Thursday, 30 August, 2007

Women as peacemakers - Contributing to the Kashmir Dialogue

Before the partition of the country in 1947, Kashmiri women had little social role to play. While those Kashmiri women belonging to the aristocratic families would remain confined to their homes only, the rural Kashmiri women would participate in almost every domestic and agricultural chore right from working in the fields, harvesting of the paddy etc with their men. But even this active economic role did not give them complete economic independence and higher social status as it was predominately a patriarchal society. They always remained under-represented in political and decision-making positions; hence there could not be a perpetuation of policies and practices that could serve the needs of women.

After independence, Kashmiri women got a boost when reforms took place in various fields including the field of education which brought Kashmir women out of the shackles. Encouraged and motivated by all the respective state governments, many Kashmiri women entered jobs in various fields in the past 60 years of Indian independence.

But even in these past six decades, a strong women's political activism is still not visible on part of Kashmir's women. Women in Valley are not only under represented in political and social life, but the conservative Kashmiri society is the main barrier and constraint in their participation.

Ironical is the fact that in the 89-member state assembly, there are just three women members. While Kanta Andotra of the Congress is an elected legislator, she is in politics by virtue of being the wife of Congress Member Parliament Lal Singh who vacated his seat for his wife when he won the parliamentary elections. The other two, Khem Lata Vakhloo and Shanti Devi, are nominated members.

As Professor Hari Om, a former Head of history department, University of Jammu and member Indian Council for Historical research (ICHR) puts it, "The only visible face in Kashmir politics has been that of Begun Sheikh Abdullah, wife of Sheikh Abdullah who remained a Member Parliament twice, but that too by virtue of being the Sheikh's wife.

And now Mehbooba Mufti, MP, president of Peoples Democratic Party and the daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Sayeed." Prof Hari Om also believes that all of these handful of women have been able to carve some political space only because of their political family background.

Political patronage or background may be alright but what the Kashmiri women have witnessed in the past 17 years of violence in Valley is something different. They have not only lived through political turbulence but also negotiated and renegotiated their roles in the conflict that also does not remain static but keeps on changing.

In these past few years, Kashmir women donned a new role when they came out of their houses to work in the absence of their men folk in the family who become prey to the mindless violence, thus breaking the stereotypes related to women, especially in the background that they had no work experience and were forced to support their families and thus take over the role of a head of the family.

This clearly gives us an insight into the fact that they aren't the passive recipients of conflict as most of the agencies see them but have an inborn, innate resilience, the will to survive the most challenging situations.

But then has anyone pondered over the fact that why women voices from Jammu and Kashmir have been conspicuous only by their absence in the dialogic processes that are now unfolding in the terrorism-hit state? Even none of the Kashmiri women, except the high profile president of People's Democratic Party Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, was part of Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh's five working groups on Kashmir which were set up after second Round Table Conference on Kashmir. Not a single Kashmiri woman from the state was included in the conference or in the five working groups.

Does it also mean that women are no stake holders to the peace in Jammu and Kashmir?

Ask Hameeda Nayeem, who teaches English at Kashmir University and is a founder-member of the Women Waging Peace, an initiative of Harvard University's Kennedy School and she responds: "Ironically, in our society, there has been a cosmetic empowerment of the women. Ours is a very parochial society. Even if we assume women have a greater role, we need to know who are they representing? Only the daughters of politicians contest polls, that too if there are no sons to carry forward the legacy," adds Prof Nayeem, whose passport has been confiscated by the Union government for her activism.

Women in Kashmir are greatly bothered by the non-representation of women at various intra-state dialogue processes too. Mrs Seema Khajooria Shekhar, Additional Advocate General, J & K ( who incidentally is the first women AAG in the history of Jammu and Kashmir) strongly believes that the absence of women in these working groups is both unacceptable and short-sighted, especially as the women and children are the worst affected by the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.

"Steps should be immediately taken to address this serious gap," she says suggesting women of Jammu and Kashmir should throw their weight behind any initiative across the LoC that promotes better people to people interaction rather than restricting themselves to gender specific initiatives.

Women who have working at the grassroots believe that women's equal participation in political life, as voters, candidates and members of electoral committees, could play a crucial role in the advancement of women and the reconstruction of violence-ridden society.

Professor Rita Jitendra, renowned women rights activist who was also member of Jammu and Kashmir State Women's Commission believes that though women haven't come forward in political sphere in the real sense, yet for the first time in past 27 years in the troubled history of the state, the local bodies (Civic) polls held in Jammu and Kashmir in February-March 2005, have shown given us enough proof of women activism.

"What else you require? Involve women in all decision making levels as she understands about peace much better than anyone else," she advocates adding never before in the troubled history of Jammu and Kashmir, women came forward and participated in the elections which were held after a long gap of 27 years, even in troubled valley as the contesters. If women can come out in huge numbers desisting terrorist threats, why cannot they be included in the peace negotiations, argues adds Professor Jitendra adding after all, nobody can understand the meaning of word 'peace' better than a woman who has lost her husband, son, brother and father in the past 17 years.

In the first civic polls in which women participated, a total of 934 women contested the elections, indeed a significant number keeping in the fact that women never tried to break the stereotypes and entered politics. Of these, 270 women ultimately made it to the municipal council in 2005 and committees through out the state.

What surprised the world was the fact that Kashmiri women, despite facing strong barriers at these polls due to coercion by male relatives, threats or intimidation by militant groups contested and women. One sixty one women contested civil polls for Jammu Municipal Corporations, 61 for Srinagar Corporations, 27 for Kupwara, 75 Baramulla, 51 Anantnag, nine Pulwama, 108 Kathua, 22 Budgam, 89 Udhampur, 66 Doda , 19 Poonch and 36 Rajouri. At least for the first time in the history of state Kashmir women ultimately got some say in decision making though these civil polls.

"Real progress towards gender equality will be seen when women have more say in the decisions that affect their lives. Even though it could be termed as beginning, these elections gave an opportunity to Kashmiri women to express newly found political impact," says Professor Rekha Chowdhary, Department of Political Science, Jammu University.Till now, local women associated politics with fear and violence and saw them as synonymous but when some efforts were made by the government to give them opportunities to strengthen the democracy at grass root level, Kashmiri women, enthusiastically, came forward to contest the polls. "Give them some space and see how their confidence can do wonders besides inspiring other local women into political activism," adds Jitendra.

Agreeing no less, Seema Khajooria Shekhar adds that affirmative action for adequate representation of women in the state legislature should be actively encouraged. Jammu and Kashmir, she argues, has a Constitution of its own and Article 370 will give it added leverage in doing so. What the State requires is the political will of the decision makers who are mostly men for women's equal participation in deciding the political and economic future of Kashmir and a commitment at the governmental and administrative level.

Dr. Sumona Das Gupta, assistant director, Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP), says that a peace process that excludes more than half the population greatly risks the possibility of keeping several creative solutions and options out.

'When we talk about a gender sensitive discourse on Kashmir, we don't mean to exclude males. It's about building partnerships between men and women who agree that if conflict affects them differently it's only natural that they may want to access the peace process differently,' Gupta adds.

Empowering women would shape the path for peace and reconciliation that would organically grow out of participatory dialogue and lead to peace and development of the state, opine Professor Poonam Dhawan, Director, Centre for Women Studies, University of Jammu adding peace building attempts, in order to promote sustainable peace, need to address and transform structures which not only refer to the system of access and distribution of resources, but also social and political institutions, situations and relationships.

In this process, she feels, principles of democratic participation, human rights and gender equality are crucial elements for the longer-term process of building peace based on social justice and equality for women.

By Kavita Suri
(Kavita Suri is a journalist based in Kashmir and this article was written for the Sanjoy Ghosh Fellowship she got for 2006-07)

Monday, 27 August, 2007

Why This Scurrilous Campaign Against Left?


THE CPI(M)'s opposition to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and the associated efforts to draw India into a US-dominated strategic partnership has, naturally, led to a violent reaction from the ruling classes and its media voices. Through these columns, over the past couple of years, since the first joint statement on strategic partnership released by prime minister Manmohan Singh and US president George Bush in July 2005, we have been drawing attention to the dangers of India being turned into a supplicant of US imperialism. Apart from negating the consensual declared objective of pursuing an independent foreign policy, such a partnership with US imperialism has consequent serious implications on India 's defence and security concerns. These issues and such concerns will continue to be debated in this issue and subsequently in these columns. Hence, these arguments are not being repeated here.

However, the important point that merits consideration here is that instead of meeting our criticism of the deal and its consequences, our detractors are mounting a scurrilous campaign against us. US imperialism's cheer leaders and the drumbeaters of the Indian ruling classes are advancing absurd reasoning of the CPI(M)'s opposition to the deal instead of contesting what we publicly state.

One such reasoning is that while the government is engaged in this deal for increasing the electricity generation capacity in the country to benefit our farmers and poor people, the CPI(M) is opposing it at the behest of China. This is not unusual for the ruling classes to resort to such obnoxiously low level arguments when their analytical bankruptcy to contest the CPI(M)'s point of view is exposed. Further, the resort to such tactics is also to conceal their unabashed eagerness to ally with US imperialism at the expense of exposing the country's sovereignty to greater vulnerability.

Let us take up the issue of augmenting India 's energy capacities and generating more electricity. There can be no two opinions on the need to expand our capacities to generate more power. As India develops further, energy augmentation is of utmost importance. The moot question, however, is whether the nuclear energy expansion is the only option, or, even the best option that we have at the moment.
As of 2005, nuclear power generation was 3,310 MW or a mere 2.5 per cent of India's total power generation capacity. Now, if this were to increase to 10,000 MW by the year 2015 as planned, this would still be only 5 to 7 per cent of India's projected capacity generation then. Thus, this deal and the attendant consequences to India's sovereignty and foreign policy are being undertaken for such a miniscule part of our power generation.

This, apart, is nuclear power generation the most cost-effective? On the contrary, it is the most expensive option. As compared to coal, nuclear energy would be one and a half times more expensive. Compared with gas, nuclear power would be twice as expensive. So is the case with hydro electricity. Therefore, by all counts, nuclear power is the most expensive.

The National Hydro Power Corporation has estimated that India has at least 50,000 MW of untapped hydro electric potential. They have estimated that in Nepal , the untapped potential would be higher at 83,000 MW. On the basis of our friendly relations with Nepal and through international agreements, the tapping of such huge hydro electric potential will not only augment our energy capacities at half the cost of nuclear energy, but will also tame these rivers which regularly consume the lives of hundreds of people through torrential floods. This year's floods have been described by the United Nations as 'unprecedented' in human memory.

