Cuba: Australian senator's red-baiting and slander

October 20, 2006

"Liberal Senator Gary Humphries has attempted to reignite a 50-year-old political fear of reds under the bed", reported the Canberra Times on Thursday October 12. The article was referring to an October 10 speech in the Australian Senate, during which Humphries launched an attack on socialist Cuba and Australian supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

Humphries said: "It appears that Castro's cheer squad in Australia is not limited to the Democratic Socialist Party, or DSP, and its youth wing, Resistance. An article on 26 July this year in the DSP's newspaper Green Left Weekly reported that a Cuban parliamentarian, Ms Gilda Chacon, was touring Australia with the 'support of a number of unions, in particular the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)'."

Humphries also raised the alarm that the NSW branch of the CFMEU was selling in its offices a book on some of the gains of the Cuban Revolution, and that the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) held its 2005 congress at the NSW CFMEU offices. Humphries concluded: "Indeed, it is not going too far to suggest that the CFMEU is promoting the Cuban dictatorship as preferable to Australia's liberal democracy ..."

Humphries' support for "liberal democracy" apparently does not extend to the right of political parties whose ideology he doesn't like holding congresses, the right to hear firsthand from a Cuban parliamentarian about the reality inside her country, or the distribution of information on Cuba that doesn't square with his views.

Humphries attempted to use the "red scare" to further the Howard government's attacks on the union movement, especially the CFMEU, 107 of whose Western Australian members face fines of up to $28,000 simply for taking industrial action. Referring to the industrial action on the Perth-Mandurah railway project that led to these fines, Humphries said: "I do not know what role communist ideology is playing in these militant activities."

The NSW CFMEU rejected the attack as a "pretty poor attempt at a McCarthy-style witchhunt", according to Ibmnews.org on October 12. Pointing out that the CFMEU's offices are rented out to a wide range of organisations, spokesperson Tim Vollmer said, "we defend [the CPA's] right and the right of all other groups to peacefully engage in political debate and discussion".

Peter Boyle, national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective (as the Democratic Socialist Party has been named since 2003), called the speech "an ominous reversion to McCarthy-era red-baiting and intimidation". He added, "The DSP is proud of its support for the Cuban Revolution".

Humphries claimed the revolution had impoverished Cuba. Had Humphries read the issue of GLW he referred to in his speech, he would have read Chacon explaining that the key economic problem in Cuba is the inhumane blockade maintained for over 40 years by the US government, costing Cuba an estimated US$79 billion.

Despite the blockade, by organising its economy along the principles of human need rather than private profit, Cuba has been able to provide completely free education and develop one of the most advanced health-care systems in the world — an astonishing achievement for a Third World nation. Cuba has the same infant mortality rate as the US and almost twice the number of doctors per capita.

Cuba has been willing to share its social gains around the world. The August 16 Le Monde Diplomatique reported that between 1963 and 2005 Cuba sent more than 100,000 medical staff to 97 countries, and that in March 2006 some 25,000 Cuban health professionals were working in 68 nations, more than the World Health Organisation.

Boyle pointed out the revealing differences between the approach to the world's poor taken by Cuba and by the Australian government. Cuba has hundreds of doctors providing free health care inside East Timor, South-East Asia's poorest nation, while Australia has denied East Timor its rightful share of oil and gas in the Timor Sea, depriving it of badly needed funds.

Humphries attempted to claim Cuba imprisons people simply for criticising the government. In doing so, he cites the claim by Amnesty International that there are currently 72 "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba, jailed simply for speaking out.

In fact, no one is jailed simply for expressing their views. Sixty of the 72 cited by Amnesty were jailed in April 2003, not by the government but by the legal system, and not for criticising the government (which is practically a national pastime in Cuba) but for accepting money from organisations funded by the US government to work to overthrow the Cuban state. This is also a crime in the US and most other countries.

In a March 2006 press release, Amnesty also criticised the US blockade for creating conditions unfavourable for the full expression of civil rights in Cuba, and called for Washington to lift the blockade immediately. Amnesty also calls for the closure of the only concentration camp in Cuba — the Guantanamo Bay prison, where severe human rights abuses occur, run on territory occupied by the US military. Humphries makes no mention of these facts in his speech.

Cuba's foreign policy stands in sharp contrast to the Howard government's. While Cuba sends doctors to wherever they are required throughout the world, Australia sends troops to participate in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq — which has resulted in the deaths of more than 650,000 people according to a study in the British medical journal The Lancet — to help facilitate the corporate exploitation of that region. Cuba exports life, while Australia is exporting death.

This reality is what has ensured support for Cuba across the world, including inside Australia. Humphries dismisses this support as "pockets" that continue to look at "left-wing dictatorships through rose-coloured glasses, with Cuba in particular being held up as an example of a so-called workers' paradise". There is no "workers' paradise" in Cuba, and no-one, not its international supporters nor the Cuban government itself, claims there is.

What there is, however, is dignity and humanity — qualities sorely lacking among those, like Humphries, who are part of a government that sends troops to invade and occupy other nations while exploiting its already-impoverished neighbours.

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