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Category Archives: Barbara Lee

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) returned from Cuba yesterday from meetings with the Castro brothers and other Cuban officials. CBC members renewed calls for an end or at least an easing of the blockade of the island, now in place for 41 years and counting.

I can’t say I have any quarrel with the idea of ending the embargo altogether. If we can be entirely okay with communist China owning the nation’s debt while it sells us lead filled toys for our children, surely we can endure trade with this tiny island neighbor of ours. So the policy viewpoint that the embargo should be lifted is certainly rational.

However, I am bothered by the uncritical nature of the cheerleading for a change in policy towards the Castro regime. I don’t see any acknowledgment of the massive repression of individual liberties which exists under the Castro regime. Some argue that race plays a part in the formulation of foreign policy relative to Cuba, that the Cuban revolution had a significant racial dynamic to it in that the revolution was largely an uprising of dark skinned Cubans rebelling against a Batista regime dominated by light skinned or white Cubans and that those Cubans who fled the revolution were overwhelmingly white Cubans. Thats an intriguing prism through which to view Cuba’s history.

There is a significant Afro-Cuban community within and without the US and so its reasonable that the CBC would have some engagement on Cuban policy. But that does not abrogate some responsibility on the part of CBC members to call out the repression practiced by the Cuban regime, especially given the Afro-Cuban makeup of the island’s population. Barbara Lee and other CBC members travel to Cuba and meet with Castro and return to talk about how eager Castro is for a change in relationship with the US, but I have to wonder if they asked him about his eagerness to address the regimes suppression of human rights and individual freedoms in the name of the state.

The regime’s repressive nature is manifest:

  • Cubans cannot change their government through democratic means. Fidel Castro dominates the political system, having transformed the country into a one-party state with the Cuban communist Party (PCC) controlling all governmental entities from the national to the local level.
  • Castro is responsible for every appointment and controls every lever of power in Cuba in his various roles as president of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of State, commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and first secretary of the PCC.
  • All political organizing outside the PCC is illegal. Political dissent, spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and those so punished frequently receive years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions.
  • Official corruption remains a serious problem, with a “culture of illegality” shrouding the mixture of private and state-controlled economic activities allowed on the island. Cuba was ranked 62 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions index.
  • The press in Cuba is the object of a targeted campaign of intimidation by the government, which uses Ministry of Interior agents to infiltrate and report on the independent media. Independent journalists, particularly those associated with five small news agencies established outside state control, have been subjected to continued repression, including jail terms of hard labor and assaults by state security agents while in prison. Foreign news agencies must hire local reporters only through government offices.
  • In 2004, 22 independent journalists arrested in March 2003 remained imprisoned in degrading conditions, which included physical and psychological abuse; acts of harassment and intimidation were also directed against their families.
  • In October 2002, the U.S. State Department issued a report saying that Cuba was one of six countries that engaged in widespread repression of religion. Security agents frequently spy on worshippers, the government continues to block construction of new churches, the number of new foreign priests is limited, and most new denominations are refused recognition.
  • The government restricts academic freedom. Teaching materials for courses such as mathematics or literature must have an ideological content. Affiliation with official Communist Party structures is generally needed to gain access to educational institutions, and students’ report cards carry information regarding their parents’ involvement with the Communist Party

  • Limited rights of assembly and association are permitted under the constitution; however, these are subject to the stipulation that they may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the Socialist State.” The unauthorized assembly of more than three persons, including those for private religious services in private homes, is punishable by law by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. This prohibition is selectively enforced, and is sometimes used as a legal pretext to imprison human rights advocates.
  • Workers do not have the right to bargain collectively or to strike. Members of independent labor unions, which the government considers illegal, are often harassed or dismissed from their jobs and subsequently barred from future employment.
  • The executive branch controls the judiciary. In practice, the Council of State, of which Castro is chairman, serves as a de facto judiciary and controls both the courts and the judicial process as a whole.
  • Freedom of movement and the right to choose one’s residence and place of employment are severely restricted. Attempting to leave the island without permission is a punishable offense.

Did Barbara Lee and the other CBC members express any concern to Castro about these issues? They met with families of the Cuban Five, five Cuban men who are in U.S. prison, serving four life sentences and 75 years collectively, after being convicted in U.S. federal court in 2001 of espionage and conspiracy against the United States, and other related charges, though there is an active movement that charges they were wrongly convicted. But there was no mention that the CBC met with any of the families of dissidents jailed by the Cuban government. Do CBC members have no interest in the people of Cuba imprisoned for simply speaking out against the regime?

Its appropriate for the CBC to take an interest in Cuban policy given the African American and Afro-Cuban connections between the US and Cuba, but to engage in that discussion with not a critical word regarding the governments repression of its own people really makes CBC members appear to be very unthinking and lacking in level headed analysis. Supporting liberalization in Cuban policy without a critical word about this government, a government that they would not want to live under for one second, a government that rules repressively over an entire population of Afro-Cubans whom the CBC is sympathetic too, is a very limp knee jerk, leftist liberal viewpoint. I don’t think one could even call it progressive given that it is so lacking in any critique of the Castro government’s repressive nature, which is every bit as damaging and harmful to Cuba’s people as the US embargo. I listened to Barbara Lee’s remarks to the press upon her return from Cuba and at least in the portion I heard, there was not a single reference made to the repression of the Castro government. Bobby Rush, qouted in the LA Times ,who was also part of the delegation, was positively gushing:

“I think that what really surprised me, but also endeared me to him, was his keen sense of humor, his sense of history and his basic human qualities,”

Are you kidding me? This is as silly sounding as Bush’s comment about looking into Putin’s soul, a silliness however countered and tempered by the fact that you could never accuse Bush of having an uncritical view of Russia.

The CBC should stop shilling for the Castro regime in this manner. Am I off base here? Does it not strike anyone else that there is something unseemly about the CBC championing a change in relations while ignoring the very repressive nature of Castro’s government over an island full of black people?