Cuba takes on US at UN Human Rights Commission - In Brief

‘Cuba speaks for the millions who are silent’ (African delegate at UNHRC)

The 61st session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) opened in Geneva on 14 March and will continue till 22 April. Once again, it has become an arena for a political battle of David and Goliath proportions between socialist Cuba and the might of US imperialism.

For 18 years, the United States has attempted to use the commission to condemn Cuba, either directly or by proxy, using the hypocritical cover of ‘human rights’. Earlier this year, true to form, the US State Department published a report castigating Cuba for alleged human rights abuses, focusing in particular on the US-funded ‘dissidents’ jailed by Cuba in 2003. Since then, the US has been touting in vain around the countries of Latin America to find a willing cat’s-paw. More recently, it has turned its attention to its client states in Eastern Europe, offering millions of dollars as a bribe. It is not yet clear who will present the resolution over the coming weeks, but Cuba has already demolished the validity of its arguments.

Double standards at the UNHRC
In the first place, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque argued on 16 March, what is the moral credibility of the forum where the argument is to be had? The UNHRC has been turned into a ‘court of inquisition’, where the poor countries of the world are to be judged by the rich countries that have exploited them – yet those same rich countries enjoy impunity before the commission.

‘In it, there are lies, double standards and empty speeches by those who, while enjoying their wealth, squander and pollute, look the other way and pretend not to see how millions of human beings endure the violation of the right to life, the right to peace, the right to development, the right to eat, to learn, to work – in brief, the right to live in dignity’.

What else is one to make of the refusal of the European Union last year to co-sponsor and support Cuba’s draft resolution to investigate ‘the massive, flagrant and systematic human rights violations still committed against over 500 prisoners at the naval base that the United States, against the will of the Cuban people, keeps in the harbour of Guantanamo’? Or of the fact that this year, those same countries are remaining silent about the hideous evidence of US torture at Abu Ghraib in Iraq?

How can the US, in the face of such evidence, even sit as a member of the Human Rights Commission, let alone seek to judge Cuba? Why has a Human Rights Rapporteur been appointed to investigate Cuba – where there are no disappearances, no torture and no extrajudicial executions – and not the United States? Such double standards, Roque argued, make a travesty of the process.

Only socialism can guarantee rights for all
The hypocrisy goes further, for it is rooted in the fundamentally unjust division of the world into rich and poor nations, the oppressor and oppressed, that denies the vast majority of humanity the most basic human rights.

‘There will be no real enjoyment of human rights for as long as we fail to achieve social justice in the relations among countries and within countries themselves.

‘For a small group of nations represented here – the United States and other developed allies – the right to peace has already been achieved. They will always be the attackers and never the ones under attack. Their peace rests on military power. They have also achieved economic development, based on the pillage of the wealth of other poor countries that were former colonies...however, in those developed countries, the unemployed, the immigrants and the impoverished do not enjoy the rights guaranteed to the rich.

‘Can a poor person in the United States be elected Senator? No, they cannot. The campaign costs, on average, some $8m. Do the children of the rich
go to the unjust and illegal war in Iraq?... None of the 1,500 American youths killed in that war was the son of a millionaire or a minister. The poor die there defending the interests of the rich.’

Meanwhile, the poor countries of the world have no right to peace: they can be bombed or invaded on the pretext of ‘fighting terrorism’ at a moment’s notice. They have no right to economic development: the world economic system imposed on them prevents it. They have no right to health, nor to education, nor to culture. All they have is the right to be dependent countries.

The defence of human rights starts with building a different kind of society, for without equality and without social justice, there cannot be human rights for all. ‘That is what we Cubans learned a long time ago, and for that reason we built a different country...We are a dangerous example; we are a symbol that only in a just and friendly society – that is, socialist – can there be enjoyment of all rights for all citizens’.

