In November I will be representing the Republic of Cuba at the national Model United Nations conference in Washington D.C. Another topic on the agenda in the General Assembly’s 3rd Committee on Human Rights is the situation in China. The Chinese Question, for Cuba, is remarkably ambiguous. As I outline in this position paper, there was a harsh break in Sino-Cuba relations after Cuba had sided in the 70s with the more powerful Soviet Bloc. Since the Soviet Empire has fallen, China and Cuba slowly have begun rebuilding their relationship. Leaks in the Western press allege that China generously trades arms with Cuba in an effort to offset or balance the amount of arms trading between the United States and Taiwan. In fact, both China and the U.S. appear to be mirror images of each other–each with its own counter-hegemonic and counter-ideological island that operates in defiance of their respective authoritarian super-power.
Since much of what goes on is no doubt mired in secrecy, this position paper is an attempt to articulate the Sino-Cuban relationship, defend the human rights squalor in China, and stay compatible with the Cuban party line.
On the surface, Sino-Cuba relations may be difficult for historians to take seriously. In 1960 Cuba was the first Latin American country to recognize China’s new communist government. Yet early friendly relations turned sour toward the end of the decade with the emergence of the Sino-Soviet dispute, where Cuba sided with the Soviet leadership. Since our President, Fidel Castro, saw Cuba’s mission as an ongoing struggle against United States’ foreign policy and the imperialist organizations of the Washington Consensus, Cuba needed the kind of financial support and military shield that only Moscow could then provide.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry says that 1989 “marked the full resumption and development of Sino-Cuban relations.” Yet all current statements from Beijing and Havana say relations are now at an all-time high. This is not, as it is presumed by Western media, due to an alleged arms trade between China and Cuba in order balance the power the United States’ sphere of influence and its efforts to arm Taiwan. As President Castro has publicly said, Cuba has not traded weapons with China since 1992. Our relations are based uniquely on our common interest in the development and protection of socialist nations. What, then, can be said about the so-called human rights problem in China?
The essence of Cuba’s policy as regards human rights is based on the consensus reached in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, which famously concluded that “all human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and interrelated.” However, this is only a contingent fact of Cuban policy.
Increasingly, anthropologists are writing about human rights from a critical perspective, documenting how human rights organizations and NGOs operate as facilitators of Western hegemony. We have on the one hand a standard argument that human rights are universal in nature, and this is accepted without critical reflecting on the nature of Western values and the Western imperial project. On the other hand, we have the legal truism of an explicit “Act of State Doctrine” as outlined in various International Court of Justice principles and trials. This doctrine states that that no supranational organization shall interfere with the sovereignty of any nation. We have witnessed, of course, the habit of Western nations of continually denying this sovereignty to socialist nations, as in Cuba where the agricultural reform laws regarding sugarcane have systematically been disrespected by the imperialist Supreme Court of the United States. Cuba has nonetheless adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, while at the same time maintaining the position that universal human rights are no more than a Western “legal fiction”.
In particular, the concept of universal human rights is fundamentally rooted in the Western liberal project, the conclusions of which are not necessarily obvious or true elsewhere. The development of the human rights project is a development of imperialist thought as outlined in the philosophy of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, who were deeply involved with the workings of Empire themselves, using policy as an imperial tool for expansion and domination.
Cuba, having been incorporated into the Western liberal project from the very start, was imbibed with the Western notions of human rights, and we recognize them as part of our cultural and political inheritance. However, we recognize that not all cultures have inherited these values, and therefore cannot be expected to embrace them. It has been said by the anthropologist that, for example, “Asian values” is something much different from Western liberal values.
Let us take a moment to understand the hypocrisy by which the Western liberal project operates. According to the capitalists’ own economic models, it has justified the historical increases inequality, political repression, and the violation of human rights within their own nations. For example, according to the “non-communist stages theories” of Nobel Prize Economists like Simon Kuznets, these abuses are justified as part of a capitalist development scheme, and China cannot be blamed for merely modeling its behavior on the capitalist West, to which it is opening itself up. Have we now forgotten that America once greatly abused the Chinese laborers during its period of economic growth and Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century? This is, in fact, why Havana has a vibrant Chinatown—due to the migration of Chinese laborers who sought solace in neighborly Cuba. Have we forgotten all the acts of violent suppression against labor unions in the United States during its own period of rapid economic development and imperial expansion?
All too often, human rights abuses are linked in the capitalist mind to the socialist command economy. It is said that it is a symptom of socialism to deny these rights to its citizenry. Yet this is certainly not so in Cuba, where we have a press system that is free to criticize the government, where citizens are free to find and read anti-Castro newspapers and literature. In Cuba we have freedom and human rights. In China the rural populations are denied many of the basic rights the urban population enjoys. Yet this is rather a symptom of the capitalist development scheme that has taken over the nation, where the working person, the laborer, the agriculturalist, is denied the equality that other Chinese are privileged with.
Cuba encourages the U.N. body to recognize that these conventions on human rights are not universally applicable, and they are to be promulgated as an ideal of the Western liberal agenda. We emphasize the principles and conventions on national sovereignty as having greater weight in international relations than conventions and standards on human rights.
This is the position of Cuba!