Skip to comments.Caribbean leaders ignore Cuba's abuses
Posted on 06/20/2003 2:26:32 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
KINGSTON -- There was plenty of hypocrisy at the recent UNESCO-sponsored press-freedom conference here. Jamaica's left-leaning prime minister, P.J. Patterson, delivered the keynote address at the event, which highlighted ways to curb threats against journalists. In the past, however, Patterson and fellow Caribbean leaders have turned a blind eye to Cuba's human-rights abuses and violation of press freedoms.
Cuba's abuses have become a black eye for the region -- but not for leaders of the English-speaking Caribbean community, known as CARICOM. They countenance Cuba's behavior as they promote the region's development. Consider recent examples:
Last month, Patterson told an international gathering of 150 media professionals that a free press is ''one of the fundamental institutional pillars on which a sustainable society and civilization rest.'' Over the past two months, however, he and other Caribbean leaders have failed to condemn Cuba's kangaroo trials that provoked international outrage last April.
Thirty journalists were sentenced up to 28 years in prison for doing what, in Jamaica, might land them a job on a radio talk show or one of Jamaica's newspapers. In Cuba, their activities are called treasonous.
Altogether, 75 pro-democracy advocates were jailed. But Patterson, CARICOM's chairman, failed to join others at the press-freedoms conference in condemning Cuba's abuses. Some called attention to Raúl Rivero, a 57-year-old poet, who was one of Cuba's best-known independent journalists. He now sits in a Cuban jail.
Organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists rank Cuba as the world's second-most oppressive nation for journalists after war-torn Iraq. But just weeks before the latest crackdown, Patterson hobnobbed with Cuban strongman Fidel Castro at a summit of nonaligned nations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
And days after three ferry hijackers faced a firing squad on April 11, the youth wing of Patterson's People's National Party welcomed a top Cuban leader to the island, with the blessing of the party's leadership. The hijackers were arrested after an aborted escape to Miami. Youth-wing officers considered the leader a good example for Jamaican youth.
Nearly one month after Cuba sentenced the activists, CARICOM finally announced that the crackdown left it ''concerned'' and ''deeply disturbed.'' Yet it offered no condemnation and politely requested ''clemency'' for the prisoners. CARICOM's leaders revealed their true colors a few weeks later: They invited Castro as a special guest to an upcoming summit in Jamaica of Caribbean leaders.
Some delegates attending the press-freedoms conference speculated that Caribbean leaders have failed to condemn Cuba for two reasons. They're grateful for regional social projects that Cuba sponsors and deeply resent the 41-year-old U.S. economic embargo against the communist island.
One blunt-speaking moderator, Leslie Pierre, told me that he opposes the U.S. embargo. But as the editor and publisher of The Grenadian Voice, Pierre has called on Caribbean leaders to condemn Cuba's abuses -- to no avail.
In Pierre's view, Caribbean leaders who fail to condemn evil in their own neighborhood become ''collaborators, in effect,'' with Castro.
''When Castro can do a thing like that and not have anybody come down on him, he can be encouraged to even greater excesses,'' Pierre said. ``We must tell our friends when they are good and we must tell them when they are wrong.''
''Sometimes, there's a respect for Cuba in this part of the world because it stands up against the United States,'' Joel Simon, the acting director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me. ``But that's no excuse.''
Days before the UNESCO-sponsored conference, members of the United Nations voted Cuba back onto its human-rights committee, giving a perverse legitimacy to the region's hypocrisy on Cuba. The failure to condemn Castro ultimately reflects an unhealthy characteristic in many developing countries: political leaders and well-connected ''elites'' who define themselves not by what they support -- but by what they oppose.
In Jamaica, many university-educated elites promote a 1970s leftist worldview and pontificate endlessly about the evils supposedly perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy. Yet they often seem loath to discuss the grim day-to-day realities of ordinary Jamaicans: an unacceptably high level of extra-judicial police killings, rampant crime and a lack of decent jobs and public services.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, President Bush took the moral high road, declaring that the world's leaders must decide whether they are with the terrorists or against them, and not equivocate on the issue.
Caribbean leaders and intellectuals would do well to consider that advice -- for the sake of Raúl Rivero and other pro-democracy activists and journalists rotting in Cuba's jails.
David Paulin, is a former senior writer at CNN Interactive. He lives in Jamaica.