LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF TURKEY

 THE TIMES NEWSPAPER FULL PAGE ADVERT, 24TH JULY 2013, PAGE 24

A group of internationally renowned artists and scholars condemned the Turkish authorities’ heavy-handed crackdown on the Gezi Park protests in a full-page letter published July 24 in the British broadsheet The Times, addressed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The signatories, including figures known for their activism such as Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Ben Kingsley and movie director David Lynch, described the Turkish government as “a dictatorial rule” and slammed Erdoğan’s uncompromising stance regarding the protesters’ demands. 

The letter reads:

"Dear Mr. Erdogan,

We, the undersigned, write this letter to most vigorously condemn the heavy-handed clamp down of your police forces on the peaceful protestors at Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul, as well as in other major cities of Turkey, which, according to the Turkish Media Association, has left 5 people dead, 11 blinded-due to indiscriminate use of pepper gas, and over 8000 injured.

Yet, only days after clearing Taksim Square and Gezi Park relying on untold brutal force, you held a meeting in Istanbul, reminiscent of the Nuremberg Rally, with total disregard for the five dead whose only crime was to oppose your dictatorial rules. There are more journalist languishing in your prisons than the combined number of China and Iran. Moreover, you described these protestors as tramps, looters and hooligans, even alleging they were foreign-led terrorists. Whereas, in reality, they were nothing but youngsters wanting Turkey to Remain a Secular Republic as designed by its founder Kemal Ataturk.

Finally, while you aspire to make your country a member of EU, you refute all criticism leveled at you by its leaders, on grounds of Turkey being a Sovereign State. Notwithstanding, may we respectfully remind you, on grounds of the Convention signed on 9 August 1949, Turkey is a member of Council of Europe, and by virtue of ratifying the Europe Court of Human Rights. Consequently, your orders which led to deaths of five innocent youths, might well constitute a Case to Answer, in Strasbourg."

The Gezi Park protests in Turkey began when on May 28 2013 the plans of replacing Taksim Gezi Park with a reconstruction of the historic Taksim Military Barracks (demolished in 1940) with the possibility of housing a shopping mall became known. The protests developed into riots when a group occupying the park was attacked by police. The subjects of the protests have since broadened beyond the development of Taksim Gezi Park, developing into wider anti-government demonstrations. The protests have also spread to other cities in Turkey, and protests have been seen in other countries with significant Turkish communities. On May 31 2013, police suppressed the protesters with tear gas, arrested at least 60 people and injured hundreds. The police action received wide attention online. 5 men died in the clashes between the police and the protesters, more than 7,500 people were injured and about 5,000 of people were arrested. By the data provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, about 2,5 million people from 79 regions took part in the anti-government demonstrations held in Turkey.

Source | Compiled from various resources

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TURKISH PM ERDOGAN THREATENS TO SUE TIMES OVER OPEN LETTER ...

Turkey's prime minister has threatened legal action against a UK newspaper for publishing an open letter criticising his handling of recent protests.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Times of "renting out its pages for money".

Hollywood celebrities and academics were among those who signed the letter this week accusing Turkey's government of "dictatorial rule".

A row over a park in Istanbul last month triggered widespread anti-government protests.

At least four people were killed and thousands more injured as police cracked down on demonstrators who accused Mr Erdogan of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

"The press wants to throw mud to see if it sticks," Mr Erdogan told reporters in comments broadcast on Turkey's NTV channel.

"The Times is renting out its own pages for money. This is the Times' failing. We will pursue legal channels regarding the Times."

Anti-government protesters in Taksim, Istanbul. 20 July 2013
Mr Erdogan has referred to the anti-government protesters as "thugs"
Mr Erdogan said those who signed the letter - taken out as an full-page advertisement - had "rented out their thoughts" and did not genuinely support democracy.

"If they truly believed in democracy, they couldn't have displayed such a lack of character to call the leader of a party that won 50% of the vote a dictator," the prime minister said.

The Times has so far not commented on the remarks.

The open letter was signed by 30 people including Turkish pianist Fazil Say, US film stars Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, film director David Lynch and British historian David Starkey.

They condemned the crackdown on anti-government protesters and compared giant pro-government rallies - organised by Mr Erdogan's AKP party to counter the protests - to the huge rallies staged in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

The wave of unrest in Turkey was sparked by demonstrations against controversial plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi Park.

The authorities' heavy-handed response sparked anti-government protests nationwide.

SOURCE | http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23474404

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Legal action will be started against the British daily The Times, Turkish PM says

26 July 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said legal action would be taken against British daily The Times and those who wrote an open letter ad criticizing him for Turkish police violence during the Gezi Park unrest in Turkey.

“These are people who have rented out their minds. If they were sincere about democracy they would not act so immorally as to call a prime minister who was elected by receiving 50 percent of the vote a dictator,” Erdoğan said today in Istanbul.

Erdoğan said those who had signed the letter did not know him truly. 

“There are such media groups in Turkey that do every [kind of defamation.] How can they defame us when they are jailed? They [the signers] are doing it because they do not know Turkey. The Times rents its page, this is their lack of morality,” Erdoğan added.

A group of internationally renowned artists and scholars condemned the Turkish authorities’ heavy-handed crackdown on the Gezi Park protests in the full-page letter published July 24 in British broadsheet The Times, addressed to Erdoğan. 

The signatories, including figures known for their activism such as Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Ben Kingsley and movie director David Lynch, described the Turkish government as “a dictatorial rule” and slammed Erdoğan’s uncompromising stance regarding the protesters’ demands. 

The prime minister’s orders “led to the deaths of five innocent youths,” the letter said, adding that he might be called to render account to the European Court of Human Rights for the police’s violence.

They also compared the counter-rallies organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the annual Nuremberg rallies organized by the Nazis.

“Only days after clearing Taksim Square and Gezi Park relying on untold brutal force, you held a meeting in Istanbul, reminiscent of the Nuremberg Rally, with total disregard for the five dead whose only crime was to oppose your dictatorial rule,” the letter said.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Hüseyin Çelik described the letter, which was penned by a list of famous figures, including actors and authors, as an example of “arrogance,” saying it “was served to them [the writers] by those inside the country.” 

Çelik also accused the celebrities of “ignoring” the situation in Syria and events in Egypt, and of harboring anti-AKP feelings.

“The answers that need to be given will be given. This is extremely arrogant and out of place behavior. We strongly refute and condemn it,” Çelik said. 

The letter also emphasized that more journalists were imprisoned in Turkey than in Iran and China combined. “Moreover, you described these protesters as tramps, looters and hooligans, even alleging they were foreign-led terrorists. Whereas, in reality, they were nothing but youngsters wanting Turkey to remain a Secular Republic as designed by its founder Kemal Atatürk,” the letter added.

Andrew Mango, the biographer of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and Fazıl Say, a Turkish pianist who was recently sentenced for blasphemy after tweeting several lines attributed to a poet, were also among the signatories.

Other signatories included: Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, British actress Vanessa Redgrave, British film director of Turkish origin Fuad Kavur, Hungarian cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and American freelance journalist and writer Claire Berlinski.


26 July 2013 |  Hurriyet Daily News

Human rights and humanitarian imperialism in Syria

A view from an African American human rights defender Ajamu Baraka

Syria is just the latest in a long line of international crimes perpetrated by Western powers. But what makes the crimes in Syria, as those in Libya, even more offensive, is the cynical use of human rights to advance the diabolical interests of Western imperialism.

