25 December 2005

The Divine Right of Certain 'Ginnigogs'

Common Sense
John Maxwell

About 35 years ago, having returned to Jamaica after my five-year exile in Britain, I was struck by a particularly poignant story. It had happened on the other side of the block of buildings where I used to work for the BBC, at India House, in Holborn behind Bush House in the Strand.

The high commission had been taken over by militants, Sikhs, if I remember correctly, and everyone inside the embassy was a hostage. The siege was broken when a sharpshooter from Scotland Yard killed one of the terrorists.

The sharpshooter had to be taken to hospital to be treated for shock. He had done the job he was trained to do. But he was a civilised human being, and the idea of killing another person was too much for him. I have always wondered what became of him.

It was Goethe apparently, who warned us to "beware of those in whom the urge to punish is powerful". That English policeman was not one of those, and though I may never meet him, he is a friend.

There are others, nearer home, who I could not consider friends and of whom I beware, because they have a lust for punishment. They know better than anyone else who is a sinner, a criminal, who deserves punishment, and they are ready to mete out that punishment.

Immediately after having been acquitted of murder in the Kingston Circuit Court on Tuesday, Senior Superintendent of Police Mr Reneto deCordova (etc) Adams delivered himself of a few choice words, among them:
"Those [criminals] who returned from England, Canada, America and the Caribbean, or, from everywhere, since we have left the streets - talking about they have returned to take over the streets, I am imploring them, beseeching them to return whence they came, because so it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end.

"My men and I will continue where we left off: and that is in the protection of the Jamaican people against criminal elements. The only difference now is our resolve will be multiplied tenfold."
I don't know if Mr Adams frightens the criminals. He certainly frightens me.

Especially since his large and vociferous regiment of supporters are calling the talk shows, baying for blood. Adams must be let loose they say, to 'deal with the criminals', as if Mr Adams is a one man war against crime whose mere presence on the streets renders the Commissioner of Police and the rest of the police force, as well as the Minister of National Security, redundant and surplus to requirements.

Clearly, Mr Adams believes that he is entitled to make policy on behalf of the 'forces of law and order'.

There is just one small difficulty. There is a man named Lucius Thomas who seems to be under the impression that he is the Commissioner of Police. He doesn't seem to heed Mr Adams and insisted on Wednesday that Mr Adams and his co-accused would not be reinstated into the Jamaica Constabulary Force until they had undergone a period of counselling and psychological testing, mandated by JCF policy.

Mr Adams and his men have in just two incidents, killed nearly a dozen people, none of whom the police would say were 'known' to them. In the latest incident four people were killed in the course of a shootout with the police.

Two of them were women, and a little girl who was in the house when the police first arrived, testified that the women were alive when the police got there and that she, the little girl, was ripped from the arms of one of them and taken outside while the 'shoot-out' proceeded.

No gunpowder residue was found on the hands of the dead people which suggests that they had not fired at the police or at anyone else. Another witness, a policeman told a story of being directed by Supt Adams to go to a certain address in Kingston and pick up something for him. This turned out to be a firearm which was, according to the police witness, then planted at the scene of the 'shootout'.

I do not intend to go into the details of the case, or to discuss the Chief Justice's summation of the evidence and his directions to the jury, nor even to question his apparent displeasure at Dr Carolyn Gomes, head of Jamaicans For Justice. The CJ accused her of gesturing, indicating disagreement with something he had said. Dr Gomes claims she was simply taking notes.

I cannot say the Chief Justice was wrong; I was not there; for all I know Dr Gomes was making 'monkey faces' in court. Except that anyone who knows her (and her husband is one of my doctors) would find it hard to believe that she could have been foolish enough to signal her disapproval of the Chief Justice in any way in his court. His outburst, and it was an outburst, seemed peevish and personal and has probably given even more licence to those who believe that human rights activists are on the side of criminals.

"And these criminal rights organisations are trying to stop me from doing my job while these hoodlums continue to destroy the only livelihood that we have. I will not allow criminals to take over our island, Jamaica."

According to an item in Friday's Gleaner, from which the above is taken, those are the words of Superintendent Adams, who is apparently about to launch himself on a musical career on the dancehall circuit. He has, according to the Gleaner, made a song, entitled "To Protect and Serve", "on the Carbine Rhythm" appropriately enough, recorded two days before his murder trial began. "And SSP Adams takes no prisoners in his lyrical onslaught on crime".

The problem is that criminal intelligence depends on prisoners and informers.

