Political Perceptions Of The U.S. And Cuba

“The U.S. challenges Cuba in what will surely be the biggest fight of the century!”
A Look at the Discrepancies between the Political Perceptions of Enemy Nations

“The standard line here… is that the [Cuban] embargo… doesn’t harm the Cubans. The only people who are harmed by it are North Americans like farmers and agro-business who want to export there, but it has no effect on Cuba except to help Castro.… [However,] the American Association of World Health… concluded that the embargo had dramatically harmed health and nutrition in Cuba, and caused a significant rise in suffering and death. It would have been a humanitarian catastrophe, they said, except that it was averted by the Cuban health system” (Chomsky, 73).

Noam Chomsky’s discussion of the historic and persistent U.S. embargo on Cuba (in “Part II” of Power and Terror) caused me to think about the serious inconsistencies I’ve noticed in the perspectives of the two nations regarding the current political situation. I’ve chosen to compare passages from two sources—the Office of the White House Press Secretary (WHPS) in Washington, D.C. and Granma Internacional, a Communist publication from Cuba—in order to see if there’s any mutual level of understanding of the so-called “facts.”

First, let us establish the situation in the context of the broader political climate—let’s say, hemispherically, shall we? According to U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, “the Cuban people should not be forgotten in a hemisphere that is now overwhelmingly democratic” (WHPS, 10.14.03).

According to Granma, “Anyone who has closely followed the history of the Revolution knows that this is the only country in our hemisphere where, for more than four decades, there has not been a single case of torture, disappearance, or assassination” (4.18.03).

Hmm… could this mean that the nature of democracy includes torture, disappearance, and assassination? I wouldn’t think that the White House would support such a claim. How else do we explain such a difference in perspective, then? Does Cuba’s claim not take into consideration that many of the democracies in the Western Hemisphere are newly democratic, and that the struggle for freedom was often bloody? Ok, that could work.

For our second point, let’s discuss the nature of Cuba’s domestic political policies. Granma’s claims are that “only the unbreakable unity of the immense majority of Cubans—the workers, campesinos, students, intellectuals, and artists—in support of the historical leadership of the Revolution has made possible the defense of socialism and of our independence and sovereignty.… We Cuban workers, who have dedicated our lives to the defense of the Revolution by making a reality our dearest dreams of liberty and social justice, know that what is at stake is our own existence as a nation truly free and independent…” (4.18.03). Wow, that’s pretty amazing, huh? Idealist, perhaps, but in practice it sounds wonderful.

U.S. President George W. Bush, however, seems to view their domestic structure a tad differently: “Elections in Cuba are still a sham. Opposition groups still organize and meet at their own peril. Private economic activity is still strangled. Non-government trade unions are still oppressed and suppressed. Property rights are still ignored. And most goods and services produced in Cuba are still reserved for the political elites” (WHPS, 10.10.03).

Ouch. Ok, maybe not so idealistic and happy and twee. What’s that all about? How can those two claims co-exist peacefully (aside from the idea that private property and institutions go against communist doctrine)? Perhaps it’s a case of ideological, hot misperception: that in this case, both parties are so confident in their chosen political, economic, and social way of life that their perceptions of one another are tainted. Perhaps the real truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Another issue is that of Cuban emigration to the States. Last month, Bush promised to “ensure that Cubans fleeing the dictatorship do not risk their lives at sea. My administration is improving the method through which we identify refugees, and redoubling our efforts to process Cubans who seek to leave.… We will increase the number of new Cuban immigrants we welcome every year.… Our goal is to help more Cubans safely complete their journey to a free land” (WHPS, 10.10.03). He wasn’t kidding about the refugee thing. In a Memo to the Secretary of State, “Presidential Determination on FY 2004 Refugee Admissions,” he included “Persons in Cuba” alongside those in Vietnam and the former Soviet Union as reviewable for refugee status within those countries (WHPS, 10.22.03).

But then Granma has to go and dredge up the whole Migration Agreement discrepancy. “According to the Migration Agreement signed between both countries [the U.S. and Cuba], the government of the United States is committed to granting 20,000 emigrant visas per year. Each year of the agreement commences on October 1. Between October 1 and February 28, the first five months of the current period, Washington has granted 505 visas. During the same period last year 7,237 visas were granted; in 2001, over 8,300; in 2000, 10,860; and in 1999 some 11,600 Cubans received visas and emigrated to the Unites States” (4.16.03).

It’s interesting that Bush didn’t mention this pretty significant pattern of breaking the agreement. Does that mean that it’s all in the past, and therefore not in need of addressing? That “from now on” he’ll be nicer to Cuban “refugees”?

Or is there something more sinister going on? The same Granma article suggests that this is all part of “a conscious plan to stimulate illegal emigration via acts of terrorism with the objective of casting aside the migratory agreements between the two countries and creating a chaotic situation. The objective is to stimulate mass migration, obliging Washington to take aggressive action to avoid it.” Woah. That sounds sketchy.

And then, of course, there’s the international community’s involvement in this whole mess. Bush declares that “America is not alone in calling for freedom inside of Cuba. Countries around the globe and the United Nations Human Rights Commission increasingly recognize the oppressive nature of the Castro regime, and have denounced its recent crackdowns. We will continue to build a strong international coalition to advance the cause of freedom inside of Cuba” (WHPS, 10.10.03).

But then, of course, an inconsistency: “The UN General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority this November 4 to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States. A resolution adopted here in that respect obtained the record total of 179 votes in favor, just the United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands against, and only two abstentions” (Granma, 11.5.03).

I’m not even quite sure how to go about analyzing this discrepancy. To me, it’s entirely too clear who’s got the wrong information (or, maybe, is utilizing such wrong information to gain constituency support): the United States, of course!

A more specific issue I’d like to bring up is the detainment and conviction of 75 counterrevolutionary Cubans this past April. Cuba’s stance on this is pretty clear: “In any country in the world, those who serve a foreign power against the interests of their own country are considered traitors. The seriousness of those acts is greater if they are carried out under the conditions in a country permanently threatened and assaulted.… In every case, the trials were carried out in accordance with the laws of our country, laws very similar or equal to the laws that exist in many countries of the world. No one has been punished for their dissent but rather for the crime of treason against their own people” (Granma, 4.18.03).

The U.S., however, once again appears to view the issue a bit differently. According to Rice, “[Bush] said to Castro, we will improve our relations with Cuba if you’ll just allow free elections and some basic freedoms for your people. And what did Castro do? He cracked down even harder on dissidents” (WHPS, 10.14.03). And according to Bush himself, “In April, 75 peaceful members of Cuban opposition were given harsh prison sentences, some as long a 20 years. Their crimes were to publish newspapers, to organize petition drives, to meet to discuss the future of their country. Cuba’s political prisoners subjected to beatings and solitary confinement and the denial of medical treatment” (WHPS, 10.10.03).

So what were they, traitors or dissidents? Were they justly convicted or unfairly, even brutally silenced? Is Cuba to be trusted, as they don’t have our beloved First Amendment? Is the U.S. to be trusted, considered its recent intolerance of its own dissidents?

A lot of unanswered questions, I know. Sometimes I don’t know what to think of all of this, except that there are some seriously misguided people out there. But on which side? Both? Just one?

With my own socialist ideals, I tend to be a cheerleader for Cuba. Of course Castro’s not perfect, I contend. But look at their amazing health care system, remarked upon libertarian-socialist-supreme Chomsky himself! Oh sure, they’re hurting in a lot of other ways, but one could argue that that’s often a direct result of the intense U.S. embargo. The very fact that such a small country as Cuba has withstood over forty years of such hard policy at the hands of the most economically influential country in the world should be a statement of the vitality of the Revolution.

I grapple with these beliefs all the time. Because I’m often skeptical of them. Especially after a personal account from a friend of mine who spent two months in Cuba this past summer. She told me of the hassles and bureaucracy of everyday life, how much time it takes to get food and other daily necessities, how much poverty and suffering she saw and partly experienced. […]

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