As the corporate media beat the drums of war with Syria, led this time by CNN and the New York Times with support from the rear coming from the confused white left/liberal likes of Democracy Now, a now familiar line is conjured up to rationalize intervention – humanitarian intervention as a basis to exercise the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). David Gergen, the ‘soft neocon’ advisor to both republican and democratic presidents, made the claim on CNN recently that human rights groups would love to see the US intervene in Syria. A claim that is probably accurate for the US-based white, middle-class human rights mainstream. But this position certainly does not represent the positions of the growing, but largely ignored, ‘new human rights movement’ of grassroots organizations of people of color, informed by an African American radical human rights tradition, [1] who are reclaiming and redefining human rights as an anti-oppression, anti-imperialist ‘people-centered’ movement. But before I touch on this new movement let me briefly explore how this new version of the white man’s burden emerged to become the main device for mobilizing public opinion in the US to support war in the guise of humanitarianism. 

In a meticulous examination of thousands of national security documents, James Peck demonstrated empirically what many of us already understood from our position in the margins of the human rights movement and from direct experiences with the US settler state. And that was that the human rights idea was severed from its radical potential in the late 1940s and early 1950s, co-opted by ruling class forces in the US and Western Europe in 1970s as a weapon in the ideological battles of the Cold War and had become a ‘new language of power designed to promote American foreign policy’ with little to do with human rights and everything to do with providing a rationale for protecting and advancing US and Western imperialism. [2] Why was the human rights idea important for US propagandists? 

Before the 1990s it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to persuade the American people to support intervention into another state with the claim that the intervention was necessary to protect lives or human rights.

The idealism of former President Ronald Reagan’s ‘moral’ crusades against Communism and the success of a new phenomenon in the post Cold War era – a North-South war in the form of the United Nations endorsed war against Iraq – suggested to the ruling elements that significant progress had been made moving public opinion away from the geo-political restraints imposed by the ‘Vietnam syndrome,’ (the irrational, from the point of view of the ruling elites, reluctance to support military actions outside of the US). However, it was still not certain that public opinion would support the violence and brutality of war if the terms and interests were more murky than the simple ‘good versus evil’ binary offered by the anti-Communism of the Cold War. What was needed in this period – when it seemed that growing numbers of people in the US would become more inwardly-looking, concerned with issues of domestic economic development, inequality, and environmental justice among a number of domestic issues – was an ideological weapon that would mask US geo-political and economic interests while simultaneously providing a moral rationale for US intervention. Human rights activists gave them the perfect weapon – humanitarian intervention to protect human rights.

So while elements of the ruling class were concerned that post-Cold War isolationism would make it harder to justify aggressive military interventions, US human rights leaders were also concerned, albeit for different reason. For them, US disengagement in a world threatened by violence and suffering was morally indefensible. [3] Why? Because the US, as the ‘leader of the Western world’ had a responsibility to ensure that people in other societies would enjoy the benefits of Western-style rights. US policy makers were only too willing to accommodate them with soaring rhetoric in defense of human rights. 

These Western-based human rights spokespeople, NGOs and theoreticians did not assume this position that dovetailed neatly with the interests of their states as a result of conscious collaboration, but as a result of a shared philosophical and ideological framework – liberalism. A liberalism that is seen as universal, with Western-style society and its institutional forms as the ultimate expression of modernity. Noam Chomsky captured the delusionary character of the US and Western world-view at the end of the Cold War and the new role of the US state: 

‘The millennium ended with an extraordinary display of self-congratulation on the part of Western intellectuals, awe-struck at the sight of the ‘idealistic new world bent on ending inhumanity,’ which had entered a ‘noble phase’ in its foreign policy with a ‘saintly glow’ as for the first time in history a state is dedicated to ‘principles and values,’ acting from ‘altruism’ and ‘moral fervor’ alone as the ‘leader of the enlightened states,’ hence free to use force where its leaders ‘believe it to be just’ … [4]

Humanitarian intervention provided the US state the perfect ideological cover and internal rationalization to continue as the global ‘gendarme’ of the capitalist order. By providing the human rights rationale for the assertion that the ‘international community’ had a moral and legal responsibility to protect a threatened people, mainstream human rights activists effectuated a shift in the discourse on international human rights that moved the R2P assertion from a contested legal and moral augment to a common-sense assumption. And because of their limited perspective, it did not occur to any of these theoreticians that what they propagated was a thinly updated version of the ‘white man’s burden.’ [5] The NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, the assault on Iraq to ‘save’ the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, and most recently the NATO attack on Libya that brought to power a rag-tag assortment of anti-African racists, have solidified the idea among many in the US that humanitarian intervention to protect human rights through aggressive war is justifiable. The consequence of this for US policy makers and for the likely targets of US aggression in the global South is that if properly framed, war could be moved back to the center of strategic options without much fear of a backlash from the American people — a development especially important for a declining power that appears to have concluded that it will use military means to attempt to maintain its global empire. 

But explaining how human rights and humanitarian intervention came to be co-opted by the US state does not really address the question related to the ease with which this notion has been accepted by people in the West, including white progressives and human rights activists. Why was it so easy for these groups to accept the notion that the US has the right and responsibility to intervene into the affairs of sovereign states by any means, including military? [6] For a possible explanation, we need to delve into the assumptions that serve as the basis for the Western world-view. Space does not allow me to give this question the attention it deserves in this brief piece. But a brief exploration of this question will demonstrate the source of the delusion. An exploration of this question will also help to differentiate the political stance of the mainstream human rights movement from the ‘new’ human rights movement in formation here in the US. I will turn to this question now. 

In his critique of Western human rights practice, the African human rights scholar Makau Mutua provides an insight into the question when he asserts that human rights are fundamentally influenced by the normativity of liberal theoretical and philosophical assumptions. For the Eurocentric human rights activist, the assumption that Western society, its institutions, values, social practices and culture represent the embodiment of civilized modernity is uncontested. Therefore, Muta points out that the West as the ‘saviors’ of the innocent ‘victims’ of the evil (read non-Western) state with its savage repression and authoritarism is seen as a both a natural and desirable occurrence, when it can indeed happen. The subtext to this is that non-Western, non-liberal societies require outside intervention, at various times, to bring them up to the level of Western (read fully human) societies. [7]

This perspective is the cornerstone of white supremacist ideology that has been internalized by the mass populations in Europe and the US, no matter the ethnicity or race. It is an essential element of the normalization and universality of white supremacy as an ideological and cultural phenomenon. From the point of view of the psychologically decolonized ‘other,’ the projection of Western liberal society as the model for all of humanity is absurd. But what makes White supremacy so powerful as an instrument of social conformity and national identity in the US, and dangerous for the non-white world, is not just its ubiquity but also its invisibility. Liberal universality is therefore turned into not a process but a natural development – the very expression of modernity that every people, if free, would want. 

The latest charade of supposed concern for the people of Libya and Syria, while ignoring the cries for democracy and human rights emanating from the people of Bahrain, demonstrate once again the cynicism and hypocrisy of a human rights project in need of decolonization.

