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Three April '05 Letters From Cuba

 Second Letter  Third Letter

   Note: The three letters presented here as three documents (First Letter, Second Letter, and Third Letter) were E-mailed from Cuba to various U.S. media I knew wouldn't print them, even though Cuba was in the news, the issues covered were tightly related to current news angles (except that Cuban elections are never covered by U.S. media) and no news medium I know of had the inside view I was able to provide. The three letters were sent on the dates indicated (April 14, 22, and 29, 2005), but please note that all documents on this website are subject to my tendency to edit, amend, and even rewrite anything I re-read. Being able to do that is an advantage of an internet publication I won't pass up. So these three documents are no longer precisely the letters submitted on the indicated dates, but the dates are still essential to their nature, purpose, and relevance.

First Letter

Human Rights in Cuba
by Glen Roberts
April 14 from Havana

    Washington wants the UN Human Rights Commission to censure Cuba again, while off the American public's screen, most of the world says no, some UN delegates are counter proposing an end to the political use of the commission for insidious U.S. purposes, and some are demanding that the U.S. be censured instead. Some, including Kofi Annan, even want the UN to focus on inequality as a human rights abuse (flip-flopping the U.S. "good" and "evil" thermometer), which is exactly why some embedded U.S. pundits are suggesting the UN is becoming irrelevant.
    I haven't seen the U.S. complaint against Cuba (neither have my friends back in California reading U.S. newspapers), but I'm sure it doesn't mention being squashed inside overcrowded old busses while people with dollars or euros to trade for the new "convertible pesos" can ride good busses with empty seats. And I'm sure it doesn't mention families still being packed into tiny Habana Vieja apartments in the rickety interiors of centuries old buildings while progress toward an equal society creeps onward - surely but slowly - and families with money from Miami go ahead and build new houses.
    U.S. officials never cry to the UN about Nicaraguans whose dirt-floored plastic lean-tos became their destiny and progress toward equality stopped dead after they were saved from communism in 1990, and they never censured Venezuela's previously entrenched but cooperative plutocrats for the miserable "ranchos" surrounding Caracas where employees of de facto U.S. oil companies lived.
    To the contrary, that Venezuela's oil money is now being used to replace the ranchos with good houses is the best example of how Hugo Chavez is offending the U.S. by "going the way of Cuba," where (also off the American screen) it's always been the goal of the revolution to put every Cuban into a good home, and where the remaining substandard homes (bad as they seem to rightfully frustrated Cubans) would be considered palaces by legions of "free" Latin Americans whose human rights the U.S. doesn't care about as long as they go on working for the "free" enterprise system of the "free" world for the miserable wages and miserable work conditions they're offered.
    To the U.S. establishment, inequality is OK. Human rights abuse is whatever they need it to be, but it's not likely to include abusive inequality. Capitalists can't think of inequality as abusive, because inequality is essential to the fabric of capitalism, especially U.S. capitalism abroad. Capitalism is a system of inequality and therefore, necessarily, a system of human rights abuses that accompany inequality, and the champions of capitalism are obliged to justify or ignore the abuses on which it stands. And the necessary corollary to that perverse attitude is that they can't give Cuba credit for the giant strides taken there to reverse and cancel inequality.
    I assume (I should say I know) the U.S. declaration against Cuba will list exactly one complaint with any merit - that Cuban media are less voluntarily embedded than U.S. media and give even less space to contrary opinion, because the only thing really bothering Washington and their Miami constituents, who don't give a damn about human rights (including press rights), is that they don't get to abuse the rights of the Cubans.
    To the business types in Washington who've been taught that economic triumph is a divinely bestowed reward for virtue, human rights abuse is when their few friends in Cuba aren't allowed to get rich. And, in fact, the main "human rights abuses" Washington will most honestly (and slyly) lay on Cuba will be that Cubans aren't "free" to work for reinstated "free" enterprises owned by Miamistas or to vote for business dominated political parties packaged in Miami. But everywhere that kind of "freedom" prevails, the human rights abuses of inequality dwarf the paltry list of questionably valid complaints probably (I should say certainly) once again filed against Cuba in Geneva.
    But I'm back in Cuba winding up a year of travel throughout Latin America where the masses live with countless U.S. supplied guns pointed at them precisely because the gunners fear an always potential realization by the masses that they'll never work or vote their way out of their miserable and truly abusive poverty (unless, of course, they infuriate Washington by electing a continent wide set of Hugo Chavez type presidents to 45-year terms). By contrast, in Cuba, where I started and ended my 10-country odyssey, I've seen nothing like the normal Latin American misery. And, with or without "free" elections, I keep seeing that only Cubans have the government that over 80% of them really want, because Cuba is uniquely "free" from U. S. intervention (see "Cubans Choose Socialism" on my website at
    I am a retired journalism professor. I am now in Cuba for the sixth time. Over the last 20 years, I've traveled extensively and sometimes lived in Mexico and Central America. I spent most of last year in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, and coming and going through Mexico, comparing the U.S. blessed "free" enterprise democracies with unblessed Cuba (see "South America by Bus" on my website at The conclusion of my investigation is that it should be Cuba doing the censuring.
    Cuba isn't perfect, especially not Havana. It's too hot, there's no good coffee, bureaucracy tends to be hard-headed, and a lack of exterior house paint makes for dreary looking streets. It bothers me a lot that Cuba has no newspaper like El Tiempo in Bogota or La Jornada in Mexico. But having only one political party isn't a human rights abuse - period. That Fidel is always the president isn't either. Expeditiously trying, convicting and shooting three of the certainly guilty creeps who terrorized and threatened to kill the passengers including some tourists on a tiny bay ferry they insanely took out onto the high seas wasn't either (I've ridden that ferry which I don't think most U.S. opinion makers have ever seen).
    If the so-called journalists jailed two years ago were in fact working for (and were trained, directed, supplied, and paid by) a foreign power that has declared itself Cuba's enemy to assist in the subversion and eventual overthrow of the Cuban state (which would certainly make what they did treason under the U.S. Constitution), then that probably wasn't a human rights abuse either, and convincing evidence was presented against them.
    It's easy to list human rights abuses in Cuba that won't be on the U.S. manifest, because there are human rights abuses anywhere there are humans with rights to abuse. But there is something else far far far more importantly missing in Cuba - a void in place of the normal nightmare found everywhere else in Latin America. There is no abyss - no people of the abyss - no fear of the people of the abyss - no jackboots protecting the upper and middle classes from the people of the abyss. There is no such thing in Cuba, and the reason for that has to be the nature of Fidel Castro's "regime," the socialist Cuban system Washington despises and makes a show of self righteously censuring.
    Comparing Cuba to the rest of Latin America and some large parts of metropolitan America, especially after months of sharing the very understandable fear of the poor that pervades most of the world, I find it luxurious to be again in a place where I have no fear of the poor or of over-armed cops and military - where there is virtually no racism, where everyone is educated, where all the kids are healthy and have good teeth and are well taken care of, where there are only a tiny handful of crazy beggars, no crowds of desperate ambulantes scrambling to make a minimal living, and no dangerous forbidden ghettos.
    Since there is almost never any realistic philosophy referenced in American media, allow me to surprise you with a little. Civilization is a joint venture, a society-wide extension of the social contract, a civil social economic contract depending for its success on the equal commitment of all participants, each of whom then has an equal right to the benefits of civilization. Therefore, in a civilized world, inequality is a human rights abuse. To compare countries on a human rights yardstick, one must look very seriously at inequality and the consequences of inequality. Since failure to measure up to that yardstick is always a sure corollary to and indicator of flagrant human rights abuse of all kinds, and Cuba is the only country in Latin America that not only measures up but makes measuring up its first order of business, Cuba is the last country that should be censured for human rights abuse.
    The most in-my-face sign of inequality I saw everywhere I went in Latin America in '04 and '05, except Cuba, was the chaotic mass of street vendors jamming the centers of all the cities, blocking sidewalks and curbs, and blocking any effective police view of what goes on in the midst of the mob. It's called "free" enterprise, but, standing in place, my back to a wall and my hand on my wallet, watching selections of ambulantes in La Paz, Caracas and Bogota, I saw very few selling enough of their duplicate junk to free themselves from poverty or buy the civilized standard of living all human participants in a civil social economic contract have a right to (which all Cubans have but which the victims of capitalism can't afford).
    In the midst of one such colorful but desperate scramble for survival in Medellin, I was attacked and forced to fight for my own survival on a crowded, downtown, daytime sidewalk; I was attacked again and had to fight to survive half a block up a night side street from a swarm of internationals and cops in Quito's main tourist center - just two of the real-life experiences that taught me against my will last year to fear the poor and the night (see "From the Andes" under "South America by Bus" at Back in Cuba, it took me awhile to get over that - to realize again that I could safely walk the night streets of Havana, simply because the Cubans, in stark contrast to most other Latin Americans, are not dangerously desperate.
    Last year in South America and over many years in Central America and Mexico, I've seen people living in hovels, dens, hutches, lean-tos, plastic tents, rock igloos, shelters that I can't easily talk about. I mean it makes me cry. But the casucha - the shanty - often too grandiose a term for get-ups made, Mexicans say, "de materiales" (of stuff), is the most important fact of life in Latin America except in Cuba.
    That's a human rights abuse the U.S. chooses not to censure in, for instance, Mexico, whose president bought his U.S. blessing by seconding the censuring of Cuba in spite of his own legislature begging him not to disgrace Mexico by doing that. There are lots of large shanty jungles in Mexico. There are only a tiny number of nonsystemic shanties in Cuba, where all substandard homes are seriously slated for replacement (see Chapter 7 of "Cuban Notebooks" on my website at
