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Published on Saturday, February 5, 2000 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune  
Debate Over Boy's Fate Obscures The Truth: Cuba Works
by August Nimtz 

Those who claim to deplore the politicization of the plight of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez while distorting the reality of Cuba actually encourage the actions of the rightists in Miami, Congress and elsewhere who oppose his return to his father and grandparents.

If one really believed that Cuba is the hellhole they claim it to be -- a "corrupt and despicable regime, presided over by that baseball-loving despot Fidel Castro," according to Star Tribune columnist Syl Jones (Jan. 14) -- then a more than credible case could be made to keep Elian here.

As unpalatable as it may be to the ears of the critics, the Cuban revolution and its leadership, demonized as the personal tyranny of Fidel Castro, could never have survived 40 years of Washington's unprecedented sanctions regime, military and economic pressure, and the collapse of the Soviet Union if it didn't enjoy the active support of the overwhelming majority of its citizens. The quality of life for Cubans is superior to that for working people in any other Third World country. And it compares favorably to U.S. society.

In Minneapolis the infant mortality rate, 8.7 deaths per 1,000 births, exceeds what the Cubans have been able to achieve, 6.5. For blacks and Native Americans the rate is three to five times greater! Cuban elementary school children, according to a 1997 study, outperformed their counterparts in the rest of Latin America in mathematics and language skills with scores that on average were 1½ to two times better. What is most remarkable is that this was achieved in the context of enormous economic difficulties aggravated by Washington's 40-year long embargo.

For Jones to assert that the Cuban people are the revolution's "real losers" is to turn reality on its head. The massive unemployment, widespread illiteracy, Jim Crow racism, and police terror that marked prerevolutionary society have been wiped out. Gone is the U.S. Mafia, its brothels, casinos and drugs. A formerly destitute peasantry now owns and farms its own land, under a policy directly opposite that which drives three family farmers a day out of business in Minnesota.

Cuba's contribution to human freedom was stressed by Nelson Mandela, who frequently explains that the assistance that Cuba provided to the liberation struggle in southern Africa made it possible for there to be a free and democratic South Africa. Though Jones thinks Castro is seen as a "hero" by only misguided "leftists" in this country, he should know that Mandela's assessment is in line with what most people in the Third World believe. That Washington can count only on Israel in the United Nations to endorse its anti-Cuba policies is simple verification of this fact. Cuba now has almost 4,000 medical personnel providing assistance in 58 countries, mainly Central America, the Caribbean and Africa -- including South Africa -- serving most often in the poorest regions of those countries. As well, the government, in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, established a medical school in Havana to offer free medical education to students from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Poor in natural resources, Cuba is rich in the human values produced by the revolution -- values taught by an educational system that those who detain Elian misrepresent as "Communist indoctrination." The spread of these values is what Washington fears most -- that Cuba's road will be taken by those who are increasingly impoverished and oppressed elsewhere.

I make no claim that Cuba is a paradise and that every Cuban wants to remain on the island. The mother of Elian apparently believed that her life would be better if she left; that's also the case with the approximately half-million who've applied to leave to come to the United States, according to some estimates. They seek relief from the constant pressure Washington applies. But this is a fraction of Cuban society. The huge mobilizations in the streets of Cuba that demand Elian's return show the real face of Cuba, that of the other 10 million.

No, the "real losers" from the revolution are those leading the charge to detain Elian. It was their side that lost its privileges. And the biggest losers are in the White House and Congress, who ceased to govern Cuba in 1959. Washington has never forgiven the Cuban people for taking their country back and showing the world that this was possible, 90 miles from its shores. Its unceasing attempts to somehow, some way, divide, cripple and overthrow the revolutionary regime, i.e. "Castro," means that anything related to the government is fair game, even a 6-year-old child. Thus, the Clinton administration's foot-dragging on returning Elian to his family in Cuba.

His continued detention is also a message to those everywhere who are inspired by and contemplate following Cuba's revolutionary example that they can expect similar punishment for so doing. In Ecuador, "Peter Romero, the State Department's top official for Latin America, warned the coup leaders on Friday that they faced 'political and economic' isolation akin to Cuba's if they persisted" (New York Times, Jan. 12).

Washington prevents its own citizens from knowing about the real Cuba. Only a small minority of its citizens have the right to legally travel to Cuba. As long as most are prevented from going, voices like that of Jones have free license to misrepresent that reality. If he really wants to know Cuba, he should take advantage of a provision in the law that allows journalists to travel to the island. He might even want to see if it's true what Star Tribune Editor Tim McGuire wrote about Cubans Nov. 1, 1998, after his own trip there: "Most of them still love Castro."

-- August Nimtz, Minneapolis. Political science professor, University of Minnesota; member of Minnesota Cuba Committee.


Copyright 2000 Star Tribune

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