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Savage Justice: An Indictment of Fidel Castro
Published on in the April 18-24, 2003 issue of LA Weekly
Savage Justice: An Indictment of Fidel Castro
by Marc Cooper

Have you ever imagined what it would be like living in a society where, say, a John Ashcroft would be unrestrained by the niceties of constitutional law? Where draconian enforcement of a Patriot Act includes long prison terms for alleged thought crimes? Where, in the name of fighting “terrorism,” nonviolent prisoners are summarily executed after being denied even the trappings of due process?

Imagine no more. Just read the latest news reports, I’m sorry to say, coming not out of Guantánamo but out of Havana. Last Friday, three men were lined up at dawn and executed by a Cuban firing squad after being convicted of “grave acts of terrorism,” according to a statement read on state television. Their executions came a mere nine days after they had surrendered in a failed attempt to hijack a Havana ferryboat to Florida. Their trial was, of course, secret. Even the Cuban state isn’t shameless enough to open to public scrutiny such a degrading and chilling sham — a capital trial that allows no serious defense. And both Cuba’s Supreme Tribunal and its governing Council of State, headed by Fidel Castro, immediately rubber-stamped the death sentences. I suppose when you don’t have a real trial, you don’t need any real appeals.

These are the New Socialist Men that Che Guevara so glowingly evoked in his essay of the same title 40 years ago? This is a society superior to savage capitalism?

The state murders in Cuba only punctuate what has been an equally sordid season of broader repression. A month ago, as the war in Iraq was breaking out, Cuban police arrested nearly 80 dissidents on charges of receiving money from and collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba’s government.

The Bush administration’s top diplomat in Cuba, James Cason, has indeed been quite assertive. Publicly challenging Castro, he had made a point of visiting the homes of many of these dissidents and had also brought many of them to his own residence. He freely admits to giving them newspapers, books and Internet access as part of his “normal duties.” Whether he actually gave them money or not — who knows?

No one knows, because the “trials” of these unfortunate folks were also sealed and secret. And conducted on greased rails. Within a few weeks of their arrests, all six dozen had been given prison sentences of six to 28 years.

Among those condemned are self-styled independent journalists and librarians. I know some of these people, and some are rather pathetic. Others are quite courageous. Hector Palacios, who got a 25-year term, was a leader of the Varela Project — a completely public campaign calling for free elections that was signed on to by thousands of Cubans.

I don’t pretend to know the minutiae of Cuban law (a seeming oxymoron) well enough to tell if it is a high felony to hobnob with gringo diplomats. (I do know I have had coffee numerous times with Cuban diplomats here in the U.S., and they have given me books and magazines, and I never once thought that would land me in prison.) But when police arrested these dissidents they found no grenades, dynamite or guns. But rather, in a scene right out of Fahrenheit 451, the uniformed defenders of the Cuban Revolution confiscated fax machines, typewriters and computers. Spin this any way you please, but in the end these people are being jailed not for anything they have done — but rather for things they have said. Or read.

Some friends of mine urged me not to write this column, arguing that at a time when U.S. troops are occupying Iraq, this would only “play into the hands of the right.” That is, of course, ridiculous. There are many enemies of freedom in the world, and — no — not all of them live in Washington. The actions taken by Fidel Castro this past month, precisely in this moment of American belligerence, are guaranteed to only please the ultraright. They help confirm my longtime suspicion that Castro lives in mortal fear that his most powerful tool of social control, the U.S. embargo, will one day be lifted.

“The Cuban state’s current repression of political dissidents amounts to collaboration with the most reactionary elements of the U.S. administration in their efforts to maintain sanctions and to institute even more punitive measures against Cuba,” reads one of the few, too few, leftist statements on this issue. The statement, signed by a number of prominent leftists, sadly and accurately concludes: “By its actions, the Cuban state declares that it is not a government of the left . . . but just one more dictatorship, concerned with maintaining its monopoly of power above all else.” I urge you to sign onto the letter available below. Especially if you are on the left.

