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To Brazil, Castro Can Do No Wrong

 To 
        Brazil, Castro Can Do No Wrong

By
its inaction, Brazil has blown an opportunity to show the world
that it is ready to stand up for human rights and has grown up
politically. It would be too much to expect though. President Lula
himself, a little over a year ago, declared that Fidel Castro
was "the greatest statesman in the Americas".
by: John
Fitzpatrick

 

The
idea of criticizing Cuba is anathema to many Brazilians—including,
it appears, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. So, Brazil really
surprised no one last week when it announced it would abstain, in the
United Nations vote to condemn Cuba for its most recent, flagrant disregard
for human rights.

The
attempt by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to take advantage of the world
spotlight on Iraq to crack down on dissidents, and summarily execute
by firing squad ("murder" would be a better description) three
men accused of hijacking a ferryboat, was hopefully the last twitch
of a dying regime. However, rather than show a lead and condemn such
barbaric behavior, Brazil’s representative at the U.N. Human Rights
Commission was looking elsewhere, perhaps out the window at the swans
gliding across Lake Geneva, or scratching his head over a crossword
puzzle while the debate raged on.

By
its inaction, Brazil has blown an opportunity to show the world that
not only is it ready to stand up for human rights, but it has grown
up politically. Again though, it would have been quite difficult to
expect a different stand from Brazil: only a year or so before being
elected president, Lula himself declared that Fidel Castro was "the
greatest statesman in the Americas". If Lula no longer feels that
way about Cuba’s absolute boss, he has told no one.

The
Cuba debate arises every year at the U.N., and many Latin American countries
use it as a way of showing their "independence" from the U.S.,
despite the fact they are economically dependent on the Americans. Brazil
has always abstained, and even the United States’ NAFTA partner, Mexico,
has never supported the U.S. position, although there were signs this
year the Mexicans might change tack. Argentina also announced that it
would abstain. At the time of writing, no final vote had been taken.

The
debate always covers the same ground. The Americans call Cuba a Communist
dictatorship, and the Cubans criticize the Americans for insisting on
an economic blockade and supporting Cuban exiles in Miami. Although
as a debate it is sterile, the discussion does serve a useful purpose,
as it focuses attention on the fact that Castro runs a dictatorship.

There
are now signs that even some of Castro’s admirers are becoming frustrated
by his arrogance and brutality. The Brazilian media highlighted the
fact that Portuguese writer and long time Castro supporter José
Saramago, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, had finally turned
against him after recent events. Under the heading "Até
Aqui Cheguei" (roughly translated as That’s It—I Have Had
Enough), Saramago wrote: "Cuba won no heroic battle by shooting
these men, but lost my trust, destroyed my hopes, cheated me of illusions."
The O Estado de S. Paulo daily was one of several that published
his comment prominently.

Another
Nobel laureate, Italian dramatist Dario Fo, also condemned the executions,
while the reformed Italian Communist Party issued a statement criticizing
itself for not paying more attention to the growing repression in Cuba.
Most Americans or Cubans have probably never heard of either writer,
but this desertion by intellectuals could be the thin end of the wedge.
Castro has always benefited from the leeway granted by liberal and leftwing
intellectuals, artists and opinion makers who still see him as a swashbuckling
revolutionary, fighting alongside Che Guevara to free the downtrodden
peasants from the Batista dictatorship.

There
is much to be criticized in the U.S. approach, and staunch allies like
the U.K. and Canada have always defied Washington. It is true that Cuba
has been unfairly singled out by the United States for almost 40 years,
as punishment for Castro’s duplicity in hiding his Communist credentials
when he first assumed power. The U.S. has lacked consistency, since
it has propped up many other unsavory regimes in Latin America. It has
also been choosy in who it picks on. Under Bill Clinton it abandoned
its human rights battle against another Communist dictatorship, China,
which now has most favored trading nation status.

Unfortunately,
no American president—whether liberal like Jimmy Carter and Clinton
or a hawk like Ronald Reagan—has had the courage to grasp this
nettle. By doing nothing, the U.S. has let the sore fester, and inadvertently
strengthened Castro’s position. However, at the same time, the U.S.
has done more for Cuba than the former Soviet Union ever did, by providing
a home for hundreds of thousands of Cubans—political refugees and
workers just seeking a better life.

It
is worth asking whether Cuba would be a better place today if Castro
had not thrown his shadow across it for 40 years. I have the feeling
it would be. Instead of being subsidized by the former Soviet Union
for decades, and basing its economy on a commodity product like sugar,
it would have diversified and exploited its other natural and human
resources.

Still,
there are many Latin Americans who have watched with admiration as Castro
has thumbed his nose at the Americans for decades. He tried to foment
revolts in various countries, and sheltered guerrillas and dissidents,
including Lula’s right hand man and current federal government Chief
of Staff, José Dirceu.

At
the same time, Castro became arrogant and assumed that other Latin American
countries were in the palm of his hand. The three countries that supported
the latest U.N. resolution—Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica—were
called "vile lackeys of the Empire" by Cuba. And the Cuban
ambassador to the UN said they had committed "treason", apparently
forgetting that one can only be treasonable to one’s own country, not
another. This attitude makes the Cubans sound more imperialistic than
the Americans.

Nevertheless,
we should be thankful that one high-ranking Brazilian, Sergio Vieira
de Mello, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights no less, has publicly
expressed concern at what he called "the arrests and ongoing trials
of the approximately 80 persons charged with working for a foreign power
to undermine the Cuban Government". Vieira de Mello was appointed
to this top post last September, after successfully heading a U.N. administration
in East Timor.

One
might have expected the Brazilian government to take his position into
consideration before announcing its official decision. But obviously,
the ItamaratyßBrazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, feels it is more important
to spare the feelings of a Communist dictator than support one of Brazil’s
most highly respected representatives on the global scene.

A visit
to the U.N. Human Rights Commission* website yields yet another Brazilian
touch. It features a drawing by Brazilian artist Octavio Roth, illustrating
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Everybody has the right
to life, liberty and security of person" is written underneath
a crude drawing of a figure reaching for the sun. So far, the author
has not added "Except Cubans."

 

*
United Nations Human Rights Commission page featuring drawing by Brazilian
artist Octavio Roth (on the top left hand side of the page)
http://www.ohchr.org/news 

 

John
Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in
1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on
politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—
 www.celt.com.br, which
specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br

©
John Fitzpatrick 2003

This
article appeared originally in Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com

 

 

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