Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Truth about Cuba

Since the victory of the revolution in 1959 Cuba has faced every sort of attack imaginable from the United States government. With the aim of isolating, weakening, and overthrowing the revolution, there have been numerous assassination attempts on Cuba’s leaders, threats of nuclear annihilation, spy flights, a mercenary invasion, right-wing terrorist attacks, the introduction of insects and diseases to kill its crops and livestock, and an ongoing propaganda campaign aimed at distorting the truth and turning the American people against Cuba. But one question remains: why?

As Cuban President Fidel Castro explained in a 1976 speech, "The imperialists are pained that Cuba, the attacked and blockaded country they tried to destroy years fifteen ago by a mercenary invasion, is today a solid and indestructible bulwark of the world revolutionary movement, whose example of bravery, dignity, and determination gives encouragement to peoples in their struggle for liberation."
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter admitted this in 1980, saying, “The real threat of Cuba is that they offer a model to be emulated by people who are dissatisfied with their lot or who are struggling to change things for the better.”

So what is the truth about Cuba?

The Making Of A Revolution
Christopher Colombus landed in Cuba in 1492 and claimed the island as a colony of Spain. The Spanish forced the islands native’s to convert to Catholicism and to accept the Spanish monarch as their leader, massacring both men, women, and children across the island in order to break their will to resist.
They put the natives to work in mines, on plantations, in households as servants, and as soldiers in their army. Forcefully removed from their communities, overworked, underfed, and subjected to new diseases brought from Europe, the natives were nearly exterminated by 1542. Many of Cuba’s original inhabitants chose to kill their own children and themselves rather than starve or become slaves of the Spanish.
In the 17th century the Spanish began forcefully capturing Africans and importing them to Cuba as slaves to replace the disappearing natives as workers in mines and on sugar plantations.
The Cuban sugar industry grew immensely when the slaves of the neighboring French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) launched a victorious rebellion in 1791. Before the revolt, Saint-Domingue had a booming coffee and sugar industry dependent on the labor of African slaves. After 1791, Haiti’s sugar production never matched its former level, and Cuba emerged as the world’s major sugar producer. This lead Spanish landowners to buy new land, build additional sugar refineries, and carry unprecedented numbers of Africans into Cuba as slaves.

Cubans began fighting for their independence from Spain in the 1860's. And, after a series of wars over many years – as the Cuban independence fighters were finally on the verge of victory – the United States intervened to protect its own “interests”.
The U.S. government declared war on Spain in 1898, claiming the Spanish blew up one of its ships (which it didn’t), and quickly seized, through battles and the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.. The United States occupied Cuba, and the U.S. Army disbanded the patriot army and excluded the Cuban patriots – who had fought 30 years for liberation – from power. For the next fifty years the United States would dominate and exploit Cuba in every way imaginable. The U.S. even refused to end the military occupation of the country unless it accepted the Platt Amendment, which prohibited Cuba from making treaties and alliances with other countries, granted military bases on the island to the United States (including Guantanamo Bay, which it holds to this day against the will of the Cuban people), allowed U.S. intervention on the island whenever instability threatened, and limited Cuba’s ability to accept foreign loans.

Although the majority of Cubans opposed the Platt Amendment, a handful of Cuban politicians, who were very friendly toward the U.S., passed it. After a series of fraudulent elections, military coups, and U.S. military interventions, in January 1934, with the encouragement of the U.S. government, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista led a military coup.
Batista, as head of the military, governed from behind the scenes from 1934 to 1940, while a number of puppet politicians served as president. In 1944, Batista retired to the United States.
In 1952, after the terms of two of the most corrupt presidents in Cuban history, Batista returned from the United States to run for president. When it became apparent that he would not win the election, he organized another military coup and became dictator. The Cuban people organized into opposition groups against the dictator everywhere.