This letter is being organized by Leo Casey, an activist with the United Federation of Teachers in New York. Contact: leo

Copyright 2003 LA Weekly


We are women and men of the democratic left, united by our commitment to human rights, democratic government and social justice, in our own nations and around the world. In solidarity with the people of Cuba, we condemn the Cuban state's current repression of independent thinkers and writers, human rights activists and democrats. For "crimes" such as the authorship of essays critical of the government and meeting with delegations of foreign political leaders, some 80 non-violent political dissidents have been arrested, summarily tried in a closed court, without adequate notice or counsel, convicted, and given cruel, harsh sentences of decades of imprisonment. These are violations of the most elementary norms of due process of law, reminiscent of the Moscow trials of the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin.

The democratic left worldwide has opposed the US embargo on Cuba as counterproductive, more harmful to the interests of the Cuban people than helpful to political democratization. The Cuban state's current repression of political dissidents amounts to collaboration with the most reactionary elements of the US administration in their efforts to maintain sanctions and to institute even more punitive measures against Cuba.

The only conclusion that we can draw from this brute repression is that Cuban government does not trust the Cuban people to distinguish truth from falsehood, fact from disinformation. A government of the left must have the support of the people: it must guarantee human rights and champion the widest possible democracy, including the right to dissent, as well as promote social justice. By its actions, the Cuban state declares that it is not a government of the left, despite its claims of social progress in education and health care, but just one more dictatorship, concerned with maintaining its monopoly of power above all else.

Theresa Alt
Eric Alterman
Ayaz Ahmed
David Anderson
Kevin Anderson
Stanley Aronowitz
Tony Avirgan
Margot Backus
Sanda Balaban
Ike Balbus
Ivan Baxter
David Bensman
Marshall Berman
Michael Bérubé
Asatar Bair
Ken Brociner
Dan Brook
Ricardo Brown
Wendy Brown
Wayles Browne
Chaz Bufe
Eamonn Callan
Lorenzo Canizares
Leo Casey
Aaron Cohen
Marc Cooper
Francesco D'Alessandro
Lennard Davis
Bogdan Denitch
Bill Dixon
Mark Dow
Mel Dubofsky
Christopher Rhoades Dÿkema
Taner Edis
Itzhak Epstein
Stuart Elliot
Victoria Elliott
Andy English
Miriam Erlich
Gertrude Ezorsky
Hampton Fancher
Michelle Fine
Barry Finger
Joyce Fitzgerald
Nancy Fraser
Adil Hajjoubi
David Garrow
Joyce Gelb
Todd Gitlin
Peter Goodman
Andrew Hagen
Andrew Hammer
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Richard Healey
Michael Hirsch
Peter Hudis
James Hughes
Maurice Isserman
Doug Ireland
David Jacobs
Alan Johnson
Ira Katznelson
Michael Kazin
Harvey Kaye
Gary Kent
Michael Kircher
Eric Kirk
Gary Kinsman
Peter Kosenko
Magali Sarfatti Larson
Lee Levin
Jeffrey Levine
Mark Levinson
Ernie Lieberman
Ann Lieberman
Melvin Little
Chris Lowe
Josh Lukin
Anora Mahmudova
John G. Mason
Marvin and Betty Mandell
Shannon McLeod
R. Miles Mendenhall
Mark Crispin Miller
Cary Nathenson
Nathan Newman
Rafael PiRoman
Maxine Phillips
David Plotke
Stephen Plowden
Katha Pollitt
Danny Postel
Samantha Power
Adam Przeworski
Michael Pugliese
Peter Reardon
Matthew Rothschild
Joel Rogers
Michele L. Rossi
Nick Slavatore
John Sanbonmatsu
Anders Schneiderman
Joseph M. Schwartz
Jason Schulman
Michael H. Shuman
Timothy Sears
Mark Seddon
David Norman Smith
John Soldini
Clifford Staples
Judith Stein
Paul Thomas
Daniel Walkowitz
David Walls
Bert Wand
Peter Waterman
Luke Weiger
D. Langlois Williams
Ian Williams
Ellen Willis
Reginald Wilson
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
Robert H. Zieger

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