The so-called "Casey Letter" protesting repression in Cuba has received numerous signatures and aroused considerable controversy. I would like to explain here, with line by line comments, why I would not sign this letter. (Full text of the letter at the end of my commentary.)
"We are women and men of the democratic left, united by our commitment to human rights, democratic government and social justice, in our own nations and around the world. In solidarity with the people of Cuba, …"
This is the sort of beginning that inevitably tempts me to say, "So what?" It smacks of pious self-congratulations. If the trials in Cuba are unjust, one doesn’t need to display "politically correct" credentials to criticize them. But perhaps all that is left to an ever more ineffectual "left" is to claim the right to define who is "left" and who is not.
"…we condemn the Cuban state’s current repression of independent thinkers and writers, human rights activists and democrats." Again, what allows these Americans to define who is "independent" and who is a "democrat"?
In the Cuban context, this may be somewhat ambiguous. But again, if the trials are truly unjust, it doesn’t matter whether the thinkers are "independent democrats" or not. Procedure is procedure.
"For ‘crimes’ such as the authorship of essays critical of the government and meeting with delegations of foreign political leaders, some 80 non-violent political dissidents have been arrested, summarily tried in a closed court, without adequate notice or counsel, convicted, and given cruel, harsh sentences of decades of imprisonment."
Summarily trying anybody in a closed court without adequate notice or counsel, etc., is bad practice, period. But I don’t see how it is possible to know so much about what went on since the court was closed. Was it all simply about innocent meetings with delegations of foreign political leaders? Not with CIA agents perhaps? As for "non-violent", I have written another note on that, pointing out that the United States, with its vast wealth and power, is able to use all methods, those of the powerful and those of the weak, including "non-violence" (U.S. agents taught "non-violence" to the well-subsidized "Otpor" movement in Serbia to get rid of Milosevic… which did not preclude using violent groups as well). Considering the Bush administration’s campaign of "regime change" (by no means "non-violent", as illustrated in Iraq), one may assume that the Cuban authorities have reason to worry about subversion in their country, possibly in preparation for invasion. One may also worry that Cuban authorities may be rattled and make serious mistakes. And it is perfectly reasonable to point out that principles of justice should be respected even in dire circumstances.
"These are violations of the most elementary norms of due process of law, reminiscent of the Moscow trials of the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin."
Why this particular analogy? Do people today really know so much about the Moscow trials that this comparison is enlightening? History is full of violations of due process of law, and although the professional human rights defenders seem not to notice, a current example is going on right now in The Hague. And right in Cuba, there is Guantanamo, but the Cubans have no say in what goes on there…
"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."
Now wait a minute! "Counterproductive"? But that depends on the purpose. Did the "democratic left" enact the sanctions for its own (as declared above) noble purposes? In that case, perhaps one could call them "counterproductive". Or were the sanctions enacted by a U.S. government whose purpose, on the contrary, was to please and eventually return to power the same largely corrupt "business class" that has moved to Miami where it exerts disproportionate influence as a political lobby? In that case, the sanctions have not been altogether "counterproductive", because they have caused considerable hardships to the Cuban population, hardships which can be blamed on the "regime". Such sanctions (as has been shown already in Serbia or Iraq) cause rising disaffection and a desire to do whatever is required in order to become a "normal" country.
The "counterproductive" argument is one that assumes that the purposes (of sanctions, in this case) are laudable, but misguided. It is hard to understand the nature of a "democratic left" which entertains such an illusion.
"The Cuban state’s current repression of political dissidents amounts to collaboration with the most reactionary elements of the US administration in their efforts to maintain sanctions and to institute even more punitive measures against Cuba."
Well, excuse me, but one could say that this precise protest at this precise time "amounts to collaboration with the most reactionary elements of the US administration"… in their efforts "to institute more punitive measures against Cuba."
Why not instead express concern that the Cuban repression (never mind of whom…) risks being "counterproductive" by giving the Bush administration a fresh pretext to engineer "regime change"? Such an argument would render more convincing the claim that the signatories are "in solidarity with the Cuban people"…
"The only conclusion that we can draw from this brute repression is that Cuban government does not trust the Cuban people to distinguish truth from falsehood, fact from disinformation." Is this really the ONLY conclusion? A little more effort of the imagination is called for here…
"A government of the left must have the support of the people: it must guarantee human rights and champion the widest possible democracy, including the right to dissent, as well as promote social justice. By its actions, the Cuban state declares that it is not a government of the left, despite its claims of social progress in education and health care, but just one more dictatorship, concerned with maintaining its monopoly of power above all else."
It is understandable that a "democratic left", terminally remote from any exercise of power, or even influence in its own society, can take upon itself the privilege of excommunicating from such a "democratic left" a besieged attempt at social revolution such as the one in Cuba. If "left" means total powerlessness, any government at all fails to qualify. But we might ask: if it is "just one more dictatorship", why has the United States government made such an exceptional effort for over forty years to destroy it? Because it fails to achieve the standards of the "democratic left"? Permit me to doubt that. And if the social progress in education and health care are mere "claims", what of all the dictatorships which fail to make such "claims" and are never subjected to sanctions?
Fidel Castro has committed the terrible impurity of managing to keep a left government in power for forty-four years. To be pure, he should have kept to the standards of the "democratic left"… following the example of the democratically elected Guatemalan reformist Jacobo Arbenz, forced to resign after three years in office by a U.S.-backed putsch, or Salvador Allende, murdered by a U.S.-backed putsch. The "democratic left" was unable to save those leaders, but it still has the self-confidence to condemn the survivor for displaying such tenacity. Surrender, Castro! Then perhaps you may gain the approval of the "democratic left".
DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of The Politics of Euromissiles: Europe’s Role in America’s World and FOOLS’ CRUSADE Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. She can be reached at: DianaJohnstone@compuserve.com