The Case of Yoani Sanchez

The Cuban Revolution and "Democracy"

You strangle us [for decades] and then you criticize us for the way we breathe.

— Fidel Castro

Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers. They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment, and apartheid. Hundreds of Cubans have given their lives, literally, in a struggle that was, first and foremost, not theirs but ours. As Southern Africans we salute them. We vow never to forget this unparalleled example of selfless internationalism. We wish also to record our indebtedness to Cuban hospitality. In particular, tens of thousands of young South Africans have been trained, and some are still training, in Cuban schools and universities. Today, in many different fields – in the health sector, in government, and in the army – there are many young professionals, contributing to the development of our country, who owe their skills to the generous training provided to them by Cuba. Many people, many countries, including many powerful countries, have called upon us to condemn the suppression of “human rights” in Cuba. We have reminded them they have a short memory. For when we battled against apartheid, against racial oppression, the same countries were supporting the apartheid regime…They supported the apartheid regime. And we fought successfully against that regime with the support of Cuba…They now want to be our only friends, and dare to ask us to renounce those people who made our victory possible. That is the greatest contempt for the morality and the principles which are the basis of our relations, not only with the various population groups in this country, but with the entire world.

— Nelson Mandela

Yoani Sanchez — backed by her fawning US and international promoters — presents herself as a persecuted “dissident” who, in her “courageous” blog, tells truths that the “repressive” and “totalitarian” Cuban government wants to hide, suppress, or cover up.

This is infinitely more a case of myth than the actual political reality in Cuba today. The truth is that Sanchez’s base of political and financial support is not inside Cuba, but in the United States. Sanchez is popular among Democratic and Republican party politicians and government officials; corporate media and some liberal and conservative “bloggers”; academic and think-tank “analysts”; and others hostile to the revolutionary socialist Cuban government. Sanchez is largely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of the Cuban population: industrial workers, private farmers, and members of agricultural co-operatives of every “race” and gender, as well as specific demographics of Afro-Cubans, women, students and young workers, professionals, artists and intellectuals, as well as the emerging, growing layers of self-employed small-business owners and retailers selling services and consumer goods. This large majority acts on their many grievances, complaints, and demands within the framework of fiercely defending their national independence and sovereignty and their socialist revolution, which continues to be under attack from the same bipartisan Washington that showers Sanchez with praise. It is this, not persecution or repression, that marginalizes and sidelines Sanchez and other so-called “dissidents”.

Sanchez has excluded herself from the discussions and debates that have been deepening inside Cuba for many years now on how to improve and strengthen the economic and political structures of the Cuban workers’ state. This process is focused on how to implement in law and in practice the economic, financial, political, and institutional changes necessary to advance Cuba’s development and industrialization, while defending and improving the social conquests ushered in by the Revolution. Contrary to the spin from the US government and capitalist media conglomerates this has nothing to do with a Cuban “transition” to a capitalist “market economy” and state. Such a “transition” could only mean a return to US domination and neo-colonial servitude. Only a massive US invasion and military occupation could restore that condition. Washington is fully aware that any such overt aggression would be met with fierce resistance on the island and intense international opposition, and is therefore not a serious political option.

Nevertheless, Washington — Democratic and Republican, White House and Congress — is far from abandoning the hope and goal of creating inside Cuba the conditions for more open and direct intervention to overturn the revolutionary Cuban government and finally eradicate the example of the Cuban Revolution. That is the purpose of economic sanctions which include penalizing countries and enterprises that carry out commercial exchange with Cuba, as well as ongoing subversion schemes and belligerent propaganda. The place of political allies such as Sanchez is at the center of these pipe dreams.

Around the World in 80 Days

Sanchez visited the United States in March and April 2013 as a central stop on her 80-day “world tour” that took her also to numerous European and several Latin American countries, returning to Cuba without incident on May 30, 2013. She received a visa from the Cuban government as part of the recent changes in Cuban law eliminating most previous travel restrictions. The political purpose of her trip is to denounce the Cuban Revolution, from its origins through today, and build opposition to the Cuban government, currently led by Raul Castro, in other countries. (For documentation on the funding sources of Sanchez’s activities see “The Grotesque Circus of Yoani Sanchez” by Helen Yaffe.

