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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Matt Robson's Cuba

Progressive MP Matt Robson on Cuba - a point-by-point dissection

"Castro is walking down the street with his brother Raul when a bird seems to dirty his head. 'Raul, what do I have on my head?' 'Crap,' responds Raul. 'No!' says Fidel, 'I asked what's on top of my head, not what's inside it!' "

Robson hobnobs with Castro's prison officials. Picture from the Scoop article.

Progressive MP Matt Robson's is today featured in a sprawling Scoop article by Kevin List. I realise that many people take anything from Robson's mouth with a 10kg bag of salt, but in the interests of historical documentation I will deal with the articles claims one by one. This essay is also an attempt to educate New Zealanders on the hideousity (is that a word?) of Castro's Cuba, a regime which is a recent focus of Robsons public statements and actions. Note the item features a series of weirdly out-of-context misquotes and distorted political positions of Rodney Hide and the Act Party, which I will largely ignore.

Scoop Caught up with Matt Robson a couple of weeks ago where he explained about the literacy course that caused ACT Leader Rodney Hide some consternation in late 2003. In August 2003 Mr Hide discovered that tertiary institution Te Wananga O Aotearoa had been using a literacy course developed in Cuba. Despite the fact this course had been used successfully throughout Latin America, Mr Hide was outraged - mainly it seemed by the course's country of origin. Mr Hide considered at the time that Cuba had nothing whatsoever to offer the world and the country itself was a “basket-case.”

Cuba has a disintegrating economy and huge national debt. This is despite the nationalisation of billions of dollars worth of private Cuban and American property, and Castro writing off all foreign debt after his Revolution. There couldn't be a better example of a economic basket-case. I imagine Hide was also referring to Cuba's dismal human rights record under Castro. But more on this below.
Contrary to Mr Hide’s opinions, Cuba’s educational achievements are hailed internationally as Matt Robson explained to Scoop.
No they are not, unless by "internationally" Robson thinks the bureaucrats at the UN qualify as experts on anything. In fact Cuba's literacy rate is only an estimated 96%, while NZ's is approaching 100% [links to come on this]. Of course there is much variation in the way literacy is calculated, but no source is given so its hard to verify Robson's claim.
“Over the last year I’ve been having quite a lot to do with the literacy work of the Te Wananga O Aotearoa. They were attending a United Nations sponsored literacy conference in Cuba [in order] to show the conference the literacy work that they were doing in New Zealand in collaboration with Cuban tutors. The Cubans are acknowledged world leaders in educational terms in the area of literacy. I readily agreed to go because I thought it would be instructive and it was.”
The educational failures of Te Wananga o Aotearoa are now well-documented, including tell-all stories by its own tutors and students. Again Cuba is stated as a 'world leader' in the area of literacy but no reference is given.
If Rodney Hide was “staggered” in 2003 that New Zealand was using a Cuban developed literacy course he would have probably suffered an aneurysm if he’d known UNICEF and UNESCO both consider Cuba to be a world leader in literacy.

“The conference was in Cuba because UNICEF and UNESCO recognize that the Cuban methods of ending illiteracy are probably the most successful probably in the developed and under-developed world,” said Robson.
You can see for yourself in the table below the sorts of countries which contribute to UNESCO committees. The majority of appointees are from 3rd world kleptocracies, including two from Cuba. Click here to understand why there are only two Americans, and why they withheld funding from UNESCO for 20 years. Draw your own conclusions why UNESCO people would attend a conference in Cuba.

Composition of UNESCO committees. The United Republic of Tanzania?
The Bahamas? Senegal? Burkino Faso? Ghana?

UNICEF is a well-known UN milk job. According to this New Republic article, over a 1/3rd of its $US1 billion budget goes towards its administration costs, and that figure excludes the costs of running its 210 field offices and various national fund-raising committees. That must leave less than 50% of its budget to spend on anything useful.

Lets move on from the UN...
Sadly whilst the country described by Mr Hide as a “basket case” was achieving success in literacy New Zealand was not doing so well. Whilst ACT would probably link New Zealand’s literacy problems to high taxation and suggest a flat tax would soon have the problem sorted other groups within New Zealand were willing to look beyond political dogma, and to countries where solutions exist to illiteracy.
It is unclear if this is Robson's opinion, or Kevin Lists. Is he referring to the NCEA and troubles with Te Wananga o Aotearoa's courses, or New Zealand literacy in general? Regardless, if they were unsatisfied with our literacy rate the Labour-led Government has had nearly 6 years to change the direction of our public education system . Robson's vote is now crucial for Labour to guarantee a continued majority in Parliament, so he could influence Government policy if he wanted to.
“Cuba doesn’t have a literacy problem but we have one in New Zealand. My hat goes off to the Wananga – they didn’t let the fact that Cuba was a communist country be a barrier,” is Robson's answer to criticism of a New Zealand institution using a course developed in communist Cuba.
Te Wananga o Aotearoa apparently doesn't agree with many barriers, including nepotism, padding class-lists with employees, using public money to buy expensive luxury apartments etc. The stink of corruption surrounding Te Wananga o Aoteora gives me little faith the quality of the Green Light programme has been enhanced by the involvement of Cubans.
Despite a treasury report from 2004 showing New Zealand has a major problem with literacy there has been little in-depth analysis of the success or otherwise of Te Wananga O Aotaeroa’s literacy programs. Sadly it would seem Ken Shirley’s unsubstantiated and potentially defamatory comments made under the cloak of parliamentary privilege against Te Wananga O Aotearoa are what gets page one headlines.
I can't find such a Treasury report, nor is it a function of Treasury to research such reports (can anyone supply its name?). And Shirley's claims made under parliamentary privilege have been investigated by the New Zealand media and found to be nearly entirely true, or at the least undenied by the people concerned. The date of this Scoop article is 25th Feb, so the author has no justification for saying Shirley's claims are unsubstantiated.
“There was an asinine comment from a journalist to my office asking ‘was I bringing back the Cuban political system’ and I said in an interview with Derek Fox ‘why aren’t journalists in New Zealand investigating the depth of this problem [illiteracy]’?” Was Robson's slightly irritable answer when asked what sort of media interest there had been in the Cuban conference.
Leaving aside the validity of the literacy claims, the reporters remark is articulating what I am now thinking: would Robson favour a Castro-style Government in New Zealand?

“It’s a long way to Cuba and its made longer by the fact that there’s a total flight blockade from the United States. American citizens, unless they have permission, face enormous fines and jail sentences if they breach the total economic and travel embargo on Cuba.”

Thankfully for Robson and Wendy Petrie [TVNZ News reader who recently holidayed in Cuba] there’s no penalty for visiting Cuba as a New Zealand citizen other than drawing the ire of extreme right wing bloggers.

We're famous! But I think he confuses 'ridicule' with 'ire'. I have images of ire-filled bloggers carrying laptops, chasing Robson down a narrow Wellington road...
According to Robson, Fidel Castro has sought to include the prison system within the blanket of wider educational reforms.

“They do a lot of keeping people in the communities and the communities do a lot with people when they are in prison and help them find work when they are let out. In the prisons they have a number of pilot programs to train people to become nurses or physical education teachers. There is also a lot of effort put in to general education within the prisons.”

Castro's Cuba incarcerates people for various reasons, including political opposition to Castro's regime, owing or trading in private property, and for being homosexual or developing AIDS. Here is a good book by the recipient of long-term torture in a Cuban prison. Here is a brilliant Slate article about the criminal system under Castro. Read it! It even mentions a Minority Report-style law which outlaws intentions rather than acts of crime.

It seems fairly unlikely that many right wing politicians in New Zealand will see global socialism as the best solution to keeping crime under control in New Zealand. However whilst the free market may be banned Havana according to Robson it is also a mugger free zone.

