Alfredo Fernández

The Ladies in White during one of their Havana marches.  Photo:
The Ladies in White during one of their Havana marches. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — A well-known episode in contemporary history is the fact that, when the government of South Africa established the apartheid regime, former South African president Nelson Mandela, then a civil rights activist, personally asked the United States to impose an economic blockade on the country in order to hasten the collapse of a government where 12.2 % of the population – the whites, or Boers, as they were also known – trampled on the most elementary rights of all other citizens with impunity.

Some days ago, we saw a heated debate about the petition that a number of renowned Cuban dissidents have made to the US government, calling for hardline measures that would bring about the economic collapse of the country and thus definitively remove the Castro brothers from power.

What supporters of the Castro government see as a blockade, detractors see as a mere embargo, for the Cuban government is able to trade with all other countries around the world and even import over a hundred products from the United States itself (provided it pay cash).

The tired debate over the lifting or preservation of the economic blockade imposed on Cuba has traditionally been the most sensitive topic handled by Cuban dissidents, where two emblematic figures – Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and blogger Yoani Sanchez – maintain diametrically opposed positions on the matter.

Soler believes the lifting the blockade would mean conceding defeat and granting an unmerited political victory to the Castro government, which would, in no way, put an end to the abuses perpetrated against the opposition.

Sanchez, on the other hand, sees the suppression of the blockade as an opportunity to deprive the Cuban government of the arguments it has long used to justify the inefficiency and dysfunctionality inherent to the system.

The repercussions that Berta Soler’s petition to the US government had in different on-line media dealing with Cuba-related issues are what have prompted me to write this post.

Soler, who asked for a “firm hand against the Castros”, met with a wide spectrum of criticisms and praise, though accusations of being an annexationist who has no political vision, is disloyal to her people and acts as a CIA agent, were the most common.

The most notable argument used against Soler is that “the Cuban people, in general, are opposed to the blockade.”

Though this point is not be taken lightly, we could say, in Soler’s defense, that the Cuban people did not think twice before supporting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, that it was responsible for vigilante-style violence in the 80s, that it accepted the establishment of the double-currency system (Cuba’s economic apartheid), without protesting, in 1993, and that, along with members of the Cuban Writers and Artists Federation (UNEAC), it stood silent while 3 young men who attempted to hijack a ferry were executed following summary trials and 75 government opponents were jailed for their activities.

If the above does not completely deprive the Cuban people of any moral authority to opine about these matters, it does, at least, invite us to exercise prudence when lending it an ear, particularly when we recall that lucidity has not been one of the more outstanding qualities the masses have shown in the course of history.

A bird’s eye view of recent history would reveal the many opportunities the Cuban government lost to help alleviate many of the hardships endured by its population today.

Today, with or without the blockade, Cubans residing abroad could be allowed to invest in the country, a measure that would help the country’s domestic economy, employing thousands of workers in enterprises that, no doubt, would also offer better salaries than those paid by the government.

Cubans residing abroad who have publicly expressed their differences with the status quo and have been banned from the island could be allowed to return to their country of origin.

All political prisoners could be released, as they do not constitute a risk to Cuba’s national security.

Successful farmers could be given ownership over new lands and expand land leases, which thus far have not reduced food shortages in the slightest. The population could also be given free and unrestricted access to the Internet.

There is a long list of such measures that the tired US blockade does not in any way impede implementing, save, perhaps, for the Castro government’s fear of losing its power. In a post-blockade Cuba, with the doors of the world’s most powerful nation flung wide open, such measures will, in my view, prove next to impossible to hold back.

The petition to impose a blockade on South Africa’s government was seen by Mandela’s compatriots (save the Boers, of course), as the consummation of his political vision.

Today, Berta Soler, asking exactly the same for a government which, in practice, imposes a very similar destiny on those who do not belong to its political “race” (the monolithic Cuban Communist Party), has to face accusations from all sides which put the legitimacy of her struggle in question, from people who, apparently, have forgotten the difficult roads the Ladies in White have traversed since 2003.

After seeing these two human rights activists make these requests with the intention of improving their country’s lot, and incurring such different reactions, I cannot help but ask myself whether we should also reprimand Mandela for demanding such measures for his own people.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

28 thoughts on “Should We Criticize Mandela?

  • For 20 years in a row, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn these cruel and inhumane US sanctions against every man, woman and child on the island. Not even the US regime’s closest allies can support them on this matter! Amnesty International has also repeatedly condemned these sanctions on humanitarian grounds and called for their immediate and unconditional lifting of them.

    This is completely the opposite of the case with anti-apartheid sanctions in the 1980’s, which US conservatives like Ronald Reagan as well as Margret Thatcher actually opposed. This may have something to do with the fact that Nelson Mandela and Fidel have always been the strongest of allies. At a banquet in South Africa in Fidel’s honour in 1998, Mandela said:

    “If today all South Africans enjoy the rights of democracy; if they are able at last to address the grinding poverty of a system that denied them even the most basic amenities of life, it is also because of Cuba’s selfless support for the struggle to free all of South Africa’s people and the countries of our region from the inhumane and destructive system of apartheid. For that, we thank the Cuban people from the bottom of our heart….

