Biden sanctions on Cuba based on false narrative

The oppression of the people that wasn’t

     It is said that truth is the first casualty of war.  It could be further said that any nation that is permanently at war can become so habituated to inventing untruths that it risks losing the capacity to discern the true from the false, and may even lose the capacity to know how to discern the true from the false.  Such a nation would be incapable of defending itself and its people from threats to its wellbeing. 

     This may apply to the United States today, for it has been at war, in one form or another, since 1941.  Even before that time, the nation had become accustomed to constructing fictions, defending its imperialist projections on the basis of a false narrative that defined its spectacular economic ascent as based entirely on a work ethic and a capacity for commerce and technology, and having nothing to do with conquest and colonialism.  With the emergence of the Cold War, the government falsely presented the Soviet Union as expansionist, in order to promote the militarization of economy and society.  And it presented Third World national liberation movements as manifestations of the spreading menace of communism, illustrated by the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, in order to justify imperialist interventions.  Since 1980, it has constructed various lies to justify military attacks or low-intensity war.  They included the false claims that the democratically elected president of Nicaragua was a dictator; that Libya had authored a terrorist attack in Berlin; that Bosnia had launched an ethnic cleansing campaign; and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

      In the latest manifestation of its permanent condition of war, the United States has recently launched an unconventional war against Cuba (see my commentary, “The US unconventional war against Cuba,” July 16, 2021).  And consistent with the historic pattern, falsehoods abound.  Especially important was the fiction that Cuba was experiencing a social outbreak, a falsehood created by U.S.-employed digital agents operating in the USA, using automated systems for super-fast tweeting and retweeting, who digitally set their physical location as Cuba.

     In support of the media creation of a social uprising in Cuba, there were numerous examples of fake news.  Photos of demonstrations in support of the government were presented as anti-governmental protests.  One was used by CNN, and it was denounced on Twitter by a worker in the Ministry of Economy and Planning who had participated in the pro-government demonstration.  Another in this genre was identified in TheNew York Times.

     In addition, photos from other countries were used to falsely portray events in Cuba.  A photo of a supposedly anti-government demonstration on the Havana seafront boulevard was widely circulated via AP and appeared on NBC; it was exposed as fake news by the Spanish television station RTVE, which identified the photo as a demonstration on February 11, 2011 in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria.   And there was circulating on the internet a photo of a thirteen-year-old boy, killed by gunfire, supposedly in Cuba; but the child was killed by a stray bullet in a gang conflict in Venezuela.

     There were, in addition, false reports that the Vice Minister of the Interior had resigned; and that Raúl Castro had fled to Venezuela, supported by the image of Raúl deboarding the plane upon his arrival in Costa Rica for an international meeting in 2015.

     The fake news campaign against Cuba has been unfolding since 2019.  At the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in 2020, the Cuban diplomat Jairo Rodríguez declared that Cuba is subjected to an avalanche of misinformation on a daily basis, disseminated by platforms funded by the U.S. government, with the intention of provoking political destabilization.  Such denunciations were also made by Cuba at a 2020 world summit on the media of communication and the internet. 

      The people of the United States to some degree are taken in by these distortions and falsehoods concerning recent events in Cuba, because they are constructed on the long-standing myth of the Cuban dictatorship.  The myth was created through a deceitful strategy of highlighting and disseminating aspects of the Cuban political process that depart from the norms of representative democracy, such as the absence of electoral political parties, or elite-funded political campaigns, or (prior to 2019) term limits.  If a nation does not have representative democracy, if must be a dictatorship, right? 

     What this historic false narrative deliberately ignores is that Cuba has developed since the early 1960s an alternative political process of popular political participation.   The alternative structures of people’s power include mass organizations, neighborhood nomination assemblies, and a system of direct and indirect elections, all of which function to elect the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which is the highest authority of the nation.  The deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power are elected to five-year terms, and they elect the members of the executive branch, including the President of the Republic, to five-year terms.  (See “Political and civil rights in Cuba,” June 24, 2021).