In Cuba, it is illegal to own a business or buy or sell goods privately. It is also illegal to own anything that may have been purchased on the black market. The article is swinging way into Soviet-style propaganda now.
“Cuba certainly has lower levels of crime than New Zealand, and nothing like the rest of Latin America. They [Cuba] became the first country in Latin America to be [totally] literate. Now they have a campaign to raise every one to university level – over about ten years or something – and what intrigued me is that included the prisons."
Unfortunately there is no freedom of information in Cuba so it is impossible to find reliable information on the 'levels of crime'. Below you will read about the incarceration rates of Castro's criminal system.

Now we're getting into the juicy bits, where Robson exposes his complete ignorance of the reality of Cuba:
Cuban prisons are generally larger than those in New Zealand, although the Cuban managers spoken to by Robson did not seem to be keen on emulating the American trend towards super prisons.
"The prison that I went to housed 3000 inmates, and the managers said to me that this was too big. They [the managers] were interested in the fact that in New Zealand we try and keep prison numbers to about 700. Interestingly enough the ACT party seems quite keen on big prisons. They have this false notion that they are successful in the United States."
The population of Cuba is only 11 million (I take delicious irony in linking to a CIA website) whereas the population of the USA is nearly 300 million. In this list of 106 US Federal prisons, only one (Fort Dix) has a population greater than 3,000. Futhermore, this horrific article at the Miami Herald suggests Cuba has 100,000 prisoners in 200 prisons, or an incarceration rate of 900 prisoners per 100,000 population. In contrast, the US has an incarceration rate of 474 per 100,000. The Slate article mentioned above says prisons have multipled 10 times since Castro's Revolution (see small map below).

Cuban prisons before (red) and after (black) Castro's revolution. Link to article.

Lets continue cutting up the rest of the article...
Robson considers the best way to look at Cuba and its large, powerful and unfriendly neighbour, is to view the relationship as that of two nations at war with each other.
In reality, the US is a vibrant democracy which opposes oppressive totalitarian regimes. Under some US Presidents, various totalitarian Governments were politically, economically and militarily supported as a way of offsetting more powerful enemies (ie the USSR and China).

Dying to leave Robson's Cuba. Full story.

Here are some excerpts from the diary of an imprisoned political dissident describing the nature of his arrest and the conditions at his prison:
March 19: House search and arrest.

April 4: Summary proceedings. Haven't met or talked to my defense attorney.

April 24: Depart Villa Marista [Department of State Security headquarters in Havana] for Boniato prison.

April 25: (Before dawn) Arrive at Boniato prison. Put in isolation cells. Cell No. 30. Latrine backed up. No running water. Dirty mattress on the floor.

April 25: (Afternoon) Transfer to Cell No. 31. There's a latrine and running water. The cell floods daily with residual water from the hallway. High blood pressure. I'm taken to the hospital, chained hand and foot. Stuffed mattress is dirty, torn, old and hard.

April 27: Strong rain. The roof leaks. Plenty.

April 28: Alone in isolation cell. They cut off my hair and beard. Later I shave. Food, as in other days, indescribable. They take us out to take the Sun together (Normando Hernández, Próspero Gaínza, and myself). They fingerprinted us. [Hernández is a journalist; Gaínza a dissident.]
Read the rest here.

