Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Perez Roque of Cuba paid a courtesy call to The Bahamas during the week of November 3, 2003. The reason for his visit was reportedly an attempt to form stronger relations with The Bahamas and encourage investment in Cuba. However, there was a concerted effort to engender support for Cuba’s effort to get the United States to lift its economic embargo.
The week began with the Charge d’Affaires of the United States Embassy, Mr. Robert Witejewski imploring The Bahamas to put the tough questions to Minister Perez Roque regarding Cuba’s abysmal human rights record. As with the comments of the former U.S. Ambassador, Minister Mitchell chose to suggest that the comments were “unusual” instead of dealing with the content.
Because there is a trade embargo against Cuba by America, this is not enough reason to excuse the alleged murders by the state with minimal comments like there are “issues” with Cuba and human rights.
As Lawrence Solomon, columnist with Canada’s National Post wrote in February this year:
“Despite this appalling human rights record, Castro has been courted and condoned by a fawning international intelligentsia that includes Harvard lawyers and statesmen who have made their reputations defending civil liberties… …One world leader who has not been duped is Czech President Vaclav Havel, himself a political prisoner before the fall of communism in Europe, who sponsored a resolution condemning Cuba at the UN Commission on Human Rights.”
Minister Mitchell and the Government of The Bahamas…a group that say they have such respect for the right to vote…appear to want to forgive Castro without demanding some accountability for a regime that according to Mr. Solomon:
“…allows no opponents, no opposing viewpoints to appear in the press, and, because that might not be enough, his political machine ensures a good turnout by keeping tabs on who votes and who doesn't: In last Sunday's (January 2003) national election, Castro managed a 90%-plus "yes" vote…”
The irony of Minister Mitchell’s comments are, that not long after he was chastising America, Minister Perez Roque was meeting with Bahamians at the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce decrying America and their embargo.
There are paradoxes on both sides of the Cuban American problems, but it is what is not said by the leaders of The Bahamas in this matter that stokes the flame of anti-American sentiment by the average Bahamian. Of course, this sentiment is something that The Bahamas government can ill afford to flame…for the sake of everyone in The Bahamas.
Well, as Mr. Solomon further noted in his four essay expose on Cuba (all posted at www.nassauinstitute.org):
“Those who cavort with Castro forgive him his transgressions, reasoning that his feats outweighed his faults, or that human rights abuses were necessary to achieve his towering accomplishments in literacy and health. But there were no great ends that justified his brutal means. Castro's feats are all modest or non-existent.”
But what about the embargo you ask? Mr. Solomon reports that:
“The American embargo on Cuba did harm the Cuban economy, but to a modest extent – the most comprehensive study of its economic effects showed a mere US$84-million to US$167-million a year in lost exports. The real harm to the Cuban economy was self-inflicted: The economy collapsed shortly after Castro took power, partly because Cuba lost a staggering number of managers and professionals who fled the country and partly because Castro's central economic plan – The First Economic and Social Plan of a Socialist Nature of 1962 – was ruinous, as Castro would later admit. Food rationing began the same year.”
The Bahamas has an interesting tight rope to walk between Cuba on one border and America on another, but they should bear in mind that Cuba comes here hat in hand while America helps keep The Bahamas a relatively free and prosperous nation when compared to many of our neighbouring countries to the south.
In the meeting with representative’s of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, the public and the press, Minister Perez Roque seemed a little disingenuous when he advised that some business people like doing business in Cuba, because the government hire’s the employee’s and if the company wants to downsize, they simply send them back to the government office…no strings attached. Furthermore, the system has the employer pay the government the wages who in turn pays less to the worker. It has been reported that take home pay is $5 per month for a labourer and $12 per month for an accountant.
In response to questions, the Cuban Minister informed audience at the Chamber that neither individuals nor businesses can own property. This is hardly an incentive for freedom loving people to invest in Cuba. In fact the Minister insinuated, that if Bahamians wanted to invest in Cuba they would have to adapt to the “Cuban way.” The only thing missing was the Defense Committee for the Revolution guards to emphasise that point.
Minister Mitchell, a Harvard, Kennedy School of Government graduate himself, led a delegation against Apartheid in South Africa. While the sound bites chastising America are “cute,” they appear to be nothing more than foreign affairs of the absurd in light of Cuba’s human rights abuses. The Bahamas should take a firm stand directly with Cuba over these important fundamental matters that Bahamians are lucky enough to take for granted.