Tag: Cuba

Obama on Human Rights in America

I’ve just sent a short post to ”The Corner” at NRO on the Obama State Department’s new report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on human rights conditions in the U.S.  In a word, we’ve got problems, especially concerning women, minorities, etc., but we’re trying to live up to the expectations of other human rights exemplars on the council – Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba.

Read and weep.

Great New Blog in English by Cubans in Cuba

During the past several years, the growth of the Cuban dissident blogger movement has become a major irritant to the Cuban regime. Some bloggers, such as Yoani Sanchez, are becoming well known around the world. Her blog has even been available in English for a few years. I’ve written about her here and Cato published a recent paper by her.

The Cuban blogosphere is vibrant and diverse, but has been available almost exclusively in Spanish. Now, a new English blog site, Translating Cuba, is posting the thoughts of leading Cuban bloggers in Cuba, including Sanchez and recent hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas. Contributors to the site don’t share identical points of view, but they hope that “the voices on this site will mirror the free, open and plural society we all know that Cuba is ultimately destined to be.”

A Cuban Exile Speaks for Millions

Renowned Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner speaks for millions of Cubans in his statement on freedom below. It is a translation of the speech he gave in Madrid last Friday upon accepting a well deserved award given by the Instituto Juan de Mariana for defending liberty.  

 Freedom for What?*

 In 1980, shortly after making a dramatic exit from Cuba, the magnificent writer Reinaldo Arenas collected in a book his more combative articles and essays and titled it “The Need for Freedom.”

It was a shout. Reinaldo felt the need to be free. Human beings need to be free. He was asphyxiating in Cuba. He lived in sadness, fear and indignation. None of those three emotions is pleasant, and sometimes they twisted in his heart to the point of desperation.

After finding exile, Reinaldo felt profound relief and said something that was both wondrous and painful: for the first time, he had shown his true face. He had “unmasked” himself and felt the warm sensation of being himself, without the fear that such an act might bring him punishment and alienation.

In totalitarian societies, the pain of not being free and moving about in disguise becomes somatic in various ways, from a knot in the throat to a diffuse malaise expressed by assorted neurotic behaviors.

What is freedom? It is the ability we have to make decisions based on our individual beliefs, convictions and interests, without external pressures.

Freedom is choosing the god who best fits our religious perceptions, or choosing no god if we don’t feel the spiritual need to transcend.

Freedom is fearlessly offering our affection and loyalty to the people we love, or to the groups with which we feel a kinship.

Freedom is choosing without interference what we want to study, where and how we wish to live, the ideas that best reflect our vision of the social problems or the ideas that best seem to explain them.

Freedom is selecting the artistic expressions that please us the most, or, conversely, rejecting them without consequences.

Freedom is being able to undertake or renounce an economic activity without reporting to anyone, beyond the formalities established by law.

Freedom is spending our money as we see fit, acquiring the goods that satisfy us and disposing of our legitimate properties. Without freedom, the creation of wealth is weakened to the point of misery.

José Martí, the illustrious journalist who generated Cuba’s independence, contributed another definition: “Freedom is the right of every man to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.”

Tyrannies deny us the right to be honest when they force us to applaud what we detest or reject what we secretly admire.

When Cubans parade, shouting slogans they don’t believe in, they are not honest. When they applaud the leader they abhor or laugh at the nonsense he spouts, they are not honest.

That simulation creates in us an uncomfortable psychological dissonance. When we sacrifice our honesty, when we renounce our internal consistency to avoid harm or obtain a privilege, we feel “dirty” and internally ashamed. Hypocrisy is a behavior that wounds the person who practices it and repels the person at whom it’s directed.

But there’s more. At some point in the evolutionary process, when human beings abandoned the rule of instinct and began to guide themselves by reason, they discovered the agonizing process of making decisions by constantly shuffling the prevailing moral values, material interests, and psychological impulses.

To make such decisions, it was necessary to become informed. Totalitarian violence tries to prevent people from becoming informed. Why become informed if all the decisions are made by the State and all the truths have already been discovered?

In Cuba, there are numerous police brigades whose task it is to remove parabolic antennas, find satellite phones, confiscate banned books, and deny Internet access to anyone who is minimally independent. I cannot think of a more wretched activity.

When Spanish socialist Fernando de los Ríos asked Lenin when he was going to institute a regime of freedoms in the fledgling Soviet Union, the Bolshevik answered with a question loaded with cynicism: “Freedom for what?”

The answer to that is manifold: freedom to investigate, to generate wealth, to seek happiness, to reaffirm the individual ego in a human tide, all of them tasks that depend on our ability to make decisions.

The history of the West is the history of societies that have progressively expanded the horizons of free people.

