Cuba trade embargo and the politics of deception


The news media has reported on a campaign of posters on the Washington Metro urging President Barack Obama to end the U.S. embargo against Havana. The group behind the campaign, with the suggestive name of CubaNow, has made a sudden appearance, and the only well-known name among the few that the campaign mentions is that of Yoani Sánchez, the courageous Cuban blogger who is persecuted by the regime and who has received many international awards for her work. At the time that CubaNow launched its campaign, Yoani Sánchez was in the United States, and it was learned that she had not approved the use of her name and photograph, prominently displayed next to a photo of President Obama, in the poster campaign.

Sadly, the photo of Yoani Sánchez, copied from the Internet, has been used without her permission on more than one occasion, and some have published collections of her blogs despite her copyright over her work.

But to use Yoani Sánchez, without her permission, for a campaign that presents a distorted vision of Cuba’s reality, and which asks President Obama to unilaterally lift sanctions against the Castro dynasty, is not the only worrisome part of the CubaNow initiative.

The public face of CubaNow, Ric Herrero, refuses to make public the cost of the publicity campaign, and more troubling, the source of the funds that make it possible.

But Americans see a lack of transparency as an unforgivable failure in politics. Americans demand and expect total transparency when it comes to politics. For example, when a citizen makes a contribution to an electoral campaign, the amount of the donation, the name of the donor, his or her profession and his or her address become part of the public record.

And if transparency in domestic politics is important, why not with a campaign to influence U.S. policy toward a government that just three week ago was once again identified by the Department of State as a sponsor of international terrorism? The other countries on the list are Syria, Sudan, and Iran. As early as June 1976, Fidel Castro, made his position clear: “If the Cuban state were to carry out terrorist acts and respond with terrorism to the terrorists, we believe we would be efficient terrorists. Let no one think otherwise. If we decide to carry out terrorism, it is a sure thing we would be efficient. But the mere fact that the Cuban revolution has never implemented terrorism does not mean that we renounce it. We would like to issue this warning.”

The lack of information from the CubaNow campaign is troubling. The image of young Cuban Americans, with sweet and adorable smiles, does not answer the questions being asked. Herrero said that it is a group made up of a new generation of Cuban-Americans, but did not say how many members it has and said nothing about its history, how it was founded or how it was organized.

We do know that he was the deputy director of the controversial Cuba Study Group, headed by businessman Carlos Saladrigas. And that Herrero was treasurer of the New Cuban-American Majority political action committee, also founded by Saladrigas.

CubaNow says it favors a discussion on Cuba and U.S. Cuba policy and there’s broad consensus on that among all Cubans — although those who live on the island have no possibility of participating on any debate on the issue, and CubaNow has not included in its campaign one single reference to repression or government abuse.

Anyone interested in learning about Cuba today has only to read the posts in Generación Y, the blog of Yoani Sánchez. There, they will find the reality of the Caribbean nation: the lack of freedom, the abuses against dissidents, the misery, the poverty and the entrenchment of the military gerontocracy in power.

Yoani has written: “At a time when newspapers are showing that governments can not get away with secrecy, the conformist role of the official Cuban news media is sad, to say the least.”

On the national census, she wrote that “counting us is not the same as counting on us.” And she wrote about seeing on television “the faces of those in this country who have turned a difference of opinion into a crime and civic protest into treason.”

On the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, in a post titled “Rest in Freedom, Oswaldo Payá,” she wrote, “Payá suffered for many years the constant vigilance on his house, the arbitrary arrests, the ‘acts of repudiation’ by government-organized mobs and the threats. He never missed a chance to denounce the condition of some jailed dissident, or the unjust prison sentence of others.”

CubaNow, the real Cuba of today that Yoani writes about, is the Cuba of Oswaldo Payá.

If CubaNow were to reflect the issues that appear week after week in the Generación Y blog of Yoani Sánchez, the images that would appear on its posters would be different.

Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, based in Washington, D.C.

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