Turning the tables on Jeb
Karen Lee Wald kwald@california.com
September 2, 2002

Re: Jeb Bush's letter to Jesse Ventura

It would be so easy to take Governor Jeb Bush's words about Cuba 
and turn them around. It might give many Americans pause for thought. 

Here's an example:

Governor Bush told Governor Ventura that:
"Visiting Cuba hurts Cuban workers, dissidents ".  
Well, what about OUR workers and average Americans, dissidents or not?

Mr. Bush writes:
Recently, it has become politically popular for U.S. elected officials to travel to Cuba.

We could say instead:
For some time now, it has been politically popular to bash Cuba, forbid trade and travel to that country, and do everything possible to make life difficult for its citizens, while at the same time gloating over their difficulties and blaming them on Cuba's socialist form of government. This not only hurts Cubans, it hurts US citizens as well.

But we should never forget that the people of Cuba don't share the same basic freedoms and rights that the residents of Florida and Minnesota enjoy. The reason: Fidel Castro denies them the opportunity to exercise the unalienable rights that we have come to take for granted in America

But although we are generally not allowed to go to Cuba to see for ourselves, we should never forget that the people of the United States don't share the same basic freedoms and rights that the citizens of Cuba enjoy. The reason, the US system of government denies them the opportunity to exercise the unalienable rights that all Cubans have come to take for granted since their 1959 revolution: the right to high quality health care, education at all levels, guaranteed housing (at a maximum of 10% of your income), an adequate nutritional level, access to affordable sports and cultural events, and guaranteed employment (with full pay during lay-offs). Granted, some of the food and housing are the "no frills" variety; but on the other hand, no one is left out, and no one is made to feel humiliated by having to apply to a demeaning "welfare" system to access these rights, since it is understood that they are paid for by the labor of all working people.

Speaking out against government policies, fighting for what you believe, or attempting to change the established order to create a better society will make you an ''independent'' or ''maverick'' in the United States. In Cuba, you become a ''dissenter'' and an ''enemy of the revolution'' and are summarily thrown in jail.

Speaking out against US government policies, fighting for what you believe, or attempting to change the established order to create a better society is likely to get you labeled as a "terrorist" in today's political climate. So will belonging to any non-Judeo-Christian religion, having dark skin, long hair, beard, or wearing a turban. Once thrown in jail, you will have absolutely no rights, since most of the key elements of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights were thrown out after September 11, 2001 (just as they were thrown out in Chile, after September 11, 1973, when the US-supported Pinochet dictatorship took over, by the way.)

As a strong supporter of worker rights, you should be aware of the abysmal conditions that hard-working Cubans must endure. For example, when foreign companies use Cuban laborers, the companies pay the Castro government in dollars or other hard currency, but the workers are paid in near-worthless pesos. In effect, Castro skims off the top and leaves the workers with a tiny fraction of what is rightfully theirs. He uses the difference to finance his oppressive regime and ensure its continued existence.

Although the US has had a long history of workers' struggles, you should be aware of the abysmal conditions hard-working Americans must still endure; no one can ignore the hundreds of thousands of workers who are regularly being left jobless as their companies "down-size" (move to other areas or countries where salaries are lower and health and retirement benefits non-existent). Even workers organized in unions are having trouble maintaining their salaries and benefits, while CEO salaries soar to such levels that their great great grandchildren would have trouble spending it all....In effect, the CEOs skim off the top and leave the workers with a tiny fraction of what is rightfully theirs. They use a portion of their profits to buy elections, making sure that the elected officials of this country are ones who will maintain this regime that is so oppressive to working people.

While in Cuba, ask about the Varela Project, a petition initiative -- legal under the Cuban Constitution -- that calls for a referendum on open elections, freedom of speech, protection from state-sponsored political retribution and the establishment of free enterprise.

While in Washington, ask about the Bill of Rights. It's what the Founding Fathers tacked onto our Constitution to make sure citizens had certain fundamental rights (such as free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship, the right to a trial by jury, the right to be presumed innocent until convicted, the right counsel, the right of habeas corpus....) New generations may grow up without ever knowing that Americans once enjoyed these rights and took them for granted. One would think that this government, especially in Florida, would hesitate to even mention elections, given how the last ones were conducted, but while there, you might suggest they look at the Cuban model of free elections -- where free actually means it costs nothing to run, anyone can be nominated, and the victor is never the one with the biggest financial treasure chest. Where elections are not multiparty, or single party (as is often mistakenly projected) but NON-partisan -- no one can run as a member of a party because all elected officials are expected to serve all of the people. (That's how we elect judges in many states, by the way, and for the same reason. That they are expected to be above petty party politics.)

The initiative is led by the courageous Oswaldo PayŠ SardiŮas, who is being honored by the National Democratic Institute with its 2002 Democracy Award. The award is scheduled to be presented to PayŠ in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30. So far, he has not been granted a visa from the Cuban government to travel to the United States. Ask every Cuban official you meet, including Castro, when PayŠ can expect to receive his visa.

Whoops! Hold on there. We were just told a few paragraphs ago that political "dissenters" in Cuba are considered "enemies of the revolution and summarily thrown in jail". So why is Mr. Paya able to hold press conferences to advocate overturning his country's system of government? Are we to understand that denial of an all-expense- paid trip to Washington DC to receive an award for doing so is a punishment on a par, say, with the torture, disappearances and summary executions that affected hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans who suffered under regimes our government never saw fit to topple or even embargo? (Sadly, our government's turning a blind-eye to such horrendous abuses is not limited to Latin America, nor did it end at the turn of the century.)