      If you don’t know about the alternative political system, and you have been told that Cuba has an authoritarian government, the claim of a popular uprising can be believable.  You might find it impossible to imagine that the great majority of the Cuban people believe that the Cuban government does its best respond to the needs of the people, and that it does not have a hidden agenda of representing the interests of some particular sector.  You would have difficulty grasping that, in the context of such a political system that enjoys legitimacy in the eyes of the people, a popular protest demanding attention to the needs of the people would be ultimately a pointless activity.  In a political system that enjoys legitimacy, if your needs are not being met, your best course of action, individually or collectively, is to utilize one or more of the various established structures of communication with the relevant institutions of the government.  This is the norm in Cuba, and it is the basis for the new social and economic plan that has been in development for the last ten years, responding to the dissatisfactions of the people with respect to the material standing of living.

     The Cuban political reality of alternative structures of people’s power and governmental legitimacy is virtually unknown outside of Cuba.  Meanwhile, the representative democracies are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy; so the people of the United States distrust any government, even their own, and especially one that is supposedly authoritarian or dictatorial.  In such a context, those cynical and deceitful actors who want to impose a U.S.-directed neoliberal capitalism on Cuba know that they can make accusations of repression and disappearances in Cuba, without any empirical basis or factual foundation, and the accusations will be widely perceived as credible in U.S. society.

     Enter Joe Biden on July 22.  Citing the “oppression of the Cuban people” and “mass detentions and sham trials” in relation to the events in Cuba on July 11, the President imposed sanctions on certain individuals in Cuba, namely, the chiefs of the armed forces and the army, and the members of a special brigade of the Ministry of the Interior.

     Some of the mainstream media, but not all, mentioned that the Cuban government rejected the validity of the sanctions and of the arguments used to justify them.  But such superficial and supposedly objective news reporting scarcely addresses the issue; it keeps consumers of such media in the dark concerning the nature of the Cuban response, which has been characterized by indignation at the shameful prevarications and by a detailed description of the actual situation. 

     In a Press Conference on July 22, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez denounced the sanctions, saying that the arguments for them were based on falsehoods.    “There was not oppression of the people, nor was there a social outbreak, in spite of the persistent lying by some established media of the international press. . . .  They lie when they refer to peaceful demonstrators, ignoring that there were violent acts.” 

     He further stated that there is absolute calm in the country, and that services were functioning normally, and he called upon the international press to walk in the streets and to bear witness, with objectivity, to the conditions of tranquility.  (See “Cuba defeats US interventionist plan: The people show that they are the revolutionary people of Fidel,” July 20, 2021).

     An important theme in the minister’s press conference is that there is not repression in Cuba.   He observed that Cuban authorities have acted strictly in accordance with the law and with full respect for norms, with a minimal amount of force in the face of vandalism and violent acts against the police and against citizens who were proclaiming their support for the Cuban government and the Cuban Revolution.  He noted that in Cuba there is full compliance with the Constitution and the law, with full guarantees of due process and the right of the detained to judicial procedures.  He noted many of those detained with respect to the events of July 11 already have been released upon paying fines or being placed under measures of house arrest.

     The minister made reference to false lists of supposed disappearances that have been circulating in the press and the social media.  He challenged the government of the United States or any government that is supposedly concerned for the so-called demonstrators to present a single case of a disappearance.  If they present a single case, the Cuban government will expose the lie with evidence in a few hours, he declared.

     He further observed that there is not a single minor that is currently in custody in relation to these events, and he rejected as indefensible slander the claim that minors or young persons had lost their lives.   

     The minister categorically denied that there was any case of torture, and he declared that the persons who make this accusation ought to present names, places, and evidence.

     Rodríguez spoke of an international double standard.  Washington does not make mention of countries in South America in which thousands of human rights defenders, social activists, and community leaders have been assassinated.  It is not in Cuba, he declared, that sophisticated equipment and chemical substances are used to repress demonstrations, but in Europe and the United States. 