Dead men tell no tales. But, Mr Adams proposes, and Mr Adams disposes. Stand clear, the rest of you vagabonds and lowlifes!!!

I believe that any competent lawyer could find a serious case of libel and criminal libel against the SSP. He is clearly alleging that Dr Gomes and her fellow human rights campaigners are accomplices of criminals, who attempt to obstruct him in the execution of his duty.

People like me are no doubt included in SSP's rhetorical gunsights. I would be most grateful were he to vouchsafe his opinion of me and others of my ilk.

As one who has been writing for more than 40 years about Jamaican police brutality and the impunity which they enjoy, I commend and support Jamaicans For Justice in everything they do, because were it not for them, there are odious crimes which would otherwise have gone unexamined in this country. Even if they are not punished, ventilating them is important.

The case of Michael Gayle, beaten to death by a state security cordon, is one such.

We are inhabitants of a country which still has an umbilical connection to slavery and its mores, when the proper punishment for anything was a flogging, or for more serious offences, death. We still believe in brutalising offenders, thereby guaranteeing that they will become even worse offenders. We neglect our children, and betray our working class who are all potential criminals.

And, as the people of the ghetto told a university investigating team 10 years ago, they know how they are seen. In a column I wrote in May 1996, discussing what the people told the UWI investigators, I reported:
"The police are universally seen as brutalising the youth, provoking more violence, the people say.

To the youth in one area it seems the police are 'trained' to think that everyone in the community is bad. Regardless of your age or sex they diss you everyday. Even if you show your work ID they tell you that you work in the days to buy bullet to kill at night.

'Dey handle we like we a prisoner.'

The police are suspected to be in cahoots with criminals, selling them guns, giving away 'nformers' and 'living on' those they know sell ganja. Some police are described as lazy, ineffectual and unpredictable. In some areas they do little about many crimes and/or instances of domestic violence.

One community reported that the police tied a youth to a tree for 'target practice' and only the screams of his mother saved him. The police, 'hooligans with legal power', refer to one area as 'bird bush', where they go hunting. To chat on a 'corner' is to invite violent attention from the cops, even if you are shirtless and clearly unarmed."
Mr Adams needs to read that report. It is called: "They Cry Respect'! Urban Violence and Poverty in Jamaica" and if I had the money, I would buy 10,000 of them to distribute to every policeman and woman in Jamaica.

Justice, Where?

If justice is done, it should be manifestly be seen to be done. It may have been justice which freed the policemen, but justice is not satisfied by that verdict. The civil rights of four dead people would appear to have been abrogated by the police, whether by accident or design.

I personally do not believe the police story, given in unsworn testimony which meant that they could not be cross-examined. The jury believed them, and the jury were far better placed than I, to judge. The jury however, did not have the opportunity of hearing from Mr Danhai Williams, from whose premises the allegedly planted gun was sourced. His absence from court seems to have passed without any censure from the Chief Justice or any other officer of the law.

Curious. Especially since his statements outside of court appeared to back up the story of the policeman who said the gun was planted.

I would not allow this matter to rest where it is. I would expect the Attorney-General to order an inquiry, even at this stage, to determine whether, even if the police did not murder these people, they may have unlawfully deprived them of their constitutional rights as human beings and citizens of Jamaica.

I would also advise the relatives of the deceased to launch some suits in the Constitutional Court, to get justice for the dead, even if it won't do them any good.

This case, like the case of the Braeton Seven, leaves a stink in the nostrils of a great many Jamaicans, and it will not be banished by the loudest protestations and flagwaving of Mr Adams and his claque (correct) .

18 December 2005

Oliver Twist in Hong Kong

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On Friday morning, as I write, the Leviathan called Globalisation seems headed for the rocks in Hong Kong. Stark failure faces the Doha round of negotiations for a new world order in which imperialist capitalism would adopt a new persona - a kinder, gentler face disguising the same old rapacious exploitation of the poor of the world.

Masked protesters from the Philippines lead other protesters in marching towards the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in continuing protest Friday Dec 16, 2005 against the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference in this former British colony. The activists have been holding daily protests against WTO's trade liberalisation. (Photo: AP)

Among the rocks in Globalisation's seaway are the newly awakened giants of the Third World or so-called Developing World - India, Brazil and others, as well as - Surprise! Surprise!! - the primary producers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), former colonies of metropolitan Europe. Marooned in their miserable alms houses, these minor mendicants are saying to the rich masters "Please, Sir, we want more!"

The masters of the alms houses, the Americans, Europeans, Japanese and other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are bemused by these demands, not quite understanding what the little beggars want when they say they are demanding justice.

