March 4, 2012

Open Letter to the Washington Post re: Cuba

The editors wouldn't print it; the Ombudsman didn't respond: So, for what it's worth, here's a letter to the Post. The Forero article to which it responds was repulsive - I doubt that the possibly fatal cancer of a world leader was ever reported with such obvious relish.  However, I stick to his characterization of Cuba in my letter.

Dear Washington Post Ombudsman:

I am very concerned about the intrusion of the journalist Juan Forero's personal political opinions into his February 26, 2012 story entitled Hugo Chavez may have aggressive tumor, cancer experts say (page A 11). I quote from the article:  ''Chavez, a 57-year-old leftist firebrand who has formed alliances with pariah nations including Syria, Iran and Cuba..."

'Pariah nation' is an opinion.  There is no official list of pariah nations; Mr. Forero does not cite a source for the opinion that the countries named are  'pariah' nations.  The countries named are all members of the United Nations; they are parties to myriad international agreements and are recognized as legitimate governments by most other countries.  None are so far removed from the community of nations and international civilized discourse that we may take for granted their 'pariah' status.   Therefore, it is clearly the writer's unsubstantiated opinion that is presented as fact in a news story.

I take particular exception to the inclusion of Cuba on the writer's personal list of pariahs. Cuba has friendly and open relations with most countries.  It hosts major international conventions, conferences, international film festivals and international visual arts exhibitions. Cuba welcomes close to two million tourists each year to its resorts, nature preserves and historic, architecturally rich cities. It trains and sends doctors and rescue workers to other countries facing natural disasters. The literacy rate in Cuba hovers near 100%.  Cuba's health system, to which every single Cuban citizen has free access, has resulted in an infant mortality rate of 4 per 1000 births -- one of the lowest in the world and an amazing accomplishment for a developing country. Similarly, life expectancy, at 79, is high;  HIV/AIDS is extremely low and treatment is available at no cost.  Cuba's culture, music and literature are treasured the world over and have vastly enriched US culture over the last century (and continue to do so).

It is noteworthy that the 50 year old U.S. Embargo has been condemned by the United Nations General Assembly for decades.  In 2011, 186 nations voted with Cuba to condemn the embargo; only two nations voted against the resolution: the US and Israel (which freely trades with Cuba).  186 to 2:  statistically speaking, it appears that Cuba is not a 'pariah.'

True, Cuba remains on the US list of nations that sponsor terrorism.  However, (1) the writer does not cite that list; and (2) the arguments in favor of that designation are demonstrably spurious.  Commentators, opinion page writers, analysts and scholars across the US have called for an end to Cuba's inclusion on the list.  Accordingly, Mr. Forero cannot claim that he is merely reflecting a well known fact or consensus  when he voices his opinion that Cuba is a 'pariah.'

Space considerations prevent me from (1) detailing the unwholesome story of US terrorism against Cuba, including assassination attempts, invasions and subversion; and (2) the terrible human cost of the embargo and attempts, such as Mr. Forero's, to isolate Cuba and its people.

Suffice to say, there is no justification for a journalist casually tossing off his own political view that  Cuba is a pariah nation as if it were an accepted fact.

Thank you for reading,

Rex Weil