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John Simkin

Cuba Offers Free Eye-Surgery

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America is in many ways like a Third World country. Only in America in the advanced world do you have a large percentage of the population without health-care cover. America might be a great place to live if you have money but your lack of a welfare state makes it a hell of a place if you are poor.

I remember visiting Savannah in 1982, and straying about 100 yards from the waterfront. The conditions people were living in there were way worse than the conditions in Angola in 1985 … and Angola was in the middle of a full-scale war, and had been for nearly 30 years.

I remember ex-President Nixon being interviewed on CNN during the Clinton attempt to reform the US health service saying "People from all over the world want to come to the US for medical treatment …" and me thinking "you missed something out - it should have been 'all over the Third World'". I should imagine that the numbers of Swedes who go to the US for medical treatment is about the same as the number of Americans who go to Sweden for it … otherwise, I can't imagine why anyone would give up the cheap and highly-efficient Swedish health service in favour of the US one. BTW, I've taught many an old-age pensioner who emigrated to the US when he or she was 18 … only to come back just in time to enjoy the Swedish welfare state on retirement.

Another aside … the Cubans were still in Angola when I was there (teaching English for marine biologists to the Angolan Ministry of Fisheries for the Swedish National Fisheries Board, so that Angolans could hold the Soviets to account when the Soviets exchanged Angolan fish for war matériel … but that's another story). Me and my colleague, Raoul Pereira, who'd been sprung out of a Uruguay jail by the Swedish branch of Amnesty International (another other story), were always followed by crowds of people who wanted to shake our hands and call us 'Primo' (Cuban military slang for buddy - it's how the Angolans knew who their friends were on the battlefield as they were whupping the asses of the South African Army). Time and again, when our papers were checked (we were in a war zone), we were called 'camerada Cubano' - and they just didn't believe that a couple of dark-haired, mustachioed white men were English and 'Swedish' respectively!

The Cubans were immeasurably popular among the ordinary people of Angola.

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Interesting you brought up Amnesty International, David.

Excerpted from its most recent annual report (these matters limited to "the Americas"):

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

Confirmed or possible prisoners of conscience were held in 2 countries: Cuba, Peru

DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE OR TRIAL

People were arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial in 7 countries: Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Venezuela

DEATH PENALTY

People were sentenced to death in 7 countries: the Bahamas, Cuba, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, USA, and executions were carried out in 1 country: USA.

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Interesting you brought up Amnesty International, David.

Excerpted from its most recent annual report (these matters limited to "the Americas"):

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

Confirmed or possible prisoners of conscience were held in 2 countries: Cuba, Peru

DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE OR TRIAL

People were arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial in 7 countries: Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Venezuela

DEATH PENALTY

People were sentenced to death in 7 countries: the Bahamas, Cuba, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, USA, and executions were carried out in 1 country: USA.

Hardly convincing, Tim. If you want to talk about prisoners you must acknowledge the shortcomings in the American system. Cuba doesn't claim to be a democracy, whereas America boasts it is the land of the free. But is it?

America's current prison population is well over 2 million. It has a prison population rate of 700 per 100,000 citizens, easily the highest in the western world. By contrast, Britain's is 159 per 100,000 and Norway's is 60. Half of the inmates are in prison for non-violent crimes. Longer sentencing due to programs such as the "3 strikes" policy, still active in some states, is one of the main reasons for this and results in sentences of up to 25 years for minor crimes such as shoplifting and cannabis use.

In some states prison building is the main growth sector of the construction industry. Disturbingly, some new prisons are being built to include a factory wing where prisoners are being employed at slave labor rates to produce goods. Some states aggressively market this cheap labor force to local corporations in a bid to stimulate depressed local economies, the Governor of Montana being a recent example. Prisoners who have spoken out about this have recieved punishment from authorities such as solitary confinement. A lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners in California a few years back is one example of this (see link).

http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=3291

While America's prison population can't be compared with that of China--human rights groups estimate China's prison population may be as high as 20 million--it is easily the harshest punishment regime in the western world and lags behind other western nations in all major indicators such as execution rates and length of sentencing.

Naturally, the huge numbers of poor and disadvataged people in the US make up the bulk of the prison population. Lawyers cost money, you know. So, on the issue of crime and punishment, the US occupies a kind of "middle ground" located between harsh dictatorships and civilised democracies. One law for the rich and one law for the poor is starkly apparent. Those hordes of Cubans fleeing the oppression of Cuba for the democratic nirvana of America, whom you regularly refer to, probably don't know what they're getting into.

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Good grief, Mark, we are talking about political freedom.

We are talking about the fact that Cuba imprisons people for political dissent (as does China, as you know).

The over-all prison population, or the population per capita, is irrelevant to this issue.