SYRIA AS A LINE OF DEMARCATION FOR ANTI-IMPERIALISTS

One of the most vexing aspects of the consciousness of radicals in the US is connected to the ease with which they are manipulated by the bourgeoisie. It is much more understandable how the mass of people in the US are manipulated by the ruling elements with appeals to humanitarian sentiments into supporting imperialist adventures from Iraq to Libya, but the ease in which US leftists find themselves on the same side along with the US, Western colonial states, Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda in situations like Libya and what is unfolding in Syria requires more analysis than can be attempted in this piece. But, as I have argued, I think it can be partially explained by the power of this new weapon – humanitarian intervention – and the racist, ‘white man’s burden’ components of its assumptions. From celebrity leftists like Amy Goodman to significant elements of the mainstream anti-war movement, Syria is seen as an extension of the distorted and now meaningless appellate of the ‘Arab spring.’ The ‘uprising’ in Syria is covered as the embodiment of a moral crusade against a ruthless dictator bent on suppressing his people through indiscriminate killings and torture. CNN carries almost nightly broadcasts, primarily through Anderson Cooper’s program, in which he solemnly describes the latest outrage on the part of the Assad government, all with the sole purpose of creating the justification for intervention under the dubious ‘right to protect’ doctrine, which is the more refined notion of humanitarian intervention. [8] Yet, because of the internalized imperatives of white supremacy, very few question the moral or legal basis of intervention, including these celebrity leftists and their liberal friends in the human rights field. That question is not raised because it is not even seen as a question. The prerogatives of white supremacy are so normalized as to be invisible and thus beyond question.

But just a cursory view of the Syrian situation beyond the bourgeois hysterics and from the perspective of people who are still able to see, in textbook form, represents the new modalities of imperialist maneuvering on both the domestic and geo-political level. There is no question that Syria is in conflict and that people are losing their lives. But a contextualization of the situation provides a much more complex reality. 

The US corporate media has provided no context, historical analysis or plausible explanation of the events in Syria for the people in the US. The situation is presented as a continuation of the so-called Arab Spring, despite the enormous differences in the specifics of the domestic uprisings against those Western-supported regimes. In both Egypt and Tunisia, for example, neo-liberal policies and long histories of repression created broad popular grievances. And most critically, those popular uprisings (I refrain from calling them revolutions) did not depend on or call for foreign intervention. In fact it was quite the opposite. The ‘foreign’ role that they wanted to see was for the imperialist West to refrain from subverting popular movements by coming to the aid of its client states. But Syria was quite different. Like in Libya, mass protests in areas with historic opposition were quickly militarized and a chorus of calls for regime change was carefully orchestrated, despite attempts by the Assad government and other forces to address the situation through peaceful means. This is not to imply that all of the forces calling for fundamental change were dupes of the West and did not have legitimate concerns and grievances. But for the most part that opposition that coalesced around internal formations like the organizations that made up the National Coordination Committee for Democratic change and the Popular Front for Liberation and Change and rejected foreign intervention, were systematically marginalized by US and Western forces. 

But those opposition forces of ex-political prisoners, writers, poets who operated within a national Syria context is a nuanced reality much too complicated for US propagandists to exploit. In the US the playbook for manipulating public opinion has already been established. The opposition is presented as an undifferentiated mass whose aims are cast in terms easily digested by a people that many in the world consider the most gullible and uninformed on the planet. Representations of the people in the streets were that they had no history and no agenda except that they were in opposition and, therefore, had legitimacy as victims. Victims the white West had an obligation to protect.

What are the real objectives in Syria? The government of Syria has been in the crosshairs of US and Israeli destabilization efforts for decades. The political right’s articulation of a ‘new American Century’ became the basis of the National Security Strategy under President GW Bush. However, both parties adopted and supported the central component of the strategy which was to prevent the rise of any regional power that could threaten US hegemony. This was the basis for the trap that was prepared for Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. But with the imperialist overreach represented by the invasion of Iraq which had the unintentional consequence of enhancing the regional power of Iran, destabilization efforts in Syria as a counter to Iran became the new priority for US policy when it became clear that the US had been defeated and would have to pull back physically from Iraq.

A new priority, because some officials in the US and in the West believed that Bashar Assad, who was educated in the West and married to a Syrian who had been raised in Britain, was someone they could do business with, especially since the regime was an active participant in the US’s war on terror and eagerly embraced neo-liberal economic policies. So there was a partial ‘rapprochement’ with the Syrian government, similar to what occurred with Libya once it disarmed itself by suspending its nuclear program, destroying its chemical arsenal and opening up more to the global market. But with a shift in the geo-political realities and priorities for the US, it was determined that conditions were favorable to launch an intensified destabilization effort against Syria — Assad’s cooperation with the West in its war against ‘terrorism’ and surrendering of his economy to the forces of global capitalism notwithstanding. And like in Libya, it was the contradictions created by neo-liberalism that expanded the social base for opposition that the West skillfully exploited.

Embracing neo-liberalism created severe dislocations in the Syria economy. While a small elite of Sunni and Alawite business people associated with the regime benefited, the urban working class and countryside suffered. In fact, this integration into the global economy required the Syrian government to reduce subsidies on basics like food and fuel, creating more hardships for the poor. So with these factors and the unresolved problems created in places like Homs and Hama due to the conflict between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, largely non-violent protests erupted, inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia. But as the Wikileaks documents indicated, when demonstrations did not result in significant moves toward regime change, armed opposition was encouraged by US and NATO forces. [9]

Working through the collection of US client states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and enticing Turkey with the fantasy of some kind of neo-Ottoman possibilities, the US and NATO transformed the Turkish border area into a militarised zone. The Turkish city of Adana has become the operational command post where, according to the New York Times and other sources, the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies are steering arms and training members of the so-called Free Syrian Army to launch raids into the country. Lebanon is also being used to smuggle weapons into Syria. [10]

The result has been a classic destabilization campaign with escalating violence and death on all sides. But the media, in particular in the US, spins the coverage as an ongoing series of outrageous atrocities on the part of the Syrian government. The international coverage around the killings in Houla in late May was illustrative of the propaganda efforts geared to generate support for intervention. CNN, Democracy Now and other liberal and right-wing media outlets told us how over 100 people were brutally slaughtered by elements of the Syrian army and associated militia. This account was largely as a result of a story run by the BBC that allegedly was based on interviews with survivors in the villages, who were now refugees. Again, like in Libya, where desperate pleas for intervention came from women with impeccable English accents over the backdrop of grainy videos of a dumpster on fire, a person identified as Rasha provided the definitive account of the ‘massacre.’ As one critical account of this clumsy propaganda effort points out, ‘the BBC report did not say who Rasha was, or provide any evidence that she actually was there, or that if she was, she had any basis for saying that the killers were identifiable as to their affiliation. BBC quoted one other source, who did not provide a name. Despite the thinness of this material, the BBC story was picked up all over the world, and became perhaps the definitive account.’ [11]

In a more responsible account provided by the Frankfurter Allgemeine-Zeitung, the veracity of the reports was questioned, when it was revealed that 90 percent of the population of Houla is Sunni, yet ‘according to eyewitness accounts…those killed were almost exclusively from families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities.’ [12]

The veracity of these accounts is really irrelevant once the simplistic binary of ‘good versus evil’ has been established in the minds of the intended targets. Playing on the arrogant assumption that the white West has the right and responsibility to intervene anywhere to shape events and the world to their liking, popular support is growing for direct intervention by the West through the structure they use when they are blocked from using the UN Security Council – NATO. And again, it is not necessary to refer to Wikileaks documents to determine the real objectives in Syria. In their arrogance, administrative officials and their liberal and right-wing supporters say very clearly what the real objectives are, even when the UN had to give the impression that it was attempting to resolve the situation peacefully with the ‘Annan plan’ devised by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was brought in under the auspices that a peaceful resolution was possible. But in order to make sure that Annan’s plan would be doomed from the beginning, US officials did not express any confidence in a peaceful resolution. In fact, before the Annan scenario could be completely played out, Susan Rice (no relation to Condoleezza Rice, but just as right-wing), declared that ‘the Annan plan is dead and members of this Council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they’re prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this Council.’ [13]

