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So, might is right now?

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The issue at hand this week is the dire economic difficulties being experienced by the people of Cuba and the attendant hardships facing our students currently resident there. Those difficulties are the subject of a letter on the Internet, purportedly from a “student in Cuba”.

This seems to have set off a train of comments. However, In the process all sorts of base, vile and nasty comments were made about Cuba and the scholarship programme. Normally, I ignore such comments for it makes little sense to engage with such persons. But the matter is of a humanitarian nature, with a social and economic crisis being provoked in one country, affecting not only the millions of its citizens but also the tens of thousands of students from all over the globe who are being assisted by Cuba to become professionals to develop their own countries.

Now we are all entitled to criticize the actions and policies of any particular government or country. Freedom of opinion and expression is the right of all, but at least one should try to be honest, truthful and, if in ignorance, seek clarification. Disagreement with policies or political system is no licence to slander.

Cuba is entering another economic crisis, particularly in the shortage of fuel, which has a spiralling effect in all areas of the society. Our students are naturally feeling the pinch, leading to those uninformed persons talking about another “Special Period”. The term ‘special period” was first used in the nineties when after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia suddenly withdrew its support for Cuba, causing severe hardships.

All four of my children studied in Cuba, and the eldest was among those foreign students who had to cope with the real “special period”, without access to Internet, regular telephone communication and the phone technology of today. Incidentally, her son is currently in Cuba, experiencing the difficulties as well. Those who don’t know the situation should at least enquire. My mother had a saying that: “He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child – teach him.” But, “he who knows not and knows not that he knows not is an a…….shun him”.

Cuba has experienced these hardships, now and in the past, primarily because the United States of America, that so-called bastion of freedom and free trade, has employed a criminal embargo and economic sanctions against it for almost 60 years now. The USA fought a long war with Vietnam, was defeated and forced to pull out. Today, not only is there no such embargo against Vietnam, but that country enjoys “most-favoured- nation” trading status with the USA.

The USA also fought a bloody war with Korea, losing thousands of its citizens, but today President Trump calls the Korean President, the grandson of the man whom America fought, his “friend” and seeks closer relations. Russia and China are considered as “communist” foes of the USA and nuclear rivals but there is no such economic blockade. But Cuba must suffer.

What is particularly reprehensible is that not only is the USA not trading with Cuba, it is today trying to strangle it by threatening third countries which trade with Cuba, threatening to seize oil tankers and heavily fine their owners if they are contracted to carry Venezuelan oil to Cuba. How can that be right? You have a right, if it so behoves you, not to befriend your neighbour, for whatever reason, but you cannot tell me that because you are rich and powerful and not speaking with your neighbour, that I must not do so either or face the consequences.

This brand of “might is right” politics is dangerous and we are succumbing to it. We who like to talk of freedom and human rights are blaming the victims, either because we do not like their house, or because we are afraid of “Big Brother”. Criticize Cuba if you wish, denounce their system if you are so inclined, but how could you support those who unjustly punish the Cuban people and suffer those of our own people whose apparent “crime” is to go there to study.

Finally, it must be made clear that Ralph [Gonsalves] is not sending anyone to “communist countries” to study. He has accepted scholarships just as James Mitchell did before him. Parents and students are free to accept Cuban scholarships like those of any other country. The graduates do not have to come back to preach “blood and revolution”, outdated as those slurs are today.

One of the first Cuban graduates is today a Deputy Secretary General of CARICOM, another helped the OECS to break the foreign telecommunication monopoly. My daughter, a distinguished dentist, has just been honoured for 23 years of selfless service to the government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, having worked in the Grenadines, North Windward, Marriaqua, South Leeward and East St George among other places. Where is the “communist guerrilla” that the ignoramuses preach?

If we wish debate, let it be intelligent, come out in the open and don’t hide behind any false internet identity. Expose your ignorance for all to see. There is no place in this world for that!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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