Absent from the global forum are the Haitians, the people who began the whole process of decolonisation and freedom from plantation slavery. And that is where the apparently intractable quarrel about economic justice began between the rich and the poor of the world.

The Haitian revolution began a 200-year-long process of decolonisation which is ending, as it began, with the Haitians struggling to free themselves from slavery. They were not defeated by force of arms but by compound interest; to escape the French and American trade embargo of their newly independent country, the Haitians agreed to pay the French reparations for their war of Independence.

In neighbouring Jamaica, the planters were recompensed for losing their property when slavery was abolished. Nothing was paid to the ex-slaves, guaranteeing, as in Haiti, the continuing supremacy of the usurers and the shopkeepers. Haiti was the first highly indebted poor country, having to pay the French a penalty estimated by President Aristide to equal US$25,000,000,000 in today's money.

When the Haitians defeated two of Napoleon's armies, a British army and the remnants of the Spanish army in San Domingue, they began a process of exporting revolution and freedom, a process for which they have never been forgiven. It was the Haitians who armed and dispatched Simon Bolivar on his final and successful mission to free Latin America from Spanish rule.

Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil and the United States for another half century, and Cuba did not gain its full independence for another century-and-a-half, Haiti began the process which finally transformed piracy and the plantation economy into the system known today as capitalism. The plantation economy is moribund - not quite dead.

It survives in severely truncated form - as a paraplegic and dysfunctional system in the ACP countries.

There, in Jamaica and other places, its traditions remain strong: social dysfunctions, including seasonal unemployment, economic emigration, social stratification and the stranglehold of elites on primitive economies. In these economies, political parties which claim to represent the masses enjoy the fruits of office while the elites enjoy the much richer perquisites of economic power.

In these economies, it is the commission agents and the shopkeepers who are in power, expressing their displeasure with mass movements by withdrawing their confidence and their bank accounts from time to time to enforce 'fiscal discipline' and usurious rates of unearned rent - income from 'government paper' issued by the representatives of the wealth creators for the greater good of the wealth consumers.

Reparative Justice?

The helplessness and intellectual bankruptcy of the plantation economies is nowhere better expressed than in last Thursday's speech in Hong Kong by Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs, the Hon K D Knight, QC.

According to this newspaper on Friday, Mr Knight told the Ministerial Meeting of the WTO that the deliberations would only be successful "to the extent that there was a discernible movement on the development agenda". This, according to Mr Knight, meant:
  • The promotion of the productive sectors through trade;
  • The sustained development of the commodity sector;
  • Building supply capacity and competitiveness and increasing market access for developing countries in the areas of exports, including agriculture, commodities, apparel and labour and resource intensive manufactures and services.
Which, being interpreted, means: "Give us a 'bly' enabling us to build more free zones, dig bigger and more destructive holes in the landscape and have enough left over for food stamps." The argument over Universal Human Rights and Justice which began in Haiti 201 years ago is now subsumed into a piteous cry for bigger, better, kindlier and gentler alms houses.

The Third World are asking, like Bustamante in 1944 in Jamaica, for a 'lickle more bread and a lickle butter'. There are some others who are asking for an entirely different menu, for what some describe as a 'preposterous' demand for reparations, compensation for the injuries and injustices of the last five centuries. Their argument is that just as the Germans had to recompense the Jews for the injuries inflicted on them and their fellows by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, so should the Americans, English, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Belgians pay for their depredations in Africa and the New World.

These depredations continued after slavery and continue to this day, as the Europeans, made rich by their exploitation, have maximised and entrenched their extortion of wealth by new profit-making systems in the form of tariffs, protectionism, quotas and, most of all, unfair terms of trade and ruinous interest rates.

These systems in turn, finance a wealth distributive system in subsidies and social services which keep the metropolitan working classes out of political and trade union mischief.

What Mr Knight and his Third World backers want is that the rich recognise that we too, have domestic constituencies to be mollified. The unspoken rider to this argument is 'Hey! food stamps are insurance against civil unrest and a lot cheaper than an expeditionary force'.

Meanwhile, the colonial elites, amassing new fortunes by the week, don't put their money where their mouths are - their funds are in Cayman, Nassau, Bermuda, Liechtenstein and Jersey.

From there, the money which could be invested in Jamaican enterprise, becomes part of the immense fund of Foreign Direct Investment which is channelled by the global casino bosses into China, Taiwan and other places whose ministers are never tired of echoing the European masters' preachments that we are poor because we are poor and/or shiftless, or socialist, or corrupt or simply stupid.

