May 2nd 2009

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor's 'people overboard' fiasco

EDITORIAL: Human rights consultation hijacked?

TRADE: Government pushes China free trade agreement

FIJI: Australia and NZ silent as China bankrolls military junta

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: From Baghdad to Beijing: Labor's dodgy dealings

TRADE UNIONS: WA unions host Cuban ambassador... Why?

ILLICIT DRUGS: Australia's $10 billion industry - organised crime

GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR: A desperate fight to the death

THAILAND: Land of smiles descends into turmoil

PRE-SCHOOL: Conscripting our toddlers for political activism

OPINION: Legislative assault on freedom of conscience

POLITICAL IDEAS: Crisis of credibility that has shaken the world

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Productive investment vs. financial speculation / Free speech curtailed for the sake of pluralism

Human rights hearings (letter)

Australia to import food? (letter)

Telstra (letter)

ETS to cost billions (letter)

CINEMA: Katyn - Sombre depiction of unpunished WW2 crime

BOOKS: REFUGEES AND REBELS: Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia, by Jan Lingard

BOOKS: GIRLS LIKE YOU: Four Young Girls, Six Brothers and a Cultural Timebomb, by Paul Sheehan

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WA unions host Cuban ambassador... Why?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 2, 2009
WA's peak union body recently hosted the visit to Perth of the ambassador of Cuba, one of the most repressive dictatorships on earth. Peter Westmore reports.

UnionsWA, Western Australia's peak union body, in conjunction with the Perth branch of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society, recently hosted the visit to Perth of the Cuban ambassador.

Ambassador Abelardo Curbelo spoke at a public forum at the University of WA.

This was extraordinary, as Cuba has an appalling record on human rights. Its suppression of free trade unions has been documented by human rights organisations and trade union internationals for years. Average wages for workers in Cuba are about only $20-25 per month.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has repeatedly drawn attention to abuses in Cuba.

In its 2007 report, it stated that only a single government-controlled union system exists.

It said: "There is no genuine collective bargaining and the right to strike is not recognised in law. Independent trade unionists continued to face persecution, and seven of the trade unionists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2003 remained behind bars. Humanitarian aid destined for them and their families was confiscated by the authorities."


Attempts to establish independent trade unions have been repeatedly threatened by the regime.

Nine members of the independent United Council of Cuban Workers (CUTC) were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, ranging from 13 to 26 years, in 2003, including Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, the general secretary.

Two were later released on health grounds, but seven remained in prison throughout 2006. Carmelo Díaz Fernández, general secretary of the Christian trade union, Unión Sindical Cristiana, and one of the two released because of his ill health, was repeatedly reminded by the authorities that they still considered him a prisoner.

CUTC reported that, during the year 2006, the government confiscated humanitarian aid sent by foreign trade unions to assist imprisoned CUTC members and their families. The CUTC offices were regularly raided by the government and its books, documents and computers confiscated.

Lázaro González Adán of the independent workers union, Confederación Obrera Nacional Independiente de Cuba (CONIC), remained in prison throughout the year, without charge and without trial. He was arrested in October 2004 by the National Revolutionary Police. Other members of CONIC were threatened with imprisonment.

In its 2009 report on Cuba, Human Rights Watch stated: "Cuba remains the one country in Latin American that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. The government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, surveillance, police warnings, and travel restrictions."

Despite the retirement of long-time dictator, Fidel Castro, in 2008 - he was succeeded by his brother Raul - little has changed.

Human Rights Watch said, "In 2008 the country signed the two fundamental international human rights treaties and commuted the death sentences of several prisoners. Yet these measures have led to no significant policy changes in Cuba. The repressive machinery built over almost five decades of Fidel Castro's rule remains intact and continues to systematically deny people their basic rights."

It added that Cuba's legal and institutional structures are at the root of rights violations. "Although in theory the different branches of government have separate areas of authority, in practice the executive retains clear control over all levers of power. The courts, which lack independence, undermine the right to fair trial by severely restricting the right to a defence."

Human Rights Watch has been highly critical of the US Government's long-standing policy of imposing restrictions on travel to Cuba and restricting payments from Cuban Americans to their families back in Cuba.

The policy was intended as a form of economic blockade on Cuba, but has completely failed to effect political reform in the totalitarian state over the past 50 years.

Using official UN data, the US Bureau of Inter-American Affairs published an analysis of Cuban society, comparing the country today with what it was when Castro seized power in 1959.

It summarised its conclusion in these words: "An enduring myth is that 1950s Cuba was a socially and economically backward country whose development was jump-started by the Castro government.

"In fact, according to readily-available historical data, Cuba was a relatively advanced country in 1958, certainly by Latin American standards and, in some areas, by world standards.

"The data appear to show that Cuba has at best maintained what were already high levels of development in health and education, but at an extraordinary cost to the overall welfare of the Cuban people.

"These include access to 'basics' such as adequate levels of food and electricity, but also access to consumer goods, the availability of which has increased significantly in other Latin American countries in recent decades."

- Peter Westmore

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