In addition, India is indiscriminately allowing the export of coal and other non-renewable mineral resources. Instead, if this coal were to be utilised for generating electricity, it would cost us much less than producing nuclear energy.

Given this, the government's arguments that the Indo-US nuclear deal is to augment our energy resources and to provide electricity to the farmers and poor sounds, indeed, hollow. On the contrary, it appears that as a consequence of this deal, huge commercial orders running into thousands of crores of rupees for the purchase of nuclear reactors would be placed on US and other advanced countries corporations. The profit bonanza to multinational corporations is there for all to see with the attendant benefits to sections of corporate India. Is India then actually going in for this deal to bolster US economic interests? Can we allow this to happen under the false propaganda of benefit to the Indian farmers? If the same amount of resources were to be spent on generating power through hydro or coal, as would be spent on the purchase of nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel, India's energy augmentation would be many times higher. Thus, the nuclear deal not only exposes India to greater vulnerability on various scores, it drains a huge amount of our scarce resources and, thus, prevents India from exploiting fully its available less expensive energy options. These are the facts.

The more bizarre disinformation campaign is that the CPI(M) is opposing the deal at China's behest. This charge, however, does not apply to the BJP presumably, for its opposition of the deal. The reason for the BJP's opposition, of course, is entirely different from that of the CPI(M)'s. Given the BJP's track record when in government, the current opposition is a mere posturing and smacks of a 'hurt' that such a deal ought to have been concluded under its government and not under the UPA government!

Be that as it may, those who know of the CPI(M)'s birth and history will know that for nearly two decades both the international communist giants – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China – opposed the CPI(M)'s policies from different perspectives. The CPI(M)'s policy directions are determined by its own perceptions of what is in the interests of India and its people. Those who are willing to eagerly surrender India's sovereignty to US imperialism should be the last ones to dole out unsolicited advise and certificates of patriotism. If our detractors are worthy of character and substance, then they ought to meet our arguments on their merits rather than take recourse to such perfidy.

We heard similar arguments when the CPI(M) opposed Pokhran-II. In fact, the then NDA's defence minister, George Fernandes, publicly announced that the nuclear tests were necessary to meet the Chinese challenge. Once Pakistan responded by its nuclear tests, India's huge advantage in conventional warfare vis-à-vis Pakistan was wiped out in a single stroke. Far from enhancing India 's security and defence potential, the BJP/NDA through Pokhran-II reduced us to the level of Pakistan's capabilities. The BJP today argues that the Indo-US nuclear deal limits our strategic programme which can only be to China 's and Pakistan's advantage.

Who, may we ask, is vigorously pursuing this Indo-US nuclear deal which, we are told, will limit India's strategic capacities, thus, providing advantage to our neighbours? It is those who are propagating and supporting the deal who are, thus, by this logic, acting at the behest of China and Pakistan !

While the pen-pushers of US imperialism and the Indian ruling classes continue to spread canards exposing their complete incapacity to meet the CPI(M)'s objections on merit, the Indian people, surely, will not allow India to be reduced to a US supplicant.

In the 60th anniversary of our independence, the 150th anniversary of 1857 and the 250th anniversary of the battle of Plassey which heralded the colonial rule over India, we cannot allow any erosion of our hard won sovereignty and independence. On the contrary, we need to strengthen it.


Why We Are Against India-US Nuclear Deal

Much has been said and written about the India-US Nuclear Deal; beginning with the statement issued by many eminent nuclear scientists soon after the talks on the deal began between India and US governments. Public fora and People's organisations such as Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace called it anti-Sovereignty. Today when it is seen as an issue of conflict between the UPA and its Left front allies, we as representatives of people's movements must re-iterate our stand, which is that the deal is not just anti-democratic but against peace, and against environmentally sustainable energy generation and self-reliant economic development.

The Left front is questioning the fact that such an international deal with significant implications is imposed on the Indian people and Parliament, with no public debate and consultation in India. While US Congress took a year and a half to discuss the proposed change in the US laws, permitting nuclear commerce with India, the process in India has been totally undemocratic.

The deal is part of a successful attempt by the United States to build a strategic relationship with India, in confronting the rising capitalist challenge from China where India will be used as its client in the region. Directly or indirectly, the US will also enter the Indian sub-continent, to manage intra-regional, inter-country relations. This whole process is likely to escalate the arms race between Pakistan and India, sabotaging the India-Pakistan peace process. How can we ignore that fact the US sells arms to both India and Pakistan?

The agreement also facilitates a full-fledged international exchange of nuclear fuel and technology with insufficient caution and control. There will no doubt be a corporate rush to extract, export and misuse nuclear fuel and technology, and it will be very difficult to prevent misuse even for the arms trade. Highly superficial clauses don't instill any confidence against such a possibility.

However, our basic objections to this deal stem from our opposition to the production and use of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The irreversible dangers of radioactivity and its ongoing impact on health, water, and the environment are factors that are being summarily dismissed in an irresponsible manner. The whole cycle of nuclear production beginning with uranium mining, is fraught with catastrophic dangers, and as a nation we cannot use the decisions of another country as justification for our own. Places like Jaduguda in Jharkhand, Kota and Pokhran in Rajasthan, have already demonstrated the ongoing dangers of nuclear use to the common citizen.

We, in India, have inherited rich renewable sources of energy, which are environmentally benign and abundantly available. The solar, wind, and ocean waves along with human power need to be fully tapped and put to use with people's control. Appropriate technology, research and development for production of cheaper equipment and tools, need to be combined with just distribution, for the right priorities. There is no political will for this in the ruling establishment. Estimates show that India can generate far more energy through alternative, environmentally sound sources. The nuclear energy option should be put up for widespread public debate giving citizens a full opportunity to make an informed choice.

This deal however raises questions beyond nuclear energy opening up large spaces for US government and corporate control in India. This, no doubt, is a symbol of imperialism already demonstrated through the Iraq war and the obvious links of US policy with corporate control over resources. With unbound exchange of information, data and material, knowledge and technology the dominant global power is all set to encroach upon Indian reserves and impinge upon our sovereignty. The deal ensures supply of sufficient nuclear material to nuclear reactors in India for the next 40 years, but the precautionary agreements to negotiations and consultations are only promises for the future. All this is subject to approvals and conditions to be monitored by the US Congress, while sidelining the Indian parliament.

The UPA government is proving to be increasingly submissive to the exploitation of our resources, knowledge and cheap labour by commercial interests and corporate interests. The BJP and its allies are also in the power game, using capitalist forces for support. The Left has raised an important issue using their bargaining power. Non-party people's formations may not have the power in parliament, but we have an important set of issues that need to be considered.

The Indian Constitution which allows deal such as this, as well as international treaties and agreements to be reached without democratic consultation, needs an amendment to make public debate and referendums mandatory and pre-conditional. We need an approval from the Indian electorate before we agree to sign the agreement.

By Sandeep Pandey, Aruna Roy & Medha Patkar
Aruna Roye-mail:,
Medha Patkare-mail:

Sunday, 26 August, 2007

Irom Sharmila Chanu - Repeal Of AFSPA Update:

Irom Sharmila continues to fast in the Security Ward, J.N. Hospital, Imphal. Confined to a solitary existence!

Dear friends,
It is now almost five months since Irom Sharmila returned to Imphal on 5th March 2007, to continue her hunger fast against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The situation continues to be grim - both for Sharmila as well for all those suffering under the prolonged implication of AFSPA.
For those of you reading about Sharmila's epic struggle for the first time - on 4th November 2000, 28 year old Irom Sharmila Chanu started her hunger fast seeking repeal of the draconian AFSPA. This was her response to one among countless incidents of arbitrary killing by the Armed Forces in the north east when on 2 nd November 2000, 10 innocent civilians were killed at Malom near Imphal, Manipur.
Sharmila has since been incarcerated at J.N. Hospital Imphal. Over the years she has been repeatedly arrested and detained under Section 309 IPC (attempt to commit suicide). In October 2006, for the first time Sharmila left Manipur and continued her protest fast at Jantar Mantar, and then at AIIMS and RML hospitals in New Delhi where she was kept under constant police vigil.

Sentenced to solitary confinement?
Now in her 7th year of the fast, Sharmila's health is deteriorating. Far from responding to her demand of Repeal of AFSPA, the state is doing everything it can to isolate her and her peaceful struggle.
At the hospital, Sharmila is not allowed visitors on a regular basis. This is in complete violation of the law, which permits anyone in custody, be they an undertrial prisoner or a convict in a high security prison regular visits by his or her family members, friends, supporters and/or lawyers. And yet, Sharmila does not even this basic freedom, despite the fact that there is no court order commanding her isolation. Her family, friends and supporters are put through an arduous and cumbersome process to meet her.
The 'Special' process takes to meet Sharmila can take up to 20 days and involves an application to the Joint Secretary Home Department, Government of Manipur; the DGP, Prison, Central Jail, Manipur; the Additional Superintendent, Sajiwa Jail, Manipur and the SI, Sajiwa Jail - who if the application gets all the due clearances, then 'accompanies' the visitor to meet Sharmila!
What are we to surmise except that the Government is attempting to isolate her from all contact with the outside world in the hope of weakening her struggle?

Matter of honour.
It is unlikely that the Government of India will acknowledge or respect, let alone honour Sharmila for her determined struggle for justice and peace. Satyagraha, after all, has been disregarded repeatedly in these times.
On 18th May 2007, Sharmila was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in Seoul, Korea. Her brother Singhjit received the award on her behalf and returned to Manipur only to be told that the certificate would not be shown to Sharmila. He had to wait till 30 June to get 'permission' to visit Sharmila and give her an update of the events surrounding the award.
The Gwanju Prize includes a cash award of $25,000 (approx. Rs. 12 lakhs). Sharmila and her family have decided that this money will go towards assisting the victims of the human rights violations in Manipur. The Ministry of Home Affairs (FCRA department) claims it has 'lost' the FC-5 application required to facilitate transfer of the award amount. What will it take for the Government to expedite and release it without any further game playing?

