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Cuba and human rights

Otto Kölbl

Since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Cuba has often made headlines for its human rights violations. The last campaign of our media has been triggered by the "black spring" in 2003, where more than 70 activists (journalists and human rights activists) have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. As a consequence, when in 2009 Cuba organized a "Concert for Peace" where many international stars were invited, virtually all the Western media protested against the project, calling for a boycott and contesting the right to the Cuban government to talk about "peace".

On the other hand, nobody talks about the Cuban human rights record in the field of the economic, social and cultural rights. Among other things, according to all the specialized sources, the country has been able to offer its population an infant mortality which is lower than in the US, despite a much lower standard of living. Even the CIA must concede this in their World Factbook. It is obvious that our media don't care much about the survival of the babies in the world. However, such an achievement should at least be considered to be worth mentioning. In relation to its standard of living, Cuba has been able to save the lives or 1200 babies each year as compared to the world's average, and more than 450 babies as compared to a country with the same standard of living which would have made a consistent and sustained effort in this field.

It is quite legitimate to criticize a country which violates the human rights; the whole concept is based on the fact that these rights are not only part of the internal affairs of each country, they are or concern to the whole international community. However, any criticism of an extra-European country must be based exclusively on the concept of human rights on which the international community agreed within the framework of the UN, which explicitly includes the right to the access to healthcare, no matter how much money somebody has got. It also mentions the responsibility of all governments to take the necessary measures to reduce infant mortality.

If we consider the infant mortality in relation to the standard of living in each country, Cuba ranks first in the whole world. When speaking about the human rights in this country, we should at least mention it. Instead, some Western media, despite their good reputation, engage in pure propaganda. I saw a report about Cuba on BBC World at 50th birthday of the Cuban revolution on January 1st 2009. They talked about a "run-down health system, which is however able to offer basic care to its population".

I could not record the footage, therefore I asked the BBC to send it to me from their archives, explaining that I work for the Lausanne University and that I was ready to pay for getting the recording. The BBC refused. I know that they have got a cutting-edge archive service, with an automatic speech-to-text transcription system which writes into a database everything which is said on their channels, elaborated with the help of a Swiss research institute. Have they got something to hide? Or what reason have they got to refuse to send excerpts on demand against payment to a university for research purposes? It is quite obvious that this will prevent any kind of scientific research about the way in which the BBC informs (or misinforms) its audience about the world.

If our media cared even a little bit about the survival of the babies born in the world, they would send TV crews to inquire about the way in which Cuba, Vietnam, Eritrea, Moldavia, Portugal and Serbia manage to offer to the babies which are born on their soil exceptional survival chances in relation to their standard of living.

Instead of that, they will campaign for years against Cuba because its regime jailed a few journalists and political opponents. Sometimes I only want to shout very loud: "I give a d… about a few dozens arrogant journalists and egocentric self-proclaimed politicians who spend a few years in jail, if this allows the regime to continue saving the life of more than 1000 babies each year!"

However, when this wish comes over me, I try to cool down and to remain politically correct. I don't wish to anybody to go to prison, and if I try to attract your attention to the economic, social and cultural rights, this does not mean that I forget about the civil and political rights.

However, we have to ask ourselves about the relation between these two groups of rights. How is it that some countries considered as the "worst violators" of the civil and political rights offer the best chances of survival to their babies, whereas the countries which advocate a liberal ideology are almost systematically among the worst in terms of general access to human rights?

In particular, we should ask ourselves whether a sudden breakdown of the Cuban communist regime would not lead inevitably to the death of thousands of innocent babies, as has often (but not always) been the case when an authoritarian regime putting social progress high on the agenda has disappeared. However, this reflection is totally absent from our media, who will always present the civil and political rights as the universal panacea.