Friday, April 17, 2015

Lies, damn lies, and bullshit about Cuba's betrayal of political refugees

The story was a shocker: "Cubans to open talks about US fugitives including Assata Shakur as ties warm", said the headline in the Guardian. Giving it credence was the source and dateline of the article: Associated Press, Havana.

Assata Shakur (the cops call her JoAnne Chesimard) is a Black liberation fighter who has lived in Cuba with political asylum for more than 30 years. Her expulsion from Cuba to the United States, where there is a $2 million bounty on her head, would be seen by Black activists and revolutionaries everywhere as a betrayal. It would also be a violation of long-standing legal principles in Latin America that political crimes are not subject to extradition, as well as the principle of non-refoulement (returning refugees to the country where they are persecuted), the cornerstone of international asylum treaties, which the Cuban revolution has always adhered to.

But other news outlets seemed to confirm the report: "Cuba open to discussing extradition of U.S. fugitives, including cop killer Chesimard," brayed the headline on Fox News Latino over a graphic screaming "Most Wanted Terrorists" in red, white and blue. However, all had the very same Havana-datelined text that U.S. News and World Report helpfully told us was written by the AP's Michael Weissenstein and Matthew Lee.

All of them with the same exact story? Yes, all.

Could it really be true that the AP had a world wide exclusive? Where were the New York Times and Washington Post's own reports? What had happened to wire services like the French AFP, the Spanish EFE, the British Reuters and even Cuba's own Prensa Latina?

Actually, it really was a world-wide AP exclusive. And for a very good reason. No one else had the story because it was bullshit. The AP made it up.

They did it by consciously taking diplomatic evasions and misdirections by a fourteenth-rank State Department mouthpiece with the august title of "Acting Deputy Spokesperson" and spinning them so violently that even diamonds would have been reduced to an invisible dust of disconnected carbon atoms as a result.

When I first saw the story, clear evidence that something was amiss came in the Guardian's sub-headline: "State Department says Cuba has agreed to open talks about two of the most-wanted US fugitives following re-establishment of diplomatic ties."

You may say, "so what." But me, I've earned my living as a hack for four and a half decades, and if there's one thing we "professional journalists" are experts in, it is rats. Just consider who we spend our days covering, whether in politics, business or international relations. And I smelled a rat.

Because a story about what the State Department was saying should be written by the AP Foggy Bottom scribbler in Washington, D.C., not somebody in Havana. 

And the "lead" -- the first sentence -- confirmed this was not something AP covered first-hand in Havana: "The U.S. and Cuba will open talks about two of America's most-wanted fugitives as part of a new dialogue about law-enforcement cooperation made possible by President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terror, the State Department announced Wednesday."

Did the State Department actually "announce" that on Wednesday? Normally, State Department "announcements" come at the beginning of a press conference and not buried in a sentence in response to a question, so I say no. But listen to the briefing and judge for yourself.

According to the transcript, all that the fill-in spokesperson for the State Department would say was that the U.S. and Cuba agreed to have a "dialogue" about law enforcement issues. He said this included "issues related to fugitives," but was ambiguous, never saying that Cuba had agreed to even talk about returning these "fugitives," among them Assata Shakur and Puerto Rican patriot William Morales.

On the contrary, when reporters tried to pin down Acting Deputy Spokesperson Jeff Rathke, this was the exchange: 
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I just wanted to jump back to the fugitive issue ... because Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson has said in the past that when they bring up the issue of Joanne Chesimard and others who are being harbored in Cuba, that the Cubans just refuse to talk about it, that they don’t get any traction at all. And I was wondering if there’s been any change in that recently, if you've gotten to the point where they’re actually talking about it, if there’s more of a constructive process going on.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have details from those discussions to read out, but again, as I said, we've agreed to a law enforcement dialogue that will address law enforcement cooperation, including issues related to fugitives.
In case you didn't get it "I don't have the details from those discussions" is diplomatese for "Hell No! What the fuck have you been smoking? This is Cuba we're talking about!"

And our two hard-working AP reporters in Havana confirm as much.
A Cuban government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for US affairs, recently ruled out any return of political refugees.

On Tuesday night she said that “the Cuban government recognizes the president of the United States’ just decision to take Cuba off a list in which it should never have been included.”
No, I don't expect Cuba to have a press conference denouncing the AP report. And Cuba may well have agreed to let "issues related to fugitives" be raised in law enforcement talks. Why not?

