The Left should oppose repression

I’ve spent most of my professional life skewering the unhinged tendencies of the Right (not least debunking its support for Israeli violence). Sadly, some on the Left are equally ideological and blind to their own propaganda.

Western support for Cuba remains fairly strong on the Left, despite the vast evidence that Fidel Castro ran a police state for half a century. His brother, Raul, sadly continues to intimidate dissidents. Many of these people, despite the rantings of die-hard Castro supporters, are not on the US payroll, simply asking for true democratic reform.

An article in this week’s Green Left Weekly is a classic case of unthinking Cuban propaganda masquerading as analysis. The writer, Sydney academic Tim Anderson, claims – and has done so for years against anybody who mouths any criticisms of the Cuban regime, including my good self – that my forthcoming book, on the internet in repressive regimes, is really a front for a US-funded campaign to destabilise Washington’s enemies:

Australian journalist Anthony [sic] Loewenstein paid a brief visit to Cuba and announced that Cuban dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe had been jailed for simply “opposing the Castro regime”. In fact, Espinosa Chepe had done this for many years, on various internet sites.

What led to his arrest and conviction in 2003 was taking several thousand US dollars from US government programs authorised under the Helms Burton Act, designed to overthrow the Cuban constitution.

Loewenstein has a blogger project (and pending book) almost identical to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “internet freedom” campaign against Cuba. The US Government specifically funds RSF for anti-Cuban campaigns through the “Centre for a Free Cuba” and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

The NED says it “works with a number of groups that support the work of independent journalists and other media within Cuba ”¦ to foster free press and promote an independent civil society in Cuba”. However the NED has been linked to the US-backed 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and the 2004 coup in Haiti.

While the RSF targets 15 countries in its “internet freedom” campaign, Loewenstein is preparing a book on six of these: Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and China. The US Government has current economic sanctions (for different reasons) against Cuba, Iran and Syria, and maintained sanctions against China for 50 years.

If one is looking at threats against “independent journalists”, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) those countries with the highest numbers of journalists killed are: Iraq, Algeria, Russia, Colombia and the Philippines — three of these being US allies.

Let me try and understand the logic here (without laughing too hard.) Reporters Without Borders runs some campaigns against designated US enemies (though also bravely defends oppressed journalists the world over.) I visited many countries on an RSF list and therefore, by definition, my work is suspect and really an attempt to undermine the nations and individuals standing up to American aggression. The anti-intellectualism and ignorance of the case is startling (and is based on not even reading my book, which isn’t out until September). I visited the countries I did because internet repression is pervasive in their societies, dissent is changing as a result and US involvement is often problematic.

I’ve been accused in the past of taking money from the US to fund my overseas travels last year (and yes, the CIA wires money to me weekly). There is a strain of the Left that argues only public solidarity with US “enemies” is appropriate to show a unified front to the world.

The problem is, for me as a human being and journalist, many of the nations in my book commit gross human rights abuses and remaining silent is neither moral nor legitimate. One either believes in human rights or you don’t. You either support the rights of individuals to live in freedom, read a free press and meet without fear or favour or you don’t. It’s possible to do all this and still slam US foreign policy, the crazy US embargo against Cuba and campaign strongly (as my new book does consistently) against foreign meddling in non-Western nations.

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