AFSPA - No response to the demand for repeal.
At both, the Central and State level, the government is simply refusing to address the peoples' demand for repeal of AFSPA - despite the voices against it being raised against it from Kashmir to Kerala to Delhi to Manipur and Nagaland, for over two decades now. In addition of course, have been the recommendations for Repeal of the Act by the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee set up by the government as well as the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Mr. Veerappa Moily.
Meanwhile in the shadow of this draconian Act, and the impunity it offers the armed forces, everyday the people of Manipur are disappearing, being killed and tortured. Mr. Nongmaithem Tomba alias Chinung (37 years), Miss. Soniya alias Najama Latif (15 years), Mr. Moirangthem Gandhi Singh (24 years) everyday AFSPA continues to claim new victims.

Need for urgent action
It is imperative that as individuals and groups who believe in democracy and justice, we raise our voice against the continued injustice under AFSPA and the continued harassment of Irom Sharmila.

1. Send a statement. Let's be heard this time!
Here is a draft statement you could use to lend your support:
We, the undersigned, as individuals and groups who believe in democracy and justice, demand that the government of India:
· Respect the peaceful struggle of people like Irom Sharmila and immediately withdraw all restrictions on her mobility as well as her freedom to meet and interact with people
· Release her from custody without any further delay
· Drop all facetious cases against her

Moreover, the government must:
· Repeal the AFSPA with immediate effect
· Implement the recommendations of the Justive Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Administrative Reforms Commission.
· B ring the armed forces within the democratic framework of accountability and justice without any further delay.
Only then can the people of the north-east and J&K have any chance or hope to live with security and dignity.


Please email the Statement to the following (and copy us in so we know how much support the campaign is getting):
President of India, Sushri Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Shivraj V. Patil, Minister of Defence, Mr. A. K. Antony, Minister of State for Labour & Employment, Mr. Oscar Fernandes,
Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India, Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. O. Ibobi Singh, Governor of Manipur, Shri Ved Marwah.
Compiled email list:,,,,, , ,
Copy to:, ,

2. Sign the petition!
· Please forward this to as many people as you can on your mailing list and various list serves, and sign the online petition against Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 at this link:

3. Stay in touch with Sharmila!
· You can also write directly to Sharmila and send her messages of solidarity at:- Irom Sharmila Chanu Security WardJawaharlal Nehru HospitalPorompat Imphal - 795001Manipur

This update is an attempt to keep informed all those in solidarity with Sharmila, who resolutely persists in her demand for the repeal of an anti-people law.

In Solidarity
Kshetrimayum Onil (Reachout) -
Preeti Verma (Human Rights Law Network) -
Vani Subramanian (Saheli) -

The Shrinking Space For Dissent

A couple of weeks back, I received an invitation to hear writer Taslima Nasreen speak at Allahabad University . However, in the aftermath of the hooliganism following her book release at Hyderabad Press club, the University Administraion issued a statement canceling the speaking engagement, on grounds of maintaining peace on campus. Once again, the right wing fundamentalist faction seemed to have won. Only this time it was muslim MLAs belonging to the Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (MIM). But the question remains, the MIM won at what? The Hyderabad incident accorded yet another victory to Taslima in the worlds’ eyes and plummeted the global perception of muslims as an intolerant, violent, and reactionary community a notch or two lower than it already is.

I hang my head in shame because Indian and South Asian muslims are resigned to accepting the leadership of men like the Owaisis. Where is the alternative, enlightened, egalitarian leadership for muslims? I don’t see much outrage or mass-scale protest at the daily abuse of basic rights of muslim women from these same men who are ready to behead Taslima because she is rightly critical of patriarchal practices among muslims.

We have to wonder who has the welfare of the muslim community in mind? Especially the upliftment of muslim women. If the muslim leaders cared about how muslim women’s rights are being trampled upon, why aren’t they protesting against the treatment meted out to Muslim women by Muslim men? Why aren’t they staging protests for the scores of muslim women victims of domestic violence and women whose triple Talaqs are pronounced over the phone and by SMS? Why aren’t they flinging furniture and abuses at maulvis who pronounce ludicrous fatwas, e.g. in the Imrana case in Uttar Pradesh, where Imrana was decalared the wife of her rapist father-in-law and ordered to leave her husband? Or at the unprecedented increase in the totally unIslamic practice of dowry in the muslim community? Or at the powerlessness of muslim women to choose their spouses or lay down their right to divorce in their nikahnama? Or at the virtual lack of inheritance rights for muslim girls? These rights have been granted to muslim women by Islam but nowhere in the Muslim world have then been fully implemented to ensure Muslim women gender equity.

Can we muslims please took a hard, honest look at ourselves? Can we come out of our collective silence so that we can silence the likes of Owaisi? It’s about time we stopped being psychologically and emotionally manipulated by self-proclaimed protectors of Islam. It’s about time we stopped getting brainwashed into thinking that the gravest threat to our religion is a book called Satanic Verses, or a Danish cartoon lampooning the prophet, or a woman writer who is allegedly defaming Islam. The real threat to Islam’s survival in the modern world is the inability of muslims to self-reflect, and to promote an open-minded and enlightened dialogue on how to establish ideal muslim communities based on the principles of justice, equality, and truth.

It’s tough to do the work of uplifting a community out of poverty and ignorance, but so much easier and lucrative to use sensational tactics to divert attention from the community’s real issues. It’s politically expedient to convince a community that what one woman has to say about the discrimination muslim women face in the muslim community is threatening the imminent demise of the religion. It’s easy to pontificate on how muslim women need to protect themselves from the immorality of women like Taslima but so difficult to acknowledge how impoverished muslim women are due to gender-based discrimination, very often from muslim men. Discrimination which manifests as lack of education, employment, inheritance rights, decision-making powers, adequate health care etc. It takes time, patience, vision and a fundamental belief in justice to establish more schools, more hospitals, more job training programmes for a community’s women. But it only takes a few hours and a team of hired goondas to storm a public gathering and put an allegedly immoral woman in her place. And you get so much attention in the media for doing so little!

Where are the modern muslim intellectual’s voices in the media? I need to hear them more. The muslim community has to find the courage to speak its mind. If we don’t, we leave the field wide open for the likes of Owaisi and his team to propagate their version of politicized Islam for their own political power gains. But at the same time, the media too, has to create and nurture the space for dissenting muslim voices. I’m so tired of watching and reading the demeaning portrayal of muslim men as terrorists and muslim women as the most oppressed bunch of humans in the world. But how can we hope to enlarge the circle of dissent when alternative muslim voices are muffled by the kind of frenzied attention the media pays to the antics of Owaisi and his cabal?

Dissent is an unsafe practice. Without dissent there can be no hope of nurturing a democracy or challenging the socio-cultural status quo. There’s a depressing silence and apathy within the muslim community on muslim women’s issues. So as a muslim woman if I insist that Taslima is right on some issues like Pardah (See her personal webpage at to read more about her views) and she has the right to speak her mind, then I’m insulting Islam. If I say that those who oppose her also have the right to protest but must do so respectfully, within the bounds of decency, as it should be done in a secular democracry, then too, I run the risk of pandering to the majority view and demonizing muslims. Many muslims may not agree with some or all of Taslima’s views, but does that mean we take away her right to speak?

Let’s turn to history for some valuable lessons in tolerance and acceptance of religio-cultural diversity. Akbar’s great grandson, Dara Shikoh, in the 17th century was the first to translate the Upanishads into Persian. It was Dara’s work, which when translated from Persian into Latin, in early 19th century, introduced Hindu mysticism for the first time to the Europeans. Dara would have made an ideal king but he was murdered by his younger brother, Aurangzeb, who coveted the throne himself. Besides, Dara would have been too much of a religious radical, and therefore, a threat to the established religious orthodoxy of both the muslims and the Hindus. Much before that, the 10th century sufi saint, Mansur Hallaj was put to death by the vizier of his land for claiming “ana’l Haqq” or “I’m the absolute Truth” which later became distorted to “I’m God”. Hallaj was ostensibly punished for committing the sin of shirk but in reality, he too, was a threat to the prevailing orthodoxy of the Iraqi rulers of his time. Hallaj propagated dissent, by claiming that the citizens had a right to a more just government. And dissent always runs the risk of being squashed: Hallaj’s limbs were cut off and he was put on the gallows. But the world is richer today due to the cultural influence of courageous rebels like Dara Shikoh and mystics like Hallaj.

Islam gained acceptance in the subcontinent not due to forced conversions at the point of the sword but largely due to the arduous work of sufis whose gentleness, modesty and generosity of spirit won people over. Annemarie Schimmel, in her magnificent treatise on Sufism, “The Mystical Dimensions of Islam”, comments on the political motivations behind Hallaj’s assassination:

“The idea of converting the hearts of all muslims and teaching them the secret of personal sanctification and not just blind acceptance would certainly have been dangerous for a society whose religious and political leaders lived in a state of

stagnation with neither the strength nor the intention to revitalize the Muslim community.” (p.68)

Ms Schimmel, passed away some years ago, but she might have been disappointed, or perhaps not, to learn that the morally bankrupt muslim leaders of the subcontinent are as devoid of motivation and strength to revitalize their communities as they were in 10th century Iraq . The onus now rests ever more heavily on ordinary muslims to shed the mantle of blind acceptance, of the fatwas and dogmas enshrouding their vision.

Reference: Schimmel, Annemarie (2007): The Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Available from Yoda Press, Delhi , India .

By Nighat Gandhi
(Nighat Gandhi is a writer and a mental health counsellor.)

Tuesday, 21 August, 2007

‘Prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self-defeating’

Q: What are your views on farmland acquisition for industry and the Singur-Nandigram controversy?
Amartya Sen: That is a very complicated question and has many aspects. Let me separate them out.

First of all, the need for industrial priority in West Bengal, which is a big long-term question and an extremely important issue.

It is sometimes underestimated the extent to which Bengal has been de-industrialised. Bengal was one of the major industrial centres in the world, not only in India. In European writings, Bengal has again and again come up as being one of the most prosperous areas in the world as an industrial base. The kind of reputation that some parts of Italy gained later.

It is often said that historically, Calcutta was founded 300 years ago by Job Charnock but it is also true that there was an urban settlement based on trade and industry, apart from agriculture, in this area. This we see not only from Indian records but also from the writings of Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder. The Europeans were aware of that.Very near from Calcutta, there were industrial areas of huge prosperity. There is also mention in the writings of Fa Hien who came here in 401 and spent 10 years. He went back by boat. He took the boat from Tamralipta, which is very close to Calcutta. Effectively, it was greater Calcutta. So this has been a trading and industrial area for a very long time.

