The Responsibility of the Intellectuals: Cuba, the U.S. and Human Rights. (Storm over Cuba)

By Petras, James; Levy, Andrea | Canadian Dimension, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

The Responsibility of the Intellectuals: Cuba, the U.S. and Human Rights. (Storm over Cuba)


Petras, James, Levy, Andrea, Canadian Dimension


In order to come to reason about the debate raging between intellectuals on the issues of human rights in Cuba and U.S. imperialism, it is important to step back and consider the role of the intellectuals, the context and major issues that frame the U.S.-Cuba conflict.

The Role of the Intellectuals

The role of intellectuals is to clarify the major issues and define the major threats to peace, social justice, national independence and freedom in each historical period, as well as to identify and support the principal defenders of the same principles. Intellectuals have a responsibility to distinguish between the defensive measures taken by countries and peoples under imperial attack and the offensive methods of imperial powers bent on conquest. It is the height of cant and hypocrisy to engage in moral equivalences between the violence and repression of imperial countries bent on conquest with that of Third World countries under military and terrorist attacks. Responsible intellectuals critically examine the political context and analyze the relationships between imperial power and its paid local functionaries who they describe as "dissidents" -- they do nor issue moral fiats according to their dim lights and their political imperatives.

Moral Imperatives and Cuban Realities: Morality as Dishonesty

Intellectuals are divided on the U.S.-Cuba conflict: Benedetti, Sastre, Petras, Sanchez-Vazquez and Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and scores of others defend Cuba; right-wing intellectuals including Vargas Liosa, Savater and Carlos Fuentes have predictably issued their usual diatribes against Cuba; and a small army of otherwise progressive intellectuals -- Chomsky, Saramago, Sontag, Zinn and Wallerstein -- have joined the chorus condemning Cuba, waving their past critical postures in an effort to distinguish themselves from the right-wing/State Department Cuban opponents. It is the latter "progressive" group that has caused the greatest harm among the burgeoning anti-imperialist movement, and it is to them that these critical remarks are directed.

Morality based on propaganda is a deadly mix -- particularly when the moral judgements come from prestigious leftist intellectuals and the propaganda emanates from the far-right Bush Administration.

Many of the "progressive" critics of Cuba acknowledge, both in passing and in a general way, that the U.S. has been a hostile aggressor against Cuba, and they "generously" grant Cuba the right to self-determination - and then launch into a series of unsubstantiated charges and misrepresentations devoid of any special context that might serve to clarify the issues and provide a reasoned basis for "moral imperatives."

It is best to begin with the most fundamental facts. The left critics, based on U.S. State Department labeling, denounce the Cuban government's repression of individuals, dissidents, including journalists, owners of private libraries and members of political parties engaged in non-violent political activity trying to exercise their democratic rights. What they fail to recognize or are unwilling to acknowledge is that those arrested are paid functionaries of the U.S. government. According to the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID), the principal American federal agency implementing U.S. grants and loans in pursuit of U.S. foreign policy, under USAID's Cuba Program (created out of the 1996 HelmsBurton Act) USAID has since 1997 channeled over $8.5 million to Cuban opponents of the Castro regime to publish, meet and propagandize in favour of the overthrow of the Cuban government in co-ordination with a variety of U.S. NGOs, universities, foundations and front groups. (A profile of the Cuba Program is available at www.usaid.gov/regions/lac/cu/upd-cub.htm).

Contrary to its usual practice, the USAID program does not channel payments to the Cuban government, but directly to its Cuban "dissident" clients. …

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