     The Minister expressed concern with the manipulation of information and images, with clearly political ends. He specifically mentioned reports on CNN in Spanish and Fox News, which were characterized by deceitful and systematic manipulation, applying sophisticated technologies to alter images, in violation of the networks’ own rules and of elementary ethical standards of the communications industry.  He acknowledged the presence of a representative of CNN at the press conference, declaring, “Your company lies.”

     Cuba’s defense of itself against false charges had begun immediately on July 11, beginning with a special appearance by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Cuban television to inform the people of disturbances.  On July 12, Díaz-Canel and various members of the Cuban government held a press conference of more than four hours, which included a description by Bruno Rodríguez of media campaign against Cuba, initiated on June 15, and culminating in instructions to operatives in Cuba to create disturbances.  He reported that the campaign was financed by the U.S. Department of State and USAID. 

     On July 13, an international press conference by Bruno Rodriquez further explained the dimensions of the U.S.-financed media campaign, and he declared that there was not a popular outbreak but disturbances on a very limited scale.  In these disturbances, he stated, delinquent elements played an important role, and their intention was to manipulate the people into thinking that a pseudo-movement existed, with the goal of forming a political opposition.  

     On July 14, in a televised meeting of Díaz-Canel with his team, the Cuban president denounced the lies of the media campaign; he pointed out that the people who have been arrested were not carrying out peaceful demonstrations, but acts of violence, stimulated by the media campaign.  In a special edition of the Cuban evening news program Mesa Redonda on July 14, Díaz-Canel again addressed the people, along with the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Economy.  They described the problems that the intensification of the blockade during the last two years had created with respect to the generation of electricity and the production of medicines.  The disturbances of July 11, Díaz-Canel stated, sought to take advantage of difficulties caused by the intensification of the blockade, but they were not spontaneous expressions of discontent; they were the result of a deliberate plan, in accordance with the strategies on the non-conventional war. 

     Accusations in the media of police repression, disappearances and tortures were addressed in the July 15 episode of Hacemos Cuba, or “We are making Cuba.”  The weekly 30-minute program was created during the extensive popular discussions of the new constitution of 2019.  Moderated by Humberto López, a lawyer and television commentator, the program discusses constitutional and legal issues with one or two invited guests who are specialists in the theme.  The guests on July 15 were Coronel Moraima Bravet Garófalo, Chief of General Administration of Criminal Investigation of the Ministry of the Interior; and Lisnay Mederos Torres, Chief Prosecutor of the office of Attorney General of the Republic. 

     López asked what they had to say about claims in the social media that some of these arrested have disappeared.  They responded that the accusation is not true, that there is always in the Cuban judicial system full and strict compliance articles 94 and 95 of the Cuban Constitution, which protect the due process rights of citizens (including impartial trial, presumption of innocence, and no self-incrimination),  They observed that with respect to the arrests made in connection with the events of July 11, the families of the detained were contacted, or in some cases the detained themselves contacted their families.  Members of the families presented themselves at the police stations, where the situation with respect to the detained family member was explained; and they were able to visit the detained, subject to Covid health restrictions.  Confession is not coerced, and detained persons have the right to remain silent; but confession is also a right.  Some cooperated and confessed, leading to release with the payment of a fine or on the condition that they present themselves on a specific date. 

     Coronel Bravet observed that a thorough investigation will be conducted, which is still in its early stages.  The investigation seeks “individualization,” that is, a determination of the specific role of each individual.  There is a fundamental difference between an individual who spontaneously participated and an individual who led and incited the people to looting and violence.  She further observed that the investigators were determined to arrive to those who led, organized, and financed the disturbance, and she was confident that they would attain this goal.  They are determined to get to the bottom of this affair, she declared, because the persons detained engaged in acts of violence and looting, and this is not the reality to which Cubans have become accustomed since the triumph of the revolution.