    Everywhere, except in Cuba, concentrations of substandard homes become forbidden casbahs, which the middle classes fear to enter, and that includes the U.S. Ill informed tourists may think Centro Havana is such a place, but in fact, I've never even encountered the concept in Cuba. Fear of the night and the poor inside and outside the ghetto is common almost everywhere except in Cuba. I have been told all my U.S. life and have been told emphatically, continually, and often hysterically in other Latin American countries to be afraid of the night, the poor, and the "wrong side of the tracks," but I've never been told that in Cuba.
    Every other country also has safe bubble zones where the middle and upper classes can seal themselves off from both danger and the ugliness of the flip side of capitalism. The U.S. is itself such a bubble (with alot of ugly internal vacuoles), and traveling Americans who stay inside Latin American bubble zones may be able to keep their denial intact. An ill-chosen brand of tourism in Cuba includes apparent bubble zones at Varadero Beach, Trinidad, and in Habana Vieja, but it's not the same because all of Cuba is relatively very safe, and that can only be said of Cuba.
    To protect the middle and upper classes from the poor, an armed-camp atmosphere prevails in and around the safe zones of every country but Cuba. Indeed, most Latin American countries are crawling with over-armed cops and military; and armed checkpoints, the most obvious symbol of fascism, are common. The worst internal example I know of since 80's Guatemala and Honduras, worse even than Colombia, is now Mexico. U.S. foreign and border policy is virtually a macro metaphor for this ugly syndrome. Chile has very little of it, but only Cuba, where the police are few and lightly armed, has virtually no military presence and no checkpoints.
    Why the difference? It's obvious. The fact is that the economic competition (capitalism) that Washington loves doesn't work for the losers, who are therefore dangerous. And Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere where even relative losers aren't desperate enough to be dangerous, and almost everyone believes, with good reason, that there will be no losers in the future.
    Being a permanent loser is a human rights abuse, and it makes the losers mad, and some strike out blindly, and some organize, and, unable to directly confront the high tech arms of the cops and soldiers, some resort to terrorism. Terrorism is usually the strategy of the poor. It's the ugly offspring of desperate inequality - and, of course, of brutal ignorance, which also comes from inequality.
    Throughout Latin America and the world, lack of education is pandemic. People trying to explain to me (a bit dishonestly) why the poor are dangerous inevitably, everywhere, tell me it is because the poor are uneducated. Several countries supposedly guarantee education, though seldom equally, but this guarantee simply fails in most of Latin America. It was recently reported that 40 million Latin Americans can't read or write at all, and 120 million are functionally illiterate. Virtually none of those are Cubans.
    And then there's hunger. Hunger makes people dangerous, too. Maybe the ugliest abuse of the human rights of those who can't cope with the actually stacked deck of "free" enterprise is hunger. World-wide, an estimated 840 million people are now chronically hungry. The UN estimated last October that from 24,000 to 100,000 a day die from hunger. Many of those are Latin Americans. Probably none are Cubans.
    I'm talking about real human rights abuse everywhere except Cuba, including in America. The absence of permanent social security, economic stability, and assured health care is the norm everywhere but Cuba, where an opposite norm prevails. In contrast to their government's constant fretting over national security, most older Americans are more seriously worried about their own personal economic security and their uncertain ability to pay for health care. Peru has just decided in desperation to give $30 a month (which is about $60 buying power) to 22% of its people who now earn less than $1.60 a day and have nothing else. Over half of Colombians have less than $2 (about $5 of buying power) a day and have nothing else.
    The Miami Herald International recently listed 10 other Latin American countries with similar situations. But the much maligned minimum Cuban salary just raised to 225 pesos a month ($9 according to the Miamistas), actually represents way over $225 of buying power IN ADDITION TO virtually all necessities of life being subsidized, the most important - housing, education, economic security for life, and health care totally guaranteed.
    Those subject to the indignity of poverty, besides being the helpless victims of capitalist mathematics (the inevitable 20/80 principle) are usually sorted into the undignified lower class by race. The poor of the world are routinely denied dignity because of their race. Indians in most of Latin America are treated as nonhumans. But only Cuba, that I know of (since the fall of the Nicaraguan revolution, where I first saw this in practice), makes universal individual dignity an obligation of the state. Certainly, Cuba comes closer than any other place I've been to zero racism.
    Cuba has less political prisoners than America, it has no more failures of justice, and there is no evidence of torture in Cuba. Its version of democracy is as valid as anyone's, and the Cuban people overwhelmingly support their socialist system. Cuba's constitution guarantees free speech and Cubans speak freely. Cuba's over-control of press freedom is a serious problem, but it's more a strategic error than a human rights abuse and, in contrast to all the above, it's not enough to obscure the obvious fact that it is asinine for the U.S. to order other Latin American countries to judge Cuba. Obviously, if human rights are the issue, Cuba is a model, and it should be Cuba doing the judging and the censuring.

Glen Roberts,;
formerly of San Diego and
Morro Bay, California, now
(in Apr. '05) a homeless traveler.