In the 1970s, as part of the many short, sharp shocks administered by the international financial institutions (IFI), we were told we could not subsidise our farmers or our poor. Subsidies distorted the market. Our subsidies, instead, were added to the subsidies paid to American agro-industry and European farmers. It makes sound economic sense to subsidise the millionaire Fanjuls in Florida sugar or market colossi like Archer Daniels, Monsanto, Chiquita (ex-United Fruit), Boeing and Microsoft.

The British are refusing to give up their £8,000,000,000 annual subsidy from Europe and the French will fight to the death to retain their even larger dole from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

The electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) of the IFIs works no better on countries than it did on the mentally ill in 'asylums'. Nor does the intellectual and emotional lobotomisation of whole generations of political leaders. We now have leaders whose mental processes have been surgically separated from their cultural roots, but out in the grassroots, crazy people still speak of socialism and absurd concepts such as the greatest good for the greatest number.

Paradoxically, political ECT may yet prove beneficial; if only we could persuade the rich and powerful to behave as brutally as their perceived self-interest tells them.

Nothing would be better for us than a Cuban-style embargo, forcing us to think for ourselves, forcing us to look to our real resources, in our cultures, our imaginations, our ingenuity, our people.

We prattle about agro-industry, forgetting that sugar was the original and most deadly of all agro-industry. Mr Kinght's prescriptions lead to an intellectual, economic and cultural dead end. If we were to wake up and realise that if we stopped paying extortionate interest - exporting barrels of money to Cayman, Bermuda, and similar ratholes - we would immediately triple the amount at the disposal of the government; we would understand that salvation is in our own hands and not in the hands of the successors to Enron, or the psalm-singers of Microsoft or the cooing doves of Citibank, Standard & Poors and the US State Department.

If the people of Jamaica were to understand that the government of Jamaica exports twice as much of their own hard-earned money to develop foreign capitalism as it spends on developing Jamaica, things would soon change. And we would not have to repatriate Haitians running away from tyranny.

Democracy and Development

The US-written Master Narrative of Cuba is so pervasive that most of us find it almost impossible to imagine what life could be like in "Communist Cuba". There are some fascinating snippets in the news about the fates of the people of New Orleans which was devastated three months ago by Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans, a city of 600,000 people, was devastated because safety precautions which were known to be necessary were never taken. The levees (dikes) which should have prevented most of the storm surge failed and thousands of people were left homeless and jobless. The dikes should have been strengthened years ago.

Further, the emergency management systems failed, mostly because of incompetence and malign neglect. The result is that most of the hurricane refugees are still scattered to the four winds, some as far away as Alaska, and the culture of the most cosmopolitan city in the US has been scattered with them.

One harrowing story in the December 8 New York Times (NYT) tells of Tracy Jackson and Jerel Brown and their four young children who "share a twin bed and thin mattress on the floor [in] the 14th place they have laid their heads since Hurricane Katrina struck just over 14 weeks ago."

As the NYT says: "The immediate aftermath of the hurricane exposed the deep divide between New Orleans's haves and have-nots, as middle-class families rushed to hotels while the poorest of the poor suffered in the squalor of the Superdome.

"The chasm remains, more than three months later. the Jackson-Browns, who are not married and lack high school diplomas, credit cards, even driver's licenses, are among the legions of desperately destitute still lost and in limbo."

Three days later, the NYT said in an editorial: "We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

"We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans". But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles." (NYT Dec 11).

If a civilisation is to be judged by the care it takes of its most helpless, it may be instructive to compare the situation in Cuba. Although Cuba has been visited by many more and more violent hurricanes than the US, fewer than two dozen Cubans have been lost to hurricanes in the last five years.

In Cuba, the entire country is organised to protect and preserve life and community. The neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) are in fact organisations for community preservation. Every Cuban knows what to do and where to go and the CDRs make sure that no one is left behind, neither man, woman, child, nor domestic pet nor farm animal.

Cuba is even poorer than Jamaica in the IFIs' economic estimation. That the Cubans can do better than the United States at protecting their people is an amazing and perhaps incendiary fact. As you can see, I have refrained from commenting on these facts. Nevertheless, I am certain that merely revealing them is likely to cause me no end of trouble.

11 December 2005

A Maiming of the Soul

Common Sense
John Maxwell

It is hard to feel sorry for a woman who has a supertanker named after her, a woman whose IQ is probably nearly twice as high as most of the men she works with, a woman who if she wanted to change jobs would probably be offered three or four times what she is paid as the second most important official in the US Government.

