Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – Listening to President Raul Castro read a long report for over two hours at the opening of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) made me cringe with embarrassment, as they say.
Of course, any feelings evoked by this leader will always be somewhat “foreign” to me, in the sense that I didn’t vote for his government (not for any of its structures, at any level) and I, like the immense majority of the people, am not a member of the PCC. I am referring to something else.
To have to hear a person who occupies such a high position in Cuba’s politico-military hierarchy express himself the way he did, demonstrating a serious lack of knowledge and scant diplomatic skills, to have to hear things that would make even the most simple-minded Cuban student laugh at this stage in the game, is, at best, maddening.
I wonder how those present at the Havana Convention Center felt on seeing that the great leader (I don’t know whether the title suits him) knows absolutely nothing about human rights. Playing the fool at the recent press conference with Obama was apparently not enough. His advisors did not prepare him and he again stuck his foot in it.
Raul Castro claims that Cuba respects all 44 human rights. Someone in the auditorium corrected him and explained to him there aren’t 44 human rights, but 44 international instruments (including conventions, pacts and protocols) that Cuba has signed. So the great leader says that Cuba fulfills 44 international instruments, while the United States only 18! It’s almost as though he were referring to a baseball game.
Is this man aware that signing and fulfilling an instrument are different things? Does Raul Castro actually know what instruments his country has signed? Does he know how many it has ratified? Does he know that the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which Cuba signed but did not ratify) envisages the right to strike and freedom for trade unions? Does he know what any of that means?
I don’t want to portray myself as a great champion of human rights, but, if the guy’s going to talk about the subject, one would expect someone would have at least told him what it was more or less about, so he wouldn’t end up looking so bad.
Well, someone did advise him, actually. Before he made a fool of himself again, they passed him a note that read: “we’re live.” But Raul Castro took no notice of this and jumped head first into the precipice, to be met with the shameful applause of all the delegates.
Though it is true that finding a president who knows a lot about human rights is difficult, at least other presidents make sure they have advisors who help them lie efficiently in front of the cameras. Cuba’s president, however, is an embarrassment. And Raul Castro charges again to speak about health and education and refer to an immense list of human rights guaranteed in Cuba (it is always a list they allude to and we always end up wanting to know what “other” rights they are talking about).
The most he could do was include a new right someone told him about: wage equality for men and women with equal positions. That said, I am not sure a secretary at a school earns the same as a secretary at a joint venture in the tourism sector.
They are both Cuban workers, but, quite probably, the school secretary works more and earns less.
To have told Raul Castro of first, second and third generation human rights would have been too much for the gentleman and, this time around, he didn’t have headsets he could put on and take off, to make people believe he couldn’t hear too well.
I am also embarrassed by the fact those who work at the Foreign Ministry, those who pour over documents in air-conditioned offices to find the right rhetorical twist to this whole business, can say, for instance, that Cuba and the United States “do not have the same conceptions about human rights.”
This is not entirely exact, either, as Cuba and the United States share, among other things, in the decision not to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at the abolition of the death penalty, to mention one example. I must excuse myself and say that this is but a brief, marginal comment, not an exhaustive analysis of the PCC congress report. As for interesting aspects of Raul Castro’s address, there are only a few that are worth mentioning:
– Before the Congress they spoke at length about the “conceptualization of the model,” and, as it turns out, it won’t be presented at the Congress. It will be approved directly by the PCC Central Committee after they’ve debated it. The centralized and anti-democratic mechanisms are still firmly in place.
– Cuba will continue to be ruled by one, legally-acknowledged party.
– The new constitution will continue to conceive of the PCC as the country’s highest authority and to maintain the irrevocable nature of Cuban socialism.
– The two, five-year term restriction will be applied, not only to the president, but to all other important government offices, and some limitations with respect to age will be applied. Ten years of doing things poorly seems like a lot, but a whole lot better than 50.
These decisions, to be sure, are not to be made by the Congress. They have already been made by the high leadership, by that dark fringe of real power in Cuba, shared by a handful of people at the top.
So, I lower my head in shame, also, before international left-wing solidarity brigades that, in their own countries, struggle against rising food prices, an increase in retirement age, the criminalization of protests and for human rights. In a few days’ time, we’ll see them crowd at Havana’s Revolution Square where, as in a circus, they will see Cuban workers parade with glee to celebrate another May Day, “more united than ever.”