DURING THE 1980S, imagine that a municipal official proposes a "sister-county relationship" with Chile’s Santiago province.
To explore this proposal, the official leads a delegation to Chile and writes an exuberant account of the trip upon return.
He praises Chile’s low crime rate and safe streets, its education system and Santiago’s cutting-edge features.
He recounts speaking with Chileans who support General Augusto Pinochet and concludes with the wish that his local high school band could perform in Santiago.
To complement the trip, the official invites Pinochet to an international conference in his municipality. He writes: "Should you decide to lead the Chilean delegation to this historic event, we would be honored to have you visit with us. We think your visit here will be a very educational and enriching experience, both for you and the people who reside in communities throughout our region of the country."
He does not recognize the Pinochet dictatorship’s extensive repression or the atrocities perpetrated in Santiago by state organs like the DINA (Directorate of National Intelligence, Pinochet’s secret police, later the National Information Center, or CNI).
He does not recognize that a police state is responsible for Chile’s low crime rate and safe streets, indicative not of crime’s elimination but its consolidation by the regime.
He is deaf to the voices of Chileans in exile.
There would be truthful aspects to the official’s account. Santiago was a safe and attractive place during the 1980s; exiled filmmaker Miguel Littin observed when he secretly returned to Chile in 1985 that "Santiago was a radiant city, its venerable monuments splendidly illuminated, its streets spotlessly clean and orderly."
And there were many Pinochetistas from 1973 to 1990. While he lost the 1988 plebiscite prompting the end of dictatorship, 43% of voters supported Pinochet.
Nevertheless, history would not vindicate the official’s complicity with a tyrant, and neither will it vindicate the complicity of Dwight Pelz.
Pelz is a member of the King County Council in Seattle. In 1999, he and other council members invited Fidel Castro to the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. The invitation read: "Should you decide to lead the Cuban delegation to this historic event, we would be honored to have you visit with us. We think your visit here will be a very educational and enriching experience, both for you and the people who reside in communities throughout our region of the country."
Last April, Pelz submitted a resolution to establish a "sister-county relationship" with Cuba’s Granma province. Cuba is one of only seven countries classified by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
This February, Pelz led a delegation to Cuba "on a fact-finding mission to explore building this relationship." He recounts the trip in "County could build ties with Cuban people" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 11, 2002).
Pelz refers to Cuba’s "first rate education and health care system" and describes it as "a nation with little crime." "I encountered safe streets with a steady police presence," he writes. Indeed, police states tend to have a steady police presence.
Regarding education, Castro said as early as 1965 that "our children are being educated to live in a Communist society" and "they must be discouraged from every egotistical feeling in the enjoyment of material things, such as the sense of individual property." How this perversion constitutes "first rate education" is unclear. (Private schools are prohibited, so parents have no educational options.)
Health care is also far from first-rate and predicated upon ideological apartheid. Dr. Miguel A. Faria, Jr. notes in Cuba in Revolution: Escape from a Lost Paradise, "It is certainly true that in Cuba everyone (i.e., except those branded as counterrevolutionaries) has, at least on paper, access to physicians and health care, although in practice it is a most rudimentary form of medical care." (Even if health care were superb and non-discriminatory, it would not mitigate the regime’s totalitarianism.)
Lo and behold, the Cubans Pelz met were Fidelistas: "I met people with a rich understanding of their own history, and a shared commitment to the direction their country is taking." He reiterates, "We found support for Castro." (Castro enjoys so much support that he has refused electoral accountability for forty-three years.)
Pelz ends his account with the hope that "the Garfield High Jazz Band could travel to the city of Bayamo, Granma and demonstrate to Cubans the beauty of American jazz."
Absent from Pelz’s Cuba is Castro’s totalitarianism, manifest in prohibitions like "disrespect," "illicit association," and "illegal exit." Pelz criticizes the federal government for "restrictions on my right as an American citizen to freely travel to Cuba" but ignores restrictions on Cubans’ right to freely travel to America or anywhere else.
Absent is the terror Castro inflicts through his secret police, the DSE (Department of State Security), the brownshirt-like Rapid Response Brigades, and thousands of chivatos (informers).
Absent are the persecuted dissidents and Amnesty International prisoners of conscience such as Vladimiro Roca and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.
Absent are the horrors at Bayamo’s Las Mangas prison and State Security headquarters.
Somehow these facts eluded Pelz during his "fact-finding mission."
Consider the image of a high school band playing in Santiago during Pinochet. As the dictator’s functionaries applaud the melodious performance, discordant knuckles and boots fall upon others in Santiago. The students do not know this, but those who brought them there should.
If the Garfield High Jazz Band played in Bayamo, would it know of its hosts’ captivity or the dissidents in the dungeons of Las Mangas and State Security? Probably not, but I wouldn’t blame these adolescents for what would seem like a tropical excursion.
Dwight Pelz is no adolescent.