Facing the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the liberties in Cuba
Written by IWL-FI   
Thursday, 18 March 2010 03:02

Broad international discussion stemmed out of the Cuban prisoner’s death that followed a long hunger strike. This was so, due to the circumstances of the case and the international repercussion, which turned the deeds of the Cuban government red-hot as well as the attitude to be assumed by left organizations in similar cases.

Much more deeply, the debate leads us to the question of what the Cuban State is at present, as a general context within which the analysis of the case should take place as well as the position to be taken.

Who was Orlando Zapata Tamayo?

Most of the left-wing organizations carry out a relentless defence of the Cuban government and emphasize that the repercussion in the media is but a new imperialist campaign against what they regard as “the last bastion of socialism”.

The first argument in this sense is that he was not a political prisoner but a marginal, an anti-social delinquent taking advantage of his condition of prisoner to show off as a “dissident” and became an instrument in the hands of imperialism. But this accusation falsifies reality grossly. That is why it is necessary to see the way Cuban penal system works and who Orlando Zapata really is. It is from these points of view that the truth of the events can be understood.

The Official institutions in Cuba and all those who support it try to prove that Zapata Tamaya is a “common convict”, claiming that he had been arrested several times in the 90s, accused of such offences as “deceit”, “rioting” and “aggressions”. It is this juridical-police report that the organs of Cuban CP claim as support to tag him as a “delinquent”.

For the reasons we shall look into further on, Cuban juridical system is totally debased. But let us suppose that Zapata Tamayo actually did commit the offences for which he was jailed in the 90s. There are the same official organs, however, that “forget” that in December 2002 he was not arrested for any of these felonies, but because he had become an opponent to the regime. Granma, official periodical of the Cuban CP, says he was bailed out on 9 March 2003 and, and according to the same paper, “he committed offence again on 20th of that same month”. What was that latest detention due to? What does Granma mean by “committed offence again”?

A prisoner of conscience        

This detention was due to the fact that, together with other people, he was in a private home, on a hunger strike organized by the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. He was tried and convicted for “contempt, rioting and disobedience of the State” and he was given a long sentence. Ever since then he kept on putting up different protests demanding his freedom (and in the meantime, better conditions of detention) which reached a peak with the hunger strike that caused his death.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), headed by the political dissident and lawyer, Elizardo Sanchez, claimed him as a political prisoner and, since 2004, Amnesty International admitted he was a “prisoner of conscience” (that means, for his beliefs and not for common offences) and they demanded his immediate release.

It is highly probable that Orlando Zapata (or the organization to which he belonged) upheld pro-capitalist positions. We have no commitment with his political demands or his ideas. But he was not arrested for sustaining capitalist restoration but because he demanded democratic liberties in his country. The real confrontation between him and the Cuban administration, the one that took him to death, is the fact that the political regime doesn’t accept activities against it.

It is necessary to see what has happened in Cuba during the latest decades for a skilled labourer – and that is what Orlando Zapata was in the 80s - to be convicted to long years in jail for the sole fact that he had protested against the regime. Secondly, why did Cuban government chose to letting him die rather than making the slightest concession to a prisoner of conscience so that it would not set a “bad example”.

A shocking attitude

The circumstances of his death and the attitude of Raul Castro refusing to have any liability are an outrage for those who have been fighting against persecutions of left-wing militants and those who, in jails of dictatorships or imperialist countries, have had to resort to this kind of measure.

Statements made by Lula, the President of Brazil are equally outrageous: he stood up to defend the repression by the Cuban State and attacked those who go on hunger strikes by comparing them with “Brazilian bandits”. Lula “forgets” his own experience as part of the struggle of the Brazilian people against the military dictatorship and the plenty of times that, in those days, political prisoners used that tool, including when he was in jail.

This is even more grievous now that imperialism and capitalist administrations use the charge of “criminals” or “bandits” against social struggles, such as land occupation, and attack workers and peasants activists and indigenous people who fight against the great estates and the looting by multinationals. By approving such definitions in Cuba; Lula serves the possibilities for the right to use them in the rest of the world.

Cuban revolution and restoration

It is impossible to understand the death of Orland Zapata Tamayo without regarding it against the background of a much deeper economic and social process: the CP-boosted restoration of capitalism that has been accomplished in Cuba since the late 80s and early 90s.

The process inaugurated with the 1959 revolution, that is to say the expropriation of the Cuban bourgeoisie and the beginning of a centrally planned economy turned Cuba into the first workers’ state in the Latin American continent. The revolution attained immense feats in such areas as education and health, general improvement of standard of life of the population and the elimination of extreme poverty.

Cuba became a symbol of what a socialist revolution can achieve and the leaders of the process, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, acquired immense prestige and became a political reference for millions of fighters and revolutionaries in the world. However, since the very beginning of the revolution, the Castroist leadership crystallised as a ruling bureaucracy which soon was to become part of the Stalinist world apparatus, controlled by the ruling caste in the USSR.

This political emplacement was expressed in 1968, by Fidel Castro’s support for the soviet invasion on Czechoslovakia and in 1979, by the orientation given to FSLN, when the Somoza dictatorship was defeated, not to make “a new Cuba” out of Nicaragua (meaning: not to advance towards a socialist revolution). As home policy, Castro prevented the exercise of workers’ democracy and persecuted not only the Miami “worms” but also the left opposition.

In the late 80s and early 90s, capitalist restoration in the European East and the fall of USSR spelled a hard blow for Cuban economy, hinging round export of sugar and its exchange for oil and technology. It was in this context that the Castroist leadership started developing a policy of capitalist restoration and the pruning of the elements of the workers state. The fundamental pillars of a planned economy (a central government plan and the monopoly of foreign trade) exist no more and Cuban economy functions according to capitalist laws of market.

Restoration meant the loss or extreme deterioration of most of the revolutionary and the return of the curse that had been eliminated or reduced to a bare minimum, such as unemployment, prostitution, marginality, drug addiction and delinquency (data admitted even by the Cuban leadership). The Raul Castro administration is still systematically attacking whatever achievements may have survived: popular eateries, ration cards, reduction of health budget and education. The wages of unskilled workers are miserable; there is no right to strike or to organise independently from the State.

The same as in China, foreign capitals try to draw profit out of the extremely low wages and conditions favourable for accumulation of capital and so extract extraordinary profits: European and Canadian imperialist investments accrue and so do those of bourgeois sectors of Brazil.

Capitalist dictatorship

Unlike what happened in the former USSR and the other states of Eastern Europe, where those responsible for the process of capitalist restoration (Stalinist parties and regimes) were then toppled by the masses, Cuban process followed the “Chinese Model”. That means that the masses did not manage to topple the CP regimes, which still continues leading the now capitalist state (even though they continue talking of socialism and using its symbols).

Most of the left has by now admitted what has really happened in China, but they still refuse to do the same with Cuba and they vindicate it as the “last bastion of socialism. It is true that the permanence of the Castro brothers in the leadership, the same persons who led the revolution, may generate confusion and also that the acknowledgement of restoration and Cuban reality will prove heartbreaking for those of us who had cherished great expectations regarding the Cuban revolution. But this can never justify the negation of reality, let alone a misguided policy based on this negation.

Reality shows us that today in Cuba there is an extremely bad combination for the workers. On the one hand, the capitalist economic system of exploitation, the comeback of its worst curses and the recolonisation of the island carried out by the European and Canadian imperialism. On the other hand a dictatorial and antidemocratic regime transformed in partner, promoter and defender of capitalist restoration and its consequences. From this point of view, Cuban regime is similar to the Chinese: those who so far defended their privileges as a bureaucracy now defend the new capitalists and their businesses no matter what.

This dictatorship prevents liberty of expression and represses any political trend that may disagree with their guideline (no matter what its position may be), which, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation - CCDHRN (linked to the opposition), keeps at least 200 political prisoners. Amnesty International admitted 58 political prisoners in 2008. Moreover, there are no public trials in Cuba: court hearings are closed and workers such as Orlando can be persecuted relentlessly and convicted to 30 years for the “crime” of “contempt of authority”.

A dictatorship that greatly fears any liberty of demonstration: even Orlando’s funeral was hedged in by the police in the small town of Banes, showing no respect for the grief of his friends and relatives, all that just to prevent it from becoming a political event. Over 60 arrests were carried out in the entire country so as to prevent the activists nearest to him from turning up.

There are other opposition activists fighting for the freedom of political prisoners: a dissident, the journalist Guillermo Fariñas started his hunger strike at home, in repudiation of the death of Orlando and for the freedom of other arrestees. Once more, the answer of the regime has been that they will not accept any liability for his death and accusing him of being an “agent of the USA”.

