Cuba: Executions and repression - a class point of view

The execution of three men who had hijacked a ferry and the harsh sentences handed out to 74 opponents of the Cuban regime in April has generated nearly universal condemnation, at least on the part of the media and most governments. When we analyze this issue, we have to base ourselves on a class position. The interests of the working class come first, both inside and outside Cuba. The execution of three men who had hijacked a ferry and the harsh sentences handed out to 74 opponents of the Cuban regime in April has generated nearly universal condemnation, at least on the part of the media and most governments. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was "outraged," and Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded that Cuba release the "prisoners of conscience".

However, before analysing the issues involved let us first look at the actual facts. The three individuals that were put to death had hijacked a passenger ferry in an attempt to reach the United States. This was the third attempted hijacking in Cuba in just two weeks. This situation is favoured by a US law, which guarantees asylum to all Cubans who can make their way to the USA, regardless of the methods they use.

In the same period the Cuban government had begun rounding up dissidents, including members of the "Varela Project". The main demand of this group is for a referendum, which they see as part of a "gradual approach" towards the elimination of the present state which was born out of the 1959 revolution and with it the state-run economy. In essence they stand not for "democracy" but a return to capitalism. The 74 "dissidents" received sentences ranging from between six to twenty-eight years.

The formal charge against most of the defendants was that of "crimes against the independence or territorial integrity of the state." There was a lot of evidence that proved beyond any doubt that most of these oppositionists had received large amounts of money from the US government through James Cason, the chief officer of the US Interests Section in Havana - the United States' de facto embassy. This fact has never been denied by Powell or by any other of the US spokesmen. In fact all this information is easily available on US government web sites.

In the year 2000, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) donated US$ 670,000 to three Cuban organisations to help in the "the publication abroad of the work of independent journalists from the island... and to distribute their writings within Cuba" (USAID report, Evaluation of the USAID Cuba Program, 2001).

By such means the American imperialists seek to promote the work of counter-revolutionary forces in Cuba and other countries. They constantly interfere in the internal affairs of other states when they do not like the policies they are carrying out. There is no doubt that the American embassy and the CIA were actively involved in the attempts of the counter-revolutionaries to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. 

The US State Department describes this kind of activity officially as "outreach." When it comes to anyone acting in this way to defend the interests of US imperialism against a foreign government then it is regarded as legitimate. However, if any foreign power attempts to apply the same methods against the USA it is a different story. Under the United States Code, similar "outreach" activities on the part of a foreign diplomat in the United States can result in criminal prosecution and a 10-year prison sentence. This applies to anyone "who agrees to operate within the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official" (Title 18, section 951 of the United States Code).

The hypocrisy of the US government is even more striking when we look at the status of five Cubans who are currently serving long sentences (including two life sentences) in U.S. federal prisons. The five were trying to stop the ultra-right exile Cuban terrorist groups in Miami from carrying out violent actions against Cuba. The USA claims to be involved in a global "war against terrorism". But the US government - through the CIA - has provided the main funding, training and arming of the ultra-right in alliance with the Cuban Miami mafia, which is behind many of the terrorist acts against the Cuban government for years. Therefore, instead of arresting the Cuban terrorists, the FBI targeted the five Cuban agents! No amount of hypocritical protests and moralising articles in the bourgeois media can hide these double standards of the US administration.

The hypocrisy of the US government becomes even more apparent when we see how Washington cries out against death penalties in Cuba, but conveniently "forgets" that every year hundreds of men and women are placed on death row in the US prisons. Since 1976 the USA has executed over 700 people, 248 of them in the state of Texas. Moreover, of those executed since 1973, some 95 people were later fully exonerated by the courts. That is, they were entirely innocent of the crimes for which they were executed. The US government has absolutely no right to complain that Cuba uses the death penalty when it has one of the worst records on earth. And George W. Bush, less than anybody else, has the right to protest. When he was the governor of Texas, which already accounted for over one-third of all the executions in the USA since 1976, he became notorious for his indiscriminate use of the death penalty and refusal to respond to pleas for clemency.