A young lawyer and political activist, Fidel Castro, brought together a number of young people who were dedicated to the overthrow of Batista and reinstatement of the Cuban constitution. On July 26, Castro and 150 armed Cuban men and women set out to attack the Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba – the country’s second largest fortress. Their plan was to suprise attack the barracks, and secure weapons to arm the Cuban people for the overthrow of the dictator. Some of the men and women got lost on the way to the barracks, while many of the ones who did make it were quickly captured by soldiers. Castro and several others escaped, but were later arrested. By Batista’s orders, the army brutally tortured and killed 68 insurgents – martyrs who are today heroes in Cuba.
After attempting to defend many of his comrades who were captured, Castro was put on trial in a hospital under the guard of the military. His defense speech, “History Will Absolve Me” – in which he argued that it was Batista, and not his movement, that violated constitutional law because it took power illegally and tortured and killed prisoners, and in which he promised to lead a revolution that would launch a program of land reform, build houses, offer greater employment opportunities, expand health and welfare services, and nationalize the country’s utilities – became the blueprint for his movement. The tribunal sentenced Castro to 15 years in prison.

Fidel and the others in prison built their movement, the “26th of July Movement” (named after the date of their attack on the Moncada Barracks) with the help of supporters throughout Cuba, . After serving two years in prison, Batista was forced by public outcry to release them.
Soon afterwards, due to death threats from Batista’s forces, Fidel and others from the 26th of July Movement were forced to leave Cuba, and went into exile in Mexico. Knowing there was no way to get rid of the dictator Batista or create a more just society legally, they began to make plans to invade Cuba and begin guerrilla actions.
After raising funds from several sources, including the Cuban community in the U.S., a small farm outside of Mexico City was purchased where the rebels trained. It was around this time that Fidel met the Argentine Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, who agreed to join him within hours.

The Mexican police arrested, and then later released the rebels with the understanding that they would leave the country immediately. This caused the group to hasten their departure.

The 81 guerrillas – including Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida, and Fidel’s brother Raul – crammed themselves into the small yacht Granma, and departed Mexico on the night of November 24, 1956.
Bad weather and other mishaps delayed their arrival by two days (thus rendering useless an armed uprising in Santiago which was aimed at drawing away the attention of Batista’s forces), and caused them to arrive 30 miles away from the point where weapons and reinforcements awaited them.
Almost immediately after their landing, they were ambushed by Batista’s troops. All but a dozen of the rebels were killed.
The handful of survivors made their way undetected into the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains. It was from here that their Rebel Army would organize raids on military installations to acquire weapons, working closely with the regions peasants and gaining their full support.

Herbert Matthews, a New York Times correspondent, was invited to the Sierra Maestra to report on the 26th of July Movement. Matthews’ reports brought international attention to the movement. New recruits continued to join the rebels, and urban guerrilla groups, such as the Civic Resistance group, founded in 1957, became auxiliaries of the 26th of July Movement.
On March 13, 1957, a group of students, the Revolutionary Directorate, attacked the presidential palace, in an attempt to assassinate Batista. The dictator barely escaped with his life as the rebels shot their way onto the grounds. José Antonio Echeverría, the directorate’s leader, was shot and the rest of his men were captured, killed, or forced into hiding. Today they are considered heroes in Cuba.
The Rebel Army continued to win battle after battle as the Cuban people’s opposition to Batista increased. In March of 1958, 45 civic organizations signed an open letter supporting the guerrillas.
Columns of troops lead by guerrilla leaders like Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos began to split off from the main army and made their way towards the capital city of Havana, defeating Batista’s troops in several battles along the way.
At dawn on January 1st, 1959, after the all-but-complete defeat of the armed forces by the rebels, Batista fled Cuba and left the island in the hands of a military junta.
On January 2nd, the troops of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos entered Havana, which was paralyzed by a general strike, On January 8th, Fidel entered the city triumphantly and was greeted by thousands upon thousands of joyful Cubans from all over the country.

The United States was hostile towards the revolution from the outset, because it put the interests of the Cuban people above interests of the U.S. Government and American-owned business.

Human Rights
As a part of its propaganda campaign, the United States Government and its agencies have continually accused Cuba of human rights abuses. But when the accomplishments of the Cuban revolution are compared to the actions of the U.S. Government, the truth becomes quite clear.