During the US leg of her itinerary, Sanchez ripped off the veil she barely wears inside Cuba covering her affinity with the US government and those politicians openly committed to the destruction of the Cuban Revolution by any means possible. In Miami she spoke to hundreds of Cuban-Americans bitterly opposed to the Cuban Revolution. In New York City public events were even smaller. In Washington, DC Sanchez received an “International Woman of Courage Award” from the US State Department. The same State Department that, infamously and shamefully, continues to include Cuba — for decades the recipient of US-government sponsored or tolerated terrorist assaults — on a list of “terrorist nations”. Does Sanchez agree with that?

At the State Department ceremonies and on Capitol Hill Sanchez was feted and praised by a range of Democratic and Republican politicians, including the Cuban-American politicians, Florida Republican Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who push hard for even deeper US sanctions and aggression against Cuba and who want to reverse the right, gained under adjustments to US economic and travel sanctions enacted under the Obama Administration, of Cuban-Americans to unrestricted visits to their country of origin and family members. Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, and Menendez stand with Obama in being adamantly against allowing any other US citizens to legally visit Cuba (outside of a bureaucratic licensing labyrinth which Obama has slightly loosened) and being allowed to see its reality for themselves. Millions of world travelers do visit Cuba every year. They are free to roam every inch of the island unencumbered and safe (not de facto dumped in tourist enclaves) even as Cuba does away with virtually all legal travel restrictions for its citizens (other than the de facto restriction of not being able to afford to travel). So really the question for Yoani Sanchez is: Who is Afraid of Whom? (The recent brouhaha engineered by Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart over US musical superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce’s wedding anniversary celebration in Havana highlights both the continued reality of US travel restrictions and Washington’s reluctance to either fully enforce or end them. The huffing and puffing of the two main Congressional anti-Castro blowhards more than anything else exposes their continued fall from political weight and relevancy.)

Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart are particularly hated by the Cuban people because of their open identification and association with the notorious terrorists Orlando Bosch and Juan Posada Carriles as well as other counter-revolutionary paramilitary organizations like Brigade 2056 with decades of violent actions and schemes against Cuba. Bosch and Posada Carriles collaborated to blow up in flight a civilian Cuban airliner in 1976 murdering 78 people. Neither were ever brought to justice. Bosch lived freely in the United States until his death; Posada Carriles continues to do so today. In Miami the surviving shell of Brigade 2506 praised Sanchez’s activities and expressed their solidarity with her. (I could find no statement from Sanchez disassociating herself from such embraces and groups.)

Sanchez got into trouble with this more nefarious layer of her support “coalition” when she arrived in Miami and sarcastically stated she wished the US government would free the Cuban Five so the Cuban government would stop “wasting” so many resources in the fight for their freedom. She quickly retreated stating, “They are not innocent.” (The Cuban Five are Cuban revolutionaries framed up, convicted, and jailed on various trumped up charges in a rigged and biased Miami Court in 1998. All but one remain incarcerated. They were on a dangerous mission to monitor counter-revolutionary Cuban-American exile groups with long histories of violence, sabotage, and assassination in Cuba and other countries, including the United States. For more information on this gross injustice, visit “freethefive” web site.)

When Sanchez and such figures like Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart appear in public together it is a conscious decision on all sides. Looking at Sanchez’s itinerary, her choice of venues and the allies she chose or was chosen to meet with, it is obvious that there is a conscious and central element of provocation in her and her “advisers” political agenda. She is openly and blatantly breaking Cuba’s well-founded laws against direct or indirect collaboration with forces aiming to subvert and overthrow the Cuban workers’ state. (We have to ask how long a US citizen would stay out of the slammer if they met with and received rewards from foreign-government entities openly calling for the overthrow of the US government and associated with groups and individuals with longstanding records of extreme violence such as Bosch and Posada Carilles? Do I see a drone being ordered up?)

