Can Clinton Support her Attack on Sanders over Cuba?

In their March 9, 2016 debate in Miami, Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders for having made any favorable comments about the Cuban Revolution; she strongly insinuated that the Cuban government had “disappeared” or even killed “people for expressing their opinions.”

On March 13, our Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba, joined by the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee, requested by email that Clinton provide any “credible documentation for instances and individuals who have been ‘disappeared’ or killed for expressing their political views in Cuba in the last 25 years. If this cannot be supplied, we respectfully request that Secty. Clinton clarify and correct her assertion, consistent with the way that she and other candidates have corrected statements in which they ‘misspoke.’” We requested this ASAP, but no later than March 24, 2016, and promised to “circulate whatever response has or has not been received.” We also made repeated calls to her campaign, and left VM to confirm that this request had been received and would be considered.

As of April 3, 2016, three weeks after our request, 25 days after her statement (below) and 10 days after the deadline we communicated, neither Secty. Clinton nor anyone from her campaign has bothered to respond in any way. The National Network on Cuba, consisting of dozens of national and local organizations concerned with U.S. policy towards Cuba, had also joined in this request, and likewise has received no response to their request.

However, research on this issue does shed light on these claims, which Clinton made less than two weeks before President Obama’s critical and historic trip to Cuba.

First, the horrendous practice of regimes in Latin America “disappearing” peasant, indigenous, union and student organizers and their constituents, is well documented. Just after he left Cuba, Pres. Obama flew to Argentina, where it is undisputed that a U.S.-backed military dictatorship cruelly “disappeared” 1,000’s of suspected opponents, so much so that Obama 2 weeks ago publicly apologized for U.S. complicity, while also announcing that he would release U.S. military and intelligence documents related to this, which have been withheld.

The BBC’s correspondent in Cuba and Latin America, Owen Jones, in a generally critical commentary on the Cuban government, nonetheless wrote explicitly in December 2014: “Yes, Cuba was spared the horrors of the US-backed regimes in Latin America that disappeared thousands and threw political dissidents out of helicopters.”

Jones claimed this was a thing of the past “with the glaring exception of Colombia” (a heavily supported U.S. ally.  (See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/18/us-embargo-disappearing-cuba-dictatorship-castro, and also rejoinders to his piece overall, e.g.  https://zcomm.org/zblogs/owen-jones-should-think-harder-about-cuba-and-the-uk/, and http://www.ratb.org.uk/news/campaign-news/522-cdd-191214.) But Jones today would have to acknowledge the epidemic of violent repression and assassinations in Honduras today, following the 2009 military coup that Secty. of State Clinton pushed the U.S. into accepting, despite the unified opposition of the rest of the hemisphere.

As for Clinton’s suggestion that people are “even killed” for expressing their views in Cuba, this can only be supported by conspiracy theories, or reliance on the rapid & widely criticized trials in 1959 of accused torturers under Batista. The conspiracy basis lies chiefly in the suggestion that Oswaldo Paya who in 2012 at age 60 was killed in a motor vehicle crash, was really assassinated by a malicious vehicle.  This is evidently not something that the Clinton forces wish to rely upon as proof of her accusation.

It should be noted that the death penalty is still on the books in Cuba. Unlike in the U.S. however, it has been subject to a moratorium, sparing convicted murders, including a terrorist who fatally planted bombs in Havana tourist locales. The only exception in past decades was the execution of a group of three hijackers in 2003, as the Bush administration was warning Cuba, right after its “Mission Accomplished” declaration of early victory in Iraq,  that it considered illegal emigration from Cuba to be an intolerable threat to the U.S.


Note that our request to Ms. Clinton did not specifically address to what degree, if any, there are people currently imprisoned in Cuba merely for expressing their views. This this is a far more complicated and fact-intensive issue, which we hope to address and analyze in the near future.  Based on negotiations with the Catholic Church in Cuba in 2010, it was generally acknowledged that persons for whom credible claims could be made that they were in prison related to some form of political conduct (including allegedly working for the U.S. as part of plans to undermine the Cuban government), were all released. We hope our future analysis and discussion can address issues such as: 1) what is a political prisoner? 2) Why do lists of such prisoners in Cuba that even the NY Times cited to last week (following the joint March 21st press conference with Obama and Raul Castro), prominently include hijackers and others who would clearly be labeled as “terrorists” by U.S. mass media if they committed such crimes here?  3) the distinction between people being arrested & briefly detained by police on various grounds and being “imprisoned”;  and 4) the fact that peaceful demonstrators, journalists & legal observers have repeatedly been arrested in the U.S (yours truly among them).  We’ll also try to include some reference to imprisonment & conditions, comparing Cuba to the US. practices.

— A.H.


Full Text of the March 13, 2013 Request to the Hillary Clinton Campaign re her Comments in Miami debate on March 9:

To the Clinton Presidential Campaign:

(If you are not able to timely handle this request, please route this to the appropriate office to respond to such inquiries, & so advise.)

I represent two organizations, one based in Wisconsin, the other national, and both communicate regularly to the public on related issues of public concern. I am writing to request a response regarding Hillary Clinton’s assertion in the Miami debate on March 9, 2016 that the Cuban government “has disappeared and even killed people” for expressing their political views. Specifically, in attacking Sen. Sanders for having stated in 1985 that the Cuban revolution had brought not only healthcare and other benefits but also an accompanying revolution in values, Secty. Clinton stated:

“You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution or values that I ever want to see anywhere,” Clinton said to loud cheers in the room. (Emphasis added, see e.g., http://www.npr.org/2016/03/09/469866027/watch-a-resurgent-sanders-looks-to-knock-down-clinton-in-tonights-debate)

We are aware of many instances in recent decades when journalists, as well as political, LGTB and indigenous activists have been “disappeared” or killed after expressing their political views, or just being part of an unfavored community, in other parts of Latin America including Mexico, Guatemala — and notably Honduras after the 2009 coup, mostly recently as highlighted by the assassination of indigenous and environmental activist Berta Caceres. The same is true in other regions, as this morning, NPR’s correspondent reported that 1,000’s of residents in Egypt have been been disappeared, tortured and killed (see “5 Years Later, Egypt Government Crackdown On Dissent Persists“), and Egypt continues to be one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. You are clearly aware of the national  movements of Black Lives Matter activists, generated by the persistent pattern of U.S. police authorities taking the lives of our citizens of color under very suspect circumstances.  But aside from the speedy trials in 1959 of people accused of being killers or torturers under Batista, which have been widely criticized, we do not know of credible evidence to support Secty.Clinton’s assertions highlighted above, and not in the last 25 years.

We therefore request credible documentation for instances and individuals who have been “disappeared” or killed for expressing their political views in Cuba in the last 25 years. If this cannot be supplied, we respectfully request that Secty. Clinton clarify and correct her assertion, consistent with the way that she and other candidates have corrected statements in which they “misspoke.” We further request a definitive response on this matter ASAP, but no later than March 24, 2016. After that date, we will circulate whatever response has or has not been received.

For your information, the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba has been active since 1994, composed of religious and civic organizations, and will circulate any such response to 1,000’s of concerned voters in this state prior to the April 5th Wisconsin primary. The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. It and its Cuba Subcommittee will likewise share this information appropriately.

Thank you kindly for your consideration.

Atty. Arthur Heitzer,

Chair of the National Lawyers Guild Cuba Subcommittee, www.nlg.org, and

also representing the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba, www.wicuba.org.
633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1410
Milwaukee, WI 53203 USA
414-273-1040, ex. 12; fax 414-273-4859

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