Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cuba Si! Celebrating the achievements of this island of resistance to US imperialism

My friend Carolfrances Likins loves Cuba and has traveled there many times. This Friday at ICUJP she gave a reflection celebrating the amazing achievements of this small, but mighty island that has valiantly resisted US imperialism for 60 years.
      A couple of months ago, a Cuban Quaker pastor came to visit us with a somewhat different perspective. He told us that when Castro took over, the churches were pressured into giving information about all their members--not only names, but also addresses and occupations. This led to a drastic decline in church membership due to fear of reprisals. We were told that Fidel Castro's attitude towards the church changed in 1984 when the Rev Jesse Jackson came to Cuba and negotiated the release of twenty-two Americans being held in Cuba after an invitation by Cuban president Fidel Castro.[24
    From that time on, religious groups have been able to practice their religion more or less freely as long as they don't criticize the government. Church membership has increased and members no longer feel they are facing discrimination.
    According to Amnesty International, however, political dissent is still being stifled in Cuba. Those of us who care about freedom of speech and press need to continue to speak out on behalf of those who are being jailed or persecuted for their political beliefs.
    I am also not comfortable with the use of violence, whether practiced by John Brown, Che Guavara, or by George Washington.
    No government and no leader is perfect, of course. Given the US track record in Guantanamo and other parts of the world, the US government has no right to criticize Cuba for human rights abuses. We need to clean up our own act before sanctioning Cuba for its political sins.
     A member of ICUJP also pointed out that there is discrimination in Cuba against the Afro-Cubans. But of course the same is true here in the United States, as the Trayvon Martin case makes all too clear.
     I agree with Carolfrances that there is much to celebrate about Cuba, and totally support lifting the embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba. These absurd sanctions are undeserved and do nothing to help the Cuban people.
     I hope someday to visit Cuba and learn more first-hand about this remarkable country and its achievements.


What's not to celebrate about a small country standing up to the greatest imperial power on Earth for 60 years? Yes, today, July 26th, is not only Moncada Day – the day Cubans celebrate as the beginning of their Revolution – but it is its sixtieth anniversary, making Cuba the only country on Earth that has survived, and in so many ways flourished, for six decades of defiance to U.S. imperialism. “We may make mistakes on our path,” Cubans tell us, “But they’re our mistakes.”

Sixty years ago today, Fidel Castro Ruz and other Cubans stormed the Moncada Barracks in an unsuccessful bid to arm the people against the ruthless U.S.-backed dictatorship. How can we who cherish non-violence honor such an act? I think of it much like John Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry to arm enslaved people, and we must understand that, in both cases, it was a last resort. The Cuban people had organized themselves to take power by ballot box; Castro himself was a candidate for national parliament, and it was widely assumed that he and his party would win massively, but dictator Batista cancelled elections and brutally cracked down on the people. And even Rev. James Lawson, when asked if he didn’t agree that revolutionary armed struggle was sometimes necessary and justified, replied, “No, there has never been an armed revolution that has brought on lasting change – except for Cuba.”

So why do we celebrate the Cuban Revolution? I don’t know; maybe because we cherish literacy and we know how Cuba brought their population up from being about-half illiterate to achieving just about full literacy – U.N.-recognized – in about a year, and then went on to offer all levels of education tuition-free, further sharing it with the world by sending teachers to volunteer wherever they’re called for (including war-ravished Nicaragua), developed a multilingual literacy program used in many countries, and bring students in to study for free in Cuba.

Or maybe it’s because in our struggle for universal health care, we have to be impressed to read Cuban health statistics that are on the par with or better than countries with ten times the GDP and with no crushing embargo, because of their free, preventative-care-based, not-for-profit health care system. Or that they both train doctors – again for free – from all over the world, and have had more doctors volunteering in poor countries than has had the World Health Organization.

 Or maybe we celebrate Cuba because their environmental program – from urban gardens and organic agriculture to alternative energy – shows what we could do without a system where the polluters get to make the decisions.

 Or maybe it’s because Cuba shows us a different model of democracy, from its grassroots, day-to-day, organization-based kind to the electoral kind in which, because people nominate candidates in their neighborhoods and because private money is not allowed in campaigns, they typically have 98% turn-out in national and local elections, with no mandatory voting.


My friend goes on to celebrate Che Guevara as the hero of this Revolution but I am not comfortable with this part of her post. Che had some admirable qualities, but he did not practice or advocate nonviolence and therefore I must draw the line and say he has no place among those I regard as true heroes--those willing to lay down their own lives, but not kill others, for what they believe.

Such self-sacrificing heroes are rare, but they are what we need to overcome the domination system that oppresses and dehumanizes us.


  1. Celebrating Che...?!!

    I'm baffled/upset/disheartened. Have you read a scholarly biography on Che Guevara?

    Not only did Che seriously consciously reject Jesus, but he denied the very words/commands of Jesus from the NT. Read what he had to say negatively about Jesus.

    Even worse (if that's possible), Che was a murderer and a thief, etc. I still remember
    the shock when I read how he murdered one man, and as the man lay dying, Che had the immoral gall to try and yank the dying man's wristwatch off the man's wrist:-(

    Also, when Che had the choice of whether to carry his medicine (being a doctor), or abandon it to carry instead more ammunition, he chose the latter.

    And don't forget that Che was the man in charge of hundreds of executions at the end of the war:-(

    Che was against most of what you hold most dearly. But don't take my word for it. Read any scholarly biography about the murderer.

    (This in no way excuses the wrong our own government did.)

    Daniel Wilcox

  2. Thanks for your comments about Che. I confess I know little about him. As I said, I have mixed feelings about the Cuban revolution. I posted this to counter the demonizing of Castro and Cuba, not to eulogies them.

  3. I enjoy your blog and appreciate your ethic, but I had to say this post baffles me. I am particularly suprised at your defense of John Brown's raid.

    John Brown was a murderer, obsessed with Old Testament violence, deluded into believing that he was some sort of avenging agent of God's wrath, and likely insane. His violence begat more violence, as violence always does. The Quakers of his day were happy to assist him in helping fugitive slaves, but would have nothing to do with his violence and would never had categorized his attack on the Harper's Ferry arsenal as justifiable, even as a "last resort."

    In my humble opinion, endorsing the violence of John Brown is inconsistent with an ethic of peace and nonviolence.

    Hope you don't mind my weighing in on this.