In my piece today about Fidel Castro, I comment on a widespread and misplaced romanticism on the part of many foreign observers of Cuba. The politician I particularly have in mind is the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. I noted on this blog last April that I had written to Joy Johnson, of the Mayor's Press Office, with this question:
"I recall that last year, at a European Trade Union Solidarity Conference with Cuba and Latin America, the Mayor declared: 'If I am lucky enough to be re-elected in 2008, one of the main features of my third term would be a major celebration of the Cuban Revolution on its fiftieth anniversary.'
"I wonder if the Mayor has noted a report from the BBC this week that a Cuban journalist, Oscar Sanchez Madan, and a lawyer and dissident, Rolando Jimenez Posada, have received long prison sentences for, respectively, "social dangerousness" and writing anti-government slogans. According to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation, the trials were held in secret and without defence lawyers present.
"I should be glad to know if, in conjunction with his celebration of the Cuban Revolution, Mr Livingstone plans to make any statement or engage in any private diplomacy about these incarcerations. Given the importance of the subject, I should appreciate it if you or he were able to couch a reply in a form that you would not object to my quoting publicly."
Ms Johnson kindly did reply promptly, with permission to quote her. I have waited till I wrote about Cuba in the press before publishing her comments, but in the end it would have taken a disproportionate amount of space if I had included her statement in today's Times article. I'm thus reproducing her comment here. This is what she said:
"A spokesperson for the Mayor said: 'The Mayor is opposed to every violation of human rights from any quarter. He therefore rejects the highly selective approach of those who highlight one or two allegations of abuses by the Cuban authorities but ignores the torture and illegal detention without trial of hundreds of inmates of the US illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay and the impact of the US illegal blockade on the lives of millions of ordinary Cubans. Such double standards debase those who hold to them.'"
Now, there is much you could say about the Mayor's views on Cuba, but one thing stands out in Ms Johnson's statement. It is not about Cuba: it's about the Mayor's domestic political enemies (of whom I am cordially one). Given that the Mayor invites judgement on his views on foreign affairs, spends a good deal of council taxpayers' money on promoting those views, and explicitly draws support from certain interest groups on account of those views, I find this a discreditably insouciant attitude to a pressing instance of the abuse of human rights.