Caribbean Cold War

As the US runs roughshod over international law, Harold Pinter demands justice for Cuba.

May 1, 1996
6 min read

So Clinton has signed the Helms/Burton bill, citing Cuba’s ‘scorn for international law’. What a joke. In the course of its endeavours to keep the world safe for democracy the US has broken international law more times than I’ve had hot dinners and done it with impunity.

When the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 1986 found the US guilty on eight separate counts of gross intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state (Nicaragua) and asked it to make reparation for all injury caused, the US simply told it to bugger off, asserting that its actions were outside the province of any international court.

Even the poor old United Nations has condemned the US trade embargo of Cuba by an overwhelming majority for three years running (1993-5: 88-4, 101-2 and 117-3) and been totally ignored by the convicted party. This is perhaps why the British, Canadian and Mexican governments don’t propose a motion to the Security Council condemning this further legislation which sets out to prevent free trade between Cuba and the rest of the world in terms which are in blatant breach of the UN Charter and the aforesaid International Law. They’ve probably worked out that it would be like farting ‘Annie Laurie’ down a keyhole, as we used to say in the good old days. Be that as it may, the truth is plain: this is an exercise of arrogant power which stinks.

The most astonishing thing about Cuba is quite simply that it has survived. After over 35 years of the most ruthless economic violence, 35 years of unremitting and virulent hostility from the US, Cuba remains an independent sovereign state. This is a quite remarkable achievement. Not many states have remained independent or ‘sovereign’ for long in the US ‘backyard’. Here are three short extracts from Duncan Green’s book Silent Revolution. This is the first:

‘10,000 delegates of the World Bank sat down to dinner. The dinner was catered by Ridgewells at $200 per person. Guests began with crab cakes, caviar, creme fraiche, smoked salmon and mini beef wellingtons. The fish course was lobster with corn rounds followed by citrus sorbet. The entree was duck with lime sauce served with artichoke bottoms filled with baby carrots. A hearts of palm salad was offered accompanied by sage cheese souffles with a port wine dressing. Dessert was a German chocolate turnip sauced with raspberry coulis, ice cream bon bons and flaming coffee royale.’The wine list isn’t mentioned.

Here is the second extract:

‘The tiny adobe house is crammed with gnarled Bolivian mining women in patched shawls and battered felt hats, whose calloused hands work breaking up rocks on the surface in search of scraps of tin ore. The paths between the miners’ huts are strewn with plastic bags and human excrement, dried black in the sun.’

This is a Bolivian woman speaking:

‘In the old days women used to stay at home because the men had work. Now we have to work. Many of our children have been abandoned. Their fathers have left and there’s no love left in us when we get home late from work. We leave food for them. They play in the streets. There are always accidents and no doctors. 1 feel like a slave in my own country. We get up at 4am and at 11 at night we are still working. I have vomited blood for weeks at a time and still had to keep working.’

No doubt after dinner the World Bank delegates discussed the Bolivian economy and made their recommendations.

This monstrous inequality is precisely what inspired the Cuban revolution. The revolution set out to correct such grotesque polarisation and was determined to ensure that the Cuban people never have to endure such degradation again.

It understood that recognition of and respect for human dignity were crucial obligations which devolved upon a civilised society. Its achievements are remarkable. It constructed a health service which can hardly be rivalled and established an extraordinary level of literacy. All this the US found to be abominable Marxist-Leninist subversion and naturally set out to destroy it. It has failed. And it must be true to say that Cuba could never have survived unless it possessed a formidable centre of pride, faith and solidarity.

There is the question of human rights. I myself don’t believe in the relativity of human rights. I don’t believe that ‘local conditions’, as it were, or a specific cultural disposition can justify suppression of dissent or the individual conscience. In Cuba I have always understood harsh treatment of dissenting voices as stemming from a ‘siege situation’ imposed upon it from outside. And I believe that to a certain extent that is true. But equally, apologists for Israeli actions have also stressed a siege situation brought about by external threat. Mordechai Vanunu is a dissent ing voice in Israel and was sentenced to 18 years solitary confinement for disclosing Israel’s nuclear capacity to the world.

I am a trustee of the Vanunu estate and a defender of his right to speak. I must therefore logically defend, for example, Maria Elena Cruz Vareia’s right to speak also. Socialism must be about active and participatory debate.

However, the wrinkled moral frown of the US has always been good for a laugh. ‘We deplore etc, etc the violations of human rights in such and such a country.’ In their own country one and a half million people are in jail, 3,000 are on Death Row, nearly 50 million live under the poverty line, effectively disenfranchised, there is a huge black underclass, abused and condemned, 38 states practise the death penalty, corruption is vibrant and active at all levels of the hierarchy, police brutality is systematic, heavily racist, lethal. Human rights, where are you?

There exists today widespread propaganda which asserts that socialism is dead. But if to be a socialist is to be a person convinced that the words ‘the common good’ and ‘social justice’ actually mean something; if to be a socialist is to be outraged at the contempt in which millions and millions of people are held by those in power, by ‘market forces’, by international financial institutions; if to be a socialist is to be a person determined to do everything in his or her power to alleviate these unforgivably degraded lives, then socialism can never be dead because these aspirations will never die.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


1