    “As the beneficiary of international solidarity that helped make it a member of the community of free nations, democratic South Africa is proud to be amongst the majority of nations who affirm the right of the Cuban people to determine their own destiny, and that sanctions which seek to punish them for having decided to do so are anathema to the international order to which we aspire.”

  • Moses, how can you talk about the Cuban people while continuing with your ignorance about the embargo? The illegal, unilateral blockade has had but one policy aim — and that is to make things so bad economically for the Cuban people so as to force them to overthrow their own government. anyone who says it is aimed at the Cuban government is completely ignorant about the reality of Cuba-American relations. there is tremendous amount of government statements admitting the embargo is in place to starve the cuban people, to deny them material goods, including food and medicine. all because the majority still support their government and rejected 60 years of US hegemony, which the Americans still haven’t forgiven. the excuses the pro-embargo supporters use that it is aimed at the government is demonstrably false when you look at the history, which you apparently know little about. The excuses have been many — and every time the cuban government has met those conditions (not due to american demands) the embargo has remained, and increased. That mercenary hypocrite Torricelli proclaimed he wanted ‘to wreck havoc on the island’ when his bill designed to make things worse for the cuban people was passed. to say the cuban government doesn’t want to do business with the US is also a ridiculous statement, and a lie, the government wants to, under their terms as any other country would. but the US simply wants to keep punishing the cuban people until they are able to re-establish a social/economic system aligned to US interests. THe dictatorship is in the US, where the government forbids private capitalist companies that want to do two way business with Cuba, but can’t because of the American government dictatorial decision. there are food and agricultural products being bought from the US by the Cuban side, but no US company can do it without the approval of the US government. And no Cuban goods can come into the US. Of course things would be better for the cuban people if the embargo was lifted, well duh, so if you care one iota about the cuban people you should be working towards the ending of the embargo. and your previous comment about medicines, of course the tourists and leadership do have access to more in many cases, an unfortunate reality — but is that your standard to condemn the system? if it is, then you better be consistent condemning the US — or are you unaware that all members of congress have full, free socialized medicare where the average American deals with the for-profit medical system that is a shame on the supposed best nation on earth. and while you’re at it, go visit the william soler childrens hospital. im sure you know where it is, and ask the doctors what they think about the embargo, and why this children’s hospital was declared a ‘denied’ hospital by the US government and the number of children that have died due to the inability to purchase equipment and medicines. one last thing, the above article was a joke — anyone who tries to conflate the south african santions with the embargo just reveals his bias. mandela when he was released from prison thanked Fidel first for cuba’s effort to end apartheid. and he has consistently condemned the unilateral embargo against cuba. so really, you seem to come across as some sort of expert on the cuban people — your posts simply demonstrate the exact opposite. hopefully you can respond with a little more intelligence and insight. so much more to enlighten you, but that’s enough for now. (and try to respond intelligently without calling anyone who knows more than you, a ‘castro apologist’. im far from that, but one who does know the lies and propaganda that has been levied against Cuba.

  • ‘for the sake of engaging debate’…LOL; anybody told you that you speak as if you are the ‘daddy’ of comments; we are all only expressing opinions. No I’m not Cuban, but i have been to Cuba, (I do hope you don’t now say I can’t have an opinion on Cuba because I’m not Cuban–that would just be silly). Look i’m not saying Cuba doesn’t need major eco/pol reforms; however the transformation of Cuba into primarily a US business friendly neighbor does not necessarily mean at all that it would necessarily see an improvement in the general conditions of Cubans. It absolutely, totally depends on the type of government that takes over. The most important thing is that a future government is Cuban friendly, not US business friendly; it can, to a certain degree, be both but the 2 do not necessarily go togethor. Case in point in the region; Haiti. Has a very US business friendly government but for the people this brings no particular benefits, and when they did elect Aristide (who was not particularly Anti-American) the USA conspired to get rid of him. I could give countless similar examples. Again i stress i’m not saying major changes aren’t needed; but turning Cuba into a 51st state does not necessarily mean good things for Cubans.

  • As you wish, Fidel did not honor the petition, teaching the dissident community a lasting lesson about the trustworthiness of the Cuban electoral process. BTW, the author of that petition, Osvalo Paya, despite his international fame and recognition, continued to be harassed and threatened until his suspicious and untimely ‘accident’. ‘Technically’ defeating the project through circumvention did not solve Fidel’s problems, only delayed Cuba’s inevitable march toward capitalism. By doing so, instead of addressing the problem head on, it may have bought the Castros 20 more years or so but assured that the legacy he had hoped to establish will be further tainted by his electoral magic tricks.

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