[...] The current business state of affairs in Cuba has been described as ''uneasy, unreliable and uncertain.'' That should not come as a surprise from a failed economic system that still considers private business and profits as evil. The result is a standard of living for Cubans that has gone in just a few decades from one of the highest in Latin America to one of the lowest.

The current business state of affairs in Cuba has been described as ''uneasy, unreliable and uncertain.'' That should not come as a surprise given the vast efforts-- supported by US taxpayer dollars -- to destabilize the Castro government, keep US companies from trading with those on the Island, and pressure other countries to do the same.

Cubans "standard of living" was "one of the highest in Latin America" if you consider the skewed figures that allow the existence of a few multi-millionaires to produce an "average" income that ignores the fact that MOST Cubans were out of work most of the year (once the sugar cane was cut and milled); that only one out of 20 had a 6th grade education; that most had no access at all to any kind of health care (there was one rural hospital with 24 beds prior to 1959), and assorted other inconvenient facts about the life of most Cubans living under the Batista regime. It's so easy to lie with figures!

Cuba continues to harbor criminal fugitives and supports international terrorist organizations.

The United States continues to harbor criminal fugitives and supports international terrorist organizations. Forget about all the former Nazis who were secretly welcomed to our shores after WWII because they had scientific and other skills our government considered useful in combating the then-perceived threat of Soviet Communism. Let's even ignore, for the moment, some Central and South American former military and government leaders who committed atrocities in their own countries and retired in comfort in Southern Florida. Just look at all the torturers, murderers and other criminals of the Batista dictatorship who were welcomed with open arms, no questions asked. 

Look at the blind eye with which some elected officials, public servants --even prosecutors and judges -- view some of the most outspoken advocates of terrorism as long as they happen to be of Cuban origin and are calling for the downfall of Fidel Castro. Alpha 66 and other anti-Castro organizations based in Miami have even held press conferences stating that they would consider any tourist visiting Cuba "fair game", with no repercussions. Much of Miami considers the men accused of masterminding and paying for the mid-air explosion of a Cubana civilian airliner as heroes, and -- as one Miami Herald reporter once commented "not necessarily because they think they are innocent". When terrorists armed with guns, mortars, explosives and other destructive material on their way to Cuba to sow death and destruction have been captured and prosecuted by some honest Coast Guardsmen and local or federal prosecutors, judges and juries have gone on record as condoning this form of violence by freeing them. In other words, terrorism is ok as long as it is against someone we don't like?

While our military are protecting us from terrorists, Castro's government claims that the U.S. operation in Afghanistan has engaged in ''war atrocities.'' This type of rhetoric normally would be dismissed as absurd if it weren't so offensive to our uniformed personnel.

Given this double-standard about terrorism, it is not surprising that much of the world looks skeptically at our claim that the US military is simply "protecting us from terrorists". It is also hard for most people outside the US to accept that the killing of innocent civilians -- such as the ones attending a wedding party that inconveniently was being held beneath a stray bomb -- does not constitute a "war atrocity". "Collateral damage" as a term to describe innocent civilians who die anywhere in the world at the hands of the US military, was, after all, only recently introduced into the world's vocabulary by the US military and its apologists. Such rhetoric would normally be dismissed as absurd by any reasoning human being, if it weren't so painful to all the survivors. In Cuba there are several thousand such survivors of the "collateral damage" done by US-based, Cuban-born terrorists who consider such actions not "absurd" but horrific.

President Bush announced on May 20 his ''Initiative for a New Cuba,'' a series of steps that the United States expects Castro to implement in return for a more-normalized diplomatic and trade relationship. While no one expects Castro to cede power, he continues to be unwilling to make even the most basic changes. We should not participate in his continued oppression of the Cuban people.

Fidel Castro has politely refrained from presenting an "Initiative for a New United States" that would make it possible to resume normal diplomatic and trade relations between the neighboring countries. Free and fair elections in the US might be one, but then, how many people currently in office in the United States might still be able to hold their positions if rules were put into effect saying that NO MONEY AT ALL could be spent on elections; that all media must provide, equally to all candidates, adequate space to put forth their qualifications, views and programs, and all voters could decide who to elect just based on this information? Why, if money could not buy elections, someone might actually get into office who was NOT so arrogant as to believe that the ruling circles of the United States have the right to tell every other country in the world who should lead them, and how.

While in Cuba, meet with dissidents and other human-rights defenders. You will get another view and insight, directly from those who suffer under Castro's totalitarianism. They will tell you that lifting the trade embargo and allowing unrestricted travel will serve only to maintain the status quo and delay the peaceful transition to democracy and free enterprise that the Cubans have been waiting for and so justly deserve.

While traveling around the United States, meet with dissidents who oppose the war, groups who fight for social and economic justice, and other human rights defenders. You will get another view and insight, directly from those Americans who suffer under our present system. They will tell you that lifting the trade embargo against Cuba and allowing unrestricted travel there might actually not only bring some extra income to the farm states, but might also give us some good ideas about what human beings deserve to consider as fundamental human rights. Things we could apply here. So we could think about a peaceful transition to REAL, participatory democracy, and a world in which the word "free" is not so often used to mean just the opposite.