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What is the Human Rights Situation in Cuba?

Is Cuba a Terrorist Nation?

Why Does Cuba Have Only One Political Party?

Is There Religious Freedom in Cuba?

Does the Rest of the World Share the U.S. Policy Toward Cuba?

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What is the Human Rights Situation in Cuba?

The United States government has consistently condemned Cuba for human rights abuses. However, the rest of the world finds the U.S. stance increasingly less credible. In fact in May 2001 Washington was voted off the United Nations' Human Rights Commission for the first time since its founding in 1947, in large part because of what UN member nations see as U.S. hypocrisy and double standards regarding human rights.

Nearly all of the U.S. government’s charges against Cuba’s human rights record are simply untrue. Cubans are not jailed or persecuted for criticizing their government – a visitor to Havana will find Cubans on most any street corner in free and lively debate about their government’s mistakes and shortcomings. At the same time, the vast majority of Cubans fully support the Revolution and would defend it to their death.

Contrary to Washington's effort to portray Cuba as 'closed society', access to Western media – including Miami radio stations and CNN – is common in Cuba, as is open contact with Western visitors. What's more, Cubans are far more educated about and interested in world events than most people in the U.S.

Among themselves U.S. government officials acknowledge the weakness of their charges of human rights abuses by Cuba. In 1994, Cuba presented to the world press a secret document sent by the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana (the U.S. Interests Section, or USINT) to the State Department. The document admitted that most Cubans seeking asylum "apply for refugee status as a means to escape the deteriorating economic situation and not because of a current fear of persecution or harassment" and that U.S. officials had "witnessed repeated incidents of fraud" by alleged human rights activists.

The document continued, "Young man caught in illegal exit attempts since the economic downturn in 1989 (collapse of the socialist bloc) have tended to submit applications as human rights activists. Human rights leaders have told USINT officers that they know that most of their members joined only to take advantage of the refugee program." The document concluded that, although more and more of the applications for political asylum were denied because their claims of human rights abuses were fraudulent, this higher rate of refusal "has on the sideline the advantage of hopefully resulting in a higher level of activity by the [human rights] groups."

It's true that Cubans don't have exactly the same range of civil liberties that the United States guarantees on paper (if not in practice) to its citizens. But Cuba has been a nation under siege for more than forty years. After all, the world's most powerful and bellicose nation has been doing its utmost to destroy the Cuban Revolution utilizing every known form of warfare including the threat of nuclear incineration. Additionally, the Northern Colussus has used its infinite supply of one weapon – money – to encourage individual Cubans to betray their own country. For Cuba not to always be on guard against these attempts to return it to U.S. domination would mean suicide for the nation and murder for its citizens.

In any case, the notion that human rights are limited to formal civil liberties is unacceptable to Cuba and most of the world. Freedom of the press – even if limited to a handful of mega-corporations – means little if the population is illiterate, not to mention starving and ravaged by fatal diseases. No nation in the world exceeds Cuba's achievements in eradicating illiteracy and homelessness, nor has more doctors per capita ... with medical care being free.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The Cuban Revolution is first and foremost dedicated to implementing this principle. This is precisely why the government of the United States is set on destroying it ... under the utterly cynical banner of "human rights."

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Is Cuba a Terrorist Nation?

On May 21, 2002, the U.S. State Department published its latest list of "terrorist states" – which includes Cuba. Does the U.S. government have a good case for considering Cuba to be terrorist?

The first piece of "evidence" that Cuba is terrorist cited by the State Department is that Cuba condemned the United States’ indiscriminate military attacks against Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of untold numbers of innocent people, including children and hospital workers. (Afghanistan is not on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.)

The other "evidence" cited: members of the Basque separatist group ETA live in Cuba (fact: this is the result of an agreement between Spain and Cuba, in no way a case of "harboring terrorists"); Cuba has provided support to members of the Colombian groups FARC and ELN (fact: Cuba has served, at the behest of the Colombian government, as a facilitator in the peace process between that government and these groups); a member of the Irish Republican Army who was arrested in Colombia on suspicion of providing explosives training to the FARC had lived for a few years in Cuba (fact: he had been there, as the State Department itself acknowledges, as Sinn Fein’s official representative for Cuba and Latin America); there is, in the State Department’s words, a "strong possibility" that Cuba harbored Chilean terrorists (fact: the government of Chile thoroughly investigated these allegations and found no foundation for them); and, finally, "numerous U.S. fugitives" are living in Cuba (fact: the U.S. government has refused to enter into an extradition treaty with Cuba, so there is no mechanism for seeking the return of these people to the United States).