It is really hard to be sorry for Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state. Last week I felt sorry for her. I was looking at a photograph of Dr Rice and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, taken by the AP's Markus Schreiber at a media briefing in Berlin on Tuesday.

Dr Rice had a hunted look; the face of one cornered, surrounded by enemies, with no place to hide, no way to turn. Frau Merkel just looks terribly sad.

They were surrounded only by journalists, who these days are among the most toothless and harmless alleged predators anywhere. Dr Rice's face reflected an entirely different reality: she was trapped, cornered and hunted by the lies of the Bush administration about its treatment of 'unlawful combatants' or 'battlefield detainees' hidden and tortured in dozens of black holes round the world.

We've known about them and their treatment for a long time. On January 19, 2002, before the start of the Iraq War, I wrote: "The American prisoners of war, or, as they call them, 'battlefield detainees' are causing a great deal of trouble for the United States. A large number of people round the world are repulsed and horrified by the treatment meted out to these men, even if, as the Americans claim, they are 'the most dangerous folks in the world'.

"To sedate them on their flights, or to put hoods over their heads and surgical masks over their faces, to shave them and put them in solitary confinement on a concrete floor surrounded by barbed wire may be, of course, some people's idea of a Caribbean vacation.

"Mr Donald Rumsfeld, that macho symbol of American resolve, says he does not greatly care how the men are treated, although, as their official captor, he is accountable under the rules of war. And the attorney-general of the United States, Mr Ashcroft, the principal lawman for the United States of America, says he doesn't think that the men 'deserve basic constitutional protection'. They are, according to him, 'war criminals'.

"In the words of General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these most dangerous 'folks' are ready, to chew their way through the hydraulic lines of a C-17 plane, to bring it down. And no doubt, they are capable of levitation, of causing ball lightning and turning people to stone with their basilisk's eyes."

Three years later, I see nothing to retract in that judgment. The US administration never regarded their 'battlefield detainees' as human beings - which is why the administration has now found itself trapped in a semantic and moral maze, leaving it to Dr Rice with her formidable intellect, to convince the world that the United States does not torture its captives despite the enormity of the evidence to the contrary.

According to the Associated Press on May 3, 2003, Dr Rice's predecessor as secretary of state had, "In a strongly worded letter, urged Pentagon officials to move faster in determining which prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can be released".

Even then, shortly after the start of the Iraq invasion, the former soldier was obviously worried about the developing scandal, part of which was the disclosure that children as young as 13 were being held at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay.

According to the US News & World Report that week, "Citing complaints from eight allies whose citizens are among the prisoners, Powell said in the letter that mishandling the detainees undermines efforts to win international co-operation in the war on terror".

In the same story, the AP reported that "Rumsfeld has said the prisoners were being interrogated for any information they had on planned terrorist activities. they would continue to be held indefinitely until it is determined they pose no threat and until interrogators were convinced they had no more useful intelligence to offer".

Long-Range Planners

Al-Qaeda are reputed to be long-range planners, but can anyone believe that any of the detainees who have been in durance vile for two and three years have any plans to disgorge? Yet, the stories coming out of Guantanamo Bay and other places reveal that the torture continues, inexorably, with no end in sight. Occasionally the US releases people who are clearly innocent.

Their stories are heartbreaking. They do not know what is wanted of them, their inquisitors go over the same questions day after day, week after week, month after month. They are humiliated, degraded, treated as less than human. The lucky ones have killed themselves.

After the Korean War, Americans should understand better than anyone that many people can be brainwashed, but many can never be broken. The story I related last week, of Fidel Castro's comrade in arms, Abel Santamaria, proves the point.

The behaviour of Haydee Santamaria, his sister, only makes it more forcefully. In a jail cell, presented with her brother's bleeding eye, torn from his living body, Haydee was told, "This eye belonged to your brother. If you will not tell us what he refused to say, we will tear out the other".

She, who loved her brave brother above all other things, replied with dignity, "If you tore out his eye and he did not speak, neither will I".

Torture does not work. Most of the information gleaned from it is untrustworthy. Those who cannot stand the pain will tell the inquisitors whatever they think they want to hear.

So, can anyone believe that information-gathering is the real purpose of torture? The original inquisitors did not think so. They put their victims "to the test" knowing perfectly well that there was no information to be gained. But they tortured and burnt their victims for the greater glory of God and their own perverse and pathological satisfactions.

It is clear that Dr Rice's torture explanations have satisfied no one. The European foreign ministers, having embarrassed the US to the point where Dr Rice apparently promised no more torture, no more renditions, chalked up a victory.