When Charnock came and the Battle of Plassey happened, there was not only English but the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Flemish and the Danish merchants. They were all interested in the industrial products of this area. Under the British, there was de-industrialisation of classical industry but new industries came in the form, for example, of jute. But gradually that went off after Independence and there was further de-industrialisation.

The policy of the Communist Party itself was not well thought-out. The industrial agitation may have given the workers a little bit more rights, but they lost many more rights by the industries withdrawing out of Calcutta.Jyotibabu was aware of the problem and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has tried to carry the understanding forward by trying to make it possible to have a big industrial base here. And it is extremely important.

It is also very important to recognise that production of industrial goods was based on the banks of the Hooghly and the Ganges, which are fertile areas anyway. So to say that ‘this is fertile agriculture land and you should not have industry here’ not only goes against the policy of the West Bengal government but also against the 2,000-year history of Bengal.

This is where industry was based because even though the land may be very fertile, industrial production could generate many times more than the value of the product produced by agriculture. The locations of great industry, be it Manchester or Lancashire, these were all on heavily fertile land. Industry has always competed against agriculture because the shared land was convenient for industry for trade and transportation.

Q: What about land acquisition?
Sen: I think some mistakes were made and the government should admit it and to some extent the government has admitted it.

Singur’s location could be questioned because there were some other locations one could have thought of like Kharagpur. But one of the difficulties is that Calcutta has such a huge attraction that it is very much easier to attract engineers and managers to an industrial base near Calcutta for the Tatas than in Kharagpur. And this is a dominant factor. Because Calcutta has such reputation.

I recently wrote in a book edited by Gopal Gandhi on Gandhi and Bengal about Gandhi’s relationship with Bengal. Interestingly, the first day he arrived in Calcutta in 1896, he went to see a play. In his stay of six days, he went to see another play. So here is a Gujarati arriving here, but he is so interested in the cultural life of Calcutta that he goes to see two plays in six days. So you just can’t say that because it is fertile land, you cannot allow managers and industrialists to be based in Calcutta and they have to be based in district towns. So the locational decision of Singur was probably not wrong.

Q: What are your views on the compensation paid for land?
Sen: The government paid much higher price than the value of the land in the free market. From that point of view, it was fair. Had there been no industry, they would have got the best value for the land. (Had the land not been taken for industry, the price they got would have been considered the best value, Sen explained.)

Where there is a mistake in the government’s thinking, and I think it is a big mistake of a tactical kind, is not to recognise that if this land were available for industry in general, and not just for the Tatas, the value of the land would have been much greater. While the compensation paid is greater than the value of the land seen as agricultural land, the compensation paid by the government is less than what the value would have been had it been free for competition with industries. If you are part of the market economy, then you have to take into account what the value of the land would have been had it been freely available for industry. So there is an issue to be addressed. I think it is a mistake, an honest mistake and it can be corrected in the future.

Nandigram is a much more complex issue. There is a question whether that kind of operation was needed, whether it was the right place. But I have not studied it in the way I have studied Singur. So I won’t comment.

Q: What, according to you, are the other issues here?
Sen: It is now very important for both the government and the Opposition to avoid violence. There is never a case for violence. The government’s policing has been in some cases over-strong. I understand that some Opposition parties have now created ‘free regions’ where they would not allow anyone to come in. That is also violent activity. It is not in line with Indian tradition of non-violence. The government and the Opposition have to recognise that. It is possible that in the past, the violence committed by the government was greater, but from what I hear, it is possible the opposite might be the case now.

Whichever way it may be, we don’t have to judge. But it is extremely important that in a free country, any people can come in and go out from any place they like and you cannot establish restriction of movement either by the government or the Opposition. This is a subject for rational discussion, which has become so impossible as everything is politicised now. Ultimately, those who want to prevent industrialisation of Bengal do not look enough at the interest of the people of the state. They may intend well, but they are not serving the interest of Bengal’s working class or peasantry. The prosperity of the peasantry in the world always depends on the number of peasants going down. That is the standard experience in the world.It is not that historically agricultural production goes up so much that they become hugely rich on that basis. Bengal has done very well in terms of agriculture compared to other states. But that has not made Bengal immensely prosperous. In countries like Australia, the US or Canada, where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing.When people move out of agriculture, total production does not go down. So per capita income increases. For the prosperity of industry, agriculture and the economy, you do need industrialisation. Those in effect preventing that, either by politically making it impossible for an industrialist to feel comfortable in Bengal or making it difficult to buy land for industry, do not serve the interest of the poor well.

The Communist Party made a mistake earlier when it drove industries out by union action, which was intended to create benefits for workers but ended up making the workers having no job. Second time it is happening now, not from the Communist Party but from the Opposition, preventing industrialisation, which is not in the interest of Bengal in general and the poor in particular. So if Bengal is to regain what it used to be — being one of the richest in the world — industrialisation has to happen.Prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self-defeating.

Q: Why not develop other areas in Bengal where land is less fertile and build infrastructure so that industry goes there?
Sen: You have to bring industry everywhere. But there is no way in which you will be able to avoid industrialisation around Calcutta, any more than you could have avoided it in London, Lancashire, Manchester, Berlin, Paris, Pittsburgh. You will find industry will come up where there are advantages of production, taking into account also the locational preferences of managers, engineers, technical experts as well as unskilled labour.

But we should not make the mistake of thinking that somehow while you are trying to attract business based on the market that the government can say: ‘I want you to go to Siliguri and that is where you are going to be.’ That is not the way the market economy works. The market economy has many imperfections, on which I have written extensively. But it also creates job and income and if the income goes up, government revenues go up, so there is money available for education and healthcare and other things.

So in order to do that, you have to give the market economy the operational rational of choosing one location over another, depending on their market-based calculation. You cannot be governed by the market but nor can you ignore the logic of the market if you want to use the market as one of the instruments in advancing the country. So the whole idea of thinking in highly bureaucratic terms that ‘I want it in Siliguri and Bankura but not here’, that is not going to work. That is not the way industry functions in a market economy.

By Amartya Sen
(Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in conversation with Sambit Saha of The Telegraph on land acquisition for industrialisation, one of the most important issues facing Bengal and large parts of the country.)

Bhutan's balancing act: Happiness vs. development

Bhutan is becoming increasingly urbanised

Landlocked in the eastern Himalayas, the tiny country of Bhutan seems almost untouched by globalisation. Its icy peaks, deep green gorges, sparkling rivers and quaint buildings with multi-tiered sloping roofs strengthen the feeling of a country disconnected from the chaos of megacities and concrete jungles.
This pristine impression is partly due to Bhutan's strong commitment to environmental preservation. Bhutan's laws reserve 70 per cent of its land for 'green' cover, of which 60 per cent should be forests.
Bhutan is one of the few countries to employ the concept of gross national happiness — that social and economic development should promote happiness as its primary value.
Conservation of the environment and sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development are the two pillars of gross national happiness, which was declared more important than gross national product by Bhutan's then king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, in 1972.
But today, the country is facing change. Global warming is melting many of its glaciers, while its need for economic development and quest to export hydropower to neighbouring India may harm its fragile terrain. Bhutan is grappling with the dilemma of conservation versus development.

Development taking its toll

A growing population — up from 452,000 in 1984 to 750,000 in 2006 — as well as an increase in urbanisation and infrastructure is taking its toll on Bhutan's environment.
Analysis by the National Environment Commission (NEC), an inter-ministerial body that develops policies on sustainable development, shows that about 25,000 acres of land have been used for development projects, while land and water pollution is an emerging environment problem in and around urban and industrial areas.
Development projects such as roads and power lines, NEC warns, could impact biodiversity by cutting through natural habitats and destablising fragile mountain slopes if they are not built in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Urban areas — along with some rural areas of southern and eastern Bhutan — are already witnessing localised deforestation, says the Bhutan office of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
And a steady increase in vehicles — the number of cars rose by 11–17 per cent each year from 1985 to 2003 — is harming Bhutan's air quality, once considered among the best in South Asia.
Bhutan's development of hydropower plants could also impact the environment. Hydropower potential in Bhutan is estimated at over 30,000 megawatts, 16,000 megawatts of which could be provided safely by exploitable water resources like river run-offs. Only three per cent of this has been tapped, estimates the NEC, with domestic consumption in 2005 only 105 megawatts, and the country hopes to export some of this energy at a profit to neighbouring India.

Global warming at its door

Meanwhile, Bhutan is facing up to the impact of global warming. The country has a fragile mountain ecosystem, and climate change is a serious challenge to sustainable development and the livelihood of the Bhutanese people, says Nado Rinchen, deputy minister for environment.
Bhutan puts the happiness ofits people before development
Credit: Flickr/mick y"Bhutan did not contribute to global warming, and yet we have to suffer the consequences today", he says.
Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world with the capacity to absorb greenhouse gases. NEC's national greenhouse gas inventory — a record of emission and removal of gases that cause global warming, conducted in 2000 — shows that Bhutan is a net greenhouse gas absorber, largely because of its vast forest cover, limited industrialisation and use of hydropower as a clean energy source.
Despite this, Bhutan's glaciers have been retreating over the last few decades at about 20–30 metres every year due to global warming, creating many moraine dammed lakes — lakes clogged by accumulated debris, which prevent meltwater from escaping — that are swelling rapidly.
Floods of these lakes — glacial lake outburst floods — are a serious concern. Bhutan has already experienced several of these floods and has 24 potentially dangerous glacial lakes, according to ICIMOD (the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Bhutan's National Adaptation Programme of Action, released in 2006, warns of changes in water flows, increased sedimentation of water reservoirs and networks, and reduced capacity of water catchment areas, all affecting hydropower electricity production.
Higher rainfall in areas without proper drainage systems can destabilise the soil, leading to landslides and more floods. Rinchen says Bhutan urgently needs to map its hazard zones as it is also prone to destructive landslides, mudslides and floods.
Bhutan has no proper weather or climate forecasting capabilities and its climate data and information is sparse, points out Doley Tshering, program officer for energy, environment and disaster, at UNDP's Bhutan office.

