NACLA attack on Cuba


Posted to on October 26, 2005


I think that most people have become accustomed to the idea that NACLA (North American Committee on Latin America) has shed its early radical politics, but every so often there’s an article in their “Report on the Americas” that really makes your hair stand on end.


In the current issue, you can read “Cuba: New Partners And Old Limits” that was written by Daniela Spenser from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City. She is unabashedly described as being the organizer of the November 2002 Woodrow Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project Conference. Upon the board of this august body you can find Allen Weinstein (Archivist of the United States), Condoleeza Rice, a slew of executives from outfits like Bristol Myers-Squibb and last but not least the novelist Robin Cook whose “Abduction” describes a group of scientists exploring the ocean floor who are abducted by a million-year old society that lives in the earth's core. Just the sort of credentials needed to land you on the board of an anti-Communist think-tank.


The Woodrow Wilson Website describes Ms. Spenser’s conference as focused on the following:


During the height of the Cold War, Latin American revolutionary activists traveled to Havana and returned to their countries of origin in Latin America through the Czech capital Prague after having undergone military and political training in Cuba. Newly obtained Czech archival documents now provide details on “Operation Manuel.” The operation began in 1962; from the available documents it is not clear when it ended.


I imagine that Allen Weinstein had a hand in assisting Spenser put this conference together since he has an extensive background in ferreting out Soviet conspiracies. After Weinstein was nominated for the post of national archivist, Jon Wiener wrote an article in the Nation that began as follows:


“The White House nomination of Allen Weinstein, a historian of Soviet espionage, as archivist of the United States has caused a storm of protest in the normally quiet world of archivists and historians. Nineteen organizations, including the Society of American Archivists and the Organization of American Historians, have issued a joint statement expressing concern and calling on the Senate, which must confirm the nomination, to hold hearings to find out why the current archivist is being replaced and whether Weinstein is qualified.”




Although Spenser’s NACLA article is available only to subscribers, you can read the whole thing on red-baiter Leo Casey’s mailing list at:


Her article begins: “Cuba's revolution, having survived continuous U.S. aggression and the loss of Soviet support, now confronts an unlikely challenger from the left--global civil society.” For long-time readers of NACLA, the words “civil society” should ring a bell. This describes a constellation of NGO’s, social movements, squatters, etc. that is seen as an alternative to seizing state power and directing a nation’s resources for the well-being of workers and peasants. “Civil society,” you see, is preferable to “statist” solutions because it cannot lead to dictatorship. Of course, it cannot lead to material improvements either but that doesn’t seem to matter much to the liberal savants at NACLA. Spenser assures her readers:


“Not only in its internal politics, but also looking outward, Cuba is unreceptive toward alternative social movements. Its participation in the popular social resistance against neoliberalism and globalization, then, cannot be other than limited, since that resistance demands participatory democracy and a strong civil society with transnational rights.”


This certainly must come as a surprise to the Cubans who organized a conference on January 31, 2001 under the banner “Popular international movement against neoliberal globalization.” A reporter from Granma summed it up as follows:


“Protests in Seattle, Prague and Davos left a clear message scrawled on the walls of the universe: a popular movement transcending national borders is emerging. These are the words of warning that opened the 3rd International Economists Encounter in Havana on globalization and development problems, attended by Fidel Castro. At the close of this edition the conference sessions are continuing with the participation of experts from 45 countries and 11 international organizations.”


Later that year, Cuban President Fidel Castro made a speech that praised the large protests at meetings of world leaders in recent years. He joked that the heads of rich nations may soon have to meet on the International Space Station to avoid them.


Moreover, Spenser really seems miffed that Castro did not emulate the Soviets who had embarked on perestroika. The old dinosaur “reacted to the events in Eastern Europe by calling for renewed inflexibility against the ills of imperialism, the privatization of property and the dismantling of the Revolution. So that news of what was happening on the other side of the world did not become contagious, Soviet newspapers ceased to circulate in Cuba.” What a terrible blow to freedom of the press.


The final section of Spenser’s article makes an aggressive case for the EZLN who in the eyes of “civil society” partisans like her embodies an alternative to discredited “statist” solutions, especially socialism. She writes, “The Cuban government has no patience, for example, with movements like the Zapatistas.” I myself can’t recall even a hint of this. Generally speaking, Castro has never been critical of any movement that opposes capitalism. Ironically, it is partisans of the Zapatistas like John Holloway who have been guilty of sectarian attacks on Cuba rather than the other way around.


Spenser believes that “The Cuban government’s insistence on old-style socialism has little attraction outside of Cuba because it constrains rather than liberates social forces. Because the Cuban regime continues to act as a social engineer in a world of recognized human diversity, it cannot join the Zapatistas and other popular movements in speaking to the totality of the population that opposes imperial designs.”


Well, with all due respect to Daniela Spenser and her patrons at NACLA, there are certain advantages to the Cuban development model that should be an inspiration to struggling people everywhere, including in Chiapas. What she calls social engineering might be described in more neutral terms like changing society.


Considering the reality of Chiapas today, it seems that NACLA would be better advised to think twice about writing screeds against Cuba, especially in light of the report in the February 3, 2003 Newsday titled "Infant Deaths Plague Mexico" that states that a single hospital in Chiapas serves nearly 500,000 people. Burdened by inadequate staffing and supplies, babies die at twice the national rate.


Exploiting improvements in their own medical infrastructure that are no doubt the product of dastardly “social engineering”, Cuba demonstrated solidarity with Chiapas that no doubt eluded our friends at NACLA:


Mon Jan 20, 5:30 PM ET


MEXICO CITY (AP) - Cuban health workers are in southern Chiapas state to help officials cope with a sudden spate of infant deaths at a rural hospital, the governor said Monday.


Cuban Deputy Health Minister Gonzalo Estevez is among four Cuban doctors visiting the state to advise officials on possible improvement in the health care system, state officials said. In an interview with the Televisa network, Gov. Pablo Salazar said the doctors were discussing the possibility of bringing "epidemiological brigades" to Chiapas.


He did not specify what sort of health workers, or how many, would come. State health officials said no deal had been reached.


The death of 25 infants at a hospital in Comitan during December and several more since then drew national attention to long-existing public health concerns in Chiapas, one of Mexico's poorest states.


Alarmed by the medical crisis, local officials invited experts from the federal government and Pan American Health Organization to investigate the deaths. State prosecutors also are investigating the deaths.


According to the health experts' report, many of the mothers whose babies died in Comitan had not received any prenatal care before arriving at the hospital to give birth. Others had arrived only after their children developed problems.


"We need to attend to the mothers ... to make the pregnancy safe and the birth successful. That implies an impressive multiplication of human resources," the governor added.


A recent state government news release said Salazar's administration took office in late 2000 amid "a true health emergency."


"For 50 years there were bad educational policies, bad health policies, and for many years not a peso was invested in infrastructure," Salazar said.


He said the state needs at least 500 more health centers and 2,500 additional medical workers.


Cuba's socialist government has made heavy investment in health a point of pride, and has sent thousands of doctors and nurses on missions to impoverished or disaster-stricken areas in Africa and the Americas.


Cuba's health system, while short on medicines, specializes in preventative and neonatal care.


Salazar said the medical assistance is part of a broader agreement under which Cuba has already sent agronomists and other experts to his state.


Cuba has made a point of offering aid to nations with both friendly and hostile governments. Relations between Mexico and Cuba have been tense over the past year.