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ON December 10, 1948, the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but as Fernando Martínez Heredia wrote very clearly, from the beginning, this title was "deceitful and pretentious," since it could not be "universal" without recognizing the equality of nations, condemning the deep wounds colonialism caused in the world, or holding modern capitalism responsible for developing its system and making advances on the basis of plunder, obliterating cultures, enslaving millions, destroying ways of life, exploiting work without compunction, prostituting social organizations, and contaminating the environment on a world scale… Failing to denounce colonialism and neocolonialism, that petty Declaration did not take the majority of the planet's peoples into consideration, and neither do Articles 1 or 55 of the United Nation's own charter. (1)

In 1966, the UN approved the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which in its Article no.1 recognizes peoples' right to self-determination, to freely determine their political status, and pursue economic, social, and cultural development. "In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence," the article reads.

Along with this document, also approved was the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but both were put on hold ten years before they went into effect. (2)

Since the period when James Carter was President of the United States (1977-1981) the issue of human rights has been used by Washington as a foreign policy tool to spearhead its plans to dominate Cuba - as part of a much broader strategy against socialism worldwide - reaching virulent levels during the administration of Ronald Reagan. This was the way it was, and little did it matter that bloody dictatorships around the world regularly violated human rights, as long as they remained loyal to U.S. interests, especially when it came to the war on Communism.

On July 26, 1978, Fidel would make one of his most critical speeches denouncing the rhetoric of human rights, which to a large degree was used to attack the Cuban Revolution. On this occasion, the Comandante en Jefe said:

"What moral authority to talk about human rights do the rulers of a country have where living side by side are millionaires and beggars; where Indians are exterminated; where Blacks are discriminated against; women are prostituted; and great masses of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Latin Americans are disparaged, exploited, and humiliated?

"How can the heads of an empire do so when they promote organized crime, gambling, and the prostitution of children; when the CIA organizes subversion plans and massive espionage; and the Pentagon creates neutron bombs capable of annihilating human beings while material goods are preserved; an empire that supports reactionaries and counterrevolution throughout the world, that protects and encourages the exploitation by monopolies of the wealth and human resources on all continents, unfair trade, protectionist policies, and the incredible waste of natural resources, and a system of hunger for the world?

"How can they do this, the representatives of a capitalist, imperialist society whose essence is the exploitation of one man by another, and with that selfishness, individualism, and the total absence of human solidarity?

"How can this slogan be raised by those who militarily supply the most reactionary, corrupt, bloody governments of the world, like Somoza, Pinochet, Stroessner, the gorilas of Uruguay, Mobuto, and the Shah of Iran, to cite only a few cases.

"How can such rights be discussed by those who maintain close ties with the racists of South Africa, those who oppress, discriminate against, and exploit 20 million Africans; those who supply great quantities of sophisticated weapons to the Zionist aggressors who evicted the Palestinian people from their land, and refuse to return to Arab countries the territory they occupied by force?

"How can human rights, then, be addressed by the imperialist government that maintains a military base by force in our territory, and subjects our people to a criminal economic blockade?" (3)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was obliged to recognize the double standard that characterizes U.S. foreign policy in terms of human rights, although in a very indifferent manner, in the following way:

"Championing democracy and human rights has been at the heart of our global leadership for more than half a century. Yes, we had from time to time compromised those values in the service of strategic and security interests, including by supporting unsavory anti-Communist dictators during the Cold War, with mixed results." (4)

This situation has not changed much to date. The double standards with which the United States judges other nations in terms of human rights continues to follow the same Cold War logic. This is the only way to explain why the U.S. attacks Cuba and Venezuela, but remains silent about the human rights situation in countries where journalists are frequently murdered; where mass graves appear with hundreds of bodies; where political crimes are committed; where extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances are carried out; demonstrations are repressed with tear gas, firearms, and rubber bullets; even where citizens have never voted in an election. This can only lead to a single conclusion: Washington's fundamental concern has never been human rights, but rather the country's hegemony. On the other hand, it would be impossible for an imperialist country like the United States to promote human rights and democracy beyond its borders, when it does not guarantee them for its own citizens.

The bourgeois conception emphasizes a strictly individualist view of human rights (5), overlooking the duties of individuals to the rest of society, and ignoring the collective aspect of certain rights, such as that of peoples to peace, development, self-determination, and international solidarity. This is the logic that shows how human rights have been violated in Cuba for more than 50 years, not by Cuban authorities - as is constantly stated by Western media - but by the United States government which has practiced genocide against the Cuban people since 1962, when the economic, commercial, financial blockade was established with the goal of creating hunger and desperation, that would lead to overthrow of the revolutionary government.

This blockade constitutes a massive, flagrant, systematic violation of human rights, as established in Articles 1 and 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Estimates of economic damage are astronomical, but the human damage caused is incalculable and impossible to redress. These include 3,400 deaths and 2,099 persons severely disabled by other aggressions and terrorist acts against Cuba sponsored by U.S. administrations since the triumph of the Revolution.

Is the U.S. perhaps not violating the most elemental human right to life when the blockade prevents Cuba from purchasing medicines that would save Cuban children with different diseases or alleviate their suffering? Moreover, are not the rights of U.S. citizens being violated when they are prevented from traveling freely to Cuba? And if human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent, why do Western powers, especially the United States, continuously "forget," since the bourgeois conception of human rights supposedly "privileges" civil and political rights, to the detriment of economic, social, and cultural rights? How can an illiterate or indigent person exercise the right to vote or freedom of expression? It is possible to speak of democracy and human rights without social justice?

If some day the United States abandons the policy of using human rights as a tool against Cuba as part of its strategy of regime change, and devote itself to thinking seriously about how to help guarantee these human rights on the island, in their own country, and the world, it would not only immediately lift the blockade, but would also find, just 90 miles from its coasts, its best ally in confronting the great challenge of assuring human rights to millions of persons, especially the most elemental of these, the right to live, more threatened now than ever.

(From the book 5 temas polémicos sobre Cuba, Ocean Sur, 2016)


(1) Fernando Martínez Heredia, “Derechos Humanos y resistencias y luchas populares,” in: A la mitad del camino, (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2015), 287.

(2) Ibid., p.288.

(3) Speech by Fidel Castro during the principal celebration of the 25th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, held in Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 1978, Granma, July 27, 1978.

(4) Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices, (New York: Simon-Schuster, 2014), 373.

(5) An objective, just conception of human rights would strengthen and protect individual rights and freedoms - the broadest realization of the human being - but must recognize that individuals cannot develop their personalities and exercise their rights removed from social relations or to the detriment of society.