DURING AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW on C-SPAN2 in January, Harvard professor Cornel West referred to "the way Chile has wrestled with the persecution of Left friends and comrades of mine." As an Honorary Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, West’s solidarity with the left-wing victims of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship is expected.
But there is a conspicuous omission in West’s solidarity: the left-wing victims of the Cuban Revolution.
Opposition to Fidel Castro’s despotism is generally associated with the Right. From Castro’s ascendancy through today, however, there have been several socialist dissidents in Communist Cuba.
Jorge Valls was a philosophy student at the University of Havana when he joined the resistance to Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, leading to arrests and exiles in Mexico. His political philosophy at the time and since has been "democratic, Christian, and socialist, though not Marxist."
Upon returning to Cuba on January 21, 1959, Valls "saw no sign that the rights of individuals, rights that I considered all-important, were going to be respected." Castro’s KGB arrested Valls in 1960, 1962, and 1963.
In 1964, Valls criticized the bogus indictment of his friend Marcos Rodriguez for aiding Batista. The regime executed Rodriguez on April 25, 1964 and arrested Valls two weeks later. He remained in prison until June 1984 and recounts the miserable interim in Twenty Years and Forty Days.
From April through September of 1980, 125,000 Cubans fled their homeland during the Mariel boatlift. When a government-orchestrated mob attacked a student who wanted to leave, high school teacher Ariel Hidalgo confronted the thugs.
Hidalgo’s courage landed him in jail for three days, during which police found a manuscript in his home entitled Cuba, the Marxist State, and the New Class: A Dialectical Materialist Study. In this study, Hidalgo criticizes the Fidelista nomenklatura and prescribes proletarian reassertion of Marxist principles.
The regime released Hidalgo and waited until 1981 to charge him with "enemy propaganda," which criminalizes anyone "who incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist State by means of oral or written propaganda, or any other form." Hidalgo served seven years of an eight-year sentence.
Enrique Patterson’s revolutionary faith ebbed in 1968 when Castro endorsed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and expropriated Cuba’s remaining small businesses (dubbed the Revolutionary Offensive). At an assembly where he was supposed to condemn the Czechoslovakian reformers, Patterson criticized the invasion, referred to the invaders as imbeciles, and criticized Castro’s pro-Soviet position. (Castro denounced the reformers’ "anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist theses" that called for civil liberties and democratization.) Patterson was subsequently purged from the Young Communists, terminated from employment, removed from candidacy for a scholarship to study abroad, and forbidden to leave Cuba.
In January 1992, Patterson co-founded the dissident Cuban Democratic Socialist Current (CSDC), followed by fortnightly arrests and the opening of an expediente de peligrosidad (Dossier of Dangerousness) by State Security. Knowing Patterson had asthma, the police threatened imprisonment for his next "crime" and added that "medicine is for revolutionaries! We won’t even have to kill you; you’ll die on your own." Faced with this dire likelihood, Patterson went into exile. (Patterson’s being a black Cuban also didn’t endear him to the regime; black dissidents refute Castro’s propaganda that the Cuban Revolution has benefited them. "I am certain that because of my race," Patterson notes, "I was the first member of the group [CSDC] that the political police went after.")
Son of the late Cuban politburo member Blas Roca, Vladimiro Roca is a former fighter pilot, economist, and founding member of the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current and Cuban Social Democratic Party. With Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez, and Marta Beatriz Roque—together representing the Internal Dissidents’ Working Group (GTDI)—Roca wrote "The Homeland Belongs to All," released on June 17, 1997. This historic essay (http://www.dfn.org/voices/cuba/working/patria.htm) critiques the regime’s economic lunacy and the Cuban Communist Party’s political monopoly. "The Cuban Communist Party, in imposing a single party system," they wrote, "places itself in the unenviable company of Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Trujillo, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein, among others."
Castro had the GTDI leaders arrested on July 16, 1997 for "counterrevolutionary crimes" and imprisoned without trial until March 1999 (Roca in solitary confinement). All were convicted of "sedition" on March 16. Roca received the harshest sentence, five years, and he remains a prisoner of conscience.
These are just four of Castro’s left-wing victims.
As a supporter of Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacy, Cornel West asked his peers to think beyond the Republican and Democratic parties. He declared at a rally for Nader on November 5, 2000, "We are wrestling with a fundamental question: What are the conditions under which progressives will break from the two-party system?"
West and his peers have plenty of critical passion when it comes to America’s political duopoly or Pinochet’s defunct dictatorship. Regarding Cuba’s present one-party regime and its social democratic victims, miniscule and more often zero outrage is to be found. Professor West, isn’t Vladimiro Roca your comrade, too?