A programme of democratic liberties

An intense debate on Cuba existed in the left even when Cuba was a workers’ state. As far as most organisations were concerned, the defence of the revolution implied unconditional support for the Castroist leadership and its regime. For the trend that today constitutes the IWL-FI, in order to defend the revolutionary achievements, it was necessary (the same as in the former USSR or China) to carry out a political revolution that would overthrow the bureaucracy and impose a real regime of workers’ democracy, because, if Castroist bureaucracy lasted on, they would end up by restoring capitalism, and that was precisely what happened.

In those days we did not defend liberties for the bourgeois and petty bourgeois who sought to restore capitalism. We demanded workers’ democracy but we were not favourable to give liberties to the fractions longing for the return of imperialism or conspired to topple the workers’ state, like the “worms” of Miami did.

But now reality has changed: Cuba is no longer a workers’ state with bureaucratic regime; it is a capitalist state governed by a dictatorship. Today, the centre of our programme of demands for Cuba is of head-first struggle against the dictatorship and for the broadest democratic liberties: trade unions, civil and political rights.

Revolutionaries, who fight against capitalism and for the power of the working class, know perfectly well that we must mark the different regimes in a capitalist state. For example: a bourgeois dictatorship from a bourgeois-democratic regime. Under a bourgeois dictatorship, we fight for liberties to different social sectors.

For example: in Argentina in 1976-1982 or Brazil in 1964-1984, there were bourgeois sectors opposing the dictatorial regime. In such situations, any left-wing militant opposed repression exerted by the dictatorship against these sectors. In these situation we fought for the broadest democratic liberties for all the oppositionist trends, including the bourgeois, for this helped people to get organised and mobilised against these regimes.

This does not mean any commitment with these bourgeois or pro-imperialist trends, such as the radicals in Argentina or the MDB in Brazil, against whom we fought politically. In such cases we call for the broadest united action, even with bourgeois sectors to fight against the dictatorship, but we stay independent as a class and we build an alternative that aims at taking power and for workers’ democracy. This united action responds to the fact that the working class needs the most ample democratic liberties to make headway in their organisation.

In the case of Cuba today, we are in a similar situation, regardless appearances and speeches. We, the revolutionaries, must fight to achieve the democratic liberties that will facilitate the organisation of workers and the struggle to make the socialist revolution. Perhaps in the Cuban case we should say “remake”. That is why we vindicate ample democratic liberties, including for bourgeois and petty bourgeois oppositionists and we repudiate repression against political dissidents just the way we would in the case of any dictatorial regime in Latin America.

That is why our position in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is that, regardless pro-bourgeois position that he may has had, we must vindicate his freedom and the freedom of the remaining political prisoners and objectors of conscience who claim for human and civil rights in the country. At the same time we expose the deeds of the Cuban government in this case and we hold them responsible for his death.

Defending democratic liberties in Cuba is the best way to present an alternative again the manipulation of imperialism

Very often, imperialism uses the campaigns in quest of democratic liberties to defend their political and economic interests. Occasionally this drives them to challenge dictatorships. This was what the former president of the USA, Jimmy Carter, did with the Argentine dictatorship in its last stage. Today Obama is trying to sell us a similar image. Does it mean that, just because Carter demanded liberties in Argentina we were supposed to defend the dictatorship?

More than ever before, the left must hoist the democratic banners in Cuba. Not doing so would mean leaving these banners up to imperialism and the right and they will certainly know how to use them to increase their prestige in the eyes of the workers and the peoples all over the world (as well as the Cuban people) as the sole representatives of “democracy” and, as we have already seen, use that in their benefit. If most of the left continues supporting Cuban dictatorship, it will facilitate the imperialist policy of identifying the left and socialism with lack of democracy.

Restoration of capitalism has already taken place in Cuba introduced by the Castroist leadership and in the service of European and Canadian imperialisms. To vindicate what the Cuban government did in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo (and more generally, all the activity of the of the regime) would no longer mean defending (even if incorrectly) the “last bastion of Socialism” but the contrary: it would stand for defending a bourgeois dictatorship. Defend it not against the capitalist system and imperialism that are now back to the island, but against the needs of the Cuban toiling masses. The solution for Cuba is to build an independent workers’ alternative to challenge the Castroist dictatorship and imperialism and to fight for a new socialist revolution.  

International Courier

New epoch –Number 157     March 2010

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