Conservation at stake

NEC officials fear that climate change and the consequent rise in temperature and forest fires, along with changing rainfall patterns, could affect the country's extensive forest cover, rich biodiversity and clean water resources.
Bhutan's biodiversity is one of the richest in the world. It ranks among the top ten countries with the highest number of species per unit area, contains three of the World Wildlife Fund's ecoregions of great biological wealth, and many of its plants have medicinal value.
Bhutan forest's are rich inbiodiversity
Credit: Flickr/HoorobUnsurprisingly, conservation is central to Bhutan's 1998 National Environment Strategy, which aims to balance economic development and environmental conservation.
The core of Bhutan's conservation strategy is a system of national parks and protected areas that form 26 per cent of its land. An additional nine per cent is designated as 'biological corridors' or 'wildlife highways' that link protected areas to allow free movement of animals.
Yet much of Bhutan's biological wealth remains unexplored by scientists. There is no baseline data to help scientists document and monitor changes in vegetation, wildlife and forests.
Some efforts have been initiated, with NEC due to sign an agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) this year to set up the Bhutan Integrated Biodiversity Information System to gather, interpret and document biodiversity information from both protected and other areas.

Putting the environment into development

Rinchen says Bhutan's tenth national five-year plan, to be launched in 2008, will allocate ten per cent of all funds to programmes for environment activities, while the UNDP and UNEP are helping NEC to develop guidelines for incorporating environment into development plans and policies.
A National Environment Protection Act (NEPA), approved by Bhutan's national assembly in June 2007, states the people and the government should "strive to consider and adopt its development policies and plans in harmony with the various environment principles".
The act states that to promote environment-friendly technologies, codes of practice and eco-labelling, the government will provide financial incentives for environment protection and compliance.
These will include tax incentives for environmental services, manufacture of environment-friendly products and reduced customs duties on environmentally friendly technologies.
Bhutan also aims to reduce the dependency of national park residents on national park resources, such as firewood, timber, roofing material and other forest products.
It hopes to reduce deforestation through use of alternate technologies include the introduction of electric cookers to substitute traditional fuel wood cookers and using corrugated iron sheets instead of wooden shingles for roofs.
Instead, the government will establish programmes to improve mule tracks and foot bridges, build community centres, supply solar panels and even offer scholarships to poor students so that they do not rely on forest produce for their livelihoods. Community-based ecotourism is also being promoted as an alternative means of livelihood.
Transboundary conservation projects are helping Bhutan come out of its isolation. ICIMOD's Kanchenjunga project, involving Bhutan, India and Nepal, is helping to identify corridors needed to maintain biodiversity links and promote conservation-linked micro-enterprises and ecotourism in the region.
Bhutan is at a crossroads today, charting a course for its future. It plans to hold its first elections in 2008 and join the World Trade Organization. For many developing countries, this isolated Himalayan country could be an example of how to reconcile conservation and national happiness within the global trading framework.

By T. V. Padma
( T. V. Padma reports on Bhutan's dilemma: how to reconcile conservation, economic development and happiness in a modern world.)
Courtsey SciDev.Net

Simple and cheap: Nepal's application of science

Almost unnoticed, Nepal is developing simple and cheap technologies that make the best of local resources and don't damage the environment.
Down a narrow alley in Kathmandu's historic heart, through a low door, you enter Akal Man Nakarmi's workshop. Nakarmi's surname means 'metalsmith' and the soft-spoken craftsman's ancestors crafted copper utensils and forged statues of deities in bronze.
Today, Nakarmi makes small turbines called Peltric Sets for micro-hydro electric generation plants across the Himalaya. He can't keep up with demand.
Nepal's successes in scientific application in recent decades aren't about grandiose hydropower dams or major infrastructure projects.
The new technologies that have worked have been indigenously designed, based on traditional skills and knowledge, and are cheap and easy to use and maintain. In fact, to visit Nepal these days is to see the 'small is beautiful' concept of development economist E. F. Schumacher in action.
From Nakarmi's Peltric Sets to multi-purpose power units based on traditional water mills, from biogas plants to green road construction techniques in the mountains, Nepalis have shown that small is not just beautiful but also desirable and possible.
This is happening not just in technology but also in health, agriculture and forestry. It has gone almost unnoticed that Nepal's infant mortality rate has been reduced by half since 1990. How did that happen? Not because a lot of state-of-the-art hospitals were built. Fewer babies die in Nepal these days mainly because of the spread of awareness about safe drinking water. The message went out through radio, and made an impact because of higher literacy levels and better vaccination coverage.
Another unsung success story is the regeneration of forests across the mid-Himalaya. Again, it wasn't new afforestation techniques or fencing off plantations that revived the vegetation. It was an act of parliament 17 years ago that devolved power to local communities who then had a vested interest in protecting the commons.
Nepal is said to have one of the highest per capita hydropower generation potentials in the world, but it is the small-scale plants set up by villagers that have brought about a real revolution in rural energy. Multi-purpose microhydro plants are built on existing technology of traditional water mills, made more efficient.
Similarly, the number of village biogas plants now exceeds 180,000, one of the most dramatic spreads of methane generation from farm waste in any developing country. Once underground fermentation tanks were designed for affordability, the rest was just economics.
With both micro-hydro and biogas, it was the government subsidy, rural extension and training that made the technologies viable.
Nevertheless, appropriate and localised technology has a long way to go in Nepal.
There is a lot of vested interest in expensive mega-projects. Big projects often bring big kickbacks, which is why politicians prefer them. India's huge demand for water and energy means planners in both countries are looking at mammoth schemes like the high dams on the Kosi and Karnali rivers and a slew of medium-scale reservoir projects in the next six years with the aim of exporting power to India.
It will be difficult to stop these schemes. But we should also promote cheap, small, homegrown technologies. These are no longer in the realm of New Age romanticism. Nepal has shown they work better than costly outside intervention, they deliver, and although the world is slow to take notice, they are quietly improving people's lives.
This now needs to be reflected in media coverage of science and technology, and what we journalists define as news in our countries. Given the challenges of global warming and economic imbalances globally and within countries, locally-built and managed technologies have the best chance of addressing both economic and ecological concerns.
Schumacher showed that human beings could reduce their ecological footprint with the use of appropriate and benevolent technologies that did not waste the planet's finite resources. The path ahead for humankind is to do a lot with less, learning from practical examples like that set by Nepal.

