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The Democratic Left and Cuba



The “Democratic Left”, aka Leftists Against the Same Stuff as Bush (LASSAB for short) are at it again. You know these folks-Leo Casey, Michael Berube, Eric Alterman, Todd Gitlin In recent times they have bravely stood against such forces as the Taliban and the ANSWER coalition. Now they have found a new target. Not ones to be distracted by the chaotic beginnings of the occupation of Iraq, police attacks on anti-war demonstrators, or ‘mass killings’ (as the UN Human Rights Commission recently described them) by the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, they have zeroed in on what they seem to believe is the major threat to freedom in the world today: Cuba.

The focus of their activism is a letter being circulated by Leo Casey of The United Federation of Teacher in New York. “In solidarity with the people of Cuba”, they condemn the recent detention of 80 “non-violent political dissidents” and their closed court trials and harsh sentences. Fair-minded as they are, the Democratic left also has some words about US policy towards Cuba: “The democratic left worldwide has opposed the US embargo on Cuba as counterproductive, more harmful to the interests of the Cuban people than helpful to political democratization.” Nevertheless, the rest of the three paragraph long letter is devoted to the alleged crimes of the Cuban government, which LASSAB clearly perceives as the greater wrongdoer. By the end, Casey declares that “Despite (Cuba’s) claims of social progress in education and health care, (it is) just one more dictatorship.”

Predictably, that great chronicler of LASSAB, Marc Cooper, has weighed in with a column praising the letter. Cuba is basically a society where, “say, a John Ashcroft would be unrestrained by the niceties of constitutional law”. The people arrested by the Cuban government were doing nothing more pernicious than meeting with US diplomats (“meeting with delegations of foreign political leaders”, in Casey’s somewhat more circumspect phrasing) and Cooper has met with Cuban diplomats in the US without being arrested! Cooper notes that his friends urged him not to write this column, but he dismisses their concerns-“the actions taken by Fidel Castro.. are guaranteed to only please the ultraright.” He urges readers to sign on to the letter being circulated by Casey, “one of the few, too few, leftist statements on the issue”, signed by a “number of prominent leftists”.

Looking over the signatories, the absence of many leftists-both those coming out of a Marxist background, who one might suspect are ‘soft’ on revolutionary regimes (Alexander Cockburn, Mike Davis, James Petras, Tariq Ali, etc) and those who come from more anarchistic perspectives (Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein)-is striking. One might call all those leftists who failed to sign this letter LAUSI (Leftists Against US Imperialism). So the leftist reader might be confused: should she or he stand with LASSAB, or LAUSI?

Closer examination of both Cooper’s column and Casey’s letter might clarify the matter. For example, members of LAUSI probably believe that, if they are living in the US, they are already living in a society where “a John Ashcroft would be unrestrained by the niceties of constitutional law”. How else to explain various arbitrary detentions, attacks on peaceful protest, and the ongoing nightmare of the ‘detainees’. Since LAUSIstas oppose the Republican parties’ combination of apocalyptic Christian fundamentalism, US pre-emptive strike doctrine, and Enron style capitalism, they might worry about the fact that, according to Cooper, who seems to approve, the “Bush administration’s top diplomat in Cuba.. has been quite assertive.. Publicly challenging Castro”. They might suspect that, given the lengthy history of terrorism and blockade against Cuba that the US has sponsored, he is trying to build a spy network to bring down the regime or at least provide intelligence to ease the likely pre-emptive strike.

LAUSIstas might also wonder about Casey’s claim that the “Cuban state’s current repression of political dissidents amounts to collaboration with the most reactionary elements of the US administration.” After all, since the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the US federal government are now firmly in the hands of the aforementioned Republican party, it is difficult to know what non ‘reactionary elements’ Casey would like to see Cuba ally with. LAUSIstas might also wonder about that description of the US embargo of Cuba as ‘counterproductive’. Most LAUSIstas would probably argue that the embargo is meant to punish the Cuban government for building (not ‘claiming’ to do so, but actually building) decent health and education systems, and providing their citizens with some protections against the worst ravages of capitalism experienced by their neighbors. In this sense, they might argue, the embargo’s success at limiting the Cuban achievement has been quite ‘productive’. LAUSIstas not familiar with the guiding principles of LASSAB might wonder where the signatories of the letter were when the revolt in Bolivia against neo-liberalism was being violently repressed, or when Bush announced he was sending American troops to guard an oil pipeline and possibly fight guerrillas in Colombia alongside the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere. Those more familiar with LASSAB might explain that LASSAB rarely criticizes US allies or the US government, unless its actions might be construed as ‘counterproductive’ to broader goals of US power.

While few among LAUSI are likely pleased at the closed courts or executions in Cuba, they would likely worry that, in the near future, the US government will set its sights on regime change in Cuba. They may expect that the New York Times will site Casey’s letter as evidence that much of ‘the left’ is opposed to Castro, and in fact believes that “the Cuban state.. is not a government of the left”. They may worry that as the US begins to move toward a military confrontation, LASSAB will continue to scream about how awful Castro is while offering minor bleats in objection to US unilateralism or failure to pursue regime change through diplomacy (although, to be sure, LASSAB’s fire will probably turn away from Castro and towards those parts of an emergent anti-war movement seen as excessively supportive of the Cuban leader). I hope the above fairly describes the positions of LASSAB and LAUSI, and help the reader to make an informed choice about whether or not to sign Casey’s letter.

STEVEN SHERMAN is a resident of Chapel Hill North Carolina who teaches at UNC-Greensboro. He can be reached at:


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