Re your nonsense (for that is what it is) that the Cuban exiles who flee to the United States don't know what they are getting into, I am not away of any people who have left Cuba who have returned or tried to return.

Those makeshift boats in the Florida Straits are heading one direction: north!

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I agree with you Tim about the suppression of political dissent in Cuba … what a shame that the USA imposed the blockade on Cuba, since I'm convinced that Castro would have fallen in the late 1960s, if the USA had kept its ties with Cuba.

In Europe, people who flee from a poorer country to a richer one are called 'economic migrants' and are treated like dirt. The poorer countries they flee from are almost invariably less free than the ones they flee to, at least in terms of the formalities of democracy. As I've written in other places before, the situation in the USA is so distorted, that it's difficult to know what's a cause and what's an effect.

However, what is going to happen to Cuba when Castro dies?

I can well foresee a major push by Cuban-Americans to 'retake' Cuba. Knowing how conservative most human beings are, I can well imagine that the picture they'll have of a 'free' Cuba is one where the old economic elites retake power … and Cuba will once again become a haven for drug-dealing, prostitution, the Mafia, etc. This isn't idle speculation - look at the dramatic decline in health, birth-rates, prosperity and general happiness since the Soviet Union fell. Cuba as Haiti? I think I'd rather have Castro and Communism (although I'd love Cuba to become more like Sweden).

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David, it is certainly an important question to the United States, and especially to Southern Florida, what will happen in Cuba when Castro finally dies. One must hope there will be a peaceful transition to a democratic regime.

You all certainly know that I am a social conservative and I deplore organized crime, prostitution, etc. However, I would still prefer a country with political and religious freedom even if the freedom necessarily involved such other reprehensible activities.

It is hard for me to believe that an intelligent person such as yourself with an interest in world affairs would possibly contemplate living in a country where political dissent was criminalized. Seems it would be like a connisseur of fine food living in a country that only permitted McDonalds restaurants.

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David, it is certainly an important question to the United States, and especially to Southern Florida, what will happen in Cuba when Castro finally dies. One must hope there will be a peaceful transition to a democratic regime.

You all certainly know that I am a social conservative and I deplore organized crime, prostitution, etc. However, I would still prefer a country with political and religious freedom even if the freedom necessarily involved such other reprehensible activities.

It is hard for me to believe that an intelligent person such as yourself with an interest in world affairs would possibly contemplate living in a country where political dissent was criminalized. Seems it would be like a connisseur of fine food living in a country that only permitted McDonalds restaurants.

There's a wonderful phrase in Swedish (coined, I think, by Olof Palme) which is to "choose between the plague and cholera). I think Palme first used it when an opponent asked him to differentiate betwee Franco's Spain and Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam.

In other words, I'm not saying that Cuba is a good society - it's a dictatorship.

BTW, I was meaning conservative with a small 'c' - that we human beings generally don't like looking at the way things really are, but want to hark back to a supposed golden age.

---------

I've just come across this article by Cindy Sheehan in the LA Times, which I think has some relevance to this debate. I don't usually like to just copy loads of text from somewhere else into this forum, but I thought she expresses herself well. I know, by the way, that Cindy Sheehan isn't the flavour of the month in some circles in the USA, but I just read these words and made a judgement on them as they stood, since I'm not party to the debate she and her supporters are in within the USA.

From LA Times

By Cindy Sheehan, CINDY SHEEHAN is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace and a member of Military Families Speak Out.

I WAS ARRESTED in the U.S. Capitol just minutes before the State of the Union address for wearing a T-shirt that pointed out how many Americans, like my son, Casey, have been killed in Iraq. The T-shirt simply said: "2,245 Dead. How Many More?"

During the address, President Bush uttered the word "freedom" 17 times, saying that was what our troops were fighting in Iraq to defend. At a minimum, you'd think we would all have the freedom to express ourselves through slogans on a T-shirt.

Is this what my son died for? Is this theft of our precious freedom of speech the "noble cause" that Bush told us our soldiers are fighting for?

Sure, I'm outspoken and don't normally shy away from protesting. But that wasn't my plan. Just hours before the speech, I had been given a ticket by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, who has worked to press Congress to bring the troops home.

At first I didn't really want to go, and I gave the ticket away to someone who gave it back. I would not have been disruptive out of respect for Lynn and the many other members of Congress I deeply admire.

I intended to make a statement, not a scene. Had I wanted to create a disruption, I would have waited until the president arrived to reveal my shirt.

My ticket was in the fifth gallery, front row. An officer — who a few minutes later would arrest me — helped me to my seat. I had just sat down and was warm from climbing three flights of stairs, so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out when the officer saw my shirt and yelled "protester!" He then hauled me out of my seat and shoved me up the stairs.

The officer ran, pulling me with him, to an elevator, yelling at everyone to move out of the way. Then he handcuffed me as we rode down and then took me outside to await a squad car.