By Kunda Dixit
Courtsey SciDevNet

Monday, 20 August, 2007

The Empire And The Independent Island

The history of Cuba during the last 140 years is one of struggle to preserve national identity and independence, and the history of the evolution of the American empire, its constant craving to appropriate Cuba and of the horrendous methods that it uses today to hold on to world domination.
Prominent Cuban historians have dealt in depth with these subjects in different periods and in various excellent books which deserve to be readily available to our compatriots. These reflections are addressed especially to the new generations with the aim of helping them learn about very important and decisive events in the destiny of our homeland.
Part I: The Imposition of the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the Neocolonial Cuban Constitution of 1901.
The “ripe fruit doctrine” was formulated in 1823 by Secretary of State and later President John Quincy Adams. The United States would inevitably achieve taking over our country, by the law of political influence, once colonial subordination to Spain had ended.
Under the pretext of blowing up the “Maine” –a still unraveled event of which it took advantage to wage war against Spain, like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, an event which was demonstrably prefabricated in order to attack North Vietnam –President William McKinley signed the Joint Resolution of April 20, 1898, stating “…that the people on the island of Cuba are and by right ought to be free and independent”, “… that the United States herewith declare that they have no desire or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for pacification thereof, and they affirm their determination, after this has been accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.” The Joint Resolution entitled the President to use force to remove the Spanish government from Cuba.
Colonel Leonard Wood, chief commander of the Rough Riders, and Theodore Roosevelt, second in command of the expansionist volunteers who landed in our country on the beaches close to Santiago de Cuba, after the brave but poorly utilized Spanish squadron and their Marine infantry on board had been destroyed by the American battleships, requested the support of Cuban insurrectionists who had weakened and defeated the Spanish Colonial Army after enormous sacrifices. The Rough Riders had landed without horses.
Following the defeat of Spain, representatives of the Queen Regent of Spain and of the President of the United States signed the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 and, without consulting of the Cuban people, agreed that Spain should relinquish all claim of sovereignty over and title to the island and would evacuate it. Cuba would then be occupied by the United States on a temporary basis.
Already appointed U.S. military governor, Army Major General Leonard Wood, issued Military Order 301 of July 25, 1900, which called for a general election to choose delegates to a Constitutional Assembly that would be held in the city of Havana at twelve noon on the first Monday of November in 1900, with the purpose of drafting and adopting a Constitution for the people of Cuba.
On September 15, 1900, elections took place and 31 delegates from the National, Republican and Democratic Union parties were elected. On November 5, 1900, the Constitutional Convention held its opening session at the Irijoa Theatre of Havana which on that occasion received the name of Martí Theatre.
General Wood, representing the President of the United States, declared the Assembly officially installed. Wood advanced the intention of the United States government: “After you have drawn up the relations which, in your opinion, ought to exist between Cuba and the United States, the government of the United States will undoubtedly adopt the measures conducive to a final and authorized treaty between the peoples of both nations, aimed at promoting the growth of their common interests.” The 1901 Constitution provided in its Article 2 that “the territory of the Republic is composed of the Island of Cuba, as well as the islands and neighboring keys which together were under Spanish sovereignty until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898”.
Once the Constitution was drafted, the time had come to define political relations between Cuba and the United States. To that end, on February 12, 1901, a committee of five members was appointed and charged with studying and proposing a procedure that would lead to the stated goal.
On February 15, Governor Wood invited the members of the committee to go fishing and hosted a banquet in Batabanó, the main access route to the Isle of Pines, as it was known then, also occupied at that time by the U.S. troops which had intervened in the Cuban War of Independence. It was there in Batabanó that he revealed to them a letter from the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, containing the basic aspects of the future Platt Amendment. According to instructions from Washington, relations between Cuba and the United States were to abide by several aspects. The fifth of these was that, in order to make it easier for the United States to fulfill such tasks as were placed under its responsibility by the above mentioned provisions, and for its own defense, the United States could acquire title, and preserve it, for lands to be used for naval bases and maintain these in certain specific points.
Upon learning of the conditions demanded by the U.S. government, the Cuban Constitutional Assembly, on February 27, 1901, passed a position that was opposed to that of the U.S. Executive, eliminating therein the establishment of naval bases.
The U.S. government made an agreement with Orville H. Platt, Republican Senator from Connecticut, to present an amendment to the proposed Army Appropriations Bill which would make the establishment of American naval bases on Cuban soil a fait accompli.
In the Amendment, passed by the U.S. Senate on February 27, 1901 and by the House of Representatives on March 1, and sanctioned by President McKinley the following day, as a rider attached to the “Bill granting credit to the Army for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1902,” the article mentioning the naval bases was drafted as follows:
“Art. VII.- That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
Article VIII adds: “…the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.”
The speedy passage of the Amendment by the U.S. Congress was due to the circumstance of it coming close to the conclusion of the legislative term and to the fact that President McKinley had a clear majority in both Houses so that the Amendment could be passed without any problem. It became a United States Law when, on March 4, McKinley was sworn in for his second presidential term in office.
Some members of the Constitutional Convention maintained the view that they were not empowered to adopt the Amendment requested by the United States since this implied limitations on the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba. Thus, the military governor Leonard Wood hastened to issue a new Military Order on March 12, 1901 where it was declared that the Convention was empowered to adopt the measures whose constitutionality was in question.
Other Convention members, such as Manuel Sanguily, held the opinion that the Assembly should be dissolved rather than adopt measures that so drastically offended the dignity and sovereignty of the people of Cuba. But during the session of March 7, 1901, a committee was appointed yet again in order to draft an answer to Governor Wood; the presentation of this was entrusted to Juan Gualberto Gómez who recommended, among other things, rejecting the clause concerning the leasing of coaling or naval stations.
Juan Gualberto Gómez maintained the most severe criticism of the Platt Amendment. On April 1, he tabled a debate of the presentation where he challenged the document on the grounds that it contravened the principles of the Treaty of Paris and of the Joint Resolution. But the Convention suspended the debate on Juan Gualberto Gómez’s presentation and decided to send another committee "to ascertain the motives and intentions of the government of the United States about any and all details referring to the establishment of a definitive order to relations, both political and economic, between Cuba and the United States, and to negotiate with the government itself, the bases for agreement on those extremes that would be proposed to the Convention for a final solution.”
Subsequently, a committee was elected that would travel to Washington, made up of Domingo Méndez Capote, Diego Tamayo, Pedro González Llorente, Rafael Portuondo Tamayo and Pedro Betancourt; they arrived in the United States on April 24, 1901. The next day, they met with Root and Wood who had earlier traveled back to his country for this purpose.The American government hastened to publicly declare that the committee would be visiting Washington on their own initiative, with no invitation or official status.
Root, Secretary of War, met with the committee on April 25 and 26, 1901 and categorically informed them that “the United States’ right to impose the much debated clauses had been proclaimed for three-quarters of a century in the face of the American and European world and they were not willing to give it up to the point of putting their own safety in jeopardy.
United States officials reiterated that none of the Platt Amendment clauses undermined the sovereignty and independence of Cuba; on the contrary, they would preserve them, and it was clarified that intervention would only occur in the case of severe disturbances, and only with the objective of maintaining order and internal peace.
The committee presented its report in a secret session on May 7, 1901. Within the committee there were severe discrepancies about the Platt Amendment.
On May 28, a paper drafted by Villuendas, Tamayo and Quesada was tabled for debate; it accepted the Amendment with some clarifications and recommended the signing of a treaty on trade reciprocity.
This paper was approved by a vote of 15 to 14, but the United States government didn’t accept that solution. It informed through Governor Wood that it would only accept the Amendment without qualifiers, and warned the Convention with an ultimatum that, since the Platt Amendment was “a statute passed by the Legislature of the United States, the President is obliged to carry it out as it is. He cannot change or alter it, add or take anything out. The executive action demanded by the statute is the withdrawal of the American Army from Cuba, and the statute authorizes this action when, and only when, a Constitutional government has been established which contains, either in its body or in appendices, certain categorical provisions, specified in the statute (...) Then if these provisions are found in the Constitution, the President will be authorized to withdraw the Army; if he does not find them there, then he will not be authorized to withdraw the Army…” The United States Secretary of War sent a letter to the Cuban Constitutional Assembly where he stated that the Platt Amendment should be passed in its entirety with no clarifications, because in that way it would appear as a rider to the Army Appropriations Bill; he indicated that, otherwise, his country's military forces would not be pulled out of Cuba.
On June 12, 1901, during another secret session of the Constitutional Assembly, the incorporation of the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the Constitution of the Republic passed on February 21 was put to the vote: 16 delegates voted aye and 11 voted nay. Bravo Correoso, Robau, Gener and Rius Rivera were absent from the session, abstaining from voting in favor of such a monstrosity.
The worst thing about the Amendment was the hypocrisy, the deceit, the Machiavellianism and the cynicism with which they concocted the plan to take over Cuba, to the lengths of publicly proclaiming the same arguments made by John Quincy Adams in 1823, about the apple which would fall because of gravity. This apple finally did fall, but it was rotten, just as many Cuban intellectuals had foreseen for almost half a century, from José Martí in the 1880’s right up to Julio Antonio Mella, assassinated in January of 1929.
Nobody better than Leonard Wood himself to describe what the Platt Amendment would mean for Cuba in two sections of a confidential letter to his fellow in the adventure, Theodore Roosevelt, dated on October 28, 1901:
“There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment. (…) the only consistent thing to do now is to seek annexation. This, however, will take some time, and during the period which Cuba maintains her own government, it is most desirable that she should be able to maintain such a one as will tend to her advancement and betterment. She cannot make certain treaties without our consent (…) and must maintain certain sanitary conditions (…), from all of which it is quite apparent that she is absolutely in our hands, and I believe that no European government for a moment considers that she is otherwise than a practical dependency of the United States, and as such is certainly entitled to our consideration. (…) With the control which we have over Cuba, a control which will soon undoubtedly become possession, (…) we shall soon practically control the sugar trade of the world. (…) the island will (…) gradually become Americanized and we shall have in time one of the richest and most desirable possessions in the world.”
Part II: The Application of the Platt Amendment and the Establishing of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a Framework for Relations between Cuba and the United States.
By the end of 1901, the electoral process which resulted in the triumph of Tomás Estrada Palma, without opposition and with the support of 47 percent of the electorate, had begun. On April 17, 1902, the President-elect in absentia left the United States for Cuba where he arrived three days later. The inauguration of the new President took place on May 20, 1902 at 12 noon. The Congress of the Republic had already been constituted. Leonard Wood set sail for his country in the battleship “Brooklyn”. In 1902, shortly before the proclamation of the Republic, the United States government informed the newly elected President of the Island about the four sites selected for the establishing of naval bases -Cienfuegos, Bahía Honda, Guantanamo and Nipe – as provided by the Platt Amendment. Not even the Port of Havana escaped consideration since it was contemplated as “the most favorable for the fourth naval base”.
From the beginning, despite its spurious origins, the Government of Cuba, in which many of those who fought for independence participated, was opposed to the concession of four naval bases since it considered two to be more than enough. The situation grew tenser when the Cuban government toughened its stand and demanded the final drafting of the Permanent Agreement on Relations, with the goal of “determining at the same time and not in parts, all the details that were the object of the Platt Amendment and setting the range of their precepts”. President McKinley had died in September 14, 1901 as a result of gunshot wounds he had sustained on the 6th of that month. Theodore Roosevelt had advanced to such a degree in his political career that he was already Vice President of the United States and so he had assumed the presidency after the shooting of his predecessor. Roosevelt, at that time did not deem it to be convenient to specify the scope of the Platt Amendment, so as not to delay the military installation of the Guantanamo Base, given what that would mean for the defense of the Canal whose construction France had begun and later abandoned in the Central American Isthmus, and which the voracious government of the empire intended to complete at all costs. Nor was he interested in defining the legal status of the Isle of Pines. Therefore, he abruptly reduced the number of naval bases under discussion, removed the Port of Havana suggestion and finally agreed to the concession of two bases: Guantanamo and Bahía Honda.
