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.