The Zionist warmonger, Clifford D. May, exploded the humanitarian charade completely when he declared that ‘the humanitarian concern is not the primary objective but rather as a ‘means to an end’: If the Arab League is unmoved by the massacres of Syrian women and children (their angry eyes fixed as ever on Israel), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation doesn’t give a fig about Muslims slaughtering Muslims, why should we Americans expend an ounce of energy?..[the answer] because Syria, under the Assad dictatorship, is Iran’s most important ally and asset. And Iran is the single most important strategic threat facing the US — hands down.’ [14]

It does not seem to bother US-based ‘progressives’ who support the Obama Administration’s moves in Syria when those progressives find themselves on the same side as the National Review. And apparently it does not matter to liberal human rights activists in the West that NATO’s assertion that it has the right to use force to protect human rights, ‘the right to protect’ (R2P), was rejected at the UN World Summit in 2005. What is significant about this issue beyond the obvious is that this is the very summit that the proponents of the R2P claim provided the legitimacy for aggressive intervention to protect human rights. A claim that, even if it were true, could still not get around the fact that an endorsement would not have superseded the authority of the UN Charter, which gives only the Security Council the mandate to use coercive action to maintain and secure international peace and security. And that in fact, outside of Security Council authorization, any other resort to force is a war crime, which means, of course, that all of the actions taken over the last few decades by NATO and the US under a series of US administrations, including the Obama Administration, are in fact war crimes.

Mainstream human rights activists and theorists know that these actions over the last few decades are in fact crimes and represent the ultimate human right abuse — violating one’s right to life. But they demur from stating the obvious, claiming that to do so would compromise their ‘credibility.’ So they don’t take a position on war but instead beg the combatants (meaning the attacking Western powers) to adhere to the rules of war. And if they are visibly issuing reports in the run up to war detailing the human rights crisis in the country currently in the cross-hairs of US and Western imperialism, well they claim that is just a coincidence and only reflects the seriousness of the situation within the country.

Syria is just the latest in a long line of international crimes perpetrated by Western powers. But what makes the crimes in Syria, as those in Libya, even more offensive, is the cynical use of human rights to advance the diabolical interests of Western imperialism. When the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change of Syria was calling for talks with the Syrian government and rejecting calls for foreign intervention in order to avoid bloodshed, before they were pushed aside by the Western-created Syrian National Council, who the Syria Human Rights Network characterized as group of exiles funded by the foreign sources ‘who work on destroying the homeland instead of building it,’ [14] Western human rights groups had the ‘credibility’ to support a peaceful internal resolution and to remind those forces pushing for military action and interventions that they would be just as responsible for the loss of life, or even more so, as any actions taken by the Syrian state in response to armed attacks in its territories. Some individuals took a principled position, but most international human rights organizations instead joined in a steady beating the drums for war. 

HUMAN RIGHTS ON THE SIDE OF HUMAN LIBERATION: THE DECOLONIAL IMPERATIVE

Despite the opportunism of mainstream human rights organizations and the reactionary uses of the human rights idea by states in the West, many of us believe in the transformative power of human rights once liberated from its ideological and political subordination to Eurocentric male-centered liberalism and the Western imperialist project. This may seem like a contradictory proposition based on the popular understanding of the genesis of the ‘modern’ human rights idea which developed at the end of the second imperialist war in 1945. A popular notion that centers the role of the US in the personality of Eleanor Roosevelt and the subsequent creation of the compromise document – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in contrast to the popular notion that the US emerged as the champions of human rights is the reality that the US started backpedaling on issues of human rights even before the end of the war. And even more importantly, it was the agitation on the part of African Americans who saw the newly formed UN as a site of struggle to raise the issues of racism and anti-colonialism that had the most impact on US human rights position between 1945 and 1951. The agitation on the part of African American was informed by a perspective that saw human rights as an arena of struggle. It also saw this agitation as being in line with the internationalist traditions and responsibilities that African American radicals had taken up for decades. [16]

The potentially ‘subversive’ character of human rights was captured by a number of our activists from the National Negro Congress, which submitted the first petition to the newly-formed United Nations in 1946 through Dubois and the NAACP that submitted a petition in 1947 and the Civil Rights Congress petition ‘We Charge Genocide’ in 1951. All of these efforts generated dramatic responses from the US and created tremendous problems for US policymakers, who wanted to advance US interests through the UN and did not need controversy being created with the suggestion that the UN might be used to address the US apartheid system. It was this approach that centered anti-racism, anti-colonialism and self-determination that distinguished African American human rights practice and captured Malcolm’s attention and led to his admonition before he was assassinated that Africans in the US should redefine our struggle as a human rights struggle, in order to align ourselves with all of those forces fighting for self-determination.

But like all processes, ideas and structures, the human rights idea has its contradictory aspects. While it contains elements that can be defined as progressive, its opaque and open-ended formulations have also been used as a reactionary tool against humanity and human liberation. One of the reasons for this is that the human rights idea is firmly grounded in the assumptions, needs and worldview of classical liberalism. That is why, in order for the human rights idea to have contemporary relevance, it is imperative that we go beyond Malcolm’s call for international agitation, as important as that still is for issues like the plight of political prisoners and prisoners of war, and affect a clear and radical break with the theoretical and philosophical tenets of liberalism and the conservative political practices that flow from it. Petitioning the UN is important as an aspect of ideological struggle and building transnational political support for movement building processes, but the UN is not going to affect the shift in power toward the people that is needed in order to dismantle the US settler state and construct new relations of being. This has to be the task of a people-centered human rights movement. 

The privileging of legalism and the elite change model upheld by mainstream US-based human rights organizations, along with their support for US and Western imperialism under the guise of humanitarian intervention, has proven that for an authentic human rights movement to develop, it has to be independent from both capitalist parties, truly democratic, and grounded in the struggles of the oppressed. But even more importantly, it has to be committed to radical transformation, the shifting of power from the human rights abusers (the oppressors) to the oppressed — globally. The victims of the white nationalist project, in the form of the US settler state and European colonial capitalism, cannot afford the fiction of a human rights that is ‘non-political.’ The objective contradictions of global capitalism and its national expression for our people in the US links our fate fundamentally with the peoples’ of the world, as Malcolm understood. But if human rights are to have any relevancy for the historic task at hand, it must be decolonized and injected with new life and definition by the people in the process of struggle.

