As part of the Quebec Social Forum about fifty people gathered at Cégep (junior college) du Vieux Montréal to attend the conference in French “Obama, the Blockade against Cuba and Democratic Reform,” by Arnold August on behalf of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba. August is a journalist and author of “Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections” and is currently working on a forthcoming book to be published in the fall of 2010 and entitled “Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century “.
In April, as the Obama Administration was announcing some changes in Washington’s policy towards Cuba, he put forward preconditions to the lifting of the financial, economical and commercial blockade that the US government has applied against Cuba for 50 years. In doing so, Obama spread disinformation about Cuba, this requiring urgent rectification. August reminded the audience about Obama’s statement: “The Cubans are not free…It is important to send a signal that the issue of political prisoners, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and democracy [are] important ….” Obama had emphasized the need for grass-roots democracy in Cuba.
Even if the internationally recognized principles that all nations have the right to self-determination, non-interference and sovereignty, therefore excluding any other state such as the United States to judge the political system of Cuba, August tore apart in detail the accusation of democracy being absent in Cuba. He provided the audience with the reality in the socialist island and pointed out to Obama: “Grass-roots democracy in Cuba started way back after the Batista coup d’état in 1952, the fascist coup which put the military into power and that was immediately supported by the United States. The seeds of a grass-root movement were sown in 1953, as exemplified when Fidel Castro led a small group of revolutionaries to attack the Moncada Barracks. Grass-roots democracy developed even further in the period of 1956 to the end of 1958 where throughout the island, starting from the Sierra Maestra, the people gathered around the leadership of Fidel Castro and the revolutionary July 26 Movement, giving themselves political power on January 1st 1959. If Mr. Obama wants an example of the development of grass-roots democracy he should look at Cuba from 1953 to January 1, 1959 and everything that has happened since then. Therefore democratic reform in Cuba started, as far as the most recent period is concerned, in 1953.”
Since Obama gives himself the right to make judgments about the Cuban system, supposedly an undemocratic one, August thought it appropriate to remind the audience of the electoral fraud which first allowed the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and his re-election in 2004, courtesy of the Diebold computerized voting machines. In terms of freedom of expression, August related to the audience the misadventure of an American “twitter” who was arrested at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in September for having warned the demonstrators of police movements and deployments. The lecturer also stressed the lack of importance that the mainstream media, namely CNN, gives to coverage of events since the military coup in Honduras last June 28. A complicit silence from them on the real causes of the opposition to President Zelaya and the lack of outrage at the repression and violence perpetrated by the military at the service of the coup government, testifies to the fact that the denunciation of human rights violation is far from being the real concern of the Western media.
In the case of so-called political prisoners in Cuba, August said that as far arbitrary and unfair detention is concerned, this issue rather points to the current case of the Five Cuban patriots imprisoned in the United States for fighting terrorism organized from Miami. For over 11 years, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Fernando González, René González and Antonio Guerrero have been deprived of their freedom for having gathered evidence against criminals now protected by the U.S. government and for having remained loyal to their socialist ideals.
In a comparing the current democratic situation in Cuba to the one existing before the 1959 triumph of the revolution, August recalled that before 1959 the media were largely controlled by the US-Cuban oligarchy; the ambassador of the United States was known to be the most influential man in Havana.
While a person in the audience expressed a desire to do something concrete in support of the Cuban people’s struggle against the blockade, August proposed to the participants a vote by applause in favour of a collective request in the form of an open letter to the president of the United States, Barack Obama. Following an enthusiastic response from everyone present, August was therefore mandated to submit this collective request to the new Nobel Prize winner and thereby offering him an opportunity to prove the sincerity of his promise for change in foreign policy.
- Karine Walsh is a social justice activist and member of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba. She hosts a French-language radio show on Cuban reality called Dimension Cubaine on the Montreal community radio station Radio Centre-Ville (Quebec). This article was part of a speech at Arnold August’s conference at the Quebec Social Forum, October 10, 2009