In addition, though this is not mentioned in the State Department document, members of the Bush administration have recently made reckless claims that Cuba has been developing technology to produce biochemical weapons and exporting it to other "terrorist nations." Their reasoning: since Cuba engages in biomedical research to manufacture such products as hepatitis vaccines, it has the capability of producing biochemical weapons. There is not, in fact, a shred of evidence that Cuba is doing so or even has any intention of investigating how it could do so.

The truth is that Cuba, itself long a victim of terrorist attacks launched from within the United States (and often with the backing of the U.S. government), strongly denounces terrorism in any form. Immediately after the September 11 attacks in the United States, Cuba condemned the attacks and offered to aid the U.S. people in any way it could, including offering landing rights and medical care. In a speech on September 22, Cuban President Fidel Castro gave assurances that "the territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people and we will do everything within our power to prevent such actions against that people." He described terrorism as "a dangerous and ethically indefensible phenomenon, which must be eradicated," and said that Cuba wants "to cooperate with all countries in the total eradication of terrorism."

So why does the U.S. government continue to bring charges of terrorism against its small island neighbor?

Branding Cuba as terrorist is just one more tactic in the economic and political war that the U.S. government has been waging against that country for more than forty-three years. Actually, the United States set its sights on Cuba more than a century ago; up until the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba was virtually a U.S. colony, its people and natural resources ruthlessly exploited for the aggrandizement of wealthy U.S. citizens and corporations. Powerful U.S. interests saw the Revolution as robbing them of what was rightfully theirs – and they have been punishing the Cuban people for it ever since. Calling Cuba terrorist gives them even more excuses to continue and strengthen the crippling economic blockade. It also allows them to impose further punishments on the Cuban people, such as the automatic denial of visas to Cubans who wish to visit the United States – even for scientific or cultural exchanges.

Deliberately denying an entire nation access to food and medicines for purely political reasons, as the U.S. blockade does to Cuba, is by any definition itself an ongoing act of terrorism.

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Why Does Cuba Have Only One Political Party?

The Communist Party in Cuba plays a very different role from that of political parties in the United States and other Western nations. It is not an electoral party; candidates for political office in Cuba do not run on party tickets, and one does not have to be a member of the Communist Party to run for office.

Instead, the Communist Party of Cuba plays a leadership role, with the purpose of unifying the Cuban nation in the work of preserving its independence and sovereignty and providing a better life for all of its people.

The Cuban idea of one party for one nation has deep roots in Cuban history. José Martí, who died in 1895 fighting to free Cuba from Spanish colonial rule, saw the need for the people of Cuba to put aside partisan differences and unite as a nation if they were going to achieve true independence and chart their own historical course.

Later, though Cuba did win its independence from Spain, it was to come under the domination of the United States. Though elections were held, and there were multiple political parties, the function of those parties was to grab political power for certain sectors of the privileged elite. The multiparty era saw much corruption and violence as the parties fought each other for power. The vast majority of the Cuban people were effectively excluded from participation in the electoral process and had no voice in the governing of their country.

The leaders of the struggle to finally free Cuba from colonial domination saw the urgency of once again uniting all the people to work together as one nation. In 1961, two years after the revolution took power, the three major groups that had worked to overthrow the U.S.-dominated Batista dictatorship formed the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations. The new Communist Party of Cuba was created in 1965.

This single party became the main factor in leading the people to win political power for themselves The goal of the Communist Party in Cuba is not to seize power for a particular organization but to ensure that the people have power in their own hands and that neocolonial interests cannot again take it from them. The party monitors the progress of the nation in achieving its goals of social equality, meeting the needs of all the people in such areas as health care, housing, and education, and preserving its sovereign right to make it own decisions free of outside interference. It then makes proposals for how these goals can better be reached.

The party in Cuba makes decisions through a process of lively debate. In fact, there are more political differences within the Communist Party of Cuba than there are between the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States.

Thus, in Cuba, the Communist Party is seen as an expression of the unity of the people, in keeping with the Cuban notion that they are one people and therefore need one political party.

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Is There Religious Freedom in Cuba?

Although in the early years of its revolution, Cuba was officially an atheist state, in 1992 it was declared a "secular" nation: while it affirms the right of Cubans to engage in religious practice, there is a separation between church and state. Cuba’s constitution states that the Cuban government "recognizes, respects and guarantees religious freedom" and provides that "Discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, national origin, religious beliefs and any other form of discrimination harmful to human dignity is forbidden and will be punished by law."