Subsequently, in compliance with Article VII of the constitutional appendix imposed on the Constitutional Convention, the Agreement was signed by the Presidents of Cuba and the United States on February 16 and 23, 1903, respectively:
“Article I. - The Republic of Cuba hereby leases to the United States, for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations, the following described areas of land and water situated in the Island of Cuba:
“1st. In Guantanamo”…(A complete description of the bay and neighboring territory is made.)
“2nd. In Bahia Honda…” (Another similar description is made.)
This Agreement establishes:
“Article III. –While on the one hand the United States recognizes the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of land and water, on the other hand the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the United States of said areas under the terms of this agreement the United States shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas with the right to acquire for the public purposes of the United States any land or other property therein by purchase or by exercise of eminent domain with full compensation to the owners thereof.”
On May 28, 1903, surveying began to establish the boundaries of the Guantanamo Naval Station. In the Agreement of July 2, 1903, dealing with the same subject, the “Regulations for the Lease of Naval and Coaling Stations” was passed:
“Article I.- The United States of America agrees and covenants to pay the Republic of Cuba the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of land by virtue of said agreement.”
“All private lands and other real property within said areas shall be acquired forthwith by the Republic of Cuba.”
“The United States of America agrees to furnish to the Republic of Cuba the sums necessary for the purchase of said private lands and properties and such sums shall be accepted by the Republic of Cuba as advance payment on account of rental due by virtue of said Agreement.”
The Agreement which governed this lease, signed in Havana by representatives of the Presidents of Cuba and the United States respectively, was passed by the Cuban Senate on July 16, 1903, ratified by the President of Cuba a month later on August 16, and by the President of the United States on October 2, and after exchanging ratifications in Washington on October 6, it was published in the Gazette of Cuba on the 12th of the same month and year.
Dated on December 14, 1903, it was informed that four days earlier on the 10th of the same month, the United States had been given possession of the areas of water and land for the establishing of a naval station in Guantanamo. For the United States Government and Navy, the transfer of part of the territory of the largest island in the Antilles was a source of great rejoicing and they intended to celebrate the event. Vessels belonging to the Caribbean Squadron and some battleships from the North Atlantic Fleet converged on Guantanamo.
The Cuban government appointed the Head of Public Works of Santiago de Cuba to deliver that part of the territory over which it technically exercised sovereignty on December 10, 1903, the date chosen by the United States. He would be the only Cuban present at the ceremony and just for a brief time since, once his mission was accomplished, without any toasts or handshakes, he left for the neighboring town of Caimanera.
The Head of Public Works had boarded the battleship “Kearsage”, which was the U.S. flagship, where he met Rear Admiral Barker. At 12:00 hours a 21-gun-salute was given and along with the notes of the Cuban National Anthem, the Cuban flag which had been flying on board that vessel was lowered, and immediately the United States flag was hoisted on land, at the point called Playa del Este, with an equal number of salvos, thus concluding the ceremony.
According to the articles of the Agreement, the United States was to dedicate the leased lands exclusively for public use, not being able to establish any type of business or industry. The U.S. authorities in said territories and the Cuban authorities mutually agreed to surrender fugitives from justice charged with crimes or misdemeanors subject to the laws of each party, as long as it was required by the authorities who would be judging them.
Materials imported into the areas belonging to said naval stations for their own use and consumption would be exempt from customs duties, or any other kind of fees, to the Republic of Cuba.
The lease of these naval stations included the right to use and occupy the waters adjacent to said areas of land and water, to improve and deepen the entrances to them and their anchorages and for anything else that would be necessary for the exclusive use to which they were dedicated.
Even though the United States acknowledged the continuation of Cuba’s definitive sovereignty over those areas of water and land, it would exercise, with Cuba's consent, “complete jurisdiction and domain” over said areas while they occupied them according to the other already quoted stipulations.
In the so-called Permanent Treaty of May 22, 1903, signed by the governments of the Republic of Cuba and the United States, future relations between both nations were detailed: in other words, what Manuel Márquez Sterling would call “the intolerable yoke of the Platt Amendment” was thus put firmly in place.
The Permanent Treaty, signed by both countries, was approved by the United States Senate on March 22, 1904 and by the Cuban Senate on June 8 of that year, and the ratifications were exchanged in Washington on June 1st, 1904. Therefore, the Platt Amendment is an amendment to an American law, an appendix to the Cuban Constitution of 1901 and a permanent treaty between both countries.
The experiences acquired with the Guantanamo Naval Base were useful to apply measures in Panama that were equal or worse, in the case of the Canal. In the United States Congress, it is customary to introduce amendments, whenever a law which is of urgent necessity for its content and importance is being debated. This frequently obliges legislators to put aside or sacrifice any conflicting criteria. Such amendments have more than once affected the sovereignty for which our people tirelessly struggle.
In 1912, the Cuban Secretary of State, Manuel Sanguily, negotiated a new treaty with the U.S. State Department whereby the United States would relinquish its rights over Bahia Honda in exchange for enlarging the boundaries of the Guantanamo station.
That same year, when the uprising of the Partido de los Independientes de Color (Independent Colored Party) took place, which the Liberal Party government of President José Miguel Gómez brutally repressed, American troops came out of the Guantanamo Naval Base and occupied several towns in the former Oriente Province, near the cities of Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, with the pretext of “protecting the lives and properties of U.S. citizens”. In 1917, because of the uprising known as “La Chambelona” carried out by the elements of the Liberal Party in Oriente who were opposed to the electoral fraud that had re-elected President Mario García Menocal of the Conservative Party, Yankee regiments from the Base headed for various points in that province of Cuba, under the pretext of “protecting the Base water supply”.
Part III: The Formal Repeal of the Platt Amendment and Continued Presence of the Guantanamo Naval Base.
The advent of the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the United States in 1933 opened the way to a necessary accommodation of the relationship of domination that the U.S. exercised over Cuba. The fall of the Gerardo Machado’s tyranny under the pressure of a powerful popular movement, and the subsequent installation of a provisional government headed by the university professor of physiology, Ramón Grau San Martin, were a serious obstacle to the achievement of the program demanded by the people.
On November 24, 1933, U.S. President Roosevelt issued an official statement encouraging the intrigues of Batista and Sumner Welles, the Ambassador to Havana, against Grau’s government. These included the offer to sign a new commercial treaty and repeal the Platt Amendment. Roosevelt explained that “…any Provisional Government in Cuba in which the Cuban people show their confidence would be welcome”. The impatience of the U.S, administration to get rid of Grau was growing, as from mid-November the influence of a young anti-imperialist, Antonio Guiteras, was increasing in the government, which would take many of its more radical steps in the weeks to come. It was necessary to swiftly overthrow that government.
On December 13, 1933, Ambassador Sumner Welles returned definitively to Washington and was substituted five days later by Jefferson Caffery.
On January 13-14, 1934, Batista convened and presided over a military meeting at Columbia, where he proposed to oust Grau and appoint Colonel Carlos Mendieta y Montefur, which was agreed to by the so-called Columbia Military Junta. Grau San Martin presented his resignation at dawn on January 15, 1934 and left for exile in Mexico on the 20th of the same month. Thus, on January 18, 1934, Mendieta was installed as President after the coup d’état. Although the Mendieta administration had been recognized by the United States on January 23rd of that year, actually the fate of the country was in the hands of Ambassador Caffery and Batista.
The overthrow of the Grau San Martin provisional government in January 1934, as a result of internal contradictions and a whole series of pressures, maneuvers and aggressions wielded against it by imperialism and its local allies, meant a first and indispensable step towards the imposition of an oligarchic-imperialistic alternative to solve the Cuban national crisis.
The government headed by Mendieta would take on the task of adjusting the bonds of the country’s neo-colonial dependency.
Neither the oligarchy reinstated in power, nor the Washington government, were in position to ignore the feelings of the Cuban people towards neocolonialism and its instruments. Nor was the United States unaware of the importance of the support of Latin American governments –Cuba among them– in the already foreseeable confrontation with other emerging imperialist powers such as Germany and Japan. The new process would include formulae to ensure the renewed functioning of the neocolonial system. The “Good Neighbor” policy was very mindful of Latin American opposition to Washington’s open interventionism in the hemisphere. The aim of Roosevelt’s policy was to portray a new image in its hemispheric relations through the "good neighbor" diplomatic formula.
As one of the adjustment measures, on May 29, 1934 a new U.S.-Cuba Relations Treaty, modifying the one of May 22, 1903, was signed by the other Roosevelt, perhaps a distant relative of he who had landed in Cuba with the Rough Riders.
Two days earlier, on May 27, at 10:30 a.m., when United States Ambassador Jefferson Caffery was getting ready, as was his custom, to leave his residence in the Alturas de Almendares, he was the target of an assassination attempt; three shots were fired by several unidentified individuals from a car. The next day, May 28th, at noon, as it was driving along Quinta Avenida in the Miramar district, the car assigned to the First Secretary of the United States Embassy, H. Freeman Matthews, after having dropped off the diplomat at the Embassy, was attacked by several individuals traveling in a car and armed with machine guns. One of them approached the chauffeur and told him that he should let Matthews know that he was giving him one week to get out of Cuba: then he smashed the windshield of the car and sped off.
These acts that revealed a general climate of anti-United States hostility could have precipitated the signing of the new Relations Treaty that proposed the alleged end of the unpopular Platt Amendment.
The new Relations Treaty provided for the suppression of the right of the United States to intervene in Cuba and that:
“The United States of America and the Republic of Cuba, being animated by the desire to fortify the relations of friendship between the two countries and to modify, with this purpose, the relations established between them by the Treaty of Relations signed in Havana, May 22, 1903, (…) have agreed upon the following articles:
“Article 3.- Until the two contracting parties agree to the modifications or abrogation of the stipulations of the agreement in regard to the lease to the United States of America of lands in Cuba for coaling and naval stations signed by the President of the Republic of Cuba on February 16, 1903, and by the President of the United States of America on the 23rd day of the same month and year, the stipulations of that agreement with regard to the naval stations of Guantanamo shall continue in effect in the same form and conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantanamo. So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have territorial area that it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty.”
The United States Senate ratified the new Relations Treaty on June 1, 1934, and Cuba on June 4. Five days later, on June 9, ratifications of the Relations Treaty of May 29th of the same year were exchanged, and with that the Platt Amendment was formally repealed, but the Guantanamo Naval Base remained.
The new Treaty legalized the de facto situation of the Guantanamo naval station, thus rescinding the part of the agreements of February 16 and 23 and July 2 of 1903 between the two countries relating to the lands and waters in Bahia Honda, and the part that referred to the waters and lands of the Guantanamo station was amended, in the sense that they were enlarged.
The United States maintained its naval station in Guantanamo as a strategic surveillance and control site, in order to ensure its political and economic predominance in the Caribbean and Central America and to defend the Panama Canal.
Part IV: The Guantanamo Naval Base from the formal end of the Platt Amendment until the Triumph of the Revolution.
After the signing of the Treaty of Relations of 1934, the territory of the “naval station” underwent a gradual fortifying and equipping process until, in the spring of 1941, the Base became established as an operational naval station with the following structure: naval station, air naval station and Marines Corps Base and warehouse facilities.
On June 6, 1934 the United States Senate had passed a bill which would authorize the Secretary of the Navy to sign a long-term contract with a company that would undertake to supply adequate water to the Naval Base in Guantanamo; however, prior to this, American plans already existed for the construction of an aqueduct which would bring in water from the Yateras River.
Expansion continued, and by 1943 other facilities were constructed by contracting the Frederick Snare Company. This hired 9,000 civilian workers, many of them Cubans.
Another year of tremendous expansion of the military and civilian facilities on the Base was 1951. In 1952, the United States Secretary of the Navy decided to change the name of the U.S. Naval Operating Base to “U.S. Naval Base”; by that time its structure already included a Training Center.