This is also a class question. The vast majority of the huge prison population in the USA and the vast majority of those who are put to death are poor people - mainly Blacks and Hispanics. The USA is the only country in the world except Somalia that refuses to sign the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why? Because in the USA even those who committed crimes when they were not yet 18 years old are put to death, while 18 states allow the execution of juveniles as young as 16. The Convention contains a clause that would make this illegal.

The US government has a long record of supporting attempted coups against the Cuban Government. They even tried to invade the country in 1961 through their mercenaries during the infamous Bay of Pigs episode. They have also imposed an embargo on the island virtually since the very beginning of the revolution.

It is not just Castro himself that worries the US bourgeoisie. What they fear most is the nature of the regime that exists in Cuba. They cannot tolerate the fact that at a mere 90 miles from their shores there is a country where capitalism has been abolished. The Cuban revolution was a point of reference for the oppressed and downtrodden masses of Latin America. That is why the US imperialists hate Cuba - not because of its record on human rights.

The "Left" bends to the pressure of imperialism

This is our starting point when we analyse what is going on in Cuba. We have to base ourselves on a class position. The interests of the working class come first, both inside and outside Cuba. If we do not do this we risk being thrown off balance and falling into the trap of discussing abstract "democracy" or "justice" and not the real issues involved in this case. That is, unfortunately, what all the position of certain left-wing intellectuals in relation to this question.

Attacks against the Cuban revolution from Washington and the bourgeois media in the USA and Europe are nothing new. On this occasion, however, criticism of the regime has come not only from the American and European bourgeoisie. The noisy chorus of denunciations has been joined by a lot of old so-called "friends" of Cuba, such as the Nobel prize winner for literature Jose Saramago or the writer Eduardo Galeano. A heated debate on this question has also erupted within many of left-wing parties in Europe and Latin America.

These "friends of Cuba" have forgotten the fundamentals. There is no such thing as absolute "democracy" or "justice" in the present capitalist society. Formal bourgeois democracy is only a fig leaf to conceal the dictatorship of a handful of wealthy bankers and corporate bandits. Lately they do not even bother to conceal the real state of affairs. Just look at the elections in all the capitalist countries, especially in the US, where everybody knows that George Bush was elected through a rigged vote.

The same is true of the concept of "justice". The principle that "all men are equal before the law" is valid so long as we ignore the size of their wallet! As on every other issue there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. The writer Anatole France long ago wrote of the majesty of the law that permits rich and poor alike to starve and sleep under bridges.

There are many things about the regime in Cuba with which we disagree. But one thing cannot be denied: the Cuban revolution expropriated the imperialists and the bourgeoisie and established the conditions for a huge improvement in health, education and the conditions of the masses. That is the "crime" for which the imperialists can never forgive Cuba. For over three decades they have used every kind of dirty method to destroy these gains and return Cuba to the tender mercies of the imperialists and capitalists. In this struggle there can be no neutrality. We must defend Cuba against the imperialist aggressors at all times.

Yes, the "friends of Cuba" will reply, but we are against violence. This melody is not new. Many on the reformist-pacifist Left in Europe often complain about the use of violence "in general". We also believe that the use of violence is regrettable. But we also have to take into account that we live in a world where every day the ruling class uses the most brutally violent methods. The war in Iraq speaks for itself. The only way to eradicate violence is to overthrow the system that produces it, i.e. the capitalist system with all the social differentiation and injustices that it generates. We are in favour of this. But as long as the US imperialists use violence to impose their objectives all over the world, small countries have the right to defend themselves as best they can.

The truth is always concrete, Hegel used to say. And we must also be concrete. In this case the most powerful and ferocious capitalist country in the world, the USA, is in conflict with a small island, which has at least succeeded in breaking free of the stranglehold of imperialism and where the means of production have been nationalised. Since the collapse of the USSR Cuba has been struggling desperately to survive, while its enemies have been striving to isolate and throttle it.

