Harold Pinter's involvement in the political destinies of Latin America, and the countries of the Caribbean has been critical for many decades.
 
 
El Salvador
 

OBSERVER 28/3/93

This piece can be found on page 219 of Various Voices

Harold Pinter demands that the United States be brought to justice for its covert role in El Salvador1s civil strife.

SEVENTY-FIVE thousand dead in El Salvador over the last 15 years. Who killed them and who cares? Hugh O'Shaughnessy, in last Sunday's Observer, reported the findings of the UN Truth Commission set up to investigate the slaughter. (No other British newspaper thought these findings worth more than the most cursory mention.) The UN Commission declared that the vast majority of human rights abuses were committed by the Salvadorean armed forces rather than the FMLN guerrillas. The Commission not only named army officers but ministers in goyernment as guilty parties and recommended that they be banned from public and military service forthwith. It also called for the mass resignation of the Supreme Court. President Alfredo Cristiani's response to this was to force through the legislative Assembly an amnesty for all the accused. They will face no criminal charges. They are absolved. They are free men. The people killed included social workers, students, priests, trade union officials, doctors, nurses, journalists, human rights activists, school teachers and, of course, thousands upon thousands of peasants. But the armed forces, if they did well, were sometimes offered some especially juicy prizes. Ripping a few thousand illiterate peasants to death can become a mundane pastime, but shooting Archbishop Romero while he's saying mass and killing six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world in one fell swoop mean that among your colleagues you become a star overnight. That blood is glamorous blood. But who did the offering? Who guided and advised the soldiers in their endeavours? Who nurtured them? Jose Maria Tojeira, the present Rector of the Central American University (where the Jesuits were killed) said that William Walker, the US ambassador in San Salvador at the time of the massacres, 'in some way knew what was going on and hindered the investigation'. A human rights worker added: 'The US is the missing protagonist in this case.'

It sure is The United States subsidised the Salvadorean government to the tune of $6 billion throughout the Eighties. But it did far more than subsidise one of the most brutal military dictatorships of the twentieth century. It was a very active involvement indeed. It has now been established that half an hour before the Jesuits were murdered, President Cristiani attended a Salvadorean army briefing at which two or three US officers were also present. This is no great surprise. There were plenty of US officers present throughout the whole enterprise. They were known as 'advisers', experts in the field. Their 'field' ranged from a strategic concept which applied to the whole of Central America down to more specific and precise recommendations. These included the most efficient methods of skinning alive, castration and disembowelment. These techniques, one is led to understand, were employed in order to defend Christianity and Democracy against the Devil. Under President Cristiani's amnesty, not only the named army officers, and government ministers will walk free, but also two soidiers now in prison for the murder of the Jesuits and five imprisoned for the rape and murder of four American churchwomen in 1980. But there is another and quite substantial body of People which also waliks free, indeed has not been charged. This body includes the American 'military advisers', the CIA, Elliot Abrams, former head of the US Latin American Desk, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, former Secretary of State Al Haig, and ex Presidents Reagan and Bush. Members of the US Congress and correspondents in the American- press are evidently dismayed at the disclosure of the extent of American involvement in the nefarious operations of the Salvadorean government. It seems to have taken them quite by surprise. They apparently knew nothing about it until the UN Commission report was published. Information of this sort is, of course, notoriously hard to come by. However, if a congressional investigation actually takes place, what might it bring about? The answer is nothing. There is one good reason for this. The US has long assumed a position as the world's moral centre, the world's 'Dad'. This is so deeply embedded in official American thinking that to tear this assumption apart would be to perform an operation without anaesthetic. The US Congress and media would, 1 believe, find this insupportable. Anyway, in this 'post-Communist world' where 'real values' are prevailing and free-marrket forces are operating so happily, it is perfectly reasonable to consign the mistakes of our past to the past and bury them. Why did these people in El Salvador die? They died because in one way or another or to one degree or another they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression which is their birthright. On behalf of the dead, we must regard the breathtaking discrepancy between US government language and US government action with the abolute contempt it merits. Is there any international forum which can demans that the United States take responsibility for its actions? The International Court of Justice at The Hague tried it in 1986. It found the US guilty of violating international law in repect of Nicaragua. It was told by the US to mind its own business. What about the United Nations? Not much chance, I would think. The US has donereally well since the end of the Second World War. It has execrices a sustained, systematic remoreseless and quite clinical manipulation of power world-wide, while masquerading as a force for universal good1. It1s a brilliant, even witty, certainly highly successful con-job. But it1s really about the time the gaff was blown and the real tale told. Perhaps the new President of the United States will do it.

 
 
Cuba
 

MAY 1996 RED PEPPER (27)

Carribean Cold War

This piece can be found on page 224 of Various Voices

As the US runs roughshod over international law, Harold Pinter demands justice for Cuba.

So Clinton has signed the Helms/Burton bill, citing Cuba's 'scorn for international law'. What a joke.In the course of its endeavours to keep the world safe for democracy the US has broken international law more times than I've had hot dinners and done it with impunity. When the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 1986 found the US guilty on eight separate counts of gross intervention in the affairs of a sov- ereign state (Nicaragua) and asked it to make reparation for all injury caused, the US simply told it to bugger off, asserting that its actions were outside the province of any international court.
Even the poor old United Nations has condemned the US trade embargo of Cuba by an overwhelming majority for three years running (1993