DESPITE WHAT was said in several reports, I was never asked to change the shirt or zip up my jacket. If I had been asked to do those things I would have and expressed concerns about the suppression of my freedom of speech later.

I was immediately and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for "unlawful conduct." The reports about my being "vocal," attributed to the police, are also untrue.

Lawyers have advised me that I was well within my constitutional rights to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan. The police belatedly agreed and said they would drop the charges. I don't understand how they could have held me in jail for four hours before saying that this was all a mistake.

After my personal items were inventoried and my fingerprints taken, a nice sergeant came in and looked at my shirt and said, "2,245, huh? I just got back from there." I told him that my son died there.

That's when the enormity of my loss hit me. On top of losing my son, I have lost my 1st Amendment rights.

Where did my America go? I started crying in pain.

What did Casey die for? What did the 2,244 other brave young Americans die for? What are tens of thousands of them over there in harm's way for? For this? I can't even wear a shirt that has the number of troops on it that Bush and his arrogant and ignorant policies are responsible for killing.

Polls indicate that the people in our country and Iraq want this war to end. The war is making this country and the world less safe and secure. It's time to stop the killing by bringing the troops home.

I wore the shirt to make a statement. I believed it was my right to do so.

I don't want to live in a country that prohibits any person from wearing, saying, writing or relaying over a telephone negative statements about the government. That's why I am taking my freedoms and liberties back. That's why I am not going to let the Bush administration take anything else away from me. They already took my son away. That was more than enough.

----------

Now I know that she'd have been treated differently in Cuba - at least there would have been a difference in degree (she'd have been detained a lot longer). However, Cuba doesn't have a monopoly on the suppression of dissent, does she.

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David wrote:

However, Cuba doesn't have a monopoly on the suppression of dissent, does she.

Talk about a true but misleading statement. Of course there is political repression in other countries, but not in the US, David. The same day the Capitol Police iarrested Mrs. Sheehan when she refused to leave, diotically forced the wife of a Republican congressman to leave the Capitol because she was wearing a shirt supporting the war! (See the article below from World Net Daily.)

There is no repression of dissent in the US (or Sheehan would have been removed when she was staging her antics outside the Bush ranch).

Obviously the Capitol police were dunderheads but note that they immediately apologized to Sheehan.

David, did you not know this? If you did know it, why did you not inform the other members? Given the overall context, the failure to note the removal of Mrs. Young and the apology to Mrs. Sheehan is shamefully misleading.

*********************************************

Less than 24 hours after anti-Bush peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested for "unlawful conduct" at last night's State of the Union address, the charge is being dropped and federal officials are apologizing.

"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol. The policy and procedures were too vague," said Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."

Sheehan was taken into custody shortly after unzipping her jacket, revealing her T-shirt, which had the message, "2245 Dead. How many more?"

In addition, Beverly Young, the wife of U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R- Fla., was also ejected from the House gallery for wearing a shirt that read, "Support the Troops – Defending Our Freedom."

According to a release from Capitol Police this evening, "it was determined that while officers acted in a manner consistent with the rules of decorum enforced by the department in the House gallery for years, neither Mrs. Sheehan's manner of dress or initial conduct warranted law enforcement intervention. The USCP also asked Mrs. Beverly Young, to leave the gallery because of a T-shirt she was wearing. Mrs. Young did not return to the gallery so there was no need for further police action. Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts."

Edited by Tim Gratz

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Tim, I was born in the country from which the USA has traditionally learned the techniques of subtle repression: the United Kingdom.

It's strange how often dunderheads make mistakes which result in freedom being denied and the powerful being let off the hook. Secret policemen in communist dictatorships and the mutawa (religious police) in a US ally like Saudi Arabia tend to be clumsier, but it's the thought that counts, isn't it.

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David, of course there can be subtle pressures against the majority POV. I know that. This forum is an excellent example. Look at the ridicule which has been heaped on me because I do not share the conventional wisdom of most of the members about the assassination.

But that is a far, far cry from repression by government.

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Guest Stephen Turner

Tim, you are obviously against any form of Government repression, and believe strongly in the Democratic process. With this in mind Do you feel that Augusto Pinochet should be brought to trial, for crimes against Humanity?

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Yes.

More on Cuba (from the Miami Herald):

The eight Cuban migrants found alive on Elbow Key Thursday had been afloat for seven days in the Florida Straits, their food and water supply gone.

Then the sea turned on them, slamming their makeshift vessel against a jagged reef, and sending them all tumbling into the water, said Manuel Felipe Prieto, who lives in Miami and is the uncle of one of the victims, Yuley Parra, 22.

That's when six of the Cubans may have died, Prieto said.