Fidel Castro himself put it best when he asked, “On what moral grounds can the rulers of a nation in which millionaires and beggars exists; Indians are exterminated; Blacks are discriminated against; women are prostituted; and huge numbers of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and other Latin Americans are scorned, exploited, and humiliated, speak of human rights?
“How can the representatives of a capitalist and imperialist society based on the exploitation of man by man, combined with egoism, individualism, and a complete lack of human solidarity, do this?
“How can those that train and provide military supplies to the bloodiest, most reactionary, and most corrupt governments in the world, such as those of Somoza, Pinochet, Stroessner, the gorillas in Uruguay, Mobutu, and the shah of Iran, just to name a few, mouth this slogan?
“How can the leaders of a state whose intelligence agencies organized assassination attempts against the leaders of other countries and whose armies dropped explosives in Vietnam equivalent to hundreds of atom bombs, such as those that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and who murdered millions of Vietnamese without even deigning to apologize to the country or pay indemnity for the lives lost – the leaders of a state that has traditionally intervened in Latin America, subjects the people of this part of the world to its exploiting yoke, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children every year due to illness and starvation – how can they speak of human rights?
“In short, how can the imperialist government that forcibly maintains a military base in our territory and subjects our people to a criminal economic blockade speak of human rights?”

The truth is that the revolution has greatly improved and extended human rights to all Cubans.
Illiteracy, which before the revolution affected almost half of the population, has been eliminated, and all Cubans are now guaranteed free education through college. Cuba has one of the highest rates of people enrolled in classes in the entire world.
After the revolution, an entirely free health care system was created, and it has become by far the best of any underdeveloped country in the world. The average life expectancy in Cuba has risen from fifty-nine years to over seventy-five. In fact, the infant mortality rate – that is the number of children that die in their first year of life – is lower in Cuba than in the United States!
A Cuban woman explains what this has meant for her family, “Since the revolution, we have national healthcare. The revolution brought that, and gave my mother two life saving operations. Two. That would not have been possible before the revolution. Not at all. Without the revolution, my mother would be dead by now.”
As a part of its internationalist policy, Cuba has sent thousands of volunteer doctors and nurses to countries all around the world.
While the other countries of Latin America face chronic unemployment, with rates up to fifty percent, this problem no longer exists in Cuba.
Prior to 1959, the only “jobs” available to women were those of domestic servant and prostitute – Cuba was even known as the “whorehouse of the Caribbean.” Since the revolution those “jobs” have been all but completely eliminated, while an continually increasing number of women are entering into the labor force in all fields or taking up positions in government. Cuba has the world’s most advanced system of benefits for mothers-to-be, and free birth control and abortion has been made available to all women. Also, Cuban women are guaranteed a living wage whether they work or not, so they do not have to marry or remain married out of financial considerations.
In Cuba, whether a couple or not, both parents are obligated to support their children. No child is considered illegitimate, and both men and women are responsible for the maintenance of the home.
In 1958, 75 percent of the land was controlled by 8 percent of the property owners. Following the victory of the revolution, one of the most extensive and wide ranging land reforms in the world was undertaken, bringing immensely better living conditions and opportunities to the country’s many farmers and agricultural workers.
Before the revolution Blacks and Mulattos faced severe discrimination, and in fact, in the island nation, Blacks weren’t even allowed to go to the beach! After the revolution discrimination was wiped out, and pride in Cuba’s African heritage has been continually increasing ever since.
As Eric, a Black Cuban, explained to author C. Peter Ripley, “Our life here before the revolution was a lot like in the United States I think. Maybe worse, I don’t know. But I know what the revolution has meant for people like me. There was prejudice. It was very bad, to be Black. To be Black and poor. It was very bad. We could do nothing. I wish my English was better so I could explain better.
“Now we can do whatever everyone else can. Be here or there. Hold important jobs. When people in the United States talk about Cuba, there never ask people like me what I think, what we think.
“We will never go back to the way things were. We can’t. Won’t.”

Democracy and Freedom of Speech
A long standing myth, promoted by the U.S. government and enemies of the revolution, is that democracy doesn’t exist in Cuba. In fact, Cuba has one of the most democratic systems in the world!
Cubans select their representatives through a process known as Poder Popular (Peoples Power) in elections that take place every 2 ½ years.
Cubans sixteen and older elect, via direct and secret ballot, City and provincial leaders, and representatives of the National Assembly. The National Assembly in turn nominates and then elects the president.

But what is it that makes Cuba’s system so democratic?

