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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