Hence the desperate attempts of the United States to condemn and destroy Cuba, attempts that have included military aggression, an illegal blockade, terrorist attacks, lies and propaganda. A recent US Agency for International Aid and Development report admits: ‘What we are currently doing in Cuba: financing, organising and directing the counter-revolutionary factions’. Since new anti-Cuban measures were passed in the US last year, the US has channelled $14.4m to Cuba to promote subversion, according to US Assistant Secretary of State Noriega. Cuba has described this as ‘an act of war’. However, Roque warned: [The US] is afraid of our example. It is strong at the military level but weak on the moral front. And morality, not weapons, is the shield of the people’.
Cat Wiener

In Brief
Rights for all in Cuba

Cuban democracy in action
As Britain gears up for a general election in May, the whole million-pound machinery of the charade that is bourgeois democracy swings into action – advertisements, billboards, party political broadcasts, soundbites and grinning, well-paid campaign managers. Who can be toughest on immigration, who can most discreetly privatise health and education, who will best protect the interests of the middle class and repress the poor? As the ugly, racist, imperialist, war-mongering parties battle it out for a self-serving chance to run the country, small wonder that a 50% electoral turnout will be considered a success.
Cuba’s preparations for its local elections for the People’s Power municipal assemblies in April offer a refreshing contrast. These local elections are held every two and a half years (a general election is held every five years).

Nominations for the delegates to the Municipal Assemblies began on 24 February. From then until 24 March, over 41,500 public assemblies will be held in approximately 15,000 districts. Cuban people nominate candidates directly at these public assemblies in their local neighbourhoods. Anyone can nominate or be nominated; the Communist Party does not stand candidates. A single page containing a short biography of each candidate is put up in public places well in advance and a list of candidates is put up in more than 133,000 locations. No other campaigning is allowed. To be elected, a candidate must receive over 50% of the vote; if this is not received in the first round, the two candidates with the most votes go to a second round. All elected officials are accountable for their actions and can be recalled at any time.

All Cubans aged 16 and over can vote, and voting is voluntary and secret. The ballot boxes are guarded by schoolchildren and sealed in public, and the votes are counted in public. In previous elections, between 95% and 98% of the electorate has turned out. Unlike in Britain, the Cubans clearly feel they have something worth voting for.
Hannah Caller

War on illiteracy
‘Without literacy, a better world is impossible’. With these words, Fidel Castro opened the 1st World Literacy Congress in Havana in February. He stressed that literacy is vital not just per se, but as a means of eradicating what he called ‘that other terrible illiteracy which is political illiteracy’. He gave the example of Venezuela, where learning to read and write has been part and parcel of acquiring political and cultural knowledge.

Since Cuba’s Literacy Campaign in the immediate aftermath of the 1959 Revolution virtually wiped out illiteracy in Cuba within two years, it has been spreading its ideas to countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia – and its Yo, si puedo (‘I can do it’) strategy is now even being used to teach English in New Zealand. Cuba and Venezuela are encouraging countries to be part of the the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas which aims to promote literacy throughout Latin America.

‘Cuba can confirm that in 12 years it is possible to teach over 1.5 billion illiterate and semi-literate people in the world to read and write to 6th grade,’ according to Cuban education minister Luis Ignacio Gomez, at a cost of less than $10 billion – equivalent to less than 0.004% of the annual gross domestic product of the developed countries belonging to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development.

Cuba strengthens national currency
On 18 March, Fidel Castro announced the revaluation upwards of the Cuban peso, known as moneda nacional (MN), with immediate effect. This means that the price for buying the peso convertible, the Cuban currency which has replaced the US dollar, will drop from 27 to 25 pesos (MN); selling pesos in exchange for the peso convertible will drop from 26 to 24 pesos, an overall 7% increase in value of the Cuban peso (MN). This reflects the growth of Cuba’s economy and its commitment to strengthen its national currency and will result in a rise in the standard of living. It is also a first step towards delinking the peso convertible from the dollar, to which it has been pegged.
Cat Wiener

FRFI 184 April / May 2005


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