Defenders of Some Human Rights

Armando Chaguaceda

In Old Havana. Photo: Caridad
In Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — He is a Cuban lawyer and an indigenous peoples’ rights defender who works for a well-known Mexican human rights NGO. She is a Salvadoran activist devoted to defend her countrypeople under threat. Both have a clear history of commitment with just social causes and have paid a high personal price for it. He lives far away from his native country; she is in constant danger of being eliminated by the powerful of her country.

Both, however, share a deplorable quality: the inability to recognize any legitimacy in the demands put forward by those who do not share their vision of the world. And they are together in their lack of support of any denunciation coming from actors that they consider to be “from the right”. They understand human rights from a restrictive perspective, marked by the binary friend/enemy logic. Which leaves little space to the victims’ condition, which is key to the evaluation of the situation of these issues in any part of the world.

In trying to keep our old friendship alive, I have had more than one discussion with him. I have known her as a result of the criticisms that she voiced with an editor working for an international NGO who had interviewed us both to receive our views regarding the human rights situation in our respective countries.

Both he, a participant in new social movements and struggles, and she, a former guerrilla member, do not recognize that Cuba lacks the conditions allowing for the existence of NGOs such as those that give them shelter and aid. They claim that on the island “nobody gets killed”, when civil assassination and, on occasion, physical death – either in prison or as a result repression and illegal actions – are the debts of an unrestrained, unaccountable state. They talk about the regime’s social conquests when their deplorable state and the impossibility to supervise and defend them are readily apparent, precisely as a result of the authoritarian order that prevails on the island.

Repudiating ARENA’s genocidal leaders in El Salvador or the PRI’s corruption in Mexico does not equal turning a blind eye to the Castro regime.  Rejecting neoliberal policies does not entail turning our backs to the human rights violations committed by the so-called (inaccurately) progressive governments. The way democracy is defended is by fleeing false equivalences and mechanical solidarity. Freedoms are under threat wherever a single victim has her rights infringed upon.

Human rights (all of them) are the language and the subject matter of the new century’s progressive struggles. Only from there -and not from behind the bars of complicity and dogmas- is it worth defending our own ideologies.

He and she will keep promoting their agendas, and I will keep showing solidarity with them. Unfortunately, all that Cuban Human Rights defenders will receive from them will be incoherent diatribes and complicit silence.

Published originally in Spanish in La Razon.

32 thoughts on “Defenders of Some Human Rights

  • Just to keep you up-to-date bjmack, currently there is a serious shortage of both fruit and vegetables in Cuba. Yet, there are those millions of acres reverting to bush and heavy rainfall which is just allowed to flow away.

  • The difficulty in seeking solutions bjmack is that the regime and the beliefs that it espouses are firmly entrenched. Those beliefs are contrary to the acceptance or encouragement of individual freedom of thought and action.
    Cuba and its people are under the power and control of political dinosaurs who genuinely believe that they have the right to exert their power and control over every aspect of the lives of the “mass” and are blind to their own obvious failures.
    The obvious solution is the extinction of the dinosaurs, that is easy to say, but how can it be implemented?
    We who discuss or chat about the evident lack of human rights and opportunity for Cubans who are caught in the dilemma of trying to survive and to daily “resolver” being unable to use their intellect and abilities to even partial effect, can recognise the multitude of faults of the communist system. But persuading the regime to change is impossible. The degree of self-delusion was ably demonstrated in the letter supposedly written by Fidel Castro on 28th March 2016 which repudiated the endeavours of Barack Obama. The final sentence read:
    “We are capable of producing the food and material wealth that we need with the work and intelligence of our people.”
    That is self evidently delusional. Cuba has now to import 80% of its food. The regime as part of its promoted beliefs is opposed to the concept of “material wealth”. As illustrated in article after article in the Havana Times, the regime denies its people opportunity to utilize their intelligence and only permits work that is to its own benefit.