So Cuba will raise the United States harboring of Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA operative who was the mastermind of the 1976 mid-air terrorist bombing of a Cubana de Aviación civilian airliner, killing 73 people, and many other terrorist attacks. And the United States will object to Cuba's solidarity with liberation fighters from the United States that have taken refuge on the island. But either side handing someone like that over to the other is about as likely as a Beatles reunion tour complete with John and George freshly returned from the grave.

What's going on with this AP story is a tactic as old as the revolution itself. Most of the time the U.S. press depicts Cuba as an unmitigated catastrophe, a blood-soaked devil-spawned regime where the only reason some people escaped the firing squad is because they starved to death first.

But every once in a while some outlet addresses those of us on the left; "Comrades! What we feared is coming to pass! The Havana bureaucracy has sold out! They want iPhones and in exchange, they're even sending back into the clutches of the imperialists sister Assata Shakur and brother William Morales."

It's been the same old song about a revolution betrayed since the Cuban revolution came to power in 1959:

  • When guerrilla war hero Camilo Cienfuegos's small plane was lost that October over the ocean (just after he had put down an incipient pro-American military rebellion), supposedly Fidel had ordered it shot down. 
  • When Che Guevara withdrew from public view in 1965, it was because Fidel had him assassinated.
  • When Che resurfaced in Bolivia, but a CIA agent ordered his execution after Che was wounded and captured leading a guerrilla column, it was because Fidel had set him up. 
  • When Cuba sent thousands of volunteers to Angola to kick South Africa's ass out of that country (and kicked it so hard that Namibia was freed from colonial rule, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the odious apartheid regime collapsed), why then Fidel had turned Cuba's sons into cannon fodder for Russian imperial ambitions. 
  • And today, when Cuba, a country of only 11 million people, has more doctors working in other countries bringing medical care to poor people than the rest of the world combined, these are not internationalists but medical mercenaries, a Trojan Horse for Cuban propaganda and political domination.

Although cut from the same cloth as those, this ridiculous little AP fairy tale isn't even large enough for a Barbie Doll handkerchief. But it was completely conscious and intentional. That is why it was datelined in Havana, not just to give it credibility but to cover the AP's ass if the distortions of what the State Department guy said became an issue.

Still, these stories have an impact. I've written this tonight because a comrade whose principled integrity I admire, even though his rigidity in applying principles sometimes drive me batty, texted me, worried that the report might be true, and if it were so, suggesting we begin planning how to defend William Morales. I shot him back a quick message saying not to worry, that the story was bullshit. But I felt I owed him a fuller accounting.

The reason we tend to be at least initially shaken and confused by these manipulations is the history of the socialist movement in the 20th Century. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the terrible crimes and persecutions carried out in its name culminated with the dismantling a quarter century ago of such vestiges of the Revolution as still remained, and a dismantling led by bureaucrats from the same social group had usurped the name and banner of socialism decades earlier to justify their own privileges.

Of all the countries that claimed to have set out on a socialist road in the 20th Century, Cuba is the only one where people are still inspired by the same dreams. The Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions were world-historic events, even if from today's perspective, the reason is the independence and unification of those countries, and not the fight to develop a new social system, a quest they have now put aside.

It has been more than half a century since the Cuban Revolution came to power. Over the decades it has made many mistakes, more than I can remember, probably more than I ever knew. Changing world circumstances and the actions of the enemy more than once forced it to double back and look for another road. It was born in a world where there seemed to be an alternative model to capitalism: bureaucratic central planning. For all that Fidel and especially Che tried to challenge its bureaucratic logic and subordinate it to a genuinely popular revolution, Cuba still bears the marks of what the Soviets called "really existing socialism," which ceased to exist a quarter century ago.

But for all that, the Cuban Revolution never betrayed its principles, has never turned its back on its revolutionary duty as best it has understood it, And thus it has survived to this century, and become part of a fresh start, Latin America's movement towards the creation of a Socialism of the 21st Century.

It is slow and difficult because not only a new social system has to be created, but also the only political space in which it can truly develop: a united Latin America. To this process Cuba offers thousands of doctors, health care workers, teachers and technicians. It offers the experiences of half a century of victories and setbacks. But most of all Cuba offers what it has offered since 1959, and which Fidel summarized in the Second Declaration of Havana in 1962:
What Cuba can give to the people, and has already given, is its example. 
And what does the Cuban Revolution teach? That revolution is possible, that the people can make it, that in the contemporary world there are no forces capable of halting the liberation movement of the peoples.
And what it has taught since then it that it can survive, battered and bloodied but not beaten, never broken.

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