Harvey is a life-long activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, history, drug war, election protection and grassroots politics.
Wasserman simulaniously teaches history and…
Our American president’s long-overdue visit to Cuba was a great thing for many reasons.
But maybe our elected officials should cease their hypocritical yapping about the human rights situation in Cuba until they come clean about what’s happening here in the United States.
To be sure, there is much to say about how this authoritarian regime has handled dissent. The details abound in the corporate media.
But the idea of the United States lecturing Cuba or any other country on this planet about human rights comes down somewhere between embarrassing and nauseating. Consider:
The U.S. right now has the world’s largest prison population by far. There are 2.2 million citizens in prison here for offenses that include smoking pot and failing to pay off certain debts. At its peak, there were 2.5 million in Stalin’s Soviet Gulag.
The U.S. prison population is hugely overfilled with African-Americans and Hispanics.
The racial bias of the prison population is directly related to a deliberate Jim Crow strategy of disenfranchisement aimed at keeping people of color from voting.
There are more citizens in U.S. prisons than there are prisoners in China, another authoritarian country. China’s population is 4 to 5 times as large as that of the U.S. They do not have an alleged Bill of Rights.
The American prison population currently represents almost a quarter of the entire population of Cuba.
Rape, torture, extended solitary confinement, and other human rights offenses are common in U.S. prisons. In many cases, decent medical care is notably lacking, resulting in avoidable illness and death.
More than 500,000 Americans are in prison for victimless crimes relating to substances they have chosen to put in their own bodies rather than harm done anyone else.
On the actual island of Cuba, the U.S. holds a reserve at Guantanamo that the Cuban people want returned to them. In the interim, prisoners are held there in denial of all human rights, often without trial, in some cases being subjected to what can only be termed torture. Some have been held for years after their release has been authorized. Guantanamo is maintained on Cuban soil precisely so those held there can be denied their human rights.
The United States still has the death penalty, which has been repeatedly used to execute human beings who later prove innocent. One former president of the United States, George W. Bush, personally authorized 152 executions while governor of Texas.
Access to due process in the United States is significantly restricted by race and class.
There are numerous political prisoners being held without human rights guarantees throughout the U.S. prison system whose “offenses” are every bit as illusory as many of the prisoners held in violation of human rights in Cuba.
Among them is Leonard Peltier, a Native American wrongly convicted of murder four decades ago. Peltier has repeatedly petitioned for a new trial and been turned down by presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama, even though the evidence overwhelmingly indicates he is innocent of the two murders for which he was convicted in the mid 1970s. Peltier is now suffering from advanced diabetes. He’s being held under extremely harsh conditions in clear violation of a wide range of laws allegedly protecting the basic human rights guaranteed all prisoners by the U.S. criminal justice code and by international law. Peltier has grandchildren and great grandchildren he has never seen. If he were being held under the same circumstances in Cuba, the U.S. would be screaming for his release.
In 2001, as he was leaving office, Bill Clinton chose to pardon multi-millionaire Marc Rich, with immense direct and indirect benefits later coming to the Clintons and their various interests. Though Clinton was thoroughly and repeatedly briefed about Leonard Peltier, he chose to leave Peltier in prison, to not grant him a new trial, and to do nothing to mitigate the illegal conditions under which he’s being held.
Since Richard Nixon’s declaration of the Drug War in 1971, various branches of the U.S. police system have arrested more than 41 million American citizens, almost four times as many people as now live in Cuba. The arrests have been heavily weighted against people of color and low income. With the $1 trillion or more spent on this mass incarceration, all those arrested could have been sent to college.
In recent years the incentive to incarcerate American citizens (guilty or otherwise) has been vastly accelerated by the establishment of private prisons, whose profits are based on the number of people they can lock up. Americans charged with crimes are now viewed as “cash flow” by this for-profit prison system, which has every incentive to keep them incarcerated as long as possible, no matter how their alleged crime or violated human rights might stack up.
Though they recently crashed the entire U.S. economy with a stunning array of criminal activities, no banker or financier who helped devastate the livelihoods of millions of families worldwide has gone to prison.
American police forces routinely maim and kill innocent citizens based largely on race and class, with little or no legal recourse.
In the name of fighting terrorism and the Drug War, U.S. police forces now regularly confiscate cash and other property from innocent citizens without due process or reasonable legal recourse. The funds are often used for the personal benefit of the officers involved.
A nationwide program of electronic spying on private citizens has been in place in the U.S. for many years, leaving the Fourth Amendment right to privacy in shambles.
There is, of course, much more. But at very least we hope that President Obama admitted to some or all of the above amidst his cringe-worthy lectures to the Cubans on the sacred nature of human rights.