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April 14, 2003

Democratic Left Against Cuban Repression

Below is a statement circulating among democratic left/socialist folks, largely by members of Democratic Socialists of America, condemning the recent trials and convictions of non-violent dissenters in Cuba. See here and here for recent stories on this. For those who know the left, there will be familiar names such as The Nation's Katha Pollitt, left historians like Maurice Isserman and Mel Dubofsky, 2002 NY Green Party Gubernatorial candidate Stanley Aronowitz, left journalists Doug Ireland and Ian Williams, and a host of other democratic left activists.

As I noted in my post on the failure of the antiwar movement, a key part of that failure was to build left solidarity with resistance movements in dictatorial countries in order to develop non-war alternatives for promoting democracy. I should note that Cuba's Castro is a far different leader from Hussein, given the real gains in health care and literacy and many areas of freedom aside from the political sphere for the population; Castro would likely win an election in Cuba, although he would also likely have to concede a lot of his absolute power, which is why he has maintained his authoritarianism over the years.

Many on the left will say this is the wrong time for this kind of letter by leftists who oppose the embargo and, even worse, military invasion as a wrong-headed approach to dealing with Castro's regime. I disagree. I think this is exactly the right time for the Left to act in solidarity with the Cuban people in defense of both democracy and social justice in that country. We should not force dissidents to choose between Bush's rightwing capitalist militarism and Castro's authoritarian repressive social justice policies. This is a call for leftist activists to standup for both social justice and human rights against militarists and authoritarians of all persuasions. If you agree with it, add your name by emailing LeoCasey@aol.com

The Letter:

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, we condemn the Cuban state's current repression of independent thinkers and writers, human rights activists and democrats. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Note this is an updated list as of April 16th

Theresa Alt
Eric Alterman
Ayaz Ahmed
David Anderson
Kevin Anderson
Stanley Aronowitz
Tony Avirgan
Margot Backus
Sanda Balaban
Ike Balbus
Ivan Baxter
David Bensman
Marshall Berman
Michael Bérubé
Asatar Bair
Ken Brociner
Dan Brook
Ricardo Brown
Wendy Brown
Wayles Browne
Chaz Bufe
Eamonn Callan
Lorenzo Canizares
Leo Casey
Aaron Cohen
Marc Cooper
Francesco D'Alessandro
Lennard Davis
Bogdan Denitch
Bill Dixon
Mark Dow
Mel Dubofsky
Christopher Rhoades D˙kema
Taner Edis
Itzhak Epstein
Stuart Elliot
Victoria Elliott
Andy English
Miriam Erlich
Gertrude Ezorsky
Hampton Fancher
Michelle Fine
Barry Finger
Joyce Fitzgerald
Nancy Fraser
Adil Hajjoubi
David Garrow
Joyce Gelb
Todd Gitlin
Peter Goodman
Andrew Hagen
Andrew Hammer
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Richard Healey
Michael Hirsch
Peter Hudis
James Hughes
Maurice Isserman
Doug Ireland
David Jacobs
Alan Johnson
Ira Katznelson
Michael Kazin
Harvey Kaye
Gary Kent
Michael Kircher
Eric Kirk
Gary Kinsman
Peter Kosenko
Magali Sarfatti Larson
Lee Levin
Jeffrey Levine
Mark Levinson
Ernie Lieberman
Ann Lieberman
Melvin Little
Chris Lowe
Josh Lukin
Anora Mahmudova
John G. Mason
Marvin and Betty Mandell
Shannon McLeod
R. Miles Mendenhall
Mark Crispin Miller
Cary Nathenson
Nathan Newman
Rafael PiRoman
Maxine Phillips
David Plotke
Stephen Plowden
Katha Pollitt
Danny Postel
Samantha Power
Adam Przeworski
Michael Pugliese
Peter Reardon
Matthew Rothschild
Joel Rogers
Michele L. Rossi
John Sanbonmatsu
Anders Schneiderman
Joseph M. Schwartz
Jason Schulman
Michael H. Shuman
Timothy Sears
Mark Seddon
David Norman Smith
John Soldini
Clifford Staples
Judith Stein
Paul Thomas
Daniel Walkowitz
David Walls
Bert Wand
Peter Waterman
Luke Weiger
D. Langlois Williams
Ian Williams
Ellen Willis
Reginald Wilson
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
Robert H. Zieger

Posted by Nathan at April 14, 2003 10:52 AM

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Mainstream media (recent articles in NY Times, Economist, etc.) miss the point of why Castro's moves against a more-democratic opposition are happening now. Before the imprisonment and trials of these activists, there was a move afoot in the US Congress to loosen and eventually do away with the Cuba embargo. This was not supported by the Bush Administration who, looking forward to 2004, want to keep the anti-Castro Cubans in their pocket. Florida, again, will be a (the?) decisive state. Yet, most observers had predicted that the measure would pass easily.

Castro realizes that, without the embargo, his country would soon be flooded with Americans, American products, and investment. The net outcome of this would be the acceleration of the collapse of the already tottering government. Like East Germany at the end, the wall of the embargo acts to sustain the Castro regime, not punish or contain it. The effect of the embargo has been to worsen conditions for the Cuban people. Both left and right (outside of Miami) can agree on this.

The Bush Administration is only too happy to play up the trials of these activists and the executions of the ringleaders of the ferry hijacking in order to stave off this move in Congress. Like this letter, we should be protesting the treatment of these Cubans working for a more democratic system. We also need to redouble efforts to push our Representatives and Senators for an end to the embargo, understanding that both the US and Cuban governments prefer it to remain, for reason that have little to do with the benefit of the majority on their respective countries.

Posted by: gordon at April 14, 2003 12:07 PM

Does this mean I have to throw away my Fidel bobble-head doll?

Posted by: Atrios at April 14, 2003 12:50 PM

There was a House hearing on this subject broadcast on C-Span today.

Castro is such a thug. Okay, not every minute of every day. He acted like a member of the human race when it came to Elian and his father. Then he remembers that he's a dictator and becomes a thug again.

The testimony today was moving and appalling. The Cuban who started the amazing Independent Library Movement that encourages Cuban citizens to become independent uncensored lending libraries was especially impressive. Dark-skinned he spoke of the backhanded racism of the Castro regime, castigating black Cubans like himself for not being grateful to Castro that they have any status better than they had under Batista.

I agree with Gordon about Castro's need for the embargo. However, I would be guided by what those being rounded up want us to do. Unfortunately, I didn't get a clear picture of that from the testimony today. All opposition Cubans have been working for increased Cuban/US contacts, for more exchange, less embargo. Several of them said that while Castro is imprisoning opposition, this is not the time to insist on more contact. Others were more ambiguous. All wanted people here to speak out about what's happening there.

Thanks for the link to the petition. I'm delighted to see all those names on it.

Posted by: Leah A at April 17, 2003 06:47 AM

Re. Gordon: "Castro realizes that, without the embargo, his country would soon be flooded with Americans, American products, and investment. The net outcome of this would be the acceleration of the collapse of the already tottering government."

As the State of Cuba would broker any investment contracts (and travel visas also) between the U.S. and itself, in the event of a repeal of the embargo--as was precisely the case prior to the embargo--this portrait of a Castro powerless against a tide of American crap is just wrongheaded. So insofar as this portrait undergirds the argument for a secretly pro-embargo Castro, that argument fails.

Posted by: Joshua L at May 1, 2003 04:27 AM

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