Michael Lebowitz speaks out on Cuba
Source Louis Proyect
Date 03/05/22/14:22

Dear friends and comrades,

I confess to impatience with people who talk about gross human rights
abuses and repression with respect to the recent trials of so-called
dissidents in Cuba--- without any sign that they have done any
investigation beyond reading an Amnesty International press release (if
that). The most significant repression in Cuba (where I have been--
except for trips to Venezuela--- since early February) has been the
repression of law-breaking--- first and most significantly against an
emerging drug network and extending to prosecution of people renting
apartments without licenses, serving food obtained through the black
market in the paladares and even to people selling peanuts on the street
without a license. (Policing and fines for traffic violations are also
up substantially.) Since so many people rely heavily on getting a little
(and in some cases, a lot) on the side, this crack-down has had great
impact, and my personal view (not the Cuban official position) is that
it is an important part of the explanation as to why there was an
upsurge in hijackings (not only the ones which made the headlines but
also the 27 foiled plots)--- and why people with criminal records were
prominent in these.

That's not the repression, though, that people mean when they go on
about the plight of independent journalists, librarians, trade
unionists, human rights activists, etc--- as if these people were tried
for this rather than for receiving money and instructions from the US.
Please, folks, take a little time to read the text of the Helms-Burton
Act--- eg. sections 205 and 206 on the regime change demanded (character
of the 'transition government' and who cannot be part of it) or sections
109 and 115 on the money to be provided for the overthrow of the
existing government openly through the USAID and secretly. Look, too, at
the official US declarations of the over $22 million devoted to this
purpose by the USAID. And, finally, read some of the evidence on-line
(eg., copies of hand-written notes giving instructions and sending money
for the establishment of the Varela Project, 'conceived, financed and
directed' from the outside) or, for a shorter version, look at the text
of Felipe Perez Roque's press conference (available on-line at many
sites, including When you've read some of the
statements by the Cuban undercover agents who were receiving as much as
$450 US a month--- over 20 times the average Cuban salary) and their
evidence about writing articles for foreign circulation on specific
subjects suggested by US officials, you'll understand why the so-called
dissidents are viewed in Cuba as mercenaries working on behalf of the US
government to overthrow the Cuban government.

Of course, it's so much easier to recoil with horror at the concept of
independent journalists, etc being persecuted! In contrast to my
feelings about the defenders of those mercenaries, I respect people
whose criticism of Cuba proceeds from their view of the absolute
sanctity of human life--- including those who signed statements of
condemnation or demonstrated against Cuba for this reason-- if they have
done so in opposition to capital punishment in their own countries and
in the United States (including that country's heinous torture of
people--- teenagers among them--- in occupied Cuba, i.e. Guantanamo).
There have been very strong statements about capital punishment made on
this list--- suggesting that capital punishment must be viewed as a
moral (and/or political) absolute and that no circumstances could ever
justify it. Accordingly, having resorted to capital punishment recently,
from this perspective Cuba must be condemned. (This position is to be
distinguished from one which argues that the use of capital punishment
was a tactical or strategical error--- one which has reduced support for
Cuba at this critical time.)

I think that it is unquestionable that state murders cannot be part of
the society that we want to build. From my perspective as a Marxist,
though, central to a dialectical world-view is that parts do not exist
separate from a whole; their properties are those that they acquire from
being in a particular whole--- ie., from a particular combination with
other parts. (Eg., money has different qualities if it mediates exchange
between independent peasants and craftsmen than it does mediating
exchange within capitalism.) From this perspective, one always has to
consider context and combination. If you are willing to accept in
principle that under some set of extreme circumstances, ie., in a
particular context, capital punishment may be acceptable, then our
discussion becomes not one of absolutes but, rather, whether the context
in Cuba in any way justified capital punishment. (I.e., as George
Bernard Shaw said in another context, we've established the principle,
and we're just haggling over the price.) But, then, you really DO have
to investigate the context--- and not be satisfied with making
ill-informed comments about repression in Cuba.