Their constituents, however, continue to be incensed by the behaviour of the United States and will continue to complain as more horror stories come to light. Last week, as Dr Rice was speaking to the Europeans, a man called Khaled al-Masri was speaking by satellite link-up to a news conference in Washington.

Mr al-Masri is a German citizen of Lebanese origin. On holiday in Macedonia, he was kidnapped and handed over to Americans. He was taken to a prison in Afghanistan where he was held incommunicado for five months and tortured. He was also sodomised by his jailers.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mr al-Masri is suing the Central Intelligence Agency and its former head, George Tenet, and the US government. The ACLU says this is the first case to challenge the kidnapping of foreign nationals for 'interrogations' in secret prisons in third countries.

The German Chancellor, Frau Merkel, brought the case to the attention of Dr Rice on Tuesday. According to Merkel, "The US government has, of course, accepted the case as a mistake". Who told her to say that?

Dr Rice's spokesmen denied that the secretary had accepted al-Masri's case as a mistake; Dr Rice had said only that "Any policy will sometimes result in errors, and when it happens we will do everything to rectify it".

That's odd, because Mr al-Masri was denied entry to the US last weekend when he arrived in Atlanta. If the US is serious about correcting mistakes, that was not a promising start. But perhaps it was all due to an error in interpretation - except that Frau Merkel speaks excellent English.

Values we Share?

Four years ago, shortly after 9/11 I was one of those who counselled the US not to allow anger to distort judgment. "In all the millions of words about Tuesday's horrific tragedy, few have been used to ask Why? to seek the real reasons. Blasting the visible manifestations of a cancer may achieve cosmetic improvement, but the concealed body of the parasitic tumour will not disappear.

"Injustice is the most eloquent recruiter for terrorism. Injustice breeds desperation. Suicidal behaviour is almost always a desperate call for help. People who are willing to destroy themselves along with randomly selected groups of innocents are speaking the language of violence, which they know their enemies understand. Unfortunately, while their enemies understand the language, they do not usually listen to the message."

But Mr Bush was adamant: "Remember. the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don't share the same values we share" (March 20, 2002).

There was angry and learned dissent, of course. One of the most eloquent came from one of Britain's most senior judges: "The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was, and is, to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors.

"As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American democracy and justice I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice," Lord Steyn said.

Lord Steyn said it was a recurring theme in history "that in times of war, armed conflict, or perceived national danger, even liberal democracies adopt measures infringing human rights in ways that are wholly disproportionate to the crisis. Often the loss of liberty is permanent" (November 26, 2003).

"The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials," Lord Steyn continued. "The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding 'no'. Prisoners at the Camp Delta base on Cuba are being held in conditions of 'utter lawlessness'."

That verdict was reinforced last week by some of the most learned and respected judges in the world, the British House of Lords, sitting as the Supreme Court of the UK. In a judgment delivered on Thursday, the seven Law Lords denounced torture and any attempt to use evidence obtained by torture in British courts.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who chaired the panel, said English law had regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for more than 500 years. "The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice."

Lord Hoffman: "The use of torture is dishonourable .It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. In our own century, many people in the United States have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal 'rendition' of suspects to countries where they would be tortured."

Lord Hope: "Torture [is] one of the most evil practices known to man. practices authorised for use in Guantanamo Bay would shock the conscience if they were ever to be authorised for use in our own country."

Lord Rodger: The torturer is abhorred "not because the information he produces may be unreliable but because of the barbaric means he uses to extract it".

Lord Nicholls: "Torture is not acceptable. No civilised society condones its use. This is a bedrock moral principle in this country. For centuries the common law has set its face against torture."

Lord Brown: "Torture is an unqualified evil. It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished."

04 December 2005

History Will Absolve Fidel

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On my way to Panama last week, I had the theoretical options of going by way of Miami or through Cuba. Obeying my instincts and listening to my intelligence, I decided more than a year ago that my life could do without my tempting fate and the PATRIOT Act. I would no longer apply for a visa to visit the US. 'Coward man keep soun' bone', as the Jamaican aphorism says.

Since the Cubans prefer Canadian dollars to US currency, I decided to change some US dollars at the airport cambio. The lady in charge asked me for my passport, I supposed to ascertain that I was who I said I was. But there was more. She scanned my passport into a machine and then phoned someone.

I presumed that my name had come up on some list connected with my passport. I asked her if she scanned every passport to change $100. She didn't answer, nor did she answer when I asked her whether the joint was run by the CIA.

When I was leaving Panama to return to Jamaica my passport again occasioned surprise at the COPA airline check in. The matter was, however, resolved without my ever knowing what was at issue. I may be paranoid, but as Henry Kissinger once quoted, "even paranoiacs have enemies".

I say this because I would be a fool not to know that I am in some circles considered if not an enemy of the United States, at least unqualified to be embedded with the Marines. I have known this for years, in fact, for nearly 40 years. American paranoia is not a product of the Bush administration. It has almost always been there.

I mention all this because of the relative ease with which it is possible to defame people, particularly in Third World politics with the enthusiastic participation of the United States press.

While they demonise Aristide, Castro and Chavez, for instance, they say very little about terrorists like Posada Carriles and his protector and co-conspirator Santiago Alvarez (not the filmmaker). The Master Narrative, as Tom Blivens calls it, omits the context.

There was precious little coverage in the US last week of the arrest of the wealthy developer, Santiago Alvarez in Miami. Apart from the Miami Herald and a few small town newspapers, nobody else seemed interested although the Herald reported: "The case against Posada's close associates has the potential to create a political firestorm for the White House, with hardline exile activists vowing to protest and defend Alvarez against what they see as an attack by Castro."

This is because Alvarez is a prominent supporter of Jeb Bush and is also accused of ferrying the airplane bomber Posada illegally into the United States and giving him shelter once there.

According to the Herald, the the Cuban community in Miami is incensed, saying that President Bush is catering to Castro by arresting a man who they regard as a freedom fighter, but who is a terrorist by any other definition.

The Cuban government has on tape a conversation between Santiago Alvarez and one of his agents who had been sent to conduct sabotage in Cuba. The agent asked Santiago whether he should bomb the world famous Tropicana night-club and Santiago replied, "It's OK with me."

Mr Alvarez also has been accused by Cuba of organising a 2001 'mission' in which three Miami-Dade men were captured trying to land in Cuba with assault rifles.

He is also suspected of being Posada's backer in the expedition to Panama in 2001 in which Posada intended to bomb an auditorium with hundreds of people come to listen to Fidel Castro. "We are seeing signals that indicate that the administration of President Bush is forgetting the promises they made to the exile community in order to cater to Castro,'' said Cuban American National Foundation President Francisco ''Pepe'' Hernandez according to the Miami Herald.

Next day the Herald, valiantly straddling the fence, boldly declared that while storing assassination weaponry was against the law, 'good intentions do not excuse criminal actions: "We, too, would like to see Cubans on the island freed from a tyrant. But good intentions do not excuse criminal actions."

As it happened, on Thursday, in Jose Marti airport, I decided to reread Fidel Castro's speech in defence of the Moncada uprising in 1953. The last defiant line of the speech : "Condemn me; it does not matter. History will absolve me."

I first read the speech in 1960, on my first visit to Cuba. The air was electric. The ammunition ship, La Coubre had just been blown up by saboteurs in Havana harbour, killing hundreds - the crew, dockworkers and innocent people in their houses or at work.

The revolution was hard at work, building prefabricated houses to replace the bohios (Thatched huts) in which the farm workers and peasants lived, building new housing all over the island, providing free medical care for pregnant women of any class, and above all, wiping out illiteracy. On the day I arrived, President Eisenhower approved the end of the Cuban sugar quota. War had been declared.

I was impressed then, and am now, with the revolutionary determination to bring equality of treatment to all. Illiteracy and AIDS are almost non-existent in Cuba, there is a doctor for every 100 Cubans, the infant mortality rate is the lowest in the world and three quarters of the population are in some form of educational pursuit.

As Castro promised in his speech in 1953, every school teacher at every level in Cuba gets a sabbatical year in which to pursue any academic interest.

"History will absolve me" is, first of all, an attempt to lay the legal basis for the revolution; to rescue the Cuban people from Fulgencio Batista, a usurper, a tyrant, a man who tortured and murdered his opponents and sold Cuba's self-respect to the highest bidder, which, usually, was the Mafia or other American interests.

Castro contended that contrary to the charges against him, he was being tried for doing his duty to overthrow oppression. He then denounced the regime's response to the July 26 uprising, in which officers of the Cuban army tortured and murdered some of the men they had captured. Castro was especially bitter because he had defended the army on an earlier occasion, accusing the state of using soldiers as slaves on private estates.

He reported on the fate of his closest comrade Abel Santamaria, who had been captured alive. I have never been able to forget his description:
Frustrated by the men's courage, they tried to break the women's spirit. A sergeant with several other men came with a bleeding human eye in his hand into the cell where our comrades Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria were held. Addressing the latter and showing her the eye, he said, "This eye belonged to your brother. If you will not tell us what he refused to say, we will tear out the other".

She, who loved her brave brother above all other things replied with dignity, "If you tore out his eye and he did not speak, neither will I."

Later they came back and burned their arms with cigarette stubs until at last, filled with hate, they told young Haydee Santamaria "You no longer have a boyfriend, because we killed him too."
Earlier in the speech, Fidel Castro outlined his plans for Cuba in relation to the existing situation, where more than half the land was in the hands of foreigners, while 200,000 peasant farmers did not have "a single vara of land to plant food crops for their starving children".

Except for a few foods, lumber and textile factories, Cuba was still a producer of raw materials, There were 200,000 bohios (dirt floored thatched huts) and hovels in Cuba, 400,000 families lived in slums that lacked even the most basic sanitary conveniences, 2.2 million paid extortionate rents and 2.8 million people (more than half the population) in rural and suburban Cuba lacked electricity.

He spoke about a society moved to compassion by the kidnapping of a single child, but criminally indifferent to the "mass murder" of the many thousands of children who died every year because of poverty, of fathers working only four months of the year, of a million people unemployed. In a country with five and a half-million people, more people were jobless than in France or Italy with populations nearly ten times as large.

Castro proposed revolutionary laws, first to give sovereignty back to the people, a government vested with the power to enforce the people's will and true justice, another to give non-transferrable ownership of land to tenants and subtenants, to introduce profit sharing in business and in the sugar industry, to recover stolen national property which would be then used to subsidise workers' pensions and for hospitals and other charitable work and finally a policy of revolutionary solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the continent.

Looking back at the speech today, more than fifty years, I am struck by two things: the idealism of the aims and the fact that most of those aims have in fact been achieved.

There have been mistakes made, many of them serious, but overall, if one compares Cuba to its nearest neighbours, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and jamaica, it is clear that Cubans enjoy a far better quality of life than citizens of the others. And in World Bank terms, it is poorer than all except Haiti.

For one thing, crime is almost non-existent and violent crime is statistically insignificant. People still steal and profiteer, but civil society seems alive and well in Cuba.

The care given to the weakest and most vulnerable is extraordinary and Cuban health care is recognised as among the very best in the world. The same is true of education, and just as Cubans now have a doctor in every neighbourhood (1 doctor to every 100 Cubans) they are getting university-level centres set up in every borough. And education is almost completely free.

The proportion of people completing the primary education cycle was lowest in the province of Guantanamo in 2004. It was 94%.

The highest unemployment rate in the country is in the province of Havana, where it is 2.3%. Daily food intake is over 3 kilo calories and less than 2% of the population is at risk of malnutrition. In almost every single index of human development, Cuba is far ahead of the rest of Latin America and in many cases, Cuba outperforms many developed countries, including the United States. Cuba carried out its first heart transplant nearly thirty years ago. The level of technology uis world class.

But, I am always asked, what about democracy? What about freedom of speech? Human rights? Perhaps since I am not a Cuban, it would be pretentious to even attempt to answer these questions.

I wish, however, to remind people that the United States has been engaged in what it regards as a war against Cuba for the last 46 years. The overt terrorist is clearly not over, with people like Santiago Alvarez stockpiling assassin's weapons.

When one is under attack, as the United States considers itself to be, there are restrictions on some freedoms, as in the case of the PATRIOT ACT.

But I do not believe that there are prisoners of the Cuban state who are tortured, mistreated and otherwise abused and denied fundamental human rights as are the prisoners of the American state at Guantanamo Bay, ironically, on Cuba soil where the US is illegally squatting.

And Cuba continues to be the victim of a wide range of illegal actions designed to bring down the government. We do have some answers, however, including 'refugees' from Cuba who have chosen to return to their home country. Of course, you don';t hear about them.

But we have all heard about Elian Gonzalez and his father, a security guard in Cuba. If you remember, Juan Miguel Gonzalez was offered a free mansion, millions of dollars and a life of ease if he would only renounce Cuba and relocate to the United States.

All that Cuba could have promised was more of what he was accustomed to - a life as a security guard in a country secure in its integrity and in its people.

I suspect that most Cubans would have made the same choice. I don't know too many Jamaicans who would have. And that is precisely why Castro, Chavez and Aristide are being demonised, traduced and libelled. Humanity is subversive and leaders who listen to people are extremely dangerous to the established order.