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What's behind Cuba's crackdown?

By Héctor Reyes | May 16, 2003 | Page 5

EVEN AS U.S. troops were killing civilians in Iraq, Washington condemned Cuba for last month's crackdown on dissidents and the execution of three hijackers. The Cuban government handed out prison sentences ranging from seven to 28 years to 75 dissidents, essentially convicting them of treason for conspiring with U.S. agents to undermine the Cuban government.

In a separate action, the government quickly convicted and executed three men who had hijacked a ferry and held 40 people hostage in a desperate attempt to defect to the U.S. Soon after, an intense controversy developed when a number of prominent intellectuals and liberals outside Cuba criticized the Castro government. "[This is] very bad news--and very sad--for those of us who admired the valor of this tiny country, so capable of greatness, but who also believe that freedom and justice go together or not at all," wrote Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano in The Progressive.

Two different open letters critical of Cuba are being circulated on the Internet. One, spearheaded by Leo Casey of the Democratic Socialists of America, criticizes Cuba's attacks on basic freedoms, while virtually ignoring the long history of U.S. intervention and intimidation. For this reason, many prominent left-wing intellectuals refused to endorse it.

The second letter, initiated by the U.S.-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy, declares that "the imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable." Endorsed by figures such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Cornel West, the statement also emphasizes opposition to the Bush administration's war in Iraq and other imperialist policies--and flatly rejects any U.S. effort to undermine Cuba's self-determination.

Nevertheless, traditional supporters of Cuba have responded vigorously, emphasizing that the Cuban Revolution has been under attack by the U.S. for 44 years and arguing that the Castro government can't afford to allow internal divisions to be used by the U.S. to regain control over the island. These supporters say that any criticism of Cuba plays into U.S. hands.

The question here is whether one can defend the right of Cuba--or any other country, regardless of its government-- to self-determination, and still be critical of it.

In recent years, U.S. corporations have been quietly pressuring the Clinton and Bush administrations to drop economic sanctions against Cuba, because they were being left behind by European and Canadian companies taking advantage of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's opening to foreign investment. However, after the September 11 attacks, the Bush Doctrine of regime change and pre-emptive war gave the U.S. right wing a pretext for a new confrontation with Cuba.

For many months, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, James Cason, has been meeting with dissidents, providing them with funding and distributing their writings. Unfortunately, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy statement, while abstractly defending the right to dissent in Cuba, ignores the way that the U.S. engineered the current crisis. With the long history of bloody and greedy U.S. intervention in Cuba, it's hard to imagine that these dissidents didn't know who they were dealing with and what was at stake.

Readers of Socialist Worker will be aware of our longstanding critique of the Cuban regime. We believe that the Cuban Revolution was a genuine upheaval against U.S. imperialism, but that it never was a socialist society.

Only a small clique around Castro has the power to decide the most important decisions about Cuban society. Like anywhere else, people rejecting this inequality will look a political outlet. An unwillingness of the international left to acknowledge this leaves only one road open to those who want to resist--straight into the arms of the right-wing Cuban exiles in the U.S. and their handlers in Washington.

It's up to Cuban workers to wrestle power away from the Castro clique--while continuing to fight to keep Uncle Sam out. That's why we also believe that there is no such thing as the right to do the bidding of U.S. imperialism in the name of dissidence.

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