Monday, May 31, 2004

Ja: Some things need no comment at all

Cuba is no more a paradise than many other countries. It is a Communist society and as such is very different in organisation and control, but not in culture, from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite this, it is nowhere near as monolithic as many outside imagine. Its views are nuanced and frequently led by nationalism. There is strong internal debate, albeit within a single party, and it is flexible on everything but the key matters of political principle on which it will not compromise.

It has provided extensive social rights for its people and can speak on many international issues with a moral authority that is lacking in much of the developed world. This is why so many developing nations continue to respect its government.

However, its record on some internal issues, including dissent, remains questionable. The arrest and trial of dissidents over the last year have caused rifts with many nations, including the EU. On May 13, Europe again censured Cuba for human rights abuses relating to the trial and detention of human rights activists and journalists 'arrested while peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and assembly' - principles that the EU said it strongly defends.

For its part, Cuba argues that some of these dissidents were being paid by the US to ferment dissent with the objective of provoking turmoil. Cuban officials suggest the US intent was to bring about a refugee crisis, a situation that would result in a US naval blockade.

The resulting heightened military profile that Cuba would have then had to adopt would, they believe, have led to a subsequent US military response, retaliation and the possibility of war. For this reason they suggest the present Cuban policy on dissidents is driven by strategic concerns, national security and the dangers of instability around the time of a US presidential election.

In the past few days, the new US policy began to be implemented. In what appears to be an attempt to weaken growing Caribbean interest in trade and investment with Cuba while sending a warning to Jamaica over other issues, Washington notified the Jamaican resort group SuperClubs that it intended enforcing the US Helms Burton legislation in respect of their tourism investments in Cuba. The decision suggests that the US Administration may be choosing to send a chill through nations such as those in the Caribbean, with the possible objective, as with Europe, of eventually striking deals that will lead to a more critical political stance on Cuba.

Such a policy is alienating nations that should be friends. Moreover, such threats or promises of deals will not affect China which has now deepened its relationship with Cuba to levels close to those once enjoyed with the former Soviet Union. Russia, too, has begun to look at a closer relationship with Havana.

The present United States Administration seems driven by a fundamentalist belief that if its policies and culture are right for its own people they are, by extension, appropriate for adoption by everyone else in the world.

Despite what is now being proposed for Cuba, a moment will come when generations younger than those who changed its history will be able to choose their own leaders and the ways in which they want to move forward. Until then, the best way to ensure stability is to increase contact and dialogue through business, tourism and culture.

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