     Coronet Bravet reported that the great majority of the detained persons have criminal antecedents, including breaking and entering with intent to steal, causing bodily harm, and threatening others.  Many of those detained were on conditional liberty from prison for previous crimes.  She observed that the Constitution calls for longer sentences for persons with criminal antecedents. 

     Bravet and Mederos observed that the Constitution calls for harsher sanctions for crimes committed in times of a public calamity, such as an earthquake.  In their view, the “public calamity” clause applies in this case, inasmuch as the country is in a health crisis and at the same time is under attack in an unconventional war by the United States.  They maintain that the July 11 disturbances have disrupted the tranquility that Cubans have arrived to expect and has offended the sensibilities of the great majority of the people.  They declared that those who engaged in illegal conduct will be prosecuted to the full extent that the Constitution and the law permit, in representation of the sentiments of the people.

     The Hacemos Cuba program of July 20 discussed the accusation on the social media that disappearances had occurred.  Coronel Víctor Álvarez Valle, Vice-Chief of General Administration of Criminal Investigation of the Ministry of the Interior; and José Luis Reyes Blanco, Chief of the Department of Supervision of Penal Processes of the Office of Attorney General of the Republic, appeared as guests.  Coronel Álvarez asserted categorically that there are no disappeared persons in Cuba, not with respect to the recent disturbances nor with any other disturbance that has been carried out.  

     Reyes Blanco explained the process of detention of a citizen.  When a person is taken to a police unit, the first thing that is done is to enter the name in the registration book.  A certificate of detention containing information about the detained is signed by him or her; and the Office of the Attorney General is present from the beginning.  Such control of information concerning detained persons “permits us to assure that there has not existed any disappearance in our country since 1959.  If events of such a nature had occurred, there would have been considerable numbers of denunciations in the Office of Attorney General, through the established channels of attention to the citizenry.” 

     The certificate of detention, Reyes observed, also enables detained persons to know why they have been taken to the police station and the possible punishment that could be imposed.  They have the right to make their first declaration, but they also have the right to remain silent.  In the first 24 hours, the family generally knows where the person is detained, because there is an automated and centralized system of attention and information to the population, providing the location of each detained person.

     In the recent cases involving the disturbances, Reyes stated that all the families know where their family member is detained, and they have gone to those places to provide personal items and medicines.  So, the whereabouts of the detained is established and is listed by the organs of control of the Attorney General.  All the detained persons have a right to name a lawyer, but some have not exercised this right.

    Reyes explained that Cuba is part of the International Convention for the protection of all persons against forced disappearances.  Article 17 of said convention states that no one can be detained in secret; that the laws of the states have to establish the conditions in which persons can be deprived of liberty and what entities are authorized to do so; that the detained are located only in places that are officially recognized and controlled; that all detained persons are allowed to communicate with their families; and that the detainees have the right to communicate with and receive visits from a lawyer or any other person of his/her choice.  As a member of the Convention, Cuba was examined for its conformity with these norms in 2017.  Reyes declared categorically that there does not exist in Cuba any detentions outside of officially recognized and controlled places.

     Reyes noted that many of the names on the lists of supposedly disappeared persons circulating on social media include only one rather than two surnames, and they do not have place of residence or Cuban identification number.  So it is difficult to determine in many cases who these persons are.  Nevertheless, they are investigating, seeking to identify the persons that appear on these lists.  So far, it has been determined many of the names on the social media lists have not been detained in relation to the recent disturbance.  Some included on the lists had been detained, but they already have been released, either with a fine or placed on conditional liberty pending a judicial process.  Others on the list are in provisional custody, pending judicial processes.  

     During the program, communication was established with one of the supposedly disappeared persons in his place of work.  He expressed appreciation for the opportunity to correct the misinformation, since many people had called him to express their concern.  He noted that he and three comrades also named on the lists were in fact working hard preparing a documentary on the Cuban struggle against Covid for the Latin American festival of the cinema in December, concerning which he spoke in detail.  They had not been detained, and even less, disappeared.