First of all, the Cuban people themselves meet and nominate candidates, and anyone can be selected, including non-members of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party). Most who are selected are workers or peasants, or students who are children of workers or peasants. As Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's parliament explains, "In other words, everyone within society can nominate whoever they want, and then make up their own minds." Tellingly, although the PCC presents no lists or candidates, over three quarters of successful candidates are party members.
Secondly, campaigns – which in capitalist “democracies” consist of rich politicians and their friends spending huge sums of money on television, radio, and newspaper ads in which they deceive voters with false promises – are a thing of the past in Cuba. Instead, a resume of each candidate, including a photograph and a biography listing things such as education and experience are posted in public places prior to the election.
Finally, all representatives are subject to recall by their electors. In other words, if the people are not satisfied with their representatives, they can vote to remove them from their position, and then nominate and elect someone else to replace them.
This truly democratic process, completely impartial and free from corruption, explains why elections in Cuba have voter turnouts of 95 percent and higher, while in “democratic” capitalist countries like the U.S. less than half of the eligible voters ever cast a ballot.

It doesn’t end there. The Cuban people are involved in all aspects of society through their work places and unions, and mass organizations like the Federation of Cuban Women and Committees in Defense of the Revolution. Delegates of Peoples Power meet with those they represent on a regular basis, not only discussing their problems, but offering solutions. In Cuba, even congressional bills and laws are submitted to the people for their discussion and approval!
And as anyone that has visited Cuba will tell you, Cubans who are critical of the government have no fear in voicing their views.
The truth is, the revolution could not have lasted over forty-six years, under continual attack, were it not for the full support of the Cuban people, because, after all, the revolution is the Cuban people.

The Revolution Continues
To be sure, life in Cuba is not perfect. Through all the shortages and crises (many of which were created by the U.S. government in one way or another), the leadership of the revolution has always been completely honest with the Cuban people.

A fair comparison between the conditions US and Cuba can’t me made, because they are very different countries with extremely different social systems. The United States is a giant capitalist, imperialist country which exploits and invades other, weaker countries for material goods (such as oil), cheap labor, and markets to sell its goods, while Cuba is a small socialist nation, which according to its own principles can only acquire foreign goods by dealing fairly with other countries, even when they don’t want to deal fairly with Cuba. But comparing Cuba with other underdeveloped, former colonies with similar histories helps put the accomplishments of the revolution in perspective (see graph one and graph two).
The revolution has not made every Cuban rich, giving them each a car and a houseboat, nor have any of its leaders ever claimed that it would. Cuba was a poor country before the revolution, and will most likely continue to be (as will the other underdeveloped countries of the world) until a more just, socialist social order is established in a substantial part of the world. This social order will be established when the working class and oppressed people of other countries come together and carry out their own socialist revolutions.

What the revolution has done however, in the face of ongoing attacks and a criminal economic blockade by the most powerful nation in the world, is provide completely free healthcare and education to all, eliminate illiteracy, take the land and houses of the rich and redistribute them to make sure everyone has a place to live, put all businesses and industry in the hands of the Cuban people, end racial discrimination, end the exploitation and discrimination of women, provided thousands of doctors and other volunteers to poor, underdeveloped countries around the world, and most importantly, it has done away with the exploiters, the rich parasites that make enormous amounts of money by exploiting the work of the vast majority of people (the working class) in capitalist countries like the U.S.
A young Cuban explains, “I think some people come to Cuba to find our unhappiness. They can only see what we don’t have. The things that make life in Cuba different from the States, as if there’s only one way to make happiness.”

He continues, “I have one friend who went to Miami. He came back for a visit, and once he got to Havana, he refused to leave. He told me that in America he knew no one. No one spoke to him. No one looked him in the eyes when he walked on the sidewalk. He was really unhappy. Told me that drugs and violence and racism scared him, a lot.”

Since 1959 the Cuban people have been building their own society, a socialist society based on solidarity, real democracy, justice, and equality, and they will continue to do so no matter what the obstacle, as Che said, “Hasta la victoria, siempre (until the victory, always)!”


Arzoo said...

Ahan i saw the red diary in the white background and black words
i respect the cammunists like Bhagat singh and Fedral castro and i do think that it is the best man made ideology but still i think the system given to us by god is better
So which type of cammunist are you democratic or mau-nawaz gaurilla?

Umer A. Chaudhry said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. As you can see that I am not an expert at blog templetes. I just keep on experimenting.

I don't see the system given by God, i-e Islam, working for some very obvious reasons. The prime reason is that it is very rigid and there is no room for changes with the changing circumstances. It leaves a huge room open for expolitation.

I do not want to envision islam as an expolitative religion. But whenever you involve religion in politics, it becomes expolitative. Therefore, I think it is easy to keep them seperate.