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.