''Everyone jumped into the sea,'' Prieto said. ``They started swimming, but the sea was choppy. Yuley, the girl, was very skinny, and that's when she disappeared.''

Prieto's account comes from his conversation Thursday night with Raidel Martinez Chavez, the migrant taken to a hospital in Marathon to treat an infected thumb and lacerated arm. Prieto said Martinez lost part of his finger as he swam toward land through the razor-sharp reef, and that many of the other migrants were injured.

Mariners Hospital said Martinez was not taking phone calls.

The survivors told Coast Guard officials that six others had died while attempting to reach shore after their homemade vessel broke apart.

This group of Cubans was not the group of 15 that the Coast Guard had searched for last week. ''The two had no correlation,'' said Coast Guard spokeswoman Gretchen Eddy. ``That other group is still missing.''

LIVED BY FORAGE

For 13 days, the survivors ate snails and other mollusks, seaweed and other edible things that washed up on shore, Prieto said.

The Coast Guard said the survivors claimed they had left Cuba Jan. 13, and desperately swam to the island after the shipwreck Jan. 20.

Seven of the survivors were awaiting their fate Friday afternoon aboard a Coast Guard vessel, said Petty Officer James Judge. Judge said no bodies had been recovered, and that the Coast Guard planned to turn the migrants over to Bahamian authorities because they had been found on Bahamian territory.

The Coast Guard rescued the survivors after receiving a report from the Bahamian fishing vessel Sea Explorer, the Coast Guard said. Judge said no bodies had been recovered.

William MacDonald, assistant director for the Bahamas immigration agency, told the Associated Press the migrants would have to prove they faced persecution in communist Cuba to be granted political refugee status in his country. Otherwise, they will be deported.

Martinez will likely be allowed to stay in the United States because he was taken for medical care to the Florida Keys.

CALL FOR REVIEW

Meanwhile, the Cuban American National Foundation sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking him to conduct an immediate review of the controversial wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which mostly allows Cubans who reach U.S. shores to stay, but demands the repatriation of those picked up at sea unless they can show they qualify for asylum.

Summary: six Cubans died trying to escape Castro's paradise this week. As I said, Cubans risking their lives to escape to freedom is a weekly occurence down here.

Edited by Tim Gratz

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Totally unsupported. I favor human rights in all countries. You (John Simkin), however, seem to be tolerant of the well-documented human rights abuses in Cuba.

This is not true. When have I ever defended human rights abuses in Cuba or any other country? All I have pointed out is that Castro’s record is better than the neo-fascist military dictatorships that existed in Cuba in the 1950s. These were of course governments that were supported by the American government.

What we do know is that you have been unwilling to criticize CIA covert activities that have undermined democratically elected government in Guatemala, Chile, etc. Even if they were not democratically elected, the CIA had no right to try and bring these governments down. However, according to your postings, it is alright to overthrow these governments if it can be found that they have received financial support from so-called communist regimes or/and if the American government perceive it is in the national interest to overthrow these governments. (See the thread on the CIA overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954.)

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=5945

Tim, you are obviously against any form of Government repression, and believe strongly in the Democratic process. With this in mind Do you feel that Augusto Pinochet should be brought to trial, for crimes against Humanity?

Good question. I suspect that Tim will be unwilling to answer it. After all, George Bush has not come out against Pinochet. Nor will Tim be in favour of action taken against those men who currently live in the US who are guilty of carrying out acts of terrorrism against left-wing governments such as Cuba.

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John wrote:

This is not true. When have I ever defended human rights abuses in Cuba or any other country? All I have pointed out is that Castro’s record is better than the neo-fascist military dictatorships that existed in Cuba in the 1950s.

Now come on, John, don't twist the facts. These are your EXACT words:

I have spent time in Cuba and the people are definitely not afraid of criticizing their government.

From your post one would think there are no human rights abuses in Cuba. But that is just plainly false. Every human rights organization has documented and condemned those abuses. If the Cuban people are not afraid of criticizing their own government, can you find any newspaper published in Cuba that contains any such criticism?

To fail to recognize civil liberties abuses is the same as defending them, in my book.

You know there is no political freedom in Cuba.

John wrote (in response to Stephen's question):

Good question. I suspect that Tim will be unwilling to answer it.

John is wrong again. I had answered it before he even made his post.

Fairness compels me to amend this post to state that the fact vthat John allows such criticism of himself on his Forum suggests that he is indeed a civil libertarian, although his practice is not always consistent.

Edited by Tim Gratz

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Guest Stephen Turner

Yes.

Tim, thank you for your candour, can I now ask if you would support the trial, on charges of aiding and abetting human rights abuses, including mass murder and rape of any American individual, or agency who can be shown to have played a part in, planning, aiding, and or supporting the Coup detat. including, but not limited to, supplying weapons, men and training.. Steve.

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