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Debating Cuba | The Nation

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Debating Cuba

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Montpelier, VT

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I have lived in Cuba for a year doing research on popular education and the ongoing development of grassroots democratic processes in the country. Though I share the anger and sadness of all who decry the recent executions of three hijackers and the arrests of dissidents, I have been disappointed by the nature of the coverage given such events back home, which has failed to give an accurate account of the context under which these actions have taken place, of the extensive efforts of the Cuban government to explain them and of the feelings of the Cuban people themselves about such events. As regards the execution of the hijackers, it is crucial to remain aware that though their trials were speedy, they were so because of their clear-cut nature, and they followed Cuban law up through a final appeal of the sentences to the Council of State itself. As Fidel was right to point out in a recent speech, there have never been extrajudicial executions in revolutionary Cuba, as have been commonplace under all the client regimes the United States has supported in the region over the same period (or the Stalinist USSR, one might add). Further, the execution of these unfortunate men, the first of any kind on the island in three years, has renewed a debate among citizens and the government about the death penalty in a society based on a humanitarian ethic, with many against it, but many in favor of it (and its recent application) as well.

As regards the arrests of dissidents, it is impossible to view these actions outside a context in which the United States, with the express purpose of bringing down the current government here, has greatly increased logistical and financial support for groups and individuals in Cuba whom they feel will help meet this aim. Cuba's paranoia concerning the ill intentions of its all-powerful neighbor is unquestionably debilitating and carries regrettable consequences, but it is not without well-documented cause, this case included. I write as one who greatly appreciates what the Cuban revolution has been able to achieve since its inception in the realms of social rights, public welfare and racial and gender equity, under tremendously difficult circumstances, but also as one who is very much aware that changes need to be made if these victories are to be upheld and the revolution is to survive. As such, recent events pain me not only because they offend deeply held ethical and political principles and are a defeat for human rights, but also because I believe they are a defeat for Cuba and the ideals and project of the revolution, a project that remains critically important not only to the people of Cuba, but of all Latin America and the formerly colonized world.

JOSH JELLY-SCHAPIRO


Arlington, VA

My response to the letter from Campaign for Peace and Democracy in reference to Cuba: Amazing! Absolutely amazing! In a letter written with the stated purpose of condemning oppression in Cuba, the writers dedicate only two paragraphs to the situation in Cuba, with three paragraphs given to an anti-US-government diatribe. The "current" oppression of human rights deserves nothing less than unconditional condemnation, yet this group cannot bear to do this. Instead, they exploit the suffering of Cubans and use it as an opportunity to advance their own agenda. Shameful. Groups like that will never be taken seriously by the mainstream as long as their hatred of America overshadows their commitment to "peace and democracy."

ERIC S. KINGS


Kingston, NY

It is sad that Fidel Castro did not democratize Cuba long ago. He could have won a national election without much trouble and democratic socialism could have perhaps finally triumphed. Most Cubans, because they are poor, are in favor of a progressive form of government. However, if Castro ever had any notions of democratizing Cuba, one can imagine how the fear of ending up like other democratic nations that refused to bend to US political and economic domination kept him from doing so. The case of Salvador Allende in Chile is just one example of how far the United States has gone to impose its economic dominance over other regional nations.

GEORGE EHRLICH


I am a Cuban-American who left Cuba when I was 10. I left during the Mariel exodus in 1980. My parents decided to give me a chance to experience freedom as they had experienced before Fidel Castro took power. My parents had to make the very difficult decision to leave most of their family behind--including their only son and my only brother--to give me a chance at a better life. While I have become a US citizen and owe everything I have accomplished to this wonderful country, I long for the freedom of my birthland and its people.

I am glad that a left paper like The Nation has published these statements. There is a notion shared by many that being a liberal or on the left equals being someone who venerates Fidel and totalitarian rulers like him. This has much to do with the high-profile visits to Cuba from well-known American celebrities. I am anti-embargo and always have been. We recently learned from Iraq that the only ones hurt by sanctions and embargoes are the people. The dictators like Saddam and Fidel are never affected by the embargo, rather, they just use them as a scapegoat.

Although I was only 10 when I left Cuba, I will never forget the control exerted by that regime in order to keep everybody tight-lipped, restricting everyone with threat and fear. I have never returned to the island. The boat that was supposed to bring my parents and I, some other families and around two dozen criminals that Fidel had let out of jail to come to this country, almost never made it here. The boat was fast gaining water while in international waters, and the US Coast Guard had to intervene in order to save us all, which they did.

I promised myself never to go back to Cuba until the monster is gone. The monster is the regime and all those who enjoy oppressing its own people. Last year my brother came to visit for the first time. My brother is a civil engineer. If not for a friend who worked for the Cuban Interest Section who placed his job on the line by signing an affidavit pledging that my brother would not stay here--it would have never happened. Two months after returning to Cuba, my brother was fired after fifteen years.

ANABEL AVALOS


Weehawken, NJ

I applaud your open letter regarding repression in Cuba and the counterproductive US embargo. Your views show that there is no hypocrisy among the staff at The Nation. Tyranny at any end of the political spectrum is still tyranny. Bravo.

ALEX J. KEOSKEY


San Francisco, CA

I am aware of the repressive actions of the Cuban political system and deplore the excessive sentences for the dissidents. I am against the death penalty under any circumstances. The present repressive measures of the US government concern me as well. It seems I will have no legal way to travel to Cuba. I have been there twice and have made many friends for whom I am very concerned. With the travel restrictions there will be fewer US citizens on the island, and our government will have more freedom to do what it wants without witnesses while the island loses an important source of income. My view of the last election is that the Cuban-Americans had a heavy hand in the election of Bush. Is it payback time? Are the signers of petitions on the left aiding the government in its desire to return Cuba to its former government before the revolution? Would "elections" have the same result as they did in Nicaragua? Or here? I think direct communication with the Cuban government indicating displeasure is better for the long term. These widely publicized petitions can be ammunition to show the less-knowledgeable parts of the population how everyone thinks Cuba should be invaded to cleanse the island of Fidel's government.

SUSAN HAMIL

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