Cuba Faces Its Problems Head On

Those ignorant or naive about Cuban political reality should understand that bipartisan Washington openly funds (alongside continuous and complementary “covert” operations) a tiny layer of Cuban clients with infinitesimal popular support on the Island to the tune of tens of millions of dollars yearly. These clients of Washington, in both Florida and inside Cuba, go through the motions of acting to carry out the official US policy of trying to subvert and destroy the example and influence of the Cuban Revolution. (Mostly, on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico, these anti-revolutionary grouplets and individuals just pocket the funds.) This is largely a sick joke, with zero impact on Cuban politics and the actual discussions and debates on changing what needs to be changed inside Cuba.

Cuban working people are justly proud of their achievements and social conquests since the triumph of the 1959 Revolution in fields such as international solidarity, free top-quality medical care and education, world-class sports programs, and big advances in women’s rights and the struggle against racism. Nevertheless, Cubans are acutely aware of problems such as the scarcity of certain consumer goods, poor services outside of health care and education, both factors facilitating problems of theft and petty corruption. Cuban workers and the entire population have no illusions regarding the pressing need to raise labor productivity and food production, to eliminate bureaucratic deadwood in the state and government, and to increase the size and weight of the industrial working class (in reality a far more important medium and long term gauge of the “success” of the ongoing new economic measures undertaken by the government led by Raul Castro than the important and necessary expansion of small family wholesale and retail businesses and services aiming to improve the quality and quantity of consumer goods, which gets most of the notice in the US and other corporate media, supposedly representing an inevitable transition to capitalism. These problems, as Raul Castro has repeatedly stressed, cannot be reduced solely to Washington’s economic and political war on the island. Even less can US hostility — which, in any case, is not going away anytime soon — be an excuse not to tackle them.

All of this is debated out in continuous mass forums in workplaces and neighborhoods as well as in the trade unions and grass-roots mass organizations of women, private and co-operative farmers, students, artists and intellectuals, and within the Cuban Communist Party. This is the actual dynamic that frames and guides policy-making decisions and legislation. And the fruits are already apparent in legal and other positive changes on questions ranging from expanded travel rights to ending all legal discrimination and vastly opening up social and cultural space for LGBT Cuban citizens. Any objective observer visiting the island – without malice or prejudice in their brain and heart – cannot but note the desire and ability of average Cuban working people to engage in no-holds-barred discussions on all the questions and challenges facing Cuba today, and debating the policies to overcome them.

Of course, Sanchez and other “dissident” formations who collaborate with Washington, attempt to exploit very real problems, challenges, and grievances among Cuban working people. They and their Washington promoters would be foolish not to. After all they are trying to overturn the Cuban Revolution and destroy its influence and example. But their face is turned toward Washington and the European Union not the Cuban masses.

Surviving the “Special Period”

There is a glaring contradiction at the heart of the carefully cultivated Yoani Sanchez “brand”. On the one hand the effort is at pains to market a “new” type of counter-revolutionary “dissident” — verbally opposed to violence and terrorism and, therefore, attempting to differentiate from the traditional face of the counter-revolution, yet,  at the same time, not denouncing that face and being, in fact, allied with them. Sanchez claims to oppose the US embargo, but praises, and is praised by, its most prominent promoters.

These conflicts for Sanchez register the major shifts in political realities both inside Cuba and among Cuban-Americans since the dog days of the 1990s when Cuba descended into a virtually overnight economic cataclysm following the collapse from 1989-91 of the governments of the former Soviet Union and its “Warsaw Pact” allies in Eastern Europe. Cuba carried out around 85% of its economic intercourse, including parts and technology for its entire industrial plant and infrastructure, with these governments and states. At its onset of this economic catastrophe for Cuba there was an astonishing drop of 35% in Cuban economic output and activity. Living standards plummeted. Power blackouts became practically the norm. Many surgeries had to be performed in sunlight. Malnutrition stalked the island. This era became known in Cuba as the “Special Period”.

