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Cuba Hurts


The recent wave of executions and arrests in Cuba is very good news for the universal superpower which remains obsessed with removing this persistent thorn from its paw. But it is very bad news, and very sad, for those of us who admired the valour of this tiny country, so capable of greatness, but who also believe that freedom and justice go together or not at all.

It is a time of very bad news: as if the perfidious impunity of the slaughter in Iraq were not enough, the Cuban Government is now committing acts that, as Uruguayan writer Carlos Quijano would say, ‘sin against hope’.

Rosa Luxembourg, who gave her life for the socialist revolution, disagreed with Lenin over the project of a new society. Her words of warning proved prophetic and, 85 years after she was assassinated in Germany, she is still right: ‘Freedom for only the supporters of the Government, however many there may be, is not freedom. Real freedom is freedom for those who think differently.’

And: ‘Without general elections, without freedom of the press and unlimited freedom of assembly, without a contest of free opinions, life stagnates and withers in all public institutions and the bureaucracy becomes the only active element.’

The 20th century, and what we’ve had of the 21st, has seen a double betrayal of socialism: the abandonment of the principles of social democracy which has peaked with sergeant Tony Blair, and the collapse of the communist states, turned police states. Many of these simply expired, without pain or glory, and their recycled bureaucrats now serve the new master with pathetic enthusiasm.

The Cuban revolution was born to be different. Assailed by the incessant hounding from the empire to the north, it survived as it could and not as it wished. The people, valiant and generous, sacrificed a great deal to stay on their feet in a world of rampant servility. But as year after year of trials buffeted the island, the revolution began to lose the spontaneity and freshness that marked its beginning. I say this with sadness. Cuba hurts.

My conscience clear, I will repeat what I have previously said both on and away from the island: I do not and have never believed in single-party democracy (including in the US where there is a single party disguised as two) nor do I believe that the omnipotence of the state is a valid response to the omnipotence of the market.

The long prison sentences handed down in Cuba can only backfire. They make into martyrs for freedom of expression certain groups that operated openly from the house of James Cason, representative of Bush interests in Havana. Cason’s passion for freedom reached such extremes that he himself founded the Juvenile Branch of the Cuban Liberal Party, with the delicacy and modesty that characterize its leader.

Acting as if these groups constituted a grave threat, Cuban authorities paid them homage and granted them the prestige that words acquire when they are forbidden.

This ‘democratic opposition’ has nothing to do with the real hopes of honest Cubans. If the revolution had not done them the favour of repressing them, and if Cuba had full freedom of the press and opinion, these pretend dissidents would be unmasked and receive the punishment they deserve – the punishment of solitude for their notorious nostalgia for the colonial period in a country that chose the path of national dignity.

The United States, that indefatigable mill of world dictators, does not have the moral authority to tutor anyone on democracy – though President Bush could certainly give lessons on the death penalty which he championed as governor of Texas, signing warrants for the execution of 152 people.

But do true revolutions, those that are generated from below like Cuba’s, need to learn bad habits from the enemies they are fighting? The death penalty has no justification.

Will Cuba be the next prey for President Bush’s state-hunting party? That’s what his brother Jeb, governor of the state of Florida, indicated when he said: ‘Now we’ll have to take a look at our neighborhood.’ Cuban exile Zoe Valdes hurled her demand via Spanish television that ‘they bomb the dictator’. Secretary of Defence, or rather Offence, Rumsfeld, clarified the matter of whether Cuba was next on the hit list: ‘For now, no.’

It seems that the dangerometer and guiltoscope, the instruments used to select of Washington’s next victims, are pointing instead to Syria. For now anyway, as Rumsfeld says.

I believe in the sacred right to self-determination for people everywhere and at any time. I can say this without any twinge of conscience because I spoke out publicly each time this right was violated in the name of socialism and applauded by vast sectors of the left – when, for example, Soviet tanks entered Prague in 1968, or Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in late 1979.

You can see in Cuba signs of the decadence of a model of centralized power that transforms into a revolutionary virtue obedience to orders from above. The US blockade, and a thousand other forms of aggression, are blocking the development of democracy in Cuba, feeding the militarization of power and providing alibis for bureaucratic rigidity. Current events show that it is harder than ever to open a city that was closed because it had to defend itself. But they also show, now more than ever, that democratic opening is inevitable. The revolution which was capable of surviving the fury of 10 American presidents and 20 CIA directors, needs the energy that comes from participation and diversity to face the dark times that surely lie ahead.

It must be the Cubans and the Cubans alone, with no interference from outside, who forge a democracy for themselves and win the rights they lack – working within the revolution that they made, the most profound on earth, animated by the greatest solidarity that I know.

Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s foremost writers. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, and his latest book Upside Down is published by Metropolitan Books, New York.

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