National Lawyers Guild. New York City Chapter – Defend Cuba and the Cuban Five Peter Roman, People’s Power: Cuba’s Experience With Representative Government, Update Edition reviewed by Hobart Spalding
This slim volume (58 pages) provides an excellent short course on the state of US-Cuban relations and insights into the recent Cuban moves against “dissidents.” The panelists, Jane Franklin, Leonard Weinglass, John Gerassi, and Joel Kovel and moderator Michael Steven Smith (all students of the island and activists) provide ample documentation of US agression against Cuba in historical perspective, concentrating upon recent terrorist attacks (including biological warfare) by Florida-based exile groups. Franklin makes the acute observation that Cuba does not have weapons of mass destruction as the US alleges, but, more threatening to capitalism, weapons of mass construction. Weinglass describes the framing of the Miami 5 (see his piece in S&D #34 and material in #32), emphasizing that no proof exists, even according to US prosecutors, that any of the men actually committed a crime. Gerassi and Kovel both grapple with the fuss surrounding the recent actions against “dissidents” and the sentencing to death of three hijackers of a ferryboat in Havana harbor. They criticize US leftist intellectuals who signed a petition condemning the Cuban government on both counts, arguing that those arrested were agents of US impe- rialism financed (and sometimes armed) by the US Interests Section. They see the crackdown in the context of imperialist/anti-imperialist struggle, and those sentenced to death as casualties of war. Further, Gerassi notes most of those signing from the US have no direct expe- rience with Cuba.
The question period brought out two interesting points. Many people reject the arrogance of outsiders who presume to tell the Cuban government what to do. Perhaps working to change US policy so that Cubans do not feel that they have to resort to extreme measures (the death penalty had been suspended in Cuba for many years) might prove more helpful than knee-jerk criticism. And, as Professor Peter Roman points out, we do not have to appologize for Cuba; democracy there exists at a grassroots level. A brief Appendix contains excerpts from the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which authorizes active US measures to bring about regime change in Cuba.
This updated version, available in paperback, contains important new material. Roman has added to almost every chapter and to the conclusion. Most of the additions are explanatory, but the author also deepens the theoretical aspects, which I discussed in an earlier review (Monthly Review, February 2003; see also Isaac Saney, in S&D #27). Roman’s thesis is now more powerfully argued. The book deserves attention from anyone who studies Cuba or socialism, particularly in today’s world where the island is under fierce attack by US imperialism and its allies. The compelling argument that Cuban de- mocracy is alive and well, especially at the grassroots level, deserves highlighting and remembering in these times of rhetoric and excess.
Reviewed by Hobart Spalding
Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY