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Cuba criticism made easy
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Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque couldn’t take President Bush’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly, so he walked out.
Cuba’s U.N. mission said it was “a sign of the profound rejection of the arrogant and mediocre statement by President Bush.”
Havana’s government-controlled press parroted the statement. “Cuba Condemned Bush’s Infamy,” a headline read in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
What was so infamous?
Bush said: “In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end. The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly and, ultimately, free and competitive elections.”
If the walkout was a sign of anything, it was a sign of the profound rejection of anything resembling democracy by the Cuban regime. Cuba is in the privileged company of nations like Burma, Iran and North Korea that consider it offensive to hear that liberty of expression and multiparty elections are good things. In fact, the governing systems in those countries have as their foundational premise the rejection of those political values. Which explains Perez Roque’s anger.
By definition, the disappearance of the regime in which he is foreign minister is necessary for Cubans to enjoy basic human rights of expression and political participation. Once that regime disappears he will find himself out of a job or —who knows? — on trial.
No wonder he finds unacceptable the mere mention of “free speech” or “competitive elections.”
It used to be that in defending itself — defending the indefensible — the Cuban regime was reduced to boilerplate.
Cuban individuals who dared utter criticism were gusanos, worms. Those who organized in opposition in the United States were the “Miami Mafia.”
Havana also loved to accuse the United States of conducting a “genocidal blockade,” making it seem as if the U.S. refusal to trade with Cuba was an act of war, with American warships “blockading” the Cuban coast so no food and medicine could get in, causing a “genocide” of Cuban citizens.
They still use that kind of propaganda. But now they have another, more powerful weapon, and they don't have to lie.
The Cuban government can now say — and did say, after the walkout — that the president of the United States of America authorized torture and tried to hold prisoners indefinitely without charges.
It’s what the Cubas and North Koreas of the world have been doing for decades. But when they can say (truthfully!) the United States does it too, it shifts the attention from their own misdeeds to the misdeeds of the United States.
One of the most disgraceful failures of the Bush administration is that it has taken us to a place where the world’s most despotic regimes can accuse the United States of violating basic rights — and make it stick.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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