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A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order
Social Justice Vol. 15, No. 2 (1988)

Overview and Introduction to Human Rights and U.S.-Cuban Relations in the Reagan Era

Ed McCaughan and Tony Platt

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and the inauguration of a new president in the United States. For three decades U.S.-Cuban relations have been framed within the logic of the Cold War, alternating between outright hostility and restrained antagonism. In this special issue of Social Justice, we will analyze some selective aspects of this relationship and its assumptions, plus explore the possibility for normalizing economic and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

We live in dangerous and volatile times, when a local conflict can quickly escalate into regional or even global war. Cuba is situated close to the U.S. and in a region where there has been conflict, war, and antagonisms for many years -- for example, U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983), political strife in Haiti, insurgency in El Salvador and Guatemala, a U.S.-backed war against Nicaragua, and destabilization of Panama. Cuba itself has been the subject of U.S. military aggression (as in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961), covert operations, ideological warfare, an economic embargo, and diplomatic hostility. This U.S. policy has failed to destroy the Cuban Revolution; it has failed to break Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union; and it has failed to isolate Cuba in the hemisphere.

It is time to try a new policy. We think that it is critical for nation-states, especially a superpower like the United States, to develop peaceful means for reconciling political and economic differences and to encourage an exchange of ideas, culture, and information between different social systems. Our current volatile relations with Cuba, the oldest socialist country in our hemisphere, have serious implications for peace and justice in the region and even in the world. There is too much at stake to continue down the road of confrontation.

We need a reasoned, thoughtful, and serious public discourse about the merits and problems of Cuban socialism, about U.S. relations with Cuba, and about U.S. policies in the Caribbean Basin. As suggested by the contributors to this special issue of Social Justice, this has not been the case in the Reagan era.

According to Platt ("The United States, Cuba, and the New Cold War"), official U.S. policy toward Cuba in the 1980s has been one of destabilization and hostility. Moreover, there has been almost no effort within Congress to encourage political debate about this policy. According to research by Kress and Lewin ("A Guide to Anti-Cuba Opinion-Makers"), conservative political organizations and individuals, many of whom have close ties to the Reagan administration and Republican Party, have made full use of the conducive ideological climate to articulate and distribute a huge amount of one-sided propaganda against Cuba.

The United States, particularly during the Reagan administration, has accused Cuba of a totalitarianism comparable to Nazi Germany. As suggested in the analysis by Platt ('Cuba and the Politics of Human Rights") and in the findings of a delegation organized by the Institute for Policy Studies ("Cuban Prisons: A Preliminary Report"), the U.S. campaign against Cuba appears to be motivated by political considerations rather than by a genuine concern for human rights. The U.S. charge that Cuba -- not Chile, Paraguay, or Guatemala -- is the most serious violator of human rights in the hemisphere is not supported by any international authority or recognized human rights organization.

Also -- as demonstrated in the articles by Biancalana and O'Leary ('Profile of U.S. Press Coverage"), McCaughan and Platt ("Tropical Gulag: Media Images of Cuba"), and Smith ('Suspicions Confirmed") -- the national, regional, and local print media have amplified official and right-wing views about Cuba, and have done little to question the accuracy or propriety of the dominant ideology. The press has, by and large, either served as a conduit for official ideology or simply reduced Cuba to a faceless stereotype. The shaping of public opinion about Cuba in the Reagan era has taken place within a Cold War atmosphere of anticommunism, disinformation campaigns, and ethnocentrism. There is in reality no public dialogue about Cuba. There is either indifference or a monologue.

While the United States condemns Cuba for totalitarianism, in this country we are not able to engage in full and free discussion about Cuba: Cuban scholars and other representatives are not allowed by the U.S. government to freely travel to the U.S., while U.S. citizens are generally restricted by the U.S. administration from visiting and investigating Cuba. Consequently, people in this country are denied access to pluralistic information and debate about the nature of Cuban society.

We need to create the conditions that will facilitate a genuine public debate about Cuba. If we profess to value freedom of speech, freedom of ideas, and freedom of travel, we think that these principles need to be put into practice with respect to Cuba. The Reagan administration and the Right have a clear, strong viewpoint about Cuba. They have had no difficulty in funding their research, distributing their ideas, and communicating their views to the U.S. population. In order to allow a real dialogue of ideas, especially in light of the forthcoming presidential race and accompanying debates about U.S. foreign policy, we propose the following means to transform one-sided propaganda into a public debate:

* The U.S. should make serious efforts to normalize relations of immigration, travel, and diplomacy with Cuba. The economic embargo should be ended so that we can have the same kind of economic relations with Cuba as are practiced by Canada, Mexico, and our Western allies.

* Specifically, the U.S. should immediately lift the restrictions on travel and allow freedom of travel by Cubans to the U.S. and by U.S. citizens to Cuba. U.S. citizens should be able to visit Cuba and make up their own minds about its merits and problems without political interference or censorship.

* There should be regular cultural, intellectual, and research exchanges between U.S. and Cuba. Cuban scholars should be encouraged to attend and participate in conferences in the U.S. and vice versa. This could create the basis for a genuine exchange of ideas and a serious dialogue.

* The media should exercise responsibility in making sure that reporters who cover Cuba are informed about its history, culture, and values; that in cases of conflicting interpretations of truth, the various parties to the conflict are consulted and quoted; and that there is pluralistic representation of opinions.

It is encouraging that during the last year we have seen the beginning of a debate about U.S. policy toward Cuba. We are pleased to include in this issue two calls for a new U.S. foreign policy in the Caribbean. PACCA, an association of leading scholars and policymakers, elaborates how bilateral and multilateral issues can be resolved through "An Alternative U.S. Policy Towards Cuba." Similarly, the National Council on U.S.-Cuban Relations, which includes influential leaders in politics and business, was formed in 1987 to articulate "Reasons for Rapprochement." As noted by one of its spokesmen, Robert White (former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador), "any intelligent policy towards the Caribbean and Central America must begin with Cuba." Hopefully, this issue of Social Justice will play a helpful role in generating some intelligent discussion about U.S.-Cuban relations.

Ed McCaughan and Tony Platt, who have visited Cuba several times and written about U.S.-Cuban relations, are both on the Editorial Board of Social Justice.

Citation: Ed McCaughan and Tony Platt. (1988). "Overview and Introduction to Human Rights and U.S.-Cuban Relations in the Reagan Era." Social Justice Vol. 15, No. 2 (1988): 1-4. Copyright © 1988 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140.