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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

'The Revolution is the People'

"I do not harbor the slightest doubt that our people and our Revolution will fight until the last drop of blood to defend the ideas and measures that are necessary for safeguarding this historical process."
- Extract from Fidel Castro's statement on Cuban television,
as he ceded power this year


Jane Horgan-Jones • 13 October 2006

On August 1st, the world learned that Fidel Castro had temporarily relinquished power to his brother Raul for reasons of ill health. As the first incident of its kind since the success of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the announcement sparked immediate and polarised reactions from around the globe. Critics and supporters of the Cuban regime alike were vocal in their commentary and predictions for how the country might cope without its iconic leader, and the world watched on to see how traditional foe, America, might react.

As the corporate media bombarded the airwaves with footage of Cuban exiles dancing in the streets of Miami and reaction from U.S. authorities, coverage of any genuine reaction from inside the Caribbean island became increasingly conspicuous by its absence. President Bush supported "transition to a Free Cuba", and promised "assistance" to Cuba should Castro die. We heard from exiles, from supporters, from politicians, and from reporters; but hardly a word from anyone who has lived under the regime for any length of time since its inception almost 50 years ago.

It was with this in mind that I travelled to Cuba a couple of weeks after the announcement. Depending on which kinds of reports I had read beforehand, Cuba was either a repressive, abusive and totalitarian state or a socialist paradise affording all its citizens the dignity and respect necessary for a just society. It seemed that the only way to bypass the malaise of propaganda infecting the media was to go and visit the country itself.

Cuba maintains a certain sense of nostalgia, perpetrated by the throwbacks to 1960s culture, architecture and cars that characterised every city we visited. Most notably absent, however, are the advertisements that the Western world is accustomed to seeing on every blank space available to public eyes. Bus shelters, toilet doors, ashtrays and bins all combine to ensure that at home, you never forget your status as a consumer. In Havana, both tourists and locals alike are spared the ignominy of being treated as a mere component of an ever-available market.

In Cienfuegos, a town of about 150,000 residents just south of Havana, we were befriended by Santiago, a university lecturer.

"In Cuba, we do not pay for the school. We do not pay for the hospital. We do not pay!" Santiago's emphatic extolling of the virtues of the Cuban health and education systems was common to many of the people we met. He spoke about the opportunities he felt he had been given by the regime. "I went to pre-school. I went to school. I went to university. And now, I teach. My mother does not have to work. She worked, and she raised us, and now she can relax."

Cuba is one of the first countries in the world to completely eradicate illiteracy. Education is free at all levels, as is healthcare. Even the World Bank, an institution intrinsically associated with capitalism and all Cuba stands against, has conceded that Cuba is topping virtually all other poor countries in health and education statistics, and continues to improve despite the stifling embargo the country has endured for almost half a century.

However, Cuba's social and community achievements have long been juxtaposed with the reports of human rights abuses that surround the country. Human Rights Watch roundly condemns the regime for its "highly effective machinery of repression" and claims that Cuba "restricts severely the exercise of fundamental human rights of expression, association, and assembly."

While measures like these are undoubtedly indefensible in themselves and are abhorrent in their nature, they cannot be viewed or understood outside of the context of the Cuban reality; that of a consistent, premeditated, malicious programme of interference pursued by successive American administrations for the past forty years.

Since 1959, in addition to the US economic blockade (arguably a form of state terrorism in itself and consistently condemned by human rights organisations), Cuba has been the target of over 680 terrorist attacks. The total number of recorded deaths resulting from these attacks stands at 3,478. These have included bomb attacks, assassination attempts, hijackings, the introduction of germs and pests in agricultural areas and attacks on Cuban personnel and property on foreign soil. The roots of these attacks lie with Cuban emigrant groups hostile to the socialist ideals of the country and determined to destabilise the political climate. The US government and the CIA openly support the aims of these groups.

Faced with similar threats to national security after 9/11, the U.S. and U.K. governments imposed laws that might equally find their way into critiques written by human rights organisations. In the UK, the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act permits the issuing of control orders against any British or foreign nationals on the basis only of a suspicion stated by the intelligence agencies. These orders include the powers of house arrest for an indefinite period, without trial or knowledge of the charges preferred against the individuals concerned. The proposed legislation following the London terrorist bombings is even more draconian and includes the right to hold a suspect without trial for up to three months.

As a response to complaints that such measures infringed human rights, the British Home Secretary, Charles Clark referred to the need to act in this way in an "emergency threatening the life of the nation…" The head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, affirmed that civil liberties might have to be eroded to prevent future attacks.

Similarly, the U.S. has recently introduced legislation to protect national security. Under the "Logan Law", US citizens anywhere, who, without the authorisation of the US government, "directly or indirectly take up or maintain any kind of correspondence with any foreign government official or agent in connection with any dispute or difference with the US, shall be fined in accordance with that provision, jailed for up to a period of 3 years or both." Human rights also fall by the wayside in relation to suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay.

It seems that identical reasons are used in the West and in Cuba to justify these actions. That is not to suggest that the geopolitical situation of Cuba excuses such behaviour, but it does go some way to explaining it. The American dollars that pour into propaganda and destabilisation exercises are at least partly responsible for the sometimes-harsh nature of the Cuban response to internal dissent.

What is most notably absent in the Cuban case study, however, is the hypocrisy and double standards that characterise Western attempts to "democratise" Cuba and rid her of human rights abuses. One must consider whether American concern for Cuba is born out of distaste for the economic and political ideology there, rather than any genuine interest in the advancement of human rights worldwide.

Equally, Cuban human rights cannot be viewed only in the narrow perspective taken by Human Rights Watch. There are two major international instruments on rights under the UN system; one on civil and political rights and the other on economic, social and cultural rights. Santiago gave us examples of how the latter convention's protections that people of the West are often denied are afforded to Cuban citizens.

"In your country, people sleep on the street. People cannot read and write. People have to pay for their healthcare. Where are the democratic rights of someone who cannot read? How can they vote? Where are their human rights?"

The indisputable facts show that Cuba is one of the only countries in the world to eradicate illiteracy and to ensure provision of free access to education and healthcare as state priorities. It stands as a self-fulfilling argument that, contrary to the claims of richer countries, these human rights are possible to provide in both developing and developed countries alike.

The future for Cuba and her people is far from certain. It remains to be seen if the benefits that the Cuban people have experienced will survive the end of the Castro era, and if the post-Castro era will be able to manage the difficult task of extending human rights without putting in jeopardy all that has been achieved. If it is to do so, it can perhaps be helped by sympathetic and intelligent, but not uncritical, support from other small nations such as Ireland.

Santiago was firm in his belief that,

"Democracy is more than just a vote in a ballot box every few years, re-electing corrupt politicians over and over again. It is about providing equality of opportunity and equality of access, which supposedly democratic countries support in their words but never in their actions and policies."

And if Castro dies?

"Castro is the symbol, and Castro is my president. But the revolution is the people."



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

16 October 2006

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Blowin' In The Wind
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Once Bitten
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Dysfunctional Family Values
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Racism: The Social Uniter?
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Nobody Home
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'The Revolution is the People'
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10 October 2006

Hail The Messiah
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HET: History of Whitewash Continues
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To Deal or Not
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One Small Step for Paisley, One Giant Step for Ireland?
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The Haunting
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Subversion of an Irish Peace Plan
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Working Class Hero
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Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 15 - 22
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John Kennedy

Racism: The Social Cancer
Dr John Coulter

Forced Out
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The Letters Page Has Been Updated.



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