  • Cuban’s from both side of the straits Carlyle are wonderful, brilliant and enlightened people. Our family now has a family, half of which, came from Cuba. Dad came as a child so it’s difficult for him to return but it will take time and God willing he will. I pray that the change that is needed to morph Cuba into the greatest of countries will happen in my lifetime and that includes all, not just some of its citizens. Criticism is easy but the hardest part of change is to present solutions. Circles, in my opinion, who started Havana Times has done a great service bringing together so many diverse opinions.

  • Yes bjmack the discussion is a real eye-opener. But, that is why free speech is opposed by the Castro regime. Open expression of views leads to differences of opinions as illustrated here, but in Cuba only those opinions which agree with and support the imposition of communism are acceptable – with jail as an alternative. You will have noted that there is general agreement that serious crime levels in Cuba are very low, and yet Cuba has the fourth highest level of incarceration in the world – consequent to criticism of the regime being criminal.
    We who are free to openly express our views are privileged!

  • Excellent discussion, always feel enlightened reading various opinions especially from those who live in Cuba. It is a tad disappointing this cannot transpire in Cuba without looking both ways. Thanks Armando for generating an excellent debate.

  • “… And again, as I said, I’m sure there is much more to the story… there always is…”

    Nope. there’s nothing else to the story. And it has nothing nothing to do with yumas.

    Two Cuban punk musicians, in jail, right now, because they might think about committing some undefined crime sometime in the future.

    Wake up.

  • Sorry Terry but we just have one small pooch, but given the opportunity she laps up Bucanero. Way back in history my then small boy showed our English Bull Terrier – with success, as you will know, they have a head like a coffin but she was quite smart. Your esposa must find the conditions for most dogs in Cuba distressing , I know that it is for me. I’ve actually written about twenty sketches about them, one for example entitled “Dogs on the roof” – but not published. No veterinarians in the family, but the local vet is a good friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century music from Nat King Cole, through Sinatra, the Beetles et al, but also opera – he also has a good voice – lovely to listen too under the night sky (especially with a glass in hand).
    No I am not a Cristal type – regarding the viewpoint of mujeres, my esposa describes it as “pee pee”. I have to say that I put Heineken into the same category – even at CUC 1.65.
    Now that we have agreed about cerveza qualities, I guess we can get back to disagreeing?

  • Eden, When you’re finished with your juvenile over-the-top hysterics, maybe then you can also be a bit more respectful and intelligent. The only one who seems desperate here is you.

  • Thanks for that, Carlyle. I’d also be happy to share a few cervezas with you too at anytime. Glad to know you’re not a Cristal man… eso es solo para las mujeres y maricones. 😉

    I have 2 large dogs in Cuba. We breed Boxers. We also raise pigs in our coral for sale. My esposa is a veterinarian by trade so our animals are all very well cared for.

  • Hi Terry, let me just briefly explain the basis for my views. Like you, I live much indeed most of my time at home in Cuba. I too think of myself as a realist and try to reflect the realities I witness. But for me, the difference between oppressive communist dictatorship and freedom of thought and expression with freedom of media, of human rights and the dignity of people being allowed to teach what they choose to their children and to elect government of their choice is too great to find any minor supposedly beneficial actions by that dictatorship as remedial for the repression that it applies.
    I understand that you have developed the ability to give credit where you consider credit is due to the Castro family regime, but the balance I have described and the effects upon the people of Cuba are I find too disgraceful for acceptance.
    There is much similarity between us in terms of family including numbers, of being accepted as part of our communities and of our experiences. Our President of the CDR and I converse daily when I return from taking our dog for its long walk – yes, even our dogs are friends – but both are fortunate in their circumstances compared with most dogs in Cuba. But that friendliness does not blind me to the declared purpose of the CDR or the rotten regime it serves.
    I would still happily drink a Bucanero or two with you.

  • Terry I too live in Camaguey part time. And your comments about the embargo are crap. How many friends do you have in jailed under the dangerousness law?