Although I've argued in the past about the necessity to separate the
capital punishment question from the spy trials, I now think that the
two issues need to be understood together--- i.e., that the actions of
the Cuban government in both cases must be placed in a particular
context. There are two questions that I think everyone needs to ask: (1)
why, after several years of a moratorium on capital punishment (which
has meant that terrorists who bombed hotels, resulting in a death, in
Cuba are still alive in prison despite receiving a death sentence), did
the government apply the death penalty in the case of the hijackers of a
small ferry? (2) Given the clear isolation and ineffectiveness within
Cuba of the 'dissidents', why did Cuba choose this time to surface 12
undercover agents who were so well-placed that they included the head of
the Pro-Human Rights Party, the 'dean of Cuba's independent reporters'
(so trusted by the US Interests Section that he had a permanent pass
into the US Interests Section) and the secretary of one of the
best-known dissidents-- so trusted that she had her e-mail password)?
I.e., why throw away years of investment in intelligence now?

In part, the obvious answer is the escalation of the US campaign to
overthrow the Cuban government--- starting from James Cason's taking of
office as Head of the US Interests Office in Havana. (His actions---
including the setting up of a Cuban political party--- are
well-documented.) Add to this the recent welcoming of hi-jackers in the
US; rather than returning them to Cuba and sending the signal that
hijacking is not rewarded, they are out on bail (and walk the streets of
Miami along with other Cuban terrorists). Add to this the fact that,
despite an annual quota established by treaty for a minimum of 20,000
legal immigrants from Cuba, since October (the beginning of the year),
the US Interests Section had by March given out only 505 visas. Add to
that recent statements from US officials that they would view a mass
illegal emigration from Cuba as a threat to national security, the
demands in Miami that Cuba be next after Iraq and Rumsfield's comment
that there was no intention of attacking Cuba 'now'---- and you can
understand why Cuba might feel that the US was attempting to provoke an
incident in order to justify an attack. But, there's more than just the
direct provocations and assaults on Cuba.

The essential context in which to understand Cuba's actions is the US
war against Iraq--- both the execution of that war and the powerlessness
of opposition to it. The US determination to go ahead despite the
historic world-wide demonstrations against the war revealed that,
whatever long-run effect the mobilisation might have, in the immediate
situation the demonstrations could not stop an aggressor nation
determined to have its way; i.e., as long as there was business as
usual, no high costs to be felt by the aggressor, every country was on
its own. Cuba was on its own. (Do you think that the leaders, eg., in
Venezuela were not making the same observations when watching the US
proceed to ignore the UN and world opinion?)

This is why the Cubans speak about a Nazi-Fascism stalking the world. In
this situation, I think Cuba opted for its own 'shock and awe' campaign.
It surfaced its undercover agents to demonstrate to the US how skillful
Cuban intelligence is. (Lest anyone not get that message, Felipe Perez
Roque underlined it at the press conference, noting 'that no one in Cuba
is a fool, that we have revealed only a small part of what we know; ...
our people have learned to defend themselves.') And, Cuba took the
dramatic and painful act of executing the hijackers. As Fidel told the
foreign participants to the Marx conference at an unannounced evening
gathering (and subsequently told a Mexican journalist), the choice was
between those deaths and many more which would result from the US plan
to provoke an immigration crisis which would be used 'as a pretext for a
naval blockade, which would inevitably lead to war'. '"We know full well
this has a price, since a great number of friends - and many of our best
friends - for various reasons, whether religious, humanitarian or
philosophical, are opposed to the death penalty," Castro explained. But
he insisted that "we didn't have the right to hesitate, and we will not
hesitate."' That part was meant to send a message both to those within
Cuba, thinking about hijacking planes, etc and being let out on bail in
the US, and also to those within the US planning for Cuba to follow
Iraq. The message was that Cuba was prepared to do what is necessary to
defend itself.

I think that some of those friends of Cuba who are criticising Cuba at
this moment should explain what they would do at this time--- not by
reference to what they would do in their ideal socialist society but
what they would do in Cuba's shoes in this real situation. And, if they
differ from what Cuba has done, they should explain why they think they
know better the real threat that Cuba faces than Cuba's own intelligence
network. And they should explain what they are prepared to do to help
Cuba defend itself.

in solidarity, michael

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6


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