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Focus on Cuba at the UN Commission on Human Rights

By Tim Anderson - posted Tuesday, 10 May 2005

Amid the many monstrous human rights abuses in the world, most of them committed by imperial armies, the United Nations has recently chosen to focus on Cuba. At issue has been about 70 Cubans who were arrested and jailed in 2003.

These people (variously called “dissidents”, “independent journalists”, and even labelled “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty USA) were charged and convicted of being paid by the US Government to help overthrow the Cuban Government. None were killed or tortured. More than a dozen have now been released. So why the United Nations focus on Cuba?

The processes of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, and its resolutions regarding Cuba, tell us quite a lot about imperial strategy in the current era, and the use of “human rights” as an instrument to leverage imperial “transition”. Implicit support from the European Union for the US plans for a “transition” in Cuba is also instructive.


To understand this game we need to remind ourselves of the shifting rationale for the invasion of Iraq. When links to terrorist atrocities and the various disarmament arguments had failed, the invasion and mass slaughter was transformed into a mission on behalf of “democracy and human rights”.

The “transition” of Iraqi society into a supposed model of democracy for the entire, oil-rich Middle East now has at its root three basic elements: a thoroughly compliant Iraqi state; a network of permanent imperial military bases (to be “invited” by the new Iraqi regime); and an “open market” economy presided over by the World Bank.

The recent precedents for compliant states (we could say “puppet governments”, but that might be rude) “inviting” imperial forces to establish permanent military bases are, of course, Panama in 1989 and Afghanistan in 2005. The rationale is always the inability of the compliant state to defend itself.

In the case of Iraq, it is significant that the new World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, happens to be one of the chief architects of pre-emptive war, and that the European Union was complicit in his elevation. This is an essential part of the historic compromise between these otherwise competitive economic giants. The EU backs the US project of “corporate opening” in independent countries, even though European companies might not be first in line for the benefits.

The World Bank has already presided over the abolition of Iraqi social subsidies (especially on petrol) and the licensing of US corporate monopolies in major infrastructure developments. The Iraqi “transition” is well advanced, but still fragile.

While an invasion of Cuba is uncertain, a similar “transition” plan for the independent island was spelt out in the May 2004 report of the “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba”, headed by former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. This report recommended increased US funds for opposition groups, called for a “Truth Commission”, and demanded a “market economy” in Cuba.


The US requires that a “Free Cuba” join the World Bank, decontrol prices (specifically including petrol), and engage in an "effective privatization program", enforcing new property rights and "free market mechanisms". The US will also "encourage a free Cuba to settle outstanding claims issues as expeditiously as possible". This is a reference to American and Cuban properties nationalised after the revolution from 1959 onwards. Back in the 1960s the US refused the Cuban terms of compensation for these nationalisations. As at 2004 there is a State Department “Transition Coordinator” for a “Free Cuba”, based in Washington DC.

Ominously, in view of the rationale for the Iraqi invasion, the Bush Administration used its 2004 report to make some wild accusations against Cuba. A White House press release said Cuba had "at least a limited developmental offensive biological weapons research and development effort". There was no evidence to back this “weapons of mass destruction” claim. This was simply a “belief” of the White House. The story arises from discredited claims prepared a few years earlier by John Bolton, now US Ambassador to the UN. Former US President Jimmy Carter and CIA operatives looked into and rejected Bolton's claims.

In May 2004 Bush also claimed (without evidence) that Cuba had been "harbouring terrorists". This claim was rapidly overshadowed by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso’s action (with US support) to pardon and release four jailed Cuban-American terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles. They had been jailed for an attempt on the life of President Fidel Castro in 2000, at a summit in Panama. The CIA-trained Posada had been implicated in a long string of terrorist acts, including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, which killed 73 people, and the bombing of Cuban hotels in Havana and Varadero in the late 1990s. In April 2005, after decades of shadowy operations, Posada arrived openly in the US and claimed political asylum, thus posing a public relations dilemma for the Bush Administration's “war on terrorism”.

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About the Author

Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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