  • You’re one of the saddest cases I’ve ever seen on this forum, Terry.

    Even with all your Cuban experience you’re still completely blind to the human rights issues there and you are a 100% apologist, desperately trying to blame the US government for everything.

    How you manage to spend all that time in Cuba and still say/believe all these ridiculous things is mind bogging. You truly are a puppet.

    I pity you.

  • And again, as I said, I’m sure there is much more to the story… there always is. It would be interesting to know the details of what happened. Incarcerating yumas in Cuba for ‘no reason’ is not only bad for business, it just doesn’t make sense, and as Judge Judy always says… if it doesn’t make sense, then it isn’t true. They were definitely doing something they shouldn’t be doing to warrant their arrest. Respecting the laws of another country is a serious matter, regardless of whether one agrees with their laws or not.

  • Wipe it off your face, huh? I can see that. Every time someone, like Eden’s friend, is arrested for the crime of “dangerousness” (which you so cavalierly dismissed by saying “I’m sure their is much more to the story”) you, and every other Cuban on the island, must indeed wipe off their face, because the Cuban government is just crapping on you.

  • Ahhhh, then of course, in that context you are correct.

  • Another brainiac who thinks he can speak for me. You know nothing of what I know. However I can tell you that I don’t just look the problem in the face, I wipe it off my face every time I live there.

  • Okay, now get this straight! I’m not an apologist for the Cuban government… did you actually read what I wrote to you before you responded? I told you that I’m a REALIST! That means that I understand the Cuban government… but it certainly doesn’t mean that I agree with or condone everything they do. By the same token, I don’t agree with or condone everything the US government does to undermine the current Cuban government either.

    Eden, I thought I could have a respectful and intelligent conversation with you, but your crazed speculations about me have only outed you as being a bit of a nut.

    As Carlyle has eluded, I know plenty about Cuba…but apparently he too doesn’t quite understand the difference between being a realist and being an apologist for the Cuban government. However it’s you, Eden, who seems to know nothing about me. I’ve traveled to Cuba some 50+ times. I now live part-time within the city of Camagüey with my Cuban wife and stepdaughter. I have a circle of close Cuban friends and family totaling more than 70 individuals. One of my best amigas (and dance partners) is the President of the CDR in our barrio. I support a small business there too. I also speak semi-fluent Cuban Spanish where many of my family members speak no English at all. I live like a local when I’m there, and to the locals, I’m one of them… soy cubano. I certainly know more about Cuba than you could ever possibly imagine… because I live it.

    Okay enough. Eden, you really need to get your head out of your ass, because apparently you think you have me all figured out. You don’t know squat.

  • By that definition, yes. But I applaud Cuban society as being more civil than many others. So in that context, my statement is not false. You were simply mistaken as to my meaning.

  • If Mr Downey can not blame the US, or other third party, for Cubas ills, he will be forced to look the problem in the face, which of course he can not do.

  • “Civil society”‘ by definition, is something that is not allowed in Cuba. They are Non-Govermental organizations of citizens that are able to expresse their collective will for the benefit of society, or something like that. Cuba allows no independent organizations outside of the communist party, period. So your statement is patently false.

  • I find it truly disheartening that Mr. Downey has actually been to Cuba. That saddens me. It fact, it kinda leaves me speechless. Blaming the US for every little thing is inconceivable to me. Wow.

    And unlike you I see nothing as black or white. Yes, the Cuban government is an infuriating mess but it has also pulled off some fairly remarkable positives too. I’ve spent too much time in true hellholes around this world not to understand that nothing is ever absolute. That’s another discussion though.

  • Eden, I am not defending the apologist comments made by Terry Downey. But you should know that he has spent a lot of time in Cuba and in particular in Camaguey. The difficulty for those who have swallowed the Castro pill, is that they do try to excuse the obvious faults of the Castro regime by blaming them all upon the US. Hence your observation about apologists.
    My personal view is that there is no halfway house between a totalitarian dictatorship and freedom of the individual, the two are incompatible. I am not expressing any particular “party” line. but the difference between the democratic political parties, be they democratic socialist, liberal or conservative as compared with dictatorship whether it be of the left or the right – both are evil.

