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Cuba: the propaganda offensive

By Tim Anderson - posted Tuesday, 15 March 2005

In the current climate of global war, minor objections to the official American line can lend a semblance of independent credibility to Australian commentaries. Such is the case with Paul McGeough's recent charicature of Cuba in the Sydney Morning Herald ( February 19, 2005, “Castro's last stand”).

McGeough has been a moderately critical voice, among the brutality of the Iraqi occupation, although he still recites the absurd argument that recent elections (under war, censorship and repression) represented Iraqis' “first appointment with democracy” (Sydney Morning Herald January 24, 2005). In a similar way, his portrayal of Cuba aids the United States’ propaganda offensive.

The US has been running a diplomatic campaign against Cuba, to back its long-standing project of “regime change” for the island. It now has a Washington-based Transition Co-ordinator for Cuba, and a full program of World Bank-backed privatisations and corporate entry - all, of course, in the name of “freedom and democracy” for the Cuban people. Last year it managed to convince the United Nations Human Rights Commission to condemn Cuba, by a majority of one. The Howard Government, as usual, backs the Bush regime.


The talking point at the UN has been the jailing of 75 Cuban “dissidents” in 2003. Amnesty International and even the European Union (which passively opposes most US actions against Cuba) have given prominence to these people, as “prisoners of conscience”. This was McGeough's focus.

But the Sydney Morning Herald article is grossly dishonest. First, it opens with a claim it never justifies. The lead paragraph claims "those caught speaking out against the ailing dictator run the risk of death". McGeough also says the trials of the dissidents “revived memories of the worst Soviet human rights abuses” - suggesting Stalin-style mass murder. On more than one occasion, he also hints darkly at death threats.

Yet no evidence is given to suggest that political dissidents in Cuba are killed or tortured, as they have been (and on a large scale) by US backed regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Chile and Colombia. The simple fact is there are no “death squads” in Cuba.

Even the US State Department, in its 2004 country report - and trying its hardest to vilify Cuba - acknowledged that Cuba had, “no political killings ... no reports of politically motivated disappearances”. The US also acknowledges there were no reports of religious repression, little discrimination, compulsory and free schooling, a universal health system, substantial artistic freedom, and no reports of torture. The Sydney Morning Herald, it seems, is keen to go further than the propaganda of the US State Department.

The State Department report did state, “prisoners [in Cuba] ... often were subjected to repeated, vigorous interrogations”. As a human rights abuse, this hardly compares with the very public tortures and murders of Iraqi prisoners by the US army.

The second element of dishonesty in the article concerns its main focus: the celebrated “dissidents” of 2003. In a long article, which includes interviews in Cuba with 2 released prisoners (several of the 75 have now been released), McGeough claims that most were jailed for simply expressing criticism of the Cuban Government, or of Fidel Castro.


Of Raul Rivero, for example, McGeough says, “Rivero's crime was twofold - possession of a typewriter, and a will to dream”. He then quotes charge sheets which refer to Rivero's supposed anti-social views. What the article fails to point out is that Rivero was charged with taking money from the US Government and from a Miami-based terrorist group, with the aim of overthrowing the Cuban Government and the Cuban Revolution.

The 2003 “dissidents” were charged with two specific crimes under Cuban law:

  1. [Acting] in the interest of a foreign state with the purpose of harming the independence of the Cuban state; and,
  2. seek[ing] out information to be used in the application of the Helms-Burton Act, the blockade and the economic war against our people.
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Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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