Cuba’s economy has been gradually improving since then with new markets and trading partners gained in China and Latin America, but was hit hard again in recent years, with extraordinary damage from a devastating series of Hurricanes. which have all taken a great material toll on top of the legacy of the “Special Period”. Stable supplies, oil-based fuel energy from Venezuela starting under the Hugo Chavez government, in exchange for crucial services provided by Cuban doctors, teachers, and sports trainers, have been particularly helpful in this period.

Naturally, bipartisan Washington — under the first George Bush White House and intensifying under the Democratic William Clinton Administration — saw with an economically reeling Cuba exactly the right time to deepen and expand anti-Cuban sanctions and political hostility, hoping to finally see the end of the revolutionary Cuban menace. The then-dominant counter-revolutionary right-wing Cuban-American leadership in South Florida had put the champagne on ice. Prominent Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, a fount of anti-Cuban Revolution venom, wrote a book, Castro’s Final Hour, that registered the gleeful anticipation in those circles. However, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, in perhaps his last great revolutionary triumph, Cuba tenaciously fought its way out of the “Special Period” crisis, although the legacy and effects have still not been entirely overcome.

This was the period in which terrorist plans and attacks were planned and organized from the United States by revived counter-revolutionary paramilitary organizations, focused on the massive expansion of the Cuban tourism industry, which was becoming a crucial factor in the accumulation of the foreign exchange necessary to maintain Cuba’s free medical care and education and other national priorities. This was the period when Cuba dispatched the revolutionaries known as the Cuban Five to monitor and prevent such plots, while the US government looked the other way. (The Clinton Administration was given information by Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, acting as a liaison between the US and Cuban governments, on the illegal and violent plans of US-based counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, which the Cuban Five had helped uncover. Instead of arresting and stopping the criminals, the Clinton White House used the information to facilitate the tracking down and arrest of the Cuban Five. They were subsequently convicted and imprisoned on trumped up charges in a rigged and biased Miami Court and sentenced to unconscionably long prison terms.)

Revolutionary Cuba is Politically Stronger Today

Sanchez emerges out of that post-crisis period which has seen the Cuban Revolution strengthened politically, especially in the Americas. This is interlocked with the relative weakening and erosion of Washington’s economic and political war against the island, which is in its sixth decade. Notably the political domination of counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, and the entrenched political figures long identified with them, who are committed to the violent overthrow and destruction of the Cuban Revolution, is seriously diminished, if not over and done with, within the Cuban-American community. (see my article, “The Myth of the Miami Lobby”.)

This relative political weakening of Washington’s anti-Cuba policy combined with the mounting changes in the political dynamics among Cuban-Americans, has paved the way for significant shifts in the political orientation and policies of the Cuban government. The Raul Castro-led government feels more confident in politically engaging with the “Cuban Diaspora”, including in its South Florida heart, and at the same time is less inclined to carry out legal prosecutions and punitive measures against those who collaborate and consort with US government agencies and their subversive schemes in obvious violations of Cuban law. The overhaul in Cuban travel regulations is one example. The release of all “dissidents”, some 75 in all, convicted and imprisoned following increased threats to Cuba in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, is another. Today, Amnesty International and the Cuban Catholic Church, who have both, to varying degrees, advocated in favor of these US-connected “dissidents” have declared that there are no more, as they term it, “political prisoners” in Cuba.

Sanchez’s contradictory public posture registers these objective facts. This has made her more attractive to “Western” liberals and social-democrats who are politically integrated into the structures of the most powerful capitalist states and who profoundly disdain Cuba’s socialist revolution and communist leadership. These “left” forces are embarrassed by, and do not care to politically identify with, the traditional US policy and its right-wing Cuban-American face and front. They are fully aware that the never-ending US anti-Cuba policy in the form of sanctions and non-recognition is utterly isolated throughout the world and also lacks any broad and firm conviction or support in US public opinion. They are dismayed by the near-universal opposition to US anti-Cuba policies as registered in ever-more-lopsided votes in the UN General Assembly. In 2013 the vote against “the US commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Cuba” was 188-3 (Palau joined the US and Israel, which actually trades with Cuba, in voting no) with 2 abstentions (the Marshall Islands and Micronesia). Every US NATO ally voted against Washington. Even quasi-puppet regimes installed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan could not stand the embarrassment of siding with Washington. In the US-dominated Organization of American States, Washington, with occasional support from Canada, stands totally alone in its anti-Cuba policy.