Gradually, they took away from the monarchs and the religious and economic oligarchies their exclusive powers to decide in the name of the whole. The poor and the foreigners attained their rights. The same happened with the races considered to be inferior, with the women, with the people who were alienated because of their sexual preferences. Slavery was finally eradicated.

It is possible to narrate the long, historical trek of human beings as the constant adventure of our species in the quest for a gradual increase in the number of people given the right to make their own decisions.

Sometimes, the exercise of that ability assumes heroic proportions. Some weeks ago, Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo decided to die of hunger and thirst to protest against the injustice and abuses of the dictatorship. All he had to defend his dignity as a human being was his life — and he gave it. To him, to his sad memory, with deep emotion, I dedicate these words.


 * Speech by Carlos Alberto Montaner, upon receiving the “Juan de Mariana Award for an exemplary trajectory in the defense of freedom,” Madrid, April 30, 2010.


Seven (Free-Market) Ways to Boost U.S. Exports

President Obama has committed his administration to the ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years. I don’t believe the government should be setting such targets—the rate of growth of U.S. exports should be left to the marketplace—but I am all for the administration seeking ways to expand the freedom of U.S. companies to sell in global markets.

In the “Economic Watch” column of the Washington Times today, I suggest six policy changes that will help American producers sell more of their goods and services abroad. None of them involve subsidies, threats of sanctions, or other government involvement.

Among my suggestions: enact into law the three free-trade agreements that have already been negotiated, repeal the trade embargo against Cuba, keep trade peace with China, and set a good example by keeping the U.S. market open.

If I could have added another suggestion (alas, space in a real newspaper is limited), it would be to issue more visas for trade delegations visiting the United States. Under misguided notions of national security, we make it more difficult than it should be for delegations from China and other  markets to visit the United States to inspect U.S. goods offered for sale. But like the other suggestions, this one is politically challenging as well.

If the president wants to boost exports, he will need to show the necessary leadership to remove the government-imposed barriers that still remain.


Fidel Castro Endorses ObamaCare

As Dave Barry would say, I swear I am not making this up.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the Western Hemisphere’s last unreconstructed communist dictator endorsed President Obama’s new health care law:

HAVANA (AP) — It perhaps was not the endorsement President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress were looking for.

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Thursday declared passage of American health care reform “a miracle” and a major victory for Obama’s presidency, but couldn’t help chide the United States for taking so long to enact what communist Cuba achieved decades ago.

“We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama’s) government,” Castro wrote in an essay published in state media, adding that it would strengthen the president’s hand against lobbyists and “mercenaries.”…

“It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence … the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago,” Castro wrote…

Cuba provides free health care and education to all its citizens, and heavily subsidizes food, housing, utilities and transportation, policies that have earned it global praise. The government has warned that some of those benefits are no longer sustainable given Cuba’s ever-struggling economy, though it has so far not made major changes.

In recent speeches, Raul Castro has singled out medicine as an area where the government needs to be spending less, but he has not elaborated.

I’m sure the Obama administration and its echo chamber will nonetheless continue to claim that this is not socialized medicine.

The Violation of Human Rights in Venezuela and Cuba

A report (PDF) released today by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemns in well documented form the growing violation of human rights under the regime of Hugo Chavez. The 302-page study is yet another confirmation of the multitude of ways in which individuals, NGOs, union leaders, politicians, activists, businessmen, students, judges, the media and others who disagree with Venezuelan government policies are targeted by the government and its supporters through intimidation, arbitrary use of administrative and criminal law, and sometimes violence and homicide.

Among the many cases it documents, the report describes how the government last year shut down a publicity campaign in defense of private property run by our colleagues at the free-market think tank CEDICE. The government claimed that it did so to safeguard public order and the mental health of the population.

Particularly interesting is that the commission issuing this report (produced in December but for some reason only made public today) is part of the Organization of American States, which has proven itself useless at best and counterproductive at worst, in the face of blatant rights violations by the Venezuelan and other populist Latin American governments in the last decade. Will the same OAS that invited Cuba to rejoin the organization last year now debate the new report or will it and its head, Mr. Insulza, remain silent as they have for so many years?

Meanwhile in Cuba, the country Chavez holds as a model, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died yesterday after going on a hunger strike, suffering beatings and having been denied water by prison authorities for 18 days. The mistreatment led to kidney failure. According to Cuba Archive, an NGO that documents deaths attributable to the Cuban regime, Zapata “was then held naked over a powerful air conditioner and developed pneumonia.” What will the Permanent Council of the OAS have to say about that?

Thursday Links

  • Nat Hentoff: If you’re looking for reform in Cuba, don’t rest your hopes on Raul Castro.