Cuba’s growing biotechnology industry is a leader in research and technology. Among its accomplishments are the development of meningitis-B and hepatitis-B vaccines, AIDS anti-retroviral drugs, and a therapeutic lung cancer vaccine.
In 2002, John Bolton, then undersecretary of state (and now the nominee to represent the United States at the United Nations), led a campaign to convince the world that Cuba’s biotechnology industry was nothing more than a front for bioterrorism. That year, when Jimmy Carter visited a Cuban pharmaceutical facility, he refuted Bolton’s unfounded charges. Intelligence analysts within the U.S. government also objected to Bolton’s doctoring of evidence. When one CIA analyst, Fulton T. Armstrong, disagreed with Bolton’s claims, Bolton requested that Armstrong be reassigned.
The United States has been at war with Cuba for 46 years. On the military front, this war has included the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and numerous assassination attempts of Cuban leaders. The war has also been fought on the economic front—the embargo on Cuba is the longest bilateral economic embargo in world history. The war is on, and as the old adage goes: “The first casualty, when war comes, is the truth.” When it comes to Cuba there is a great deal of information being manipulated: We have State Department officials like Bolton making unsubstantiated claims and threatening the job security of intelligence officials who refuse to participate in the misinformation.
Last year, a State Department commission released a 458-page document filled with misinformation about the Cuban reality. Among the most glaring distortions were the continual references to the shortcomings of the Cuban health care system. The document recommends that the future governing body of Cuba put into place an immunization campaign for all Cuban children under the age of five.
Reality, however, does not reflect this need. Cuban children already receive free and mandatory immunizations to prevent 13 different diseases. According to the 2003 World Health Organization report, Cuba has some of the best indicators in the world in terms of vaccination coverage and disease control and Cuba’s infant mortality rate is actually lower than the United States’.
Perhaps the best way for people to see past the propaganda and understand the Cuban reality is by visiting Cuba. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. government opened up travel to Cuba, allowing tens of thousands of licensed travelers to visit the island each year. Since taking office, the Bush administration has dramatically cut back licensed travel to Cuba, making it harder than ever for U.S. citizens to visit the island.
Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government forbids its citizens to travel. We can travel freely to Iraq, Syria, and North Korea, but traveling to the island 90 miles off the coast of Florida is punishable by a fine of up to $55,000 per visit. At the same time, it has become harder than ever for Cubans on the island to obtain a visa to visit the United States.
With the phasing out of exchanges between the Cuban and U.S. people, the sources of information about the Cuban reality are limited to the wartime propaganda of the two governments, a dangerous proposition for people on both sides. For this 46-year war to end, we need to encourage a two-way flow of information between Cuba and the United States. We need freedom to travel. Fortunately, encouraging steps are being taken in that direction.
Recently, over 700 people from around the country gathered in Washington, under the banner “Join the Majority, Change the Policy.” The Cuban Action Day event coincided with the introduction of two bills, HR1418 and S894, to end the travel ban, introduced by Republican Rep. Jeff Flake and Republican Sen. Michael Enzi.
This is not only an issue of defending the freedoms we hold most dear; this is also an issue of trust. Bush administration officials like John Bolton have shown us that we can’t trust them for an honest or truthful picture of Cuba. We have the right to see Cuba with our own eyes and not be limited to the political lenses of administration officials like John Bolton.
Martin Hooper is an educator at Witness for Peace. This article was distributed by MineutemanMedia.org.