In general the USA more than any other country ties its foreign affairs to ideals of democracy and freedom (remember, New Zealand's own Foreign Minister held hands with a notorious terrorist). The US presently prohibits trade with Cuba because Castro would reap the economic benefits and use it to strengthen his regime. The last thing the estimated 1 million Cuban exiles in the USA want is a long-lasting Castro regime. Look through this brilliant photo essay of the 1980 mass exodus of 100,000 Cubans ("Los Marielitos") to Florida during Carter's Presidency. Here is a timeline of those events. A mass exodus is the surest evidence you will find for the brutality of a particular country.
“The United States has from 1960 been dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Cuban revolution. The Cuban revolution wasn’t a Nazi revolution.
Under Roosevelt, the US did support the corrupt Batista regime as a bulwark against growing Communist influence in the Americas. This was a "realpolitik" policy that bit them in the buttocks with Castro's Revolution, as they ended up with exactly what they dreaded: a totalitarian Communist regime right off their coast. The failed attempt by JFK to bring down Castro (the Bay of Pigs fiasco) was actually manned by Cuban exiles who were trained and equipped by the CIA.
Their revolution was to end poverty, educate people and bring good health and they have been staggeringly successful.
Sounds like he's reading out from one of Castro's speeches. I wonder if Robson is aware anyone can make up statistics if they want to fool gullible westerners about the benevolence of their totalitarian regime.
Robson thinks detractors of Cuba should look at the historical context of the Cuban revolution – however he also does not regard Cuba as some sort of socialist paradise either.

"They [the Cuban revolutionaries] had to change the type of country that Cuba was which was a brutalised third world colony of the United States run by the mafia. Within that there are a lot of questions that people should ask. But the first thing to do is to normalize relations.”
The context of the Cuban revolution was widespread poverty amongst landless people, and widespread corruption in the Batista regime. That 'historical context' does not justify taking armed control of a country, stealing land, removing or depowering all democratic elections, criminalising private trade, imprisoning political dissidents, criminalising emigration, or evicting mentally ill Cubans to the United States. 'Revolution' means making a dramatic change in the way political power operates. It does not mean replacing one corrupt regime with a far worse one.

I think I've had enough chronicling Robson's cretinism for now. I will edit and add more links to this article at a later date. In the meantime check out http://cuban-exile.com.

I will end by block-quoting a message to a Berkeley, San Francisco resident who wrote a positive account of his tour of Cuba:
I know that this message will fall on deaf ears, but if anyone was to need an education about what the TRUE story in Cuba it is you.

The Cuban government has consistently tortured and murdered political prisoners...please read Armando Valladares book "Against All Hope" that chronicals years of torture that left him in a wheel chair.

The Cuban government has consistently persecuted homosexuals. AIDS patients are isolated and sent into exile. Please see the movie "Strawberry and Chocolate" which was made in Cuba and shows the experiences and repression of homosexuals and all Cubans alike.

The Cuban government is one of the most represive regimes in modern history. You are right that Cubans are very friendly and social people, but their spirit today is not the same. One of Fidel's first tasks when he came to power was to install block leaders whose task it was to spy on their fellow citizens and report to the government. I remember a small Cuban boy who came to my house after Mariel and we asked him about conditions on the Island. Crying he told us that he could not say anything bad about the government because the "walls had ears." Cubans on the island are afraid to tell you what is truly going on.

Those great hotels you visited as you might well know are off limits for any cuban citizen to stay in, those beaches you visited are segregated. A type of tourist aparthied.

Tell your story about ending the Cuban embargo to those dissidents who were rounded up by the Cuban government last week. Please read last Mondays New York Times for details of the Cuban governments actions.

Tell your story about how happy it is in Cuba to the more than 1 million Cubans that have fleed the island. That is a diaspora of more than 10% of the Cuban people.

Tell your story about ending the Cuban embargo to the families of the pilots who were shot down in international waters by Cuban mig-fighters. These unarmed Americans committed the sin of searching international waters for Cubans leaving the repression, the torture, and the pain of seeing thier island being destroyed by a mad man.

Yes, the Cuban people have suffered enough...but it is not the embargo that makes them suffer--Their suffering is attributable only to Fidel Castro.

Please educate yourself about the truth of Cuba...read what I have asked you to read, watch the movie, and I think that you will change your mind.

The Cuban people are wonderful and I also hope to visit Cuba BUT only when democracy returns to the Island.

R. Perez

UPDATE: Check out this Marines account of suicide-by-mine outside the US base on Cuba.

25 Feb 2005

NOTE: Originally posted on Labour Scandals on 25 February 2005.

Posted by Antarctic Lemur | 4/05/2005 04:57:00 pm