Humanitarian intervention is not new. It is no more than an updated version of the ‘white man’s burden,’ and as such is just the latest ideological device used to justify the violent usurpation of the historical process and productive forces of the ‘other.’ The forces of reaction are targeting Syria with the main objective being to break the resistance to Israeli colonialism. We should not expect much from most white “progressive” forces in the US — and nothing from the white-controlled mainstream human rights movement. Neither of these elements is able to see through the charade of using human rights to advance US interests. But for those of us who operate from our own independent human rights traditions and understand the importance of international solidarity and the international balance of forces between the people and retrograde historical forces represented by the hegemony of Western states, it is imperative that authentic anti-imperialists in the U.S. expose the human rights charade before imperialism moves on to consolidate AFRICOM on the continent and its next two major targets – Iran and Venezuela. [17]

‘The price to make others respect your human rights is death. You have to be ready to die or you have to be ready to take the lives of others…Respect me, or put me to death. But when you start to put me to death, we’re both going to die together. You have to say that. This is not violence. This is intelligence.’ El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz ( Malcolm X)

For those who might say that as human rights defenders we must stand with the people of Syria, I say that many of us stood with those who were attempting to struggle within the context of their own realities in Syria, calling for social and economic change, but rejecting outside intervention. And there were many who did so, from the National Coordinating Council for Democratic Change (NCC), to the Popular Front for Liberation and Change (PFCL). [18] But that principled stand does not mean that we will allow ourselves to be used by the West to mystify imperialism. Today thousands have lost their lives in Syria with the possibility that there will be even more loss of life. This monstrous crime must be placed at the foot of US and Western imperialism and all who allowed themselves to become collaborators in the name of humanitarianism .

For us, we grieve for the people of Syria who have lost their lives. But grieving is not enough. Documenting abuses is not enough. Calling for restraint and the rule of law is not enough, especially when they make the laws. For those of us who believe in the liberating possibilities of human rights centered and controlled by the oppressed and not by states, we must sharpen our knives for struggle against all those who create and perpetuate crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing and the crimes of war. This is the task of a revolutionary human rights project. Opposing imperialism and standing against aggressive state-initiated wars is a cornerstone of the new ‘people-centered’ human rights agenda. And for taking that stand, we have no apologies. 

* Ajamu Baraka was the founding Director of the US Human Rights Network until June 2011. A long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and central American solidarity movements in the US, Baraka has been in the forefront of efforts to develop a radical ‘people-centered’ perspective on human rights and to apply that framework to social justice struggles in the US and abroad. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he is editing a book on human rights entitled ‘The Fight Must be for Human Rights: Voices from the Frontline.’ The book is due to be published in 2013.www.Ajamubaraka.com; Ajamubaraka2@gmail.com

END NOTES
[1] See Ajamu Baraka, From Civil Rights BACK to Human Rights: Reclaiming the African American Radical human Rights Tradition, http://goo.gl/QNl53
[2] James Peck, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights, ( Metropolitan Books: New York, 2010), p. 1
[3] Ibid p.178
[4] Norm Chomsky, “Humanitarian Imperialism: The Doctrine of Imperial Right, Monthly Review, September, 2008
[5] Ajamu Baraka, The US Defeat in Iraq and the Persistence of White Supremacy,https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/21-1
[6] Along with military intervention, it is accepted among many in the U.S. that so-called “democracy promotion,” a term introduced and pushed under the Reagan administration, is a legitimate use of U.S. resources and influence to advance “good governance” and Western style electoral processes. Operating through a number of structures like the National Endowment for Democracy and State front groups of both the Democratic and Republican “institutes for democracy,” millions of dollars have been spent to support processes, candidates and parties favored by the U.S. 
[7] See, Makau Matua, Savages, victims and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights, Harvard International Law Journal, vol 42. No 1, p204
[8] Responsibility to Protect ( R2P) emerged from a report commissioned by the government of Canada and produced by the “International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty ( ICISS).
[10] “ C.I.A Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syria Opposition,” Eric Schmitt, New York Times, June 21, 20012.
[11] A number of alternative media outlets along with outlets from various countries have raised serious questions related to the claims that the Syria forces were responsible for the Houla massacre. The evidence seems to point more toward Al-Qaeda elements. See “Everything they are telling us about Syria is False, Russ Baker, www. whowhatwhy.com, July 8, 2012. 
[12] Ibid, Russ Baker
[13] Actions outside of UN Security Council likely in Syria, RIA Novosti, May 31,2012, cited in Michael Chossudovsky, “Confronting Iran, Protecting Israel”: The Real Reason for America’s War on Syria,” Global Research, June 25, 2012.
[14] Clifford D May, National review, May 30, 2012, cited in Chossudovsky, Ibid.
[15] Cited in “Anatomy of an Opposition,” by Muhammad Atef Fares, Syria Today, 12/2011.
[16] Baraka, From Civil Rights, Ibid, p.1
[17] AFRICOM is the United States African Command, one of nine joint strategic command operations of the U.S. government with “operational” responsibilities for all of Africa except Egypt. Most African counties with the exception of Liberia resisted suggestions by U.S. to host elements of the command headquarters of AFRICOM. This unity has been broken as a result of the NATO attack on Libya . Libya helped to hold together an AFRICOM resistance bloc. 
[18] Haytham Manna', a prominent NCC member, told BBC Arabic on October 5 that the Council is “a Washington Club” and said he considers anyone calling for foreign intervention a “traitor.” Qadri Jamil, member of the PFCL and leader of the Syrian Communist Party, told Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV on October 23 that there are two kinds of Syrian opposition. The first one is patriotic and rejects foreign intervention, has its weight on the street, and opposes the government's security crackdown. The second, such as the SNC, is “non- patriotic…has no roots inside Syria and is dependent on foreign powers to change the leadership and to come to Syria later aboard US tanks.” Cited in Anatomy of an Opposition, Muhammad Atef Fares, Ibid.

--

U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show | WP Article


By Craig Whitlock, Published: April 18, 2011


The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since thedemonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.

The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.

Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.

It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients’ personal safety.

Syria, a police state, has been ruled by Assad since 2000, when he took power after his father’s death. Although the White House has condemned the killing of protesters in Syria, it has not explicitly called for his ouster.

The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV.

Tamara Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the democracy and human rights portfolio in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the State Department does not endorse political parties or movements.

“We back a set of principles,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from their government. That’s an agenda that we believe in and we’re going to support.”

The State Department often funds programs around the world that promote democratic ideals and human rights, but it usually draws the line at giving money to political opposition groups.

In February 2006, when relations with Damascus were at a nadir, the Bush administration announced that it would award $5 million in grants to “accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.”

But no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.”

Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Barada TV

It is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel.

People involved with the group and with Barada TV, however, would not acknowledge taking money from the U.S. government.

“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s news director, said in a brief telephone interview from London.

Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas.

“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”

Other dissidents said that Barada TV has a growing audience in Syria but that its viewer share is tiny compared with other independent satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Although Barada TV broadcasts 24 hours a day, many of its programs are reruns. Some of the mainstay shows are “Towards Change,” a panel discussion about current events, and “First Step,” a program produced by a Syrian dissident group based in the United States.

Ausama Monajed, another Syrian exile in London, said he used to work as a producer for Barada TV and as media relations director for the Movement for Justice and Development but has not been “active” in either job for about a year. He said he now devotes all his energy to the Syrian revolutionary movement, distributing videos and protest updates to journalists.

He said he “could not confirm” any U.S. government support for the satellite channel, because he was not involved with its finances. “I didn’t receive a penny myself,” he said.

Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. According to its Web site, the council sponsors projects in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America to promote the “fundamental elements of stable societies.”

The council’s founder and president, James Prince, is a former congressional staff member and investment adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Reached by telephone, Prince acknowledged that the council administers a grant from the Middle East Partnership Initiative but said that it was not “Syria-specific.”

Prince said he was “familiar with” Barada TV and the Syrian exile group in London, but he declined to comment further, saying he did not have approval from his board of directors. “We don’t really talk about anything like that,” he said.

The April 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus states that the Democracy Council received $6.3 million from the State Department to run a Syria-related program called the “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative.” That program is described as “a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners” to produce, among other things, “various broadcast concepts.” Other cables make clear that one of those concepts was Barada TV.

U.S. allocations

Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010.

The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington.

A September 2009 cable reported that Syrian agents had interrogated a number of people about “MEPI operations in particular,” a reference to the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

“It is unclear to what extent [Syrian] intelligence services understand how USG money enters Syria and through which proxy organizations,” the cable stated, referring to funding from the U.S. government. “What is clear, however, is that security agents are increasingly focused on this issue.”

U.S. diplomats also warned that Syrian agents may have “penetrated” the Movement for Justice and Development by intercepting its communications.

A June 2009 cable listed the concerns under the heading “MJD: A Leaky Boat?” It reported that the group was “seeking to expand its base in Syria” but had been “initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines.”

The cable cited evidence that the Syrian intelligence service was aware of the connection between the London exile group and the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. As a result, embassy officials fretted that the entire Syria assistance program had been compromised.

“Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian [Mukhabarat] may already have penetrated the MJD and is using the MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming,” the cable stated. “If the [Syrian government] does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the [government] may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists.”

SOURCE | http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-secretly-backed-syrian-opposition-groups-cables-released-by-wikileaks-show/2011/04/14/AF1p9hwD_story.html


20 Reasons to Support Cuba

JULY 26, 2013 | (Reblogged from http://www.invent-the-future.org/)


The 26th of July is celebrated in Cuba as the Day of National Rebellion, in honour of the attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July 1953. This attack, led by Fidel Castro, was the beginning of the revolutionary armed struggle against the Batista regime.

To help mark 60 years of the Cuban Revolution, I have put together a list of 20 reasons why all sensible, progressive people should support and defend Cuba.

1. Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world

Cuba’s literacy rate of 99.8% is among the highest in the world – higher than that of both Britain and the US. The Cuban Revolution has placed a very strong emphasis on literacy, considering it an essential component of empowering the population. Just two years after the seizure of power in 1959, the Cuban government embarked upon one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging literacy campaigns in history, sending tens of thousands of students to the countryside to form literacy brigades. Within a year, the literacy rate was increased from 70% to 96%. Additionally, over the past 50 years, thousands of Cuban literacy teachers have volunteered in countries around the world including Haiti and remote indigenous communities in Australia.

2. Health-care is free, universal, and of high quality

It is a small, poor island that does not exploit other countries and which suffers from a suffocating economic blockade, yet Cuba “boasts better health indicators than its exponentially richer neighbour 90 miles across the Florida straits.” Life expectancy is an impressive 79. Infant mortality is 4.83 deaths per 1,000 live births compared (better than the US figure of 6.0, and incomparably better than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is around 27 deaths per 1,000 live births). Cuba has the lowest HIV prevalence rate in the Americas. There is one doctor for every 220 people in Cuba – “one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England.” Healthcare is community-based, prevention-oriented, holistic, and free.

As Kofi Annan said: “Cuba demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities – health, education, and literacy.”

3. Education is free, universal, and of high quality

If you want to understand the true nature of a society, then a study of its education system is a good place to start. In Cuba, high quality education at every level is regarded as a human right, and has been the major priority of the government from 1959 onwards. The result is that a poor, underdeveloped country with widespread illiteracy and ignorance has become one of the most educated nations in the world. (Incidentally, you might think that a ‘dictatorship’ obsessed with preserving its grip on power – as the Cuban government is portrayed in the imperialist world – would worry about the consequences of creating generations of skilled critical thinkers!)

This article by Nina Lakhani in The Independent gives a useful overview:

“Education at every level is free, and standards are high… The primary-school curriculum includes dance and gardening, lessons on health and hygiene, and, naturally, revolutionary history. Children are expected to help each other so that no one in the class lags too far behind. And parents must work closely with teachers as part of every child’s education and social development… There is a strict maximum of 25 children per primary-school class, many of which have as few as 20. Secondary schools are striving towards only 15 pupils per class – less than half the UK norm.

“School meals and uniforms are free… ‘Mobile teachers’ are deployed to homes if children are unable to come to school because of sickness or disability… Adult education at all levels, from Open University-type degrees to English- and French-language classes on TV, is free and popular.”

The quality of Cuba’s education is recognised at the top international levels; for example, Cuba is ranked at number 16 in UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index, higher than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean (and higher than the US, which is ranked at number 25).

4. The legacy of racism is being wiped out

Pre-revolutionary Cuba was, in effect, an apartheid society. There was widespread segregation and discrimination. Afro-Cubans were restricted to the worst jobs, the worst housing, the worst education. They suffered from differential access to parks, restaurants and beaches.

The revolution quickly started attacking racism at its roots, vowing to “straighten out what history has twisted.” In March 1959, just a couple of months after the capture of power, Fideldiscussed the complex problem of racism in several speeches at mass rallies.

“In all fairness, I must say that it is not only the aristocracy who practise discrimination. There are very humble people who also discriminate. There are workers who hold the same prejudices as any wealthy person, and this is what is most absurd and sad … and should compel people to meditate on the problem. Why do we not tackle this problem radically and with love, not in a spirit of division and hate? Why not educate and destroy the prejudice of centuries, the prejudice handed down to us from such an odious institution as slavery?”

The commitment to defeating racism has brought about tremendous gains in equality and racial integration. Isaac Saney writes: “It can be argued that Cuba has done more than any other country to dismantle institutionalised racism and generate racial harmony.”

Of course, deeply ingrained prejudices and inequalities cannot be eliminated overnight, and problems remain, especially as a result of the ‘special period’ in which Cuba has had to open itself up to tourism and some limited foreign investment. Racism thrives on inequality. However, Cuba remains a shining light in terms of its commitment to racial equality.

Assata Shakur, the famous exiled Black Panther who has lived in Cuba for several decades, puts it well:

“Revolution is a process, so I was not that shocked to find sexism had not totally disappeared in Cuba, nor had racism, but that although they had not totally disappeared, the revolution was totally committed to struggling against racism and sexism in all their forms. That was and continues to be very important to me. It would be pure fantasy to think that all the ills, such as racism, classism or sexism, could be dealt with in 30 years. But what is realistic is that it is much easier and much more possible to struggle against those ills in a country which is dedicated to social justice and to eliminating injustice.”

Isaac Saney cites a very moving and revealing anecdote recounted by an elderly black man in Cuba:

“I was travelling on a very crowded bus. At a bus stop, where many people got off, a black man got a seat. A middle aged woman said in a very loud and irritated voice: ‘And it had to be a black who gets the seat.’ The response of the people on the bus was incredible. People began to criticize the woman, telling her that a revolution was fought to get rid of those stupid ideas; that the black man should be viewed as having the same rights as she had – including a seat on a crowded bus. The discussion and criticism became loud and animated. The bus driver was asked to stop the bus because the people engaging in the criticism had decided that the woman expressing racist attitudes must get off the bus. For the rest of my trip, the people apologized to the black comrade and talked about where such racist attitudes come from and what must be done to get rid of them.”

Who can imagine such a scene occurring on a bus in London, Paris or New York?

5. Women’s rights are promoted

Cuba has an excellent record in terms of building gender equality. Its commitment to a non-sexist society is reflected in the fact that 43% of parliament members are female (ranking fourth in the world after Rwanda, Sweden and South Africa). 64% of university places are occupied by women. “Cuban women comprise 66% of all technicians and professionals in the country’s middle and higher levels.” Women are given 18 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay, with extended leave at 60% pay until the child is one year old.

A recent report by the US-based Center for Democracy in the Americas (by no means a non-critical source) noted: “By several measures, Cuba has achieved a high standard of gender equality, despite the country’s reputation for machismo, a Latin American variant of sexism. Save the Children ranks Cuba first among developing countries for the wellbeing of mothers and children, the report points out. The World Economic Forum places Cuba 20th out of 153 countries in health, literacy, economic status and political participation of women – ahead of all countries in Latin America except Trinidad and Tobago.”

6. Community spirit still exists

Modern capitalism breaks down communities. Consumerism and individualism create isolation and depression. Poverty creates stress and family tension. Inequality leads to crime, which leads to a culture of fear – something that is completely inimical to the project developing a sense of community and togetherness. Anyone who has experienced life in a modern western city will understand this only too well.

Cuba provides a very different example. It is an exceptionally safe country, with very little in the way of violent crime. With a high level of participation in local administration, social stability, social welfare, low unemployment and a media that promotes unity rather than disunity, Cuba’s sense of community is something that visitors quickly notice.

Assata Shakur mentions this, and contrasts it with the US:

“My experience in the United States was living in a society that was very much at war with itself, that was very alienated. People felt not part of a community, but like isolated units that were afraid of interaction, of contact, that were lonely. People didn’t build that sense of community that I found is so rich here [in Cuba]. One of the things that I was able to take from this experience was just how lovely it is to live with a sense of community. To live where you can drop in the street and a million people will come and help you. That is to me a wealth that you can’t find, you can’t buy, you have to build. You have to build it within yourself to be capable of having that attitude about your neighbours, about how you want to live on this planet.”

7. There will be no capitulation to capitalism

The Cuban leadership have had any number of opportunities to sell out their people and to abandon the cause of socialism. If Fidel had been willing to convert himself into a fluffy social democrat, abandon militant internationalism, abandon the government’s commitment to equality and social justice, and accept the subjugation of Cuba’s economy to the IMF and World Bank, he would be portrayed throughout the western world as a brilliant and righteous man. Instead he has spent over half a century being portrayed as a ruthless, corrupt dictator.

Many expected that Cuba would give up the cause when its major supporters – the Soviet Union and the eastern European people’s democracies – did. It was an era when socialism seemed doomed; the “end of history.” And yet the Cubans never considered such an option. They could see the type of catastrophic consequences that capitalist restoration would bring: massive impoverishment and demobilisation of the masses; the collapse of the basic moral fabric of society; an explosion of crime, drugs, racial division, alienation, prostitution; along with, of course, the accumulation of obscene wealth in the hands of a few. In a thinly-disguised attack on Gorbachev’s policy of endless compromise with the west and his readiness to throw away any semblance of revolutionary leadership and vigilance, Fidel said in 1989:

“It’s impossible to carry out a revolution or conduct a rectification without a strong, disciplined and respected party. It’s not possible to carry out such a process by slandering socialism, destroying its values, discrediting the party, demoralising its vanguard, abandoning its leadership role, eliminating social discipline, and sowing chaos and anarchy everywhere. This may foster a counter-revolution – but not revolutionary change.”

The 2002 Constitution, approved by 98% of the electorate, states:

“Socialism, as well as the revolutionary political and social system established by this Constitution, has been forged during years of heroic resistance against aggression of every kind and economic war waged by the government of the most powerful imperialist state that has ever existed; it has demonstrated its ability to transform the nation and create an entirely new and just society, and is irrevocable: Cuba will never revert to capitalism.”

Over a million people – nearly a tenth of the country’s entire population – turn out to celebrate International Workers’ Day every May 1st. In spite of some limited market reforms that have been implemented in order to revitalised the economy, Cuba is still very much organised along socialist lines. The working class has a firm grip on political power. In an era such as ours, Cuba’s continuing commitment to socialism is very much something to celebrate.

8. Cuba is a functioning socialist democracy

Cuba is far more democratic than Britain or the US. The process of decision-making is far more open to grassroots participation, and is in no way connected with wealth. It is easy enough to see that one cannot expect to be successful in politics in the capitalist countries without a good deal of money behind you; political success is therefore predicated on the financial backing of the wealthy, who expect return on their investment. Political representation in Cuba is nothing like this. Representatives are elected by the people, and are expected to serve the people.

Despite popular belief, elections do take place in Cuba. They take place every five years and there have been turnouts of over 95% in every election since 1976… Anybody can be nominated to be a candidate for election. Neither money nor political parties or orators have a place in the nomination process. Instead, individuals directly nominate those who they think should be candidates. It is not a requirement that one be a member of the Communist party of Cuba to be elected to any position. The party does not propose, support nor elect candidates.” As a result, the Cuban Parliament has representatives from across society, including an exceptionally high proportion of women.

Beyond representative democracy, Cuba also has a meaningful direct democracy. The Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were formed in the early years in order to organise the population to defend the revolution. “Membership is voluntary and open to all residents over the age of 14 years. Nationally 88% of Cuban people are in the CDRs. They meet a minimum of once every three months to plan the running of the community; including the organisation of public health campaigns to promote good health and prevent disease; the upkeep of the area in terms of waste and recycling; the running of voluntary work brigades and providing the adequate support to members of the community who are in need of help (for example in the case of domestic disputes etc). The CDRs discuss nationwide issues and legislation and crucially, feed back their proposals to the National Assembly and other organs of popular democracy.”

Looking at the Cuban system of democracy, you begin to understand the painfully shallow nature of western-style parliamentarism, where ‘democracy’ means nothing more than “the oppressed [being] allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.”

9. Cuba is a key member of the progressive family of nations

Cuba continues to pursue policies of south-south cooperation and anti-imperialist unity. Its foreign policy has in no way been swayed by the never-ending propaganda and manipulation of the corporate press. It maintains excellent relations with Venezuela, China, DPR Korea,Vietnam, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Brazil, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Syria, Belarus, Iran,Russia, Ecuador, Laos, Algeria and other not-very-fashionable countries. Cuba was a founder member of ALBA and is very active in the recently-formed CELAC. It consistently uses its role at the UN to support the progressive nations and oppose imperialism, for example voting against resolutions seeking to demonise Syria and speaking out boldly against the despicable war on Libya.

10. Cuba is a friend to Africa

Africa is the continent that has suffered most and benefitted least as a result of the rise of capitalism. Its enormous contribution to world history has been all but forgotten, and much of the continent exists in a state of chronic underdevelopment, the result of half a millennium of slavery, colonialism and imperialism at the hands of a rising western Europe.

Cuba, recognising its own African roots (“the blood of Africa runs deep in our veins,” as Fidel famously said), has from very early on in its revolution supported and built close links with Africa. Its role in defending Angola and liberating Namibia and South Africa is one of the most inspiring examples of revolutionary international solidarity. Nelson Mandela put it well:

“The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character… We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”

Cuba has excellent, mutually supportive with many African states. One way it provides support is by offering thousands of fully subsidised places at its universities (for example, there are 1,200 South Africans currently studying medicine in Cuba). Cuba is very active in the fight against the scourge of AIDS internationally, for example having helped Zambia to start manufacturing its own antiretrovirals.