Though religion has never played the same role in Cuba as it has in other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, many Cubans are involved in religious instititutions. At latest count, there were 1,143 protestant churches, 413 missions, 832 ministers, and 206 seminary students in Cuba, as well as Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues, and Afro-Cuban religions.

The historical tension between church and state in Cuba stemmed from a number of factors, from the Spanish conquistadors’ forceful imposition of Catholicism on the native peoples and African slaves, to the later support of the Catholic Church for the large-landowner system and its opposition to socioeconomic reform, to the involvement of three Spanish priests in the Bay of Pigs invasion. In recent years, however, the church has showed increasing support for the government and the socialist objectives of the revolution, though not for the agenda of the Communist Party. And in 1995, the Latin American Council of Churches approved a resolution in favor of lifting the U.S. blockade against Cuba, describing it as unjust and anti-Christian.

It was because of the historical factors mentioned above that in the early years of the revolution, atheism was a requirement for membership in the Cuban Communist Party. Since then, however, the party has rethought its position on religion and is now open to "all believers sharing its noble, patriotic, supportive, human and social objectives." Practitioners of various religious faiths are now members of both the Communist Party and the national government of Cuba.

Contrary to reports that have been widely circulated in the United States, Cubans were never prohibited from celebrating religious holidays, particularly Christmas. It was simply that in 1970, the Cuban government decided to suspend Christmas as an official national holiday – along with New Year’s Day (which is also the anniversary of the revolution) as an official national holiday. In December of 1970, at the beginning of that year’s sugar harvest, 90 million tons of sugarcane had to be hand-cut, as Cuba then had no sugar-harvesting machines, and it was felt that the country could not afford to interrupt the work even for a day. Now Cuba has the benefit of mechanization to reduce the amount of manual labor required for harvesting, and Christmas is once again considered "a holiday for Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers alike."

Most Cubans see no contradiction between religious belief and the socialist nature of their revolution. Fidel Castro himself has said, "Where do the contradictions between Christian teachings and socialist teachings lie? Where? We both wish to struggle on behalf of humanity, for the welfare of humanity, for the happiness of humanity."

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Does the Rest of the World Share the U.S. Policy Toward Cuba?

The United States stands virtually alone in its hostile position toward Cuba. Cuba has diplomatic relations with more than 150 nations and is engaged in joint economic ventures with many of those. For example, Cuba is involved in trade, technical, or economic exchanges with 14 countries in Western Europe, 27 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and more than 50 countries in Africa and Asia. And Cuba is a member of a number of international organizations, including the Latin American Economic System, the Association of Caribbean States, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States’ immediate neighbors to the north and south – Canada and Mexico – have full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. While most United States citizens are barred by U.S. law from traveling to Cuba, that island nation is a favorite tourist destination for people from those countries.

Every year since 1992, the UN General Assembly has voted to condemn the U.S. policy toward Cuba. In November 2000, that vote was 167-3, with only Israel and the Marshall Islands siding with the United States. And even Israel has normal trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba, including investments and joint economic ventures.

Also in November of 2000, 4,664 delegates from 118 nations met in Havana to show their support for the Cuban Revolution at the Second World Meeting of Friendship and Solidarity with Cuba (that number was up from 3,000 delegates from 109 countries in 1994). Most of those delegations included elected public officials, and a number of the delegations officially represented their countries’ national governments.

Cuba has been selected for special recognition by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) this year because of the extraordinary progress it has made during the last decade in creating model programs in sustainable development. UNEP has selected Cuba as the site for the Third International Convention on Environment and Development.

Recognition of Cuba’s achievements extends even to members of such powerful and influential institutions as the World Bank. In April of 2001, World Bank President James Wolfensohn praised Cuba for doing "a great job" in providing for the social welfare of the Cuban people. Wolfensohn’s remarks reflect a growing appreciation in the Bank for Cuba’s social record, despite recognition that Havana’s economic policies are virtually the antithesis of the "Washington Consensus," which has dominated the Bank's policy advice and its controversial structural adjustment programs for most of the last twenty years. Some senior Bank officers even go so far as to suggest that other developing countries should take a very close look at Cuba’s performance.

Most nations of the world look to Cuba as an example of what even a small, relatively poor country can do to improve the lives of its people. Virtually all of them firmly support Cuba’s right to chart its own course as a sovereign nation without outside interference. The United States is becoming increasingly isolated in its attempts to dictate the path and the future of its tiny neighbor to the south.

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For a larger and highly-recommended list of FAQs, visit the Cuba: Issues & Answers web site.
   

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