The Constitution of 1940, the Revolutionary Struggle and Guantanamo Naval Base until December 1958.
The period between the end of 1937 and 1940 was characterized, from a political point of view, by the adoption of measures that allowed for elections for the Constitutional Assembly to be called and for them to take place. The reason why Batista agreed to these democratizing measures was that it was in his interest to move towards the establishment of formulae that would allow him to remain at the center of political decisions, and thus ensure the continuity of his power within the new order arising under the formulae that he had implemented. At the beginning of 1938 the agreement between Batista and Grau to install a Constitutional Assembly was made public. The Constitutional Convention, inaugurated on February 9, 1940, concluded its sessions on June 8 of that same year.
The Constitution was signed on July 1st, 1940 and promulgated on July 5 that same year. The new Law of Laws established that “the territory of the Republic consists of the Island of Cuba, the Isle of Pines and other adjacent islands and keys, which were under the sovereignty of Spain until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. The Republic of Cuba shall not conclude or ratify pacts or treaties that in any form limit or undermine national sovereignty or the integrity of the territory”.
The oligarchy would strive to prevent the materialization of the more advanced principles in this Constitution or at least to restrict their application to a maximum.
Part V: The Guantanamo Naval Base since the Triumph of the Revolution.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, the Revolutionary Government has denounced the illegal occupation of that portion of our territory.
On the other hand, since January 1st, 1959, the United States turned the usurped territory of the Guantanamo Naval Base into a permanent source of threats, provocation and violation of Cuba’s sovereignty, with the aim of creating trouble for the victorious revolutionary process. Said Base has always been present in the plans and operations conceived by Washington to overthrow the Revolutionary Government.
All kinds of aggressions have come from the Naval Base: Dropping of inflammable materials over free territory from planes flying out of the Base. Provocations by American soldiers, including insults, the throwing of stones and cans filled with inflammable materials and the firing of pistols and automatic weapons. Violations of Cuban jurisdictional waters and Cuban territory by American military vessels and aircraft from the Base. Plans for self-aggression on the Base that would provoke a large-scale armed struggle between Cuba and the United States. Registering the radio frequencies used at the Base in the International Frequency Registry in the space corresponding to Cuba.
On January 12, 1961, the worker Manuel Prieto Gómez who had been employed at the Base for more than 3 years was savagely tortured by Yankee soldiers on the Guantanamo Naval Base, for the “crime” of being a revolutionary.
On October 15 of that same year, the Cuban worker Rubén López Sabariego was tortured and subsequently murdered.
On June 24, 1962, Rodolfo Rosell Salas, a fisherman from Caimanera, was murdered by soldiers at the Base. Likewise, the devious intent of fabricating a self-provocation and deploying American troops in a “justified” punitive invasion of Cuba has always been a volatile element at Guantanamo Base. We can find an example of this in one of the actions included in the so-called “Operation Mongoose”, when on September 3, 1962 American soldiers stationed in Guantanamo would shoot at Cuban sentries.
During the Missile Crisis, the Base was reinforced in terms of military technology and troops; manpower grew to more than 16,000 Marines. Given the decision of Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev to withdraw the nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba without previously either consulting or informing the Revolutionary Government, Cuba defined the unshakeable position of the Revolution in what came to be known as the “Five Points”. The fifth point demanded withdrawal from the Guantanamo Naval Base. We were on the brink of a thermonuclear war, where we would be the prime target as a consequence of the imperial policy of taking over Cuba.
On February 11, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson reduced the number of Cuban personnel working at the Base by approximately 700 workers. They also confiscated the accumulated retirement funds of hundreds of Cuban workers who had been employed on the Base and illegally suspended payments of pensions to retired Cuban workers.
On July 19, 1964, in a blatant provocation made by American border guards against the Cuban border patrol sentries, Ramón López Peña, a young 17-year-old soldier, was murdered at close range while he was on guard in the sentry-box. On May 21, 1966, and in similar circumstances, soldier Luis Ramírez López was murdered by shots from the Base.
In hardly three weeks of the month of May in 1980, more than 80,000 men, 24 vessels and some 350 combat aircraft took part in Solid Shield-80 exercises; as part of its dynamic, this included the landing of 2,000 Marines at the Naval Base and the reinforcement of the facility with an additional 1200 troops.
In October 1991, during the 4th Communist Party Congress in Santiago de Cuba, planes and helicopters from the Base violated Cuban air space over the city.
In 1994, the Base served as a support station for the invasion of Haiti: American air force planes used Base airports for this. More than 45,000 Haitian emigrants were kept on the Base until mid-1995.
Also in 1994, the well-known migration crisis was produced as a result of the tightening up of the blockade and the tough years of the Special Period, the non-compliance with the Migratory Agreement of 1984 signed with the Reagan Administration, the considerable reduction in the number of visas granted and the encouragement of illegal emigration, including the Cuban Adjustment Act signed by President Johnson more than four decades ago.
As a result of the crisis created, a declaration made by President Clinton on August 19, 1994 transformed the Base into a migratory concentration camp for the Cuban rafters, in numbers close to 30,000.
Finally, on September 9, 1994 a Joint Communiqué was signed by the Clinton administration and the Cuban government. This saw the United States committing to prevent the entry into its territory of intercepted illegal emigrants and to issue a minimum of 20,000 annual visas for safety travel to the United States.On May 2, 1995, as part of the migratory negotiations, the governments of Cuba and the United States also agreed what on this occasion was called a Joint Declaration establishing the procedure for returning to Cuba all those who continued trying to illegally migrate to the United States and were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Notice the specific reference to the illegal emigrants intercepted by the Coast Guards. Thus the basis had been laid of a sinister business: the traffic of persons. The Murderous Act was maintained, thus turning Cuba into the only country in the world subjected to such harassment. While approximately 250 thousand people have safely traveled to that country, an incalculable number of women, children and people of all ages have lost their lives as a result of the prosperous traffic of emigrants.
Following an agreement by the two governments, as from the migratory crisis of 1994, regular meetings between the military commands of each side were initiated. A strip of mined territory would sometimes be flooded by tropical rainstorms and overflowing rivers. On many occasions our sappers had put their lives in danger to save persons who were crossing the restricted military zone in that area, even with children.
The Guantanamo Naval Base since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act.
This Act, signed by President William Clinton on March 12, 1996, in its Title II about “Assistance to a Free and Independent Cuba”, Section 201 related to the “policy toward a transition government and a democratically elected government in Cuba”, establishes in its Point 12 that the United States must “be prepared to enter into negotiations with a democratically elected government in Cuba either to return the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo to Cuba or to renegotiate the present agreement under mutually agreeable terms”. Something worse than what was planned by military governor Leonard Wood, who had landed on foot along with Theodore Roosevelt in the proximity of Santiago de Cuba: the idea of having an annexationist of Cuban descent administrating our country.
The War in Kosovo in 1999 resulted in a great number of Kosovar refugees. The Clinton government, embroiled in that NATO war against Serbia, made the decision to use the Base to accommodate a number of them, and on this occasion, for the first time, with no previous consultation whatsoever as usual, it informed Cuba of the decision made. Our answer was constructive. Even though we were opposed to the unjust and illegal conflict, we had no grounds on which to oppose the humanitarian aid needed by the Kosovar refugees. We even offered our country’s cooperation, if it should be needed, in terms of medical care or any other service they might need. Finally, the Kosovar refugees were never sent to the Guantanamo Naval Base.
The manifesto called “The Oath of Baraguá” of February 19, 2000 expressed that “in due time, since it no longer constitutes a prioritized objective at this moment even though the right of our people is very just and cannot be waived; the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo must be returned to Cuba.” At that time, we were involved in the struggle for the return of the kidnapped boy and the economic consequences of the brutal blockade.
The Guantanamo Naval Base since September 11.
On September 18, 2001, President Bush signed United States Congress legislation authorizing the use of force as a response to the September 11 attacks. Bush used this legislation as a basis to sign a Military Order on November 13 of that same year which would establish the legal bases for arrests and trials by military tribunals of individuals who didn't hold U.S. citizenship, as part of the “war on terrorism”.
On January 8, 2002 the United States officially informed Cuba that they would be using the Guantanamo Naval Base as a detention center for Afghan war prisoners.
Three days later, on January 11, 2002, the first 20 detainees arrived, and the figure reached the number of 776 prisoners coming from 48 countries. Of course none of these data were mentioned. We assumed they were Afghan war prisoners. The first planes were landing full of prisoners, and many more guards than prisoners. On the same day, the government of Cuba issued a public declaration indicating its willingness to cooperate with medical assistance services as required, clean-up programs and a fight against mosquitoes and pests in the area surrounding the base which is under our control, or any other useful, constructive and humane measure that might come up. I remember the data because I was personally involved in details concerning the Note presented by the MINREX in response to the United States Note. We were very far from imagining at that moment that the U.S. government was getting ready to create a horrendous torture center at that base. The Socialist Constitution proclaimed on February 24, 1976 had set forth in its Article 11, section c) that “the Republic of Cuba repudiates and considers as null and illegal those treaties, pacts or concessions concerted under conditions of inequality or which disregard or diminish her sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On June 10, 2002, the people of Cuba, in an unprecedented process of popular referendum, ratified the socialist content of that Constitution of 1976 as a response to the meddling and offensive expressions of the President of the United States. Likewise, it mandated the National People’s Power Assembly to amend it so that it would expressly state, inter alia, the irrevocable principle which must govern the economic, diplomatic and political relations of our country with other states, by adding to the same Article 11, section c): “Economic, diplomatic and political relations with any other State may never be negotiated under aggression, threat or coercion by a foreign power.”
After the Proclamation to the People of Cuba was made public on July 31, 2006, the U.S. authorities have declared that they do not hope for a migration crisis but that they are pre-emptively preparing to face one, with the use of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a concentration camp for illegal migrants intercepted in the high seas being a consideration. In public declarations, information reveals that the United States is expanding its civilian buildings on the Base with the aim of increasing their capacity to receive the illegal emigrants. Cuba, for her part, has taken all possible measures to avoid incidents between the armed forces of both countries, and has declared that she is abiding by the commitments contained in the Joint Declaration on migratory issues signed with the Clinton administration. Why is there so much talking, threats and brouhaha?
The symbolic annual payment of $3,386.25 for the lease of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base was maintained until 1972 when the Americans adjusted it themselves to $3,676. In 1973, a new adjustment was made for the value of the old U.S. Gold dollar, and for that reason the cheque issued by the Treasury Department was since then increased to $4,085.00 each year. That cheque is charged to the United States Navy, the party responsible for operations at the Naval Base. The cheques issued by the government of the United States, as payment for the lease, are in the name of the “Treasurer General of the Republic of Cuba”, an institution and official who, many years ago, have ceased to function within the structure of the Government of Cuba. This cheque is sent on a yearly basis, through diplomatic channels. The one for 1959, due to a mere confusion, was entered into the national budget. Since 1960 until today these cheques have not been cashed and they are proof of the lease that has been imposed for more than 107 years. I would imagine, conservatively, that this is ten times less than what the United States government spends on the salary of a schoolteacher each year.
Both the Platt Amendment and the Guantanamo Naval Base were unnecessary. History has shown that in a great number of countries in this hemisphere where there has not been a revolution, their entire territory, governed by the multinationals and the oligarchies, needs neither one nor the other. Advertising took care of their mostly ill-trained and poverty-stricken populations by creating reflexes.
From the military point of view, a nuclear aircraft carrier, with so many fast fighter-bombers and escort ships supported by technology and satellites, is several times more powerful and can move to any point on the globe, wherever the empire needs it the most.
The Base is needed to humiliate and to carry out the filthy deeds that take place there. If we must await the downfall of the system, we shall wait. The suffering and danger for all humanity shall be great, like today's stock market crisis, and a growing number of people forecast it. Cuba shall always be waiting in a state of combat readiness.

By Fidel Castro