  • You’re an apologist for actions against human beings that should NEVER be tolerated. Under any circumstances. Period.

    Let me take a wild guess… You’ve never been to Cuba. And if you have it was on some dog-and-pony tour with other academics, never once being allowed to diverge from the carefully orchestrated tour.

    If you ever want to understand the real Cuba come visit the island without the government approved hand-holding and give me a call. You’ll learn more in an afternoon than you possibly imagine.

    Now, with all due respect, back to your ivory tower and stop trying to preach about human rights and placing blame in a situation about which you know absolutely zero.

  • Eden, I’m not an ‘apologist’ regarding the current Cuban government… I’m a realist. I’m sorry about your 2 friends…I’m sure there is much more to the story…not that I’m ‘apologizing’ for anyone’s actions.

    As far as the many US policies still in play intent on undermining the revolution… we will never know what positives will transpire for the Cuban people until the US government ceases all of their various hostilities with the Cuban government. That’s just common sense.

  • You’re simply being an apologist for Cuba’s sometimes horrible behaviour towards its own citizens. None of the human rights violations I’m referring to have anything whatsoever to do with US policies and to try and argue otherwise is wearing blinders.

    Please explain why 2 members of a band I’m involved with are in prison right now for committing the crime of…. no crime at all. That’s right, no crime was committed, period. No plans to commit a crime happened either.

    They’re in jail under the Cuban statute that these two citizens might THINK about committing a crime sometime in the future.

    If your pretzel logic can somehow twist that into being the fault of the US then you truly need to revisit your moral principles.

  • Yes, I understand… but there’s something called “cause and effect” at play, and whether you see it or not, it does have very much to do with the continuing US relationship with Cuba. I’ll always propose that when the US finally ends all of there insane interventionist policies intent on undermining the triumph of the Cuban revolution, that’s when the Cuban government will be able to relax many of their restrictive “home-grown” policies that were established to insure that the revolution is not compromised.

  • An interesting intelligent article which will stimulate some discussion. Possibly the key sentence is:
    “Repudiating ARENA’s genocidal leaders in El Salvador or the PRI’s corruption in Mexico does not equal turning a blind eye to the Castro regime.”
    That demonstrates recognition of the evils which are practiced elsewhere as well as in Cuba.

  • The human rights I’m referring to have nothing whatsoever to do with the US.

    The human rights abuses I’m commenting on are 100% home-grown Cuban.

  • And there’s where we differ… not in the basic need for enhanced human rights, but in the… “got to have it immediately” mind-set. Realistically speaking, “immediately” just isn’t going to happen as long as the US continues with their many programs of subversion and intervention intent on regime change. We all know how well that’s worked out… and yet much of it still continues, and to the detriment of only the Cuban people… not to their government.

  • Comparing Cuba’s “civil society” to some of the true hellholes in Latin America isn’t much of an endorsement, but I see your point. Day-to-day life for a poor person in Cuba is indeed much better than most of their Latin counterparts. The gang/drug/crime scene alone tips the scales well in Cuba’s favour..

    As for the human rights, that doesn’t need to “evolve over time,” that disgusting state of affairs needs to radically change immediately.

  • Agreed, Eden. It could be argued that Cuba has a more “civil society” than any other Latin American country within the western hemisphere… and indeed, in many respects, more civil than that of the USA too. However I also agree that Cuba has issues concerning human rights that need to evolve over time.

  • Sorry Armando, but you’re out in left field. Trying to compare the horrendous acts that are happening in Mexico and El Salvador to present day Cuba is ludicrous.

    Yes, Cuba has big issues but pretending that they’re somehow comparable to what has been happening for ages in Mexico and Central America shows a complete lack of context.

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