Monday, April 11, 2005

CUBA: A letter to Amnesty USA

The following letter was sent to Amnesty USA by Australian academic Tim Anderson on March 22.

I write as an Australian prisoners' rights campaigner who has been watching Amnesty's interventions over the arrests and jailing of several dozen "dissidents" in Cuba over the past two years. I have also visited Cuba on two occasions.

I note that Amnesty USA has termed all the 75 arrested in March 2003 as "prisoners of conscience", that it has a campaign urging "Cuban authorities to drop politically motivated charges", saying that these people were "dissidents ... [jailed] for the peaceful expression of their beliefs", and that most "were subjected to hasty and manifestly unfair trials".

However, after reading more on the subject, a number of serious questions occur to me about Amnesty's campaign and I would like you to respond to these concerns.

First, how is it that Amnesty repeatedly calls all those arrested in March 2003 (and some thereafter) "prisoners of conscience detained solely for the peaceful exercising of his rights to freedom of expression and association"? Surely Amnesty is aware that the charges and convictions against most have been for acting "in the interests of a foreign state" to harm the Cuban state and to pursue a "blockade and economic war" against the Cuban people? Does Amnesty say that such offences cannot be crimes? This is not clear from Amnesty literature.

Second, do you not think that Amnesty's expressed concerns about trial process and prison conditions for prisoners in Cuba might be taken more seriously if you acknowledged that the charges laid do actually relate to crimes?

Third, should you not acknowledge that the crimes with which these people were charged are closely linked to the sustained and dangerous campaign carried out by the government of your own country? This campaign has included deadly armed attacks on civilians, bombings of hotels, assassination attempts, an internationally condemned economic blockade, diplomatic activity well beyond the bounds of international norms, and the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which finances efforts to overthrow the Cuban system of government. Do the serious human rights implications of this campaign mean nothing to Amnesty USA?

It is hard to imagine that the US government would not have acted with the full force of its own law if small groups of people in the USA were receiving money from a foreign power, as parties to a campaign which had the explicit aim of overthrowing its government and constitutional system. Even more incredible would be the US government's failure to act if these small groups were funded and backed by foreign organisations who had participated in terrorist bombings and assassination attempts against the US head of state.

Yet as we know from evidence in the Havana trials, many of these "dissidents" were receiving funds from the Cuban American National Foundation, as well as the US Mission in Havana. In September 1999, a special rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Commission confirmed that the CANF had financed and organized the bombing of tourist hotels in Varadero and Havana, over April-October 1997. We also know that CIA-trained and CANF-backed personnel, including Luis Posada, were amongst those arrested and jailed in Panama in 2000, for an aborted attempt on the life of President Fidel Castro. Posada had been previously jailed for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, which killed 73 people. In the late 1990s he confessed to planning the Havana bombings. Yet he and his associates were pardoned and released on "humanitarian" grounds in 2004, by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso. There was no word of protest from Washington.

The activities of those financially and organisationally engaged with these violent campaigns cannot be considered in a vacuum. No independent analyst would regard those clearly connected to such operations simply as "prisoners of conscience ... [engaged in] the peaceful expression of their beliefs". As the former CIA agent Philip Agee says: "To think that the dissidents were created by an independent, free civil society is absurd, for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power".

I agree that human rights' campaigners have a right to express concerns about some aspects of the trial process in this case. However I don't think these concerns can be taken seriously unless and until those broader concerns I raised are addressed.

Does Amnesty USA share any of my concerns? Are you not concerned that Amnesty's reputation will be damaged if it is seen to ignore these broader and more serious human rights concerns, and to reflect only the arguments of an aggressive US State Department?

I write this letter in the hope of a fuller discussion of this important issue, amongst those many people who do share genuine concerns for the rights of prisoners everywhere.

By GLW posted 11 April 05

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