     Also circulating in the social media is the false charge of torture.  Álvarez Valle affirmed that “like the forced disappearances, torture is not a practice in Cuba.  The history of the Revolution demonstrates this.  It is not and will never be the practice of the combatants of the Ministry of the Interior to employ force against processed persons.”  Cuba is part of the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.  All of the comrades of the Ministry of the Interior have the education and training to prevent such abusive treatment of detained persons; they are not formed to practice such conduct.

     Reyes Blanco pointed that, following the disturbances, the presence of the legal staff of the Office of the Attorney General in the police stations has increased, because the Attorney General’s office has in interest in knowing the thinking and the motives of the detained.  There exists a scenario that favors dialogue and the transmission of any concern or denunciation among the detained. 

     In his role as moderator of Hacemos Cuba, Humberto López pointed out a denunciation that has been circulating on the social media by a youth who asserts that there were acts of violence committed against him after being detained during the disturbances.  In response, Reyes stated that he knows of the case.  This person, he stated, is under a preventive house arrest from a previous judicial process; he was in the street during the disturbance, in violation of the conditions of the house arrest, of which he was informed by the authorities.  The youth has made a complaint to the office of the Attorney General against a particular police officer.  All the information made in the complaint has been recorded, and it will be investigated, with full transparency.  If any irregularity were to emerge, the results would be made known, and the appropriate measures would be taken with respect to the conduct of the police or the legal procedure.  Reyes further declared that the people have full confidence in full and fair investigations of this kind by the office of the Attorney General.

     In a separate interview with the Cuban daily newspaper Granma, Reyes Blanco declared that some of the conduct in the disturbances constitutes crimes, and the country has the right to defend itself against conduct that seeks to subvert the constitutional order.  The Constitution establishes various rights of citizens, but it establishes limits to the rights of citizens.  Article 45 states that “the exercise of the rights of persons only is limited by the rights of others, collective security, the general wellbeing, and respect for public order, the Constitution, and the laws.”  Moreover, Article 90 refers to the responsibilities and duties of citizens, including “the duty to show due respect to the authorities and their agents; to respect the rights of others and to not abuse others; and to act in personal relations in accordance with the principles of human solidarity, respect, and observance of the norms of social cohabitation.”  Without any knowledge of the law, simply on the basis of common sense, one can see that the conduct in question flagrantly transgresses said limits and duties, Reyes asserted.  He further stated that the investigation is determining individual responsibility; preventive detention and provisional prison will be used for cases of greater significance or involving repeat offenders. 

      Meanwhile, the lie that Cuba is experiencing mass unrest continues.  The Cuban evening news on July 26 showed images of social media posts claiming that thousands of protesters were at that moment in the streets of Havana.  Text messages only, unsupported by fake photos or videos.  For the citizens and residents of Havana, who had passed the day in tasks of work, household, or charity, and in commemoration of Cuba’s Day of National Rebellion, no documentation of the falsity of these texts was necessary.  But for the benefit of those in the provinces who did not have friends or relatives in Havana to call for verification, the news team did its best to provide photo and video images that showed the tranquility of the capital city.  The people of Cuba know in their hearts and minds that it is a tranquility that they themselves have earned, on a foundation of a commitment to sacrifice in defense of their sovereignty and their revolution.

     As I stated above, when the government of the United States repeatedly lies to the people, it undermines the capacity of the nation to understand the true and the right.  As a consequence of its legacy of lies, the nation does not have at the present time the necessary foundation for understanding its own wellbeing or its requirements for justice, let alone that of a neighboring nation with which it has been in conflict for six decades.  As Bruno Rodriguez declared, the Biden administration “lacks the moral authority” to ask for the release of detained persons in Cuba.

      But it is not too late for the USA.  The people, shocked into awakening by the divisions in the country and by the desperate conditions of humanity, can find once again the road of a republic with liberty and justice for all.

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Preface - April 6, 2021

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