The older I get the more evidence seems to accumulate that the greatest enemy of world peace and popular enlightenment may be the profession of journalism.
Somebody once said that generals are always prepared to fight the last war but the truism seems to fit at least as well when applied to journalists.
Take the New York Times editorial on Thursday; it begins, portentously:
"For 50 years, the Cuban people have suffered under Fidel Castro's, and now Raúl Castro's, repressive rule. But Washington's embargo — a cold war anachronism kept alive by Florida politics — has not lessened that suffering and has given the Castros a far-too-convenient excuse to maintain their iron grip on power."
Anyone who knows anything about the history of the last 50 years might be forgiven for total bafflement.
Let us leave aside the statutory abuse and go to the embargo – which the NYT describes as a Cold War anachronism which had not 'lessened the suffering … etc.'
In the first place the embargo was originally designed and has been periodically reinforced specifically to make the Cuban people suffer and to punish them for not rising up and overthrowing their government. The embargo is – in terms of international law – an act of war, and it has always been meant to have that effect on the Cubans. If any nation had declared war on the US, would the US expect that to improve the conditions of the US population?
The embargo is so punitive that it even bans medicines and vaccines for children from the Cubans. It was and is an attempt to make the Cubans grovel in their misery and cry "Uncle" – as in 'Uncle Sam'. The fact that the opposite has happened is not a matter for inquiry by the NYT. Instead, says the Times:
"So we are encouraged to see President Obama's tentative efforts to ease the embargo and reach out to the Cuban people. At the same time, we are absolutely puzzled and dismayed by this week's frenzied push by many Latin American countries to readmit Cuba to the Organization of American States.
"Cuba, which says it has no interest in joining, clearly does not meet the group's standards for democracy and human rights."
The writer is obviously not aware that in the world outside of the United States, in the United Nations, the margin of support for ending the embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005 and 184 in 2007.
Last year apart from the US, only Israel and one or two other superpowers like Palau voted against the resolution, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The delegate speaking on behalf of the European Union, France's UN deputy ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said the 27-member bloc rejects "all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to common accepted rules of international trade." The Antiguan representative, speaking on behalf of the 132-nation Group of 77 and China, said the alliance renewed its call on Washington to lift the embargo which not only undermines the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, but threatens the [now sacred] principles of free trade and investment.
The New York Times is unaware that the Iberian/Latin American nations long ago welcomed Cuba in from the cold, even holding their 1999 Summit in Havana. There, the Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican heads of government criticised what they called Cuba's lack of democracy, but did not see their differences as unbridgeable.
At that meeting, attended by the King of Spain, among others, the leader of the Cuban revolution defiantly declared that it was ``an impossible task to persuade Cuba that it should abandon the ways of revolution and Socialism,'' Fidel Castro said.
``Almost nobody thought Cuba could survive the fall of the Socialist bloc ... but we thought differently and were determined to fight,'' said Castro.
But even before that, when the revolution was only 25 years old, I happened to be in Havana during the Malvinas (Falklands) War, when streams of Latin American diplomats came to Cuba to ask advice from and to pay homage to Cuba and to Fidel, who had condemned the Thatcher Reagan aggression – as they saw it – against hemispheric political integrity.
And when the US condemns the Cubans for their lack of democracy there is an unconcealed irony in their position, not to say hypocrisy. The so-called dissidents that Cuba is accused of persecuting are in fact paid agents of the United States, whose motives may be as innocent as saints, but who are in fact, under Cuban and international law, working for a foreign power with whom their country is at war, in a war declared not by Cuba but by the United States.
The New York Times, like the people Castro calls the Miami Mafia and like other anti-Cuban forces, does not apparently believe the Cubans have any right to defend themselves from American attack.
"We understand the desire to fully reintegrate Cuba into the main regional organization. But as Human Rights Watch argued this week: "Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere that repudiates nearly all forms of political dissent. For nearly five decades, the Cuban government has enforced political conformity with criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical abuse and surveillance."
The people the NYT and HRW are defending are the foreground players in a multilevel criminal assault on the Cuban polity. Over the years thus assault has included terrorist bombings such as the sabotage of the arms ship La Coubre which exploded in the Havana docks in 1960, killing and maiming hundreds, terrorist campaigns in the Escambray and other parts of Cuba, targeted assassinations, biological warfare killing Cuban children with imported strains of hemorrhagic dengue fever for instance; economic biological warfare targeting sugar cane, tobacco and citrus, among others with exotic diseases; terrorist bombings of hotels, targeting tourists, plots to blow up the Tropicana, the world's most famous nightclub and its audience and cast of hundreds; and the unremitting campaign to kill Fidel Castro with more than 600 known attempts on his life.
