Eating Crow: US and Cuba Talk Human Rights

by Netfa Freeman
“Cuba’s designation on the U.S.’s Terrorist list designation is a means of enforcing the U.S. blockade against Cuba.”
Given the typical spin U.S. corporate media puts on stories about Cuba one would assume the March 31st meeting between the United States and Cuba on human rights would be awkward for Cuba. The U.S. propaganda has continuously characterized Cuba as abusing the human rights of its citizens and imprisoning people merely for political dissent. But, on the contrary, it is the very topic of human rights that enables the tables to turn and affords an opportunity to expose the reality within both countries.

No major announcements emerged from the meeting, the first formal dialogue between the countries on human rights since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on December 17, 2014 that they were seeking to restore diplomatic ties.

However, the head of the Cuban delegation to the talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso said , "We expressed our concerns regarding discrimination and racism patterns in U.S. society, the worsening of police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo." “During a news conference in Washington, the deputy general director for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the island´s delegation also put forth its concern about the limitation of labor rights and union liberties.”

As such, some of us working in the Cuba solidarity movement feel this is also a window of opportunity to connect and raise the issues of U.S. mass incarceration, the epidemic of police killings, and the plight of political prisoners like American Indian Movement freedom fighter Leonard Peltier and revolutionary Black journalist Mumia Abu Jamal. Currently Mumia is in a fight for his life from a callous extralegal execution through state sponsored medical malpractice.

“Unlike the U.S., Cuba regards education, healthcare, and employment as human rights, not privileges.”
For three months Mumia showed signs of diabetes. He was examined by prison doctors multiple times with blood drawn three times in February alone, yet the diabetes was not diagnosed until he was taken to an outside hospital after fainting in the prison with blood sugar near diabetic coma levels. After a couple of days, he was sent back to the care in the same prison that put him at death’s door.

It is understandable that family members and supporters feel this is a conscious attempt to carry out an extra-legal execution through medical neglect. At the very least it exposes the inadequate and inhumane treatment of incarcerated senior citizens.

Only audacious hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. government in general and Barak Obama in particular would insist on the mischaracterization of Cuba as a violator of human rights and insist it be a topic for negotiating normal relations, while practicing such bloody disregard for human life internationally and domestically.

Considering the interrelationship between human rights and economic justice, a comparison between Cuba and the US reveals more stark contrasts. Unlike the U.S., Cuba regards education, healthcare, and employment as human rights, not privileges. Cuba provides free education, from pre-k up to the university level, and healthcare to all its citizens is completely free of charge. In revolutionary Cuba even the incarcerated would not have to endure what Mumia Abu Jamal is currently facing.

Who are the “Dissidents” in Cuba?

It takes a sort of media literacy and contextual information to deconstruct corporate news media, as well as U.S. government propaganda. A Reuters report on the talks says, “The United States has pressed Cuba to improve human rights conditions on the communist-led island and expressed concern, in particular, about the jailing of political dissidents and activists and treatment of political prisoners… Cuba has told Washington it will not tolerate interference in its internal affairs and has demanded that the United States stop supporting dissidents.”

The U.S. doesn’t, nor does corporate news acknowledge, the existence of U.S. political prisoners, who certainly are not sheltered from the notoriously inhumane conditions of other prisoners. In fact they are often treated worse, locked in solitary confinement (aka the hole) a practice that is alien in Cuba, according to a delegation of U.S. social workers who visited prisons on the Island.

If one is not careful, however, it might be easy to overlook the statement, in Reuters, that Cuba “will not tolerate interference in its internal affairs and has demanded that the United States stop supporting dissidents.” This should beg the question, Who are the “dissidents” and how does the U.S. support them?

“Cuba has very valid national security concerns that no country can simply take for granted.”
A declassified October 1961 document authored by then CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick states, “The history of the (U.S) Cuban Project begins in 1959” and goes on to outline its fundamental aspects: “a) Formation of a Cuban exile organization…to direct opposition activities, and to provide cover for Agency operations. b) A propaganda offensive in the name of the opposition. c) Creation inside Cuba of a clandestine intelligence collection and action apparatus to be responsive to the direction of the exile organization. d) Development outside Cuba of a small paramilitary force to be introduced into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance groups.”

Such activities remain in effect today under the title “Cuba Program,” compliments of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This means Cuba has very valid national security concerns that no country can simply take for granted.

In response to this Cuba has enacted laws specifically designed to keep its citizens from aiding and abetting the US’s immoral and internationally condemned Helms-Burton Act. The Helms-Burton Act (a.k.a. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity – Libertad – Act of 1996) strengthens and extends the territorial application of the initial US embargo into a blockade – an act of war – against Cuba and reinforces the use of Cuban nationals to commit treason by posing as political dissidents while disseminating false and misleading information on behalf of the US to justify the blockade.

In 2003 Cuba arrested several if its citizens on such charges. The U.S. government and corporate news used the arrests to accuse Cuba of “cracking down on dissent,” in spite of an impressive and detailed April 9, 2003 press conference Cuba held to combat the misinformation and lies spread by U.S. imperialism.

Decades of U.S. use of a combination of internal destabilization efforts on the Island and its extensive international propaganda apparatus has planted skepticism about human rights in Cuba. But it is also U.S. primary source information that can give us a more accurate background and understanding of this.

A 1994 memo sent by Joseph Sullivan, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, to former Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, the Central Intelligence Agency CIA) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) discusses the difficulties encountered in attempting to find legitimate cases of human rights violations in Cuba. The memo was leaked to the Cubans by “friendly hands,” and was distributed by Cuba to member states of the United Nations on March 2, 1994 to provide evidence of the U.S. government's intentional distortion of the human rights situation in Cuba in order to justify its policy of aggression.

“Some Cuban nationals pose as political dissidents while disseminating false and misleading information on behalf of the US to justify the blockade.”
The memo even goes as far as admitting that even after the U.S. Interest Section in Havana adjusted requirements for more Cubans to qualify for political asylum, most still only qualified at best for economic asylum.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. when it comes to its accusations against Cuba is nothing short of astounding. It even includes Cuba in its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism ,” after the U.S. has trained and supported decades of terrorism against Cuba . Which led Cuba to dispatch the now release Cuban 5 to the U.S. The Cuban 5’s mission was to infiltrate the rightwing violent Cuban exile groups based in Miami and find ways to nonviolently stop or thwart their plans of terrorism. Instead of arresting the terrorists the U.S. arrested the Cuban 5. The last 3 who were still imprisoned in December were released as part of the first gesture in normalizing relations between the two countries. It is important that Cuba’s designation on the U.S.’s Terrorist list not be underestimated as a harmless, albeit false, accusation. The designation is a means of enforcing the U.S. blockade against Cuba. It is a means of denying the country extensions of credit in the U.S. and international banking system. It forces the country to do transactions in cash, which is virtually impossible for any government in this global economy and makes it a burden for its diplomatic mission in the U.S. to carry out the normal duties of a consulate or embassy.

It is clear that the U.S. interests in normalizing relations is not a change of heart or an abandonment of U.S. intentions to undermine the Cuban revolution. Regardless it is a welcomed development. At the very least it affords us all the opportunity to place the records of these two countries side by side and ask, “Will the real violator of human rights please stand up.”

Netfa Freeman is a long time Pan-Africanist, human rights activists based in DC, working at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-host/producer for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM.