So Clinton has signed the Helms/Burton bill, citing Cuba's 'scorn for international law'. What a joke. In the course of its endeavours to keep the world safe for democracy the US has broken international law more times than I've had hot dinners and done it with impunity.
When the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 1986 found the US guilty on eight separate counts of gross intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state (Nicaragua) and asked it to make reparation for all injury caused, the US simply told it to bugger off, asserting that its actions were outside the province of any international court.
Even the poor old United Nations has condemned the US trade embargo of Cuba by an overwhelming majority for three years running (1993-5: 88-4, 101-2 and 117-3) and been totally ignored by the convicted party. This is perhaps why the British, Canadian and Mexican governments don't propose a motion to the Security Council condemning this further legislation which sets out to prevent free trade between Cuba and the rest of the world in terms which are in blatant breach of the UN Charter and the aforesaid International Law. They've probably worked out that it would be like farting 'Annie Laurie' down a keyhole, as we used to say in the good old days. Be that as it may, the truth is plain: this is an exercise of arrogant power which stinks. The most astonishing thing about Cuba is quite simply that it has survived. After over 35 years of the most ruthless economic violence, 35 years of unremitting and virulent hostility from the US, Cuba remains an independent sovereign state. This is a quite remarkable achievement. Not many states have remained independent or 'sovereign' for long in the US 'backyard'.
Here are three short extracts from Duncan Green's book Silent Revolution. This is the first: '10,000 delegates of the World Bank sat down to dinner. The dinner was catered by Ridgewells at $200 per person. Guests began with crab cakes, caviar, creme fraiche, smoked salmon and mini beef wellingtons. The fish course was lobster with corn rounds followed by citrus sorbet. The entre was duck with lime sauce served with artichoke bottoms filled with baby carrots. A hearts of palm salad was offered accompanied by sage cheese souffles with a port wine dressing. Dessert was a German chocolate turnip sauced with raspberry coulis, ice cream bon bons and flaming coffee royale.' The wine list isn't mentioned.
Here is the second extract: 'The tiny adobe house is crammed with gnarled Bolivian mining women in patched shawls and battered felt hats, whose calloused hands work breaking up rocks on the surface in search of scraps of tin ore. The paths between the miners' huts are strewn with plastic bags and human excrement, dried black in the sun.'
This is a Bolivian woman speaking: 'In the old days women used to stay at home because the men had work. Now we have to work. Many of our children have been abandoned. Their fathers have left and there's no love left in us when we get home late from work. We leave food for them. They play in the streets. There are always accidents and no doctors. I feel like a slave in my own country. We get up at 4am and at 11 at night we are still working. I have vomited blood for weeks at a time and still had to keep working.'
No doubt after dinner the World Bank delegates discussed the Bolivian economy and made their recommendations.
This monstrous inequality is precisely what inspired the Cuban revolution. The revolution set out to correct such grotesque polarisation and was determined to ensure that the Cuban people would never have to endure such degradation again.
It understood that recognition of and respect for human dignity were crucial obligations which devolved upon a civilised society. Its achievements are remarkable. It constructed a health service which can hardly be rivalled and established an extraordinary level of literacy. All this the US found to be abominable Marxist-Leninist subversion and naturally set out to destroy it. It has failed. And it must be true to say that Cuba could never have survived unless it possessed a formidable centre of pride, faith and solidarity.
There is the question of human rights. I myself don't believe in the relativity of human rights. I don't believe that 'local conditions', as it were, or a specific cultural disposition can justify suppression of dissent or the individual conscience. In Cuba I have always understood harsh treatment of dissenting voices as stemming from a 'siege situation' imposed upon it from outside. And I believe that to a certain extent that is true. But equally apologists for Israeli actions have also stressed a siege situation brought about by external threat. Mordechai Vanunu is a dissenting voice in Israel and was sentenced to 18 years solitary confinement for disclosing Israel's nuclear capacity to the world.
I am a trustee of the Vanunu estate and a defender of his right to speak. I must therefore logically defend, for example, Maria Elena Cruz Varela's right to speak also. Socialism must be about active and participatory debate.
However, the wrinkled moral frown of the US has always been good for a laugh. 'We deplore etc, etc the violations of human rights in such and such a country.' In their own country one and a half million people are in jail, 3,000 are on Death Row, nearly 50 million live under the poverty line, effectively disenfranchised, there is a huge black underclass, abused and condemned, 38 states practise the death penalty, corruption is vibrant and active at all levels of the hierarchy, police brutality is systematic, heavily racist, lethal. Human rights, where are you?
There exists today widespread propaganda which asserts that socialism is dead. But if to be a socialist is to be a person convinced that the words 'the common good' and 'social justice' actually mean something; if to be a socialist is to be outraged at the contempt in which millions and millions of people are held by those in power, by 'market forces', by international financial institutions; if to be a socialist is to be a person determined to do everything in his or her power to alleviate these unforgivably degraded lives, then socialism can never be dead because these aspirations will never die.
Red Pepper Magazine 1996.