And while we talk about Cuba let us not forget about the US attempts to spread democracy in Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Haiti, among others, leaving the landscape littered with the corpses of men, women, children, nuns, priests and journalists.
No one can convince me that the Cubans have no right to defend themselves and their revolution. Had Maurice Bishop taken their advice he might still be alive. But for some people, for me to say that the Cubans may have a case is a demonstration of moral and intellectual depravity.
So be it.
I happened to be in Havana in 1960 shortly after the ammunition ship La Coubre had been blown up with huge loss of life. Everybody I knew tried to discourage me from going. I was sure to be killed.
I wasn't injured or in any real danger, although the night I arrived some gunmen in a speeding car sprayed the main shopping street with sub-machine gunfire. The air was charged. The day after I arrived I went for a walk with my camera aad ran into a black Cuban on Monserrate street, where he lived. On discovering I was Jamaican and a journalist he told me that he was a communist, a trade unionist and that though the revolution was not communist, he approved of it. We walked to the Parque Central, where the permanent tiled chessboards may have witnessed the genius of Capablanca and where, on that day – May 20, 1960 – Cuba's official Independence Day and my own 26th birthday, various patriotic things were happening. Among them a group of Pioneros – the revolutionary equivalent of Boy Scouts were practicing for a parade. I began to take some pictures and was quickly stopped by a tall young main in civilian clothes who made it plain that I was under arrest.
Monserrate accompanied us to the nearby police station.
I quickly discovered I was in difficulties because Id left my passport behind in my hotel, the nearby Siboney. But they had no one to go with me to get it. How to prove who I was?
Because I spoke English I was an American! Monserrate convinced me to scour my wallet for some form of ID. All I could find was a temporary press pass to the United Nations from the year before. Monserrate took one look at it and jumped for joy. See, he exclaimed (in Spanish of course) my friend is Ingles (English) because the pass said I was a British subject. The Brits were friends of Cuba.
The week before I arrived Life magazine had published a spread on Cuba, featuring the very troop of young Pioneers I had set my sights on.
The photographer had been a black American.
The photo spread had been titled
"Fascism in Latin America?"
As we say in cricket, the Americans had already begun rolling the wicket. The sugar quota was cut while I was there. The revolution was not even 18 months old.
A quarter of a century later I was on the steps of Jamaica House, chatting with Michael Manley, having just interviewed him for some European radio station. Somebody burst out of the house with the news that a Cubana airliner on its way to Jamaica from Barbados had been bombed out of the sky
Manley's reaction was shock and horrified disbelief. He went inside to phone his friend Fidel. The horror was palpable. Most of those on the plane were little more than children, the Cuban junior fencing team, some young Guyanese en route to medical school in Cuba and others.
Two of the culprits were soon discovered, tried and imprisoned. Another, one Luis Posada Carriles, alias 'Bambi' – the mastermind, has since that day 33 years ago, been under the protection of the United States of America. American agents have engineered his release from a Venezuelan jail and later from a Panamanian jail after an failed plot to blow up Fidel Castro along with several other Latin American leaders and thousands of Panamanian students in a concert hall.
This terrorist, a CIA asset from the time of the Kennedy assassination, lives, protected in Miami in a country whose last president promised to go after terrorists wherever they were and regardless of who protected them. No question of moral or intellectual depravity here, of course. In addition to the Cubana bombing he was responsible for some hotel bombings, one of them fatal to an Italian tourist.
Meanwhile, five Cubans who had infiltrated the Miami Mafia and were supplying information about the terrorists the US said it was committed to hunt down – people like 'Bambi' – were given long prison sentences in solitary confinement for taking George W Bush at his word.
Fidel Castro has long made it plain that Cuba has no wish to rejoin the OAS. Latin America knows this, despite which the OAS members decided to rescind the 1964 decision. It will mean nothing, practically, but for the Latins it is a matter of honour.
For them the OAS has been a yanki weapon against all of them, from Arbenz to Allende to Aristide to Fidel, Chavez and Morales. It does not end.
Their pilgrimages to Havana 25 years ago may have served no practical purpose either, but for Latin America it helped restore their self-respect.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell