copy of Mr. Riviero's book... he is a talented writer and supposedly a fine man, despite his 100% cranky, distorted, pessimistic mood. But I do sincerely hope you recognize that Mr. Riviero is not a (independent or otherwise) journalist by
any respectable standards. To note that his articles (which I read frequently int he Chicago Tribune) were exclusively one-sided and is an understatement. But that is what he was being paid for, so you can not be suprised at that.

But listen, I hope I am never insensitive to the plights of those imprisioned. It is just hard to get too upset at the Cuban Government for finally holding the line against increased US involvement in the internal affairs of a soveign country. Mr. Riviero had numerous contacts with the US Interests Section and received income from - a website kept alive by our government to tout half-truths and bring down the government there... and support the annual Human Rights spectacle in Geneva. You may think that is a worthy goal, but if you were Cuban, chances are you would be highly offended and support the arrests... as more than 99% of Cubans do. I mean what else could Cuba do when the world's superpower makes it known that it is going to make "dissident" funding a major priority. Would you tolerate the Soviet Union (or Iraq) funding anti-war dissidents in this country? we
certainly did not for all our history.

And unfair arrests are not just a Cuban - or dictatorship - thing. I read an article on the other day about someone who was apparently roughed up by cuban police, detained without food for 12 hours and then let go. well, you know what - the same exact thing happened to me a year or 2
ago. except i was also sworn at by the police, while they were nearly breaking my arm. i was also not allowed to go to the bathroom until, nor given a blanket to sleep in the freezing cold steel cells. but i had nowhere to turn - in fact i couldn't even find out what i was charged with until my day in court. And this weekend, I am going to meet a woman who was in jail for 7 years for stealing a toolbox - Pam Martinez in Los Angeles - as part of the American 3 Strikes solution.

How many thousands are arrested because of racist drug laws? How many young minorities were locked up incorrectly? And the whole world talks about 75 (or 300 tops) privledged Cubans. (it is an
irony that cuba is perhaps the only country where being a dissident is so profitable. You can quit your job without worry of family disaster, be unemployed for years and just write bullocks... what i life!!)

You know very well that no one has ever been arrested for what they think or act in Cuba. Show me one case. Or show me one person killed by the State unjustifiably since the revolution (I will show
you 2 in the LA area this weekend). It is only when they break a law. Laws that were put in place because the Cubans saw for themselves the way a "free-press" worked in the interests of capital and foreigners in their not too distant past. They saw the way so-called democracy led to corruption and
diviciveness. They saw the way that the US would not stop at concept of morality or international law to bring down their triumphant revolution and therefore, openness is a casualty... as we are accepting now in the US with the war on terrorism... If you were a Cuban would you think its ok to quit
your job and take money or receive assistance from a foreign organization to publish half-truths to bring down your government... no matter how much you wanted it to fall? This is why dissidents like Vlademir Roca deny US AID - and are still on the street able to act and publish freely.

I don't like any dictatorships either, but i don't think Castro is a dictator (eg. "someone who rules unconstrained by law"). The cuban constitution makes clear that the President (castro) is beholden strictly to the National Assembly in all areas including appointments and law making. So please explain to me how cuba is a dictatorship? Is it because they have only one legal party (actually they have many and no one has ever stopped this). Well in Cuba, party affiliation means nothing in relation to getting elected for political office (the Communists don't participate in electoral politics) - in fact there are many assembly persons who are definately NOT communisits (evangelicals, small farmers, etc.) But show me one communist in our congress? In Cuba everything is based on votiing at the very local
(neighborhood block club) level. You vote for people you know personally based on their morals and resume - not campaigning ability or money. They in turn, elect higher-ups, who choose higher-ups and so on. Can you tell me with a straight face that our congress and executive cabinet are more
representative of the average person than cuba's??? Political scientists tell us democracy is about participation and deliberation and a fair political process with equal opportunity. do we have this? If you have been to Cuba, you would know that there is huge amounts of public support for the
revolutionary project - 85-90% participate in this electoral process and 99% recently signed their names in support of Building Socialism. Where i encountered alienation, I found it to be out of economic concerns, and the embargo was largely blamed. I could not help but contrast this to the United States, where there is widespread cynicism in regard to political and other institutions and the poor are treated as 2nd class citizens with different rights to housing, health care, education, etc. Having ½ of ½ our population vote every 4 years is not democracy. There can be no democracy when ½ of adults in my city cannot read at a newspaper level. Democracy is a work in progress anywhere and must be felt to be safe and secure to flourish.

Sorry for so long.... i have a bit too much time on my hands today - and my girl and i were just celebrating our one-year anniversary of going to cuba this weekend, so i am feeling especially nostalgic. You can not deny the magic of this place....


>>> "Robert Cox" 03/22/04 05:06PM >>>
Dear Leftside:
I need an address to send you Raul Rivero's book. I think we probably have to agree to disagree, because I don't want to argue with you, you seem such a nice fellow and I feel the same way about Cuba as you do. But it does seem to me that you've fallen for the Cuban government's propaganda. When you return to Cuba, please look up the dissidents (if there are any left, who really are dissidents and not agents for the govt.) and come to you own conclusions about them.
Didn't the mass arrests worry you at all? And what about the executions? I'll write again when I have a bit more time.

Fair enough, but I'd just conclude by saying that I think it comes down to what one really values. Cuba's achievements - in health, education, sports, culture, foreign policy (bringing down apartheid through selfless actions in africa), etc. are in areas that I tend to value highly. What I want America to be first and foremost, they have done - with so meager resources. Maybe it is true that I have become cynical about the importance placed on individual liberties by our government (i have seen the way they politicize human rights at the UN). But unfortunately, I am beginning to believe that a trade off is sometimes necessary in developing countries - look at haiti and venezuela and other coups throughout the last 50 years against progressive (and open) governments - particularly when our governemnt senses an interest.

And thanks so much for the book. I will let you know what I think (if you can stand anothe rant). The address is (you are not going to turn me in for going to cuba are you ;)):