In this conflict the international working class cannot remain neutral. We stand with Cuba against US imperialism. We stand with a country that has eliminated illiteracy and where the health care system is by far the most advanced in the whole of Latin America. This was achieved thanks to the planning of the resources and the consequent abolition of the anarchy of the capitalist market. This acts as a beacon for the masses of Latin America and that is what the imperialists cannot tolerate.

Once we have drawn this class line that clearly separates the two camps, we can analyse the situation from the point of view of the working class, both in Cuba and internationally.

The struggle of US imperialism to undermine Cuba is being fought on many fronts. It has been helped by the internal difficulties that followed the cutting off of economic aid from the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Russia, Cuba remained isolated and alone the early 1990s with no support from the countries of the former Stalinist bloc. This led to a very difficult period for Cuba. Between 1989 and 1993 gross domestic product fell by an astonishing 35 percent.

In an attempt to pull itself out of this crisis the Cuban government has introduced some "market economy" reforms since the mid-1990s. As a result of this, now 600 companies in Cuba belong to foreign multinationals. The regime gave foreign companies the freedom to export capital and allowed them also to set up joint ventures in Cuba. The state monopoly of foreign trade was partly abolished and in a limited way individuals were allowed to set up businesses, mainly in the tourist industry. Now tourism represents the main source of income of the island.

In Cuba today there are elements of a dual economic system, with the state-run sector existing side by side with the capitalist element, and with two parallel currencies - the dollar and the Cuban peso. This has deepened the social inequalities and exposed Cuba more and more to the ups and downs of the world economy. Over the last two years there has been a sharp fall in income from tourism. The price of sugar, another main Cuban export, has also fallen. Thus Cuba finds itself once again facing serious economic problems. According to several sources, unemployment now stands at 10 percent of the workforce, while a further 10 percent is classed as underemployed.

These increasing social differences represent a serious threat to the Cuban revolution. A layer of society is enriching itself on the basis of these "market" reforms, and it is among this layer of the "new rich" that imperialism can more easily find a basis of support for its plans for the restoration of capitalism in Cuba.

The difficult economic situation, and the crystallization of a layer of elements who have done well out of the partial introduction of private enterprise, poses big dangers for Cuba. The nascent Cuban bourgeoisie consists of all kinds of speculators and crooks whom long for a return to the "good old days" before 1959, when Cuba was like one big casino and brothel run by US big business and the mafia.US imperialism is trying to base itself on this stratum, which it is financing and encouraging to engage in acts of sabotage and subversion.

The regime has attempted to halt this activity by resorting to harsh methods of repression. We have no sympathy with these counter-revolutionary elements, nor do we support the hypocritical chorus of denunciations from the Right or the "Left".

We must place the recent events in the proper context. There is not a single stable bourgeois regime in the whole of Latin America from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. The recent events show that the US imperialists are preparing to intervene against the revolution, either openly (as in Colombia) or (as in Venezuela) by conspiring with the internal counter-revolutionary forces.

In this situation, the existence of Cuba is a permanent source of irritation for Washington. They wish to remove this irritation as soon as possible. Fidel Castro, in answer to his critics, said: "We are now immersed in a battle against provocations that are trying to move us towards conflict and military aggression by the United States."

He undoubtedly has a point. In the aftermath of the criminal war of aggression against Iraq, the centre of gravity in the Bush administration has shifted sharply to the right. The reactionary imperialist clique around Rumsfeld and Cheney is now in complete control. These elements are looking around to see what country to attack next. Cuba is in the gravest danger. The severity with which the state has reacted is a reflection of this. Cuba has the right to defend itself against imperialism and counter-revolution, and this is not a children's game.

The need for an internationalist policy

Nevertheless, we wish to point out the following. The biggest danger to the Cuban revolution does not come from a handful of gusanos and criminals, but from within the regime itself. As long as Castro is alive, the pro-bourgeois elements will be kept in check. But just as in the USSR a large section of the bureaucracy were prepared to move over to capitalism and loot the state in their own interests, so in Cuba, when Castro leaves the scene, there can be a move in the direction of capitalism headed by elements within the leadership itself. This constitutes the biggest danger to the revolution.