But Washington fiercely and violently resisted the revolutionary impact of Cuba’s sovereign right to self-determination and especially the Cuban Revolution’s unique foreign policy of international solidarity with oppressed and exploited peoples, and the promotion and aid given to revolutionary struggles, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the Cuban Revolution resonated widely. Cuba’s revolutionary foreign policy saw, and continues to see, the ultimate defense of the Cuban Revolution in the struggles of oppressed and exploited humanity against the contemporary capitalist world order. (Sanchez’s supporters sometimes try to compare her and other “dissidents” who act as US clients to Nelson Mandela. Sadly for such spin, the great South African freedom fighter was and remains a great friend of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.)

Phony “Opposition” to the Embargo

Sanchez’s stated opposition to US economic sanctions is, at best, disingenuous. Many Republican and Democratic politicians, editorial page overseers, op-ed columnists, and dime-a-dozen pundits and bloggers in the US, claim to oppose the embargo because it has failed to bring down the revolutionary government and overturn the Cuban workers’ state. Sanchez echoes this milieu by asserting — falsely and absurdly — that the US embargo actually helps the “Castro” government by giving it an “excuse” for “repression” and to retain power by diverting the Cuban masses.

This line is parroted endlessly as if repetition would make it true. But an assertion is not a fact and the assertion that ending the US embargo and normalizing US-Cuban relations would actually hasten the end of the Cuban Revolution and collapse of the “Castro regime” or the political continuity in Cuba after the presidential term of Raul Castro ends in 2018, is complete and utter nonsense! Ending the embargo, ending US military threats, normalizing diplomatic relations and commercial exchanges would greatly facilitate Cuban prosperity and create an even greater example of the benefits of Cuban socialism. It would also create the conditions for a further institutionalization of democratic rights and civil liberties. Such a unilateral US capitulation on what has been a central core of its entire Latin American policy for decades would also spur anti-capitalist and revolutionary struggles in the Americas and elsewhere. Of course, all of this is precisely why it hasn’t and — alas — isn’t about to happen any time soon! The embarrassment of international isolation over Cuba is thus seen as a relatively smaller price to pay in the corridors of power in Washington.

Many US bourgeois politicians, when they are not in executive-office positions but simply legislators, able to spout of off tactically with weightless impact on the actual policy goal of eliminating the Cuban Revolution, which they share, come out “against” the US embargo. The most prominent recent example is Barack Obama himself. When he was a nationally inconsequential Illinois State Senator, preparing to run for the US Senate, he stated in a January 2004 speech at Southern Illinois University, “I think it’s time for us to end the embargo on Cuba…[T]he Cuban embargo has… utterly failed to overthrow Castro, who has now been there since I was born. It is now time to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed.” The editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, both of which are fanatically hostile to the Cuban Revolution, formally oppose the US embargo, as does the slightly less viscerally hostile New York Times.

Many other US capitalist politicians, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have, at times, sharply criticized the US embargo as “ineffective” and outdated and an obstacle to subverting and overturning the Cuban Revolution. Like Sanchez, some of these cited politicians may actually even believe the nonsense they spout about how ending the embargo will expedite the end of the Revolution. People often delude themselves and start to believe their own propaganda. But nobody who supports the Cuban Revolution or honestly defends Cuban sovereignty should be fooled by such phony-baloney. As the great Malcolm X said, “I don’t believe in deluding myself. I’m not going to sit at your table with nothing on my plate and call myself a ‘diner’. You must be eating something off the plate to be a diner.” After 60 years, words and rhetoric are cheap.

The only sincere and serious opposition to the US embargo against Cuba has to flow from defending Cuba’s right to self-determination and national sovereignty.

Bipartisan Washington has never accepted Cuban sovereignty and instead launched economic, political, and physical violence against the small island. Over 3000 Cubans have died in violent assaults and terrorist acts from counter-revolutionary Cuban-American exiles operating from US soil against US formal law, but with the support or tolerance of US authorities since the triumph of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Economic sabotage and the impact of US sanctions have caused billions of dollars in physical damage to the Cuban economy. In the mid-1970s an official US Senate Report documented hundreds of assassination plots against Cuban leaders and even biological attacks against Cuban crops by CIA operatives. These are the objective facts that lead the Cuban government and the highly mobilized, organized, and politically conscious Cuban people, to act in self-defense against all the degrees and forms of US hostility, aggression, and intervention which has not stopped for one second from President Dwight Eisenhower to President Barack Obama.

Cuba responded to all of this with legitimate self-defense. It “repressed” agents of counter-revolution who used violence and terrorism to sabotage its economy, assassinated young people engaged in literacy campaigns, and placed bombs in hotels to keep away tourists, and squads sent repeatedly to assassinate the Revolution’s leadership. They did what President Abraham Lincoln did against political agents of the slave owners’ government of the Confederacy in the Northern States during the so-called Civil War, which by 1863-64 had become the Second American Revolution.

But US sanctions, threats, and hostilities have exacted a price not only economically and financially but inevitably in political norms and procedures. The biggest obstacle within Cuba for the fullest and freest exercise of democratic rights political and cultural space has been the more or less state of siege imposed on the revolutionary island by US imperialism. Living under siege from the greatest economic and military power on Earth which is utterly devoted to your destruction is not exactly conducive to building the most open, transparent, and democratic norms. Facing an actual siege…a “siege mentality” can set in — a ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mindset which can cut across democratic debate and foster bureaucratism.

Forcing an end to the US embargo, travel restrictions, political hostility and the constant threat of military intervention or terrorist attacks, in short, normalizing relations between the US and Cuba is the best way to create the conditions to further institutionalize democratic rights and civil liberties in Cuba. But the truth is that Washington is not actually interested in “democracy” or “human rights” except for use as a club for lying propaganda. Washington wants to destroy the continuing influence and example of the Cuban Revolution in a Latin America and Caribbean undergoing progressive social and economic changes that are no longer under Washington’s control.

The truth is that the failure of the US economic and political war to defeat revolutionary Cuba, the utter isolation of that policy in the world (and, largely in US public opinion, for that matter) means that the Cuban government and people are in a position to expand political and democratic space, and that is what is happening. This is also a necessity to carry out, with unity and authority, the changes that need to be implemented. While Washington’s ability to influence events and carry out overt aggression is considerably weakened and erodes, it is nonetheless also true that as long as Washington persists in its subversion and embargo the Cuban government and working people would be foolish to — and cannot — let down their guard.

“A Chicken Cannot Produce a Duck Egg”

One thing is for sure, Cuban workers, peasants, and youth in their overwhelming majority understand — unlike Yoani Sanchez — that the US government is not going to be the source of solutions or an ally to resolving the problems and challenges they face but is rather the primary (not the only) source of them for six decades. As Malcolm X put it so perfectly “a chicken cannot produce a duck egg”.

Over the decades the anti-Cuba propaganda ministries of various US government agencies have conjured up various “heroes” and martyrs to symbolize “resistance” to the evilness of the “Castro dictatorship”. Yoani Sanchez is the latest in an ignoble string from Huber Matos to Armando Valladares to be hoisted on a pedestal erected by imperialist propaganda.

Yoani Sanchez is no hero. She has chosen to align herself politically with international forces that are still trying to subvert and destroy the Cuban Revolution. There is nothing admirable about this. She gets prizes from outfits like the European Union, which is presently engaged in vicious austerity assaults, driving millions into poverty and utter destitution from Greece to Italy to Spain, in order to protect and defend bankers, bondholders, bosses, and billionaires. These are the political forces Sanchez aligns herself with in the name of “democracy” and “human rights” against her homeland, the homeland of international solidarity, the country that has more doctors and medical personnel helping in the poorest areas of the globe than the United Nations and the United States combined. This is not courage! Courage is fighting imperialism and the oppressors, not parroting its lying propaganda, while touring the globe on its dime. Yoani Sanchez is a mercenary and a disgrace, not a hero.

Muammar Gaddafi and Raul Castro

It is worth quoting major excerpts from an October 25, 2013 “blog” by Yoani Sanchez posted on the liberal Huffington Post entitled “When Your Neighbor’s Fence is On Fire: Gaddafi’s Lessons for Castro”.

“…From the beginning of the uprisings in Tunisia, with their subsequent spread to Egypt and Libya, police actions in Cuba have increased. Raul Castro’s government knows very well that it cannot allow demonstrations by thousands of people in the streets, demonstrations that would have to be met by anti-riot police. So he has chosen to respond with “prophylactic” repression, which barely leaves visible traces, much less legal ones.

“Among the most-used methods is to prevent activists from leaving their homes on significant dates, and so to avoid their taking part in opposition events. State Security operates in plain clothes from cars with civilian plates so that no camera or foreign correspondent will film uniformed police restricting the freedom of an individual.

“The financial costs of increased wiretapping, monitoring dissident leaders, surrounding their houses with operatives, must be rising to numbers that haunt the budgets of certain ministries. The priority now is to avoid allowing the counter-hegemonic winds of contagion to blow from North Africa over the largest island of the Antilles. In the bloodied face of Muammar Gaddafi our authorities have seen a prophetic sign of their possible fate, and now they are trying to shield themselves to ward off a similar outcome…

“Notwithstanding the enormous social and geographic differences between Libya and Cuba, Qaddafi’s violent death has undoubtedly focused Raul Castro’s fears. The General knows that a cheering crowd in a square can quickly become a mob, ready to lynch the leaders they obeyed only the day before. Just as he knows what desires for revenge are provoked by years and years of dissatisfaction, of the suffocation of free expression.

“So now, even the slightest detail that led to the fall of the Libyan despot, to his death at the hands of his domestic opponents, must be analyzed. To avoid this end, the regime is capable of increasing repression to unimaginable levels, and spending everything it has, and more, on control. But the big question that we ask, is whether, to avoid ending up like Gaddafi, it is willing to undertake a genuine transition, a change that could save them and save us.”

In this blog post, Sanchez tries to identify the handful of Cuban “dissidents” with the mass, popular upsurges that brought down neocolonial dictatorships — backed nearly to the end by the Western imperialist powers she looks to for support — in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. Sanchez would have her readers believe that “plain clothes” monitoring, “wire taps,” and the like is what is preventing “thousands of people in the streets” threatening the Cuban government with a fate like that of the pro-imperialist venal dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt or even “ending up like Gaddafi”. This is ludicrous. Some 1000 people were murdered in the streets by the Mubarak regime in the weeks before its demise. The Egyptian and Tunisian regimes employed for decades murderous repression, death squads, routine torture, etc. etc., on a mass scale against workers, students, peasants and all who fought their regimes, which — a fact conveniently left out by Sanchez — were backed to the hilt, and even touted as progressive, by Sanchez’s allies in Paris, London, and Washington. Those regimes are, if anything, analogous to the Batista dictatorship which the Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro finally overthrew in 1959. If there was the basis in Cuban society today for mass struggle and social explosions against the Cuban government, then a few wiretaps and plain-clothes monitoring would hardly be enough to stop it. Sanchez is twisting herself into a pretzel with such false analogies. It is obscene and puerile to think of Raul Castro losing even a wink of sleep at night worrying about “a similar fate” like Muammar Gaddafi. Much is revealed in these truly deceitful, disgusting, and massively ignorant passages.

As far as Muammar Gaddafi is concerned, he was, at times in his politically eccentric career as Libyan strongman, in conflict with modern Western imperialism, the continuity with the colonial legacy and states of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Libya had been an Italian colony. Primarily in the 1970s and 80s the Gaddafi government certainly gave some material support to the Irish Republican Army in its struggle for Irish unification against the United Kingdom and to the African National Congress in its struggle against the apartheid South African regime. Both movements were engaged in armed actions and struggles and were labeled “terrorists” by the British occupiers of Northern Ireland and the South African racists respectively
In addition, and less defensibly, Gaddafi’s regime also promoted and financed a myriad of “anti-imperialist” groups with methods inimical to that of revolutionary Marxism, outfits that carried out terrorist actions which targeted civilians. These became pretexts for US military strikes against Libya under President Ronald Reagan, which personally targeted Gaddafi. Libya was accused of a 1988 attack on a civilian airliner, Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and 11 more people on the ground. Gaddafi later turned over to the British authorities two “suspects” in the Lockerbie attack, who were convicted, in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, and a general normalization of relations with the UK and the US that lasted, with the blessing and promotion of United Kingdom Prime Minister Anthony Blair, until mass protests broke out against the Gaddafi regime in 2011. After the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York, Gaddafi dismantled his nuclear weapons programs and moved to direct collaboration with “Western” intelligence agencies. Despite this, the final blows against Gaddafi were greatly facilitated by the military intervention, under NATO auspices, of British, French, and US firepower.

But throughout those years, whether in a period of conflict or conciliation with “the West,” the social and political regime over which he presided, whatever its peculiar and unique trappings, remained a capitalist family, even individual, dictatorship ruling over Libyan workers and peasants (and, especially in the oil fields, migrant workers).

During Gaddafi’s rule, Libyan working people were able to win a degree of benefits and rising living standards, relative to the regime of King Idris, which a group of younger, more modernized and progressive (it would be hard to be less modern and progressive than Idris) military officers had overturned in a 1969 coup. Gaddafi was a military officer under Idris’s neocolonial regime. This was a period when many military coups with quasi-progressive trappings took place and took power in decrepit neocolonial Third World capitalist dependencies in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. While he did, to his credit, use some of Libya’s enormous oil revenues to alleviate the worst conditions among the countries toilers and definite social advances were achieved, Libya remained — and remains today with the Gaddafi family routed from power– a semi-tribal, semi-feudal capitalist state and government. There was no social revolution, placing a different social classes — the working class and its allies — in power in a new state formation, as was the case with the Cuban (or Chinese, Yugoslav, and Vietnamese) Revolutions.

Raul Castro’s history and legacy is the antithesis of Gaddafi. He was a central leader and combatant in a people’s revolution. That revolution did not emerge out of, or come to power through the existing neocolonial army, but rather destroyed it and carried out a socialist revolution that placed the working class and peasantry in political and social dominance.

Sanchez’s opening clause, ” Notwithstanding the enormous social and geographical differences between Libya and Cuba…” is simply a throwaway line, like the disclaimer you read at the end of a Hollywood film, “Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental…blah, blah, blah.” In other words, even though the analogy is completely bogus and useless, I will throw it out there anyway.

It is completely odious to compare a “populist” Arab strongman with an eclectic, bizarre, and mystical ideological outlook like Muammar Gaddafi to a veteran, seasoned, decades-long revolutionary fighter and serious scientific and rational thinker like Raul Castro. This speaks eloquently to the hatred and deceit that animates and motivates Sanchez.

Ike Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and Teamsters Union member. A longtime anti-imperialist, socialist, and Cuba solidarity activist and leader, Ike is a founder and organizer for the New York-New Jersey Cuba Si Coalition, a member of the US National Network on Cuba, and a central organizer of the forthcoming March 18-20 International US-Cuba Normalization Conference in New York City. He is the author of many published, widely circulated essays online including The Life of Fidel Castro: A Marxist Appreciation and To the Memory of Malcolm X: Tribute to a Revolutionary. Contact Ike at Read other articles by Ike.