In 2012, Cuban dissident and pro-democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá was killed in a car accident that surviving passengers in the car say was deliberately run off the road. The Cuban Government claimed it was all one big accident. The significance of this is that Oswaldo Payá had ran a petition called The Varela Project with over 25,000 signatories demanding free expression, free association, the right to start a business, and democratic elections in Cuba, only to be dismissed by Castro’s regime, and many of its advocates imprisoned. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a leader of the petition, was imprisoned without any food for the first 3 days, and left in a pitch black room. These are the people the Western left should have shown complete solidarity toward. This week, they chose to defend the abuser.
There’s an incredible irony in Jeremy Corbyn’s understanding of social justice. Had the Labour Leader been a member of the Cuban Communist Party and as vocally critical of its leadership as he has been the Labour leadership over the decades, he’d either be in prison by now, or worse. As luck would have it, whilst he publicly, openly, and without fear disapproves of former Labour leaderships, he’s out praising the dead dictator of the Communist Party of Cuba as a “champion of social justice” whilst its critics remain either in prison, in hiding, or dead. And so, once again, the Labour Leader openly sides with the abuser. As do many taking to social media to praise Castro, whilst not grabbing the irony that most of Cuba are not permitted to access the same forms of media as the rest of us.
Indeed, to be progressive is to note without fail, that individual Cubans have far more right to elect their leader, to criticise and scrutinise power structures, and to do so without punishment, than Fidel Castro ever had to rule the nation. Without the protected right to criticise the power structure without fear of death for doing so, people are not free, nor that leader to be considered socially just. Corbyn does not understand this basic concept of liberty, and as such, is not a progressive.
Corbyn went on to joyfully explain how Castro had outlasted many US Presidents. As if not allowing a free election on his leadership and silencing critics is admirable, if it has the outward appearance of some sort of defeat for the US. As if in that time amassing a fortune of close to $1bn for the Castro family, whilst the average Cuban takes home $20 a month with no real right to unionise (seriously), is admirable because the US is beaten down.
Following in the footsteps of Corbyn, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaking on Andrew Marr quickly passed over Castro’s crimes with a simple:
“For all his flaws…”
– A hideously flippant refusal to engage with the horror bestowed upon so many for exercising their basic freedoms. I suspect he wouldn’t so flippantly dismisses abuses by far-right dictators. He then went on to explain Cuba’s achievements in education. As if a moral equivalency exists and balances out improving education standards, with strapping people blindfolded to wooded posts and pumping them full of bullets. This is what we’re being asked to consider ‘balanced‘ in a discussion on Castro’s legacy. I can only assume that some – including Corbyn – consider Cubans and especially those dissenting from the 60 year violent establishment to be less deserving of basic human rights, than the rest of us. Because I’m quite certain that if the man across the road from you were to torture and kill members of his family, but also taught them to read, one would not seek a balanced discussion on his legacy.
Contrary to the ease in which McDonnell can pass by Castro’s crimes without much in the way of condemnation, I would have to argue that if you are willing to refer to the violent silencing of criticism of an establishment lasting over half a century as ‘a flaw‘ you – like your leader – are not a progressive either.
Corbyn and McDonnell were not the only ones on the Labour Front Bench to praise and excuse Castro, though some do it with a subtle hint of cowardice. Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon – a Chavez fan too – hides his praise for Castro behind pictures of the late dictator embracing Mandela. As if that absolves Castro of his crimes. More unnerving, is that the British Shadow Justice Secretary – that’s ‘Justice‘ – praises and excuses a man whom Human Rights Watch say:
“For almost five decades, Cuba has restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.
Cuba’s legal and institutional structures have been at the root of its rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The courts are not independent; they undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.”
– The victims of Castro, the ones whose lives are permitted far less freedom than me or you by abusers, are the most important part of his legacy. Rigoberto Hernandez was just 17 years old and had mental health issues when Fidel’s Castro’s guards tied him to a stake and riddled his young body with bullet after bullet. His crime was to be accused of being a CIA agent. Rigoberto wasn’t the only young victim of Castro’s regime over the years. Of the thousands murdered, under 18s were common. Carlos Machado was hammered with bullets from Castro’s guns in the 1960s for refusing to give up his family farm… he was 15.
But that’s not all. For a ‘socialist’ regime, Cuba isn’t too keen on collective bargaining. Human Rights Watch says:
“Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.”
– So, this week the leader of the British opposition Party has referred to the murderer of many including children, and the striking violation of the right to free association and collective bargaining as a ‘champion of social justice‘, with his Shadow Chancellor glossing over the human rights abuses that should be opposed without condition by progressives, as “for all his flaws…” and not to leave out the Green Party… a few local Greens have decided that the Labour Party is worth putting its weight behind in an up-coming by-election because:
“We hope that voters in Richmond Park will remember the Lib Dems’ regressive role with the Tories in government: putting austerity into practice; enacting the bedroom tax; and raising university tuition fees after they promised to scrap them.
And we hope it won’t be forgotten that the Lib Dems are ultimately responsible for the decision to expand Heathrow airport, having launched the Airports Commission in 2012 along with their coalition partners in government.
Unfortunately, we have no progressive alliance and no Green party candidate in Richmond Park. Therefore, although not our first choice, we will be supporting Christian Wolmar, the Labour candidate, as the best option available. We encourage other local Green supporters to do the same.”
– That’s right. They can’t support the Lib Dems because they were ‘regressive’ in government, and so instead will be supporting a candidate from a Party whose leader, Shadow Chancellor, and Shadow Justice Secretary are all over the media rampantly praising and excusing a tyrant responsible for torturing and murdering critics, including children, denying petitions for basic rights, and attacking unions. Exceptionally flexible values from The Greens. And… here’s the theme… also not progressive.
But it highlights a point I’ve long been trying to make. This section of the left occupied by Corbyn, McDonnell, Diane “Mao did more good than harm” Abbott, Richard Burgon, Ken Livingstone, and seen as favourable by some of The Greens, do not consider fundamental human rights to be universal nor worth defending if it conflicts with their opposition to what they see as US/UK/Israeli ‘imperialism‘, or conflicts with criticism of a left wing dictator.
The Labour Party invited the Cuban Ambassador to speak at their conference this year, and the Cuban Solidarity stall at conference gained 50 new members. This isn’t in solidarity with Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger who was arrested for covering marches and demostrations, taken 30 miles outside of Havana, pulled out of the police car, made to kneel, and had a gun put on his neck and told “you’re on notice”. This isn’t with the previously mentioned heroes of the Varela Project fighting for freedom. No, this is ‘solidarity’ with the gunmen & the regime. It is clear to me that a real progressive Labour Party would instead have invited Cuban dissenters and those critics fearing for their lives to speak at conference, or those fighting daily and at the risk of punishment for basic freedoms in Cuba, because those are the voices of the oppressed.
They instead find excuses for the molesting of those rights, and creative ways in which defending the abusers is acceptable to them. They seek to downplay the seriousness of human rights abuses, by attempting to demand a balance with improved healthcare standards. The rights they claim for themselves, they do not defend for others universally. Social liberalism is not as important to this section of the left, as economic socialism-by-any-means-necessary, and that should concern us all.
With Castro’s death, the left continues its spiral into irrelevance.