In line with the new aggressive US attitude to the rest of the world, Bush has reiterated the US's hard-line policy towards Cuba. He has made plans to increase US government aid to Cuban "dissidents" and has placed Cuba on the list of so-called "rogue states". The victory of imperialism and "market economy" would signify the complete destruction of all the social conquests of the revolution.

How can this threat be defeated? There is one way, and only one way: by introducing a regime of workers' democracy on the lines of Soviet Russia before the rise of Stalin. Leon Trotsky pointed out long ago that "Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen". We are not talking about a bourgeois formal democracy, but a genuine democracy of the working people organised in soviets and based on Lenin's four conditions:

1) Free and democratic elections with right of recall.
2) No official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker.
3) No standing army or police but the armed people.
4) Gradually, all the tasks of administration should be done by everyone in turn: when everyone is a bureaucrat in turn, nobody is a bureaucrat.

Despite everything, the overwhelming majority of the masses in Cuba still support the revolution. Only the democratic control and administration of the masses can root out the counter-revolution and the bureaucracy that is the soil on which the counter-revolution can grow. Let us not forget that it was the regime of bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption that led the USSR to collapse and capitalist counter-revolution in 1991. Let our slogan be "Back to Lenin!"

Genuine socialism cannot exist without the granting of basic democratic rights, such as freedom of expression. Marxists have never maintained that the one party monolithic system is a pillar of socialism. In Cuba it would be entirely possible to grant the freedom to organise to any group or party that accepted the nationalization of the means of production. All such tendencies should be allowed. This would not weaken but strengthen the revolution.

The counter-revolutionary forces in Cuba can be defeated. But this would demand the real involvement of the workers in the running of the economy and of the state. It would mean the introduction of genuine workers' democracy along the lines of what existed in the Soviet Union in the first few years after the 1917 revolution. It would involve the deepening of the social conquests of the revolution, with the elimination of privileges and bureaucracy.

The conquests of the revolution have not been forgotten by the masses. They only need to look to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean to see what a return to capitalism would mean for ordinary working class Cubans. The prospect of returning to the status of a de facto US economic colony must be a very grim one for most Cubans. It would mean a return to the injustices of the past.

In the last analysis, the only way of successfully combating this counter-revolutionary offensive would be to extend the revolution internationally, beginning first with the rest of Latin America. The historical experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates that it is impossible to build socialism in only one country. Now the situation on the Latin American subcontinent is very favourable, as is shown by the recent revolutionary developments in Venezuela, the victory of Lula in Brazil, the movements in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina.

Unfortunately, instead of basing himself on the revolution in Latin America, Castro has relied on diplomatic agreements and, at best, on some campaigns of international pressure against the embargo. But this is too limited. He is probably afraid of provoking US imperialism. But this policy will have the opposite results to those he intends. As long as the revolution remains locked within the narrow national confines of Cuba, it risks being strangled. That is what US imperialism wants to do. And the defeat of the Cuban revolution would be a blow against the revolution in all Latin America.

This is the only viable method of preserving the Cuban revolution and impelling it forward. It seems that Castro is looking to the Chinese model. He would like to build new kind of "mixed economy". But no system can survive for long in a halfway house situation, between capitalism and a planned economy. One will have to prevail over the other, sooner or later.

A full-blooded capitalist regime in Cuba would have the face of a ruthless dictatorship under the yoke of US imperialism. It must be resisted at all costs.

Barbarism is what imperialism is preparing for Cuba if it gets its hands on the island. What the American and British Armies have created in Iraq in the recent war is an indication of what the future holds in stock for all those countries that fall under their domination. Cuba cannot survive without at least an all-Latin American revolution. There is no alternative: in the long run, either there will be the establishment of a genuine workers' state in Cuba, as a step towards a Socialist Federation of the Americas, or there will be a capitalist counter-revolution with all that this means for the working people of Cuba.

May 13, 2003.

Visit the National Committee to Free the Five website for information about the five Cubans imprisoned in the US.