11. Cuba has achieved sustainable development

The World Wildlife Fund called Cuba “the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development,” measured as a combination of human development index and environmental sustainability. Cuba is a world leader in the adoption of environmentally friendly technology. “Organic urban farms in Havana supply 100% of the city’s consumption needs in fruit and vegetables” – rather different to London, where we rely on a disgustingly exploitative and ecologically disastrous cash crop system.

Cubans understand that the protection of the earth’s resources is a global project. Fidel Castro has been very vocal at international bodies for over 20 years, particularly in drawing attention to the responsibilities of the imperialist countries, whose ruthless quest for profit has caused untold damage to the planet. “With only 20% of the world’s population, [the imperialist countries] consume two-thirds of all metals and three-fourths of the energy produced worldwide. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air. They have weakened and perforated the ozone layer. They have saturated the atmosphere with gases, altering climatic conditions with the catastrophic effects we are already beginning to suffer.”

12. Poverty is becoming a thing of the past

Considering it is an third world nation with limited natural resources, suffering under economic blockade and coping with the loss of its major trading partners in the early 90s, Cuba’s achievements in wiping out poverty are spectacular.


“Before 1959 only 35.2% of the Cuban population had running water and 63% had no WC facilities or latrines; 82.6% had no bathtub or shower and there were only 13 small reservoirs. Now 91% of the population receives sustainable access to improved drinking water. Sanitation has been a priority since the revolution and 98% of Cubans now have sustainable access to improved sanitation.

“Before 1959 just 7% of homes had electricity. Now 95.5% of Cubans have access to electricity. Solar panels and photovoltaic cells have been installed in schools and clinics in isolated areas.”

Income disparity is exceptionally low. No Cuban starves; no Cuban is homeless; no Cuban is deprived of education, healthcare or housing. There are very few countries in the world that show such unambiguous dedication to people’s basic human rights.

13. There is no homelessness in Cuba

A country that truly cared for its people would move heaven and earth to ensure that they all had somewhere to live. This is exactly what Cuba does. Rich countries like Britain and the US (which has over 600,000 homeless) could learn a thing or two.

14. Cuba makes an important contribution to science

At the time of the revolution, Cuba was stuck in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, without the knowledge, resources or political will to use science as a tool to improve the lives of its people. Now there are over 230 institutions devoted to scientific research and innovation. Cuba’s biotech industry is considered the best in the world among developing countries, and has generated important innovations in cancer research, AIDS research. Cuba created theworld’s first vaccine against meningitis B. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Agre has statedthat “what this small country has done in the progress of science and eradication of diseases is worthy of recognition,” adding that Cuban science’s greatest asset is its large pool of highly qualified, enthusiastic young scientists.

15. Free medical training is given to thousands of international students

Cuba provides full free medical training (including food and board) for hundreds of students from across the world, with a special emphasis on Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. With over 10,000 current students, la Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina may well be the largest medical school in the world. The quality of the training is world class: the school is fully accredited by the Medical Board of California, which has the strictest US standards. The only contractual obligation for students is that, having completed their training, they return to their communities and use their skills to serve the people. Another demonstration that socialism implies a level of humanity, compassion and altruism with which capitalism simply cannot compete.

16. Gender justice is being achieved

Cuba has, over the last 20 years, been making dramatic progress towards full equality for all, regardless of sexual preference. Cuban-American journalist David Duran writes: “Cuba is leading by example and positively affecting the lives of not only the LGBT people who reside there but others all over the world who see these massive changes taking place so quickly in a country where most would think the topic of homosexuality would be off-limits.”

The National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) campaigns for “the development of a culture of sexuality that is full, pleasurable and responsible, as well as to promote the full exercise of sexual rights.” This includes working to combat homophobia and to move on from the ‘machismo’ culture often associated with Latin America.

In a display of humility and honesty very rare for a politician, Fidel Castro in 2010 admitted responsibility for the mistreatment of homosexuals in Cuba in the early decades of the revolution.

17. Natural disasters are dealt with better than anywhere else

Like other countries in the region, Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes. These natural disasters, if not properly prepared for, can cost thousands of lives. However, with its well-oiled Civil Defence System and highly mobilized population, “Cuba is one of the best-prepared countries in the world when it comes to preventing deaths and mitigating risks in case of disasters.” Although recent hurricanes have caused major disruption and economic damage, the numbers of dead and injured have been impressively low as a result of Cuba’s preparation and relief efforts. One need only compare this with the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina (with its 1,833 fatalities) to see the difference in priorities between the two countries’ governments.

18. Cuba’s major export is doctors

Cuba’s ‘Operation Miracle’ has helped restore sight to millions of people across Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba also has a huge number of doctors working in other countries of the Global South, helping to spread Cuba’s hard-won expertise in the field of saving lives. “A third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries.”

In response to the Haiti earthquake disaster of 2010, Cuba immediately (within hours) sent 1,500 medical personnel to help with the relief efforts. “They worked in 20 rehabilitation centres and 20 hospitals, ran 15 operating theatres and vaccinated 400,000 people. By March 2010 they had treated 227,143 patients in total (compared to 871 by the US).” Cuba has even offered to develop a complete programme for reconstructing Haiti’s healthcare system. Emily Kirk and John Kirk note: “Essentially, they are offering to rebuild the entire health care system. It will be supported by ALBA and Brazil, and run by Cubans and Cuban-trained medical staff. This is to include hospitals, polyclinics, and medical schools. In addition, the Cuban government has offered to increase the number of Haitian students attending medical school in Cuba. This offer of medical cooperation represents an enormous degree of support for Haiti.”

Cuba provides Venezuela with 31,000 Cuban doctors and dentists and provides training for 40,000 Venezuelan medical personnel (in exchange for which, Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of oil a day – a great example of two countries cooperating on the basis of their strengths).

19. Cuba loves sport

The Cuban Revolution has, from the beginning, recognised the value of sports in terms of promoting health, building community and developing national pride. Since 1959, Cuba has developed a wide-ranging sports infrastructure and has achieved massive levels of participation. In the 54 years since the revolution, the island has won 67 Olympic gold medals, compared with just four in the preceding 60 years. It consistently comes second (behind the US) in the Pan-American Games, punching well above its weight.

20. Cuba loves culture

Cuba places a strong emphasis on affording its citizens the facilities for cultural expression and enabling them to nurture their talents. Cuban children are guaranteed free access to artistic education, including musical instruments. There are more than 40 art schools, along with a system of neighbourhood cultural centres around the country for enabling art and music. The state level support, combined with a deep-rooted culture of music and dance, makes for a hugely vibrant and participatory culture. Music is everywhere in Cuba, and being a street musician is a state-licenced job. “If you stop to listen, you’re expected to pay, and musicians are around every corner.”

The full range of musical forms are supported and promoted, from classical music to Cuban folk music to hip-hop. The Ministry of Culture even has a division devoted to hip-hop, and Fidel has referred to rap as “the vanguard of the revolution.”

SUPPORT CUBA!

Cuba is under constant threat from US imperialism. Its development is made unnecessarily difficult by an unfair and illegal blockade. Yet it stands as one of the great beacons of socialism, and deserves the support of progressive people everywhere.

Some essential reading
  • Isaac Saney – Cuba: A Revolution in Motion
  • Richard Gott – Cuba: A New History
  • Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own
  • DL Raby – Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today
  • Theo MacDonald: The Education Revolution
  • Piero Gleijeses: Conflicting Missions
  • George Lambie: The Cuban Revolution in the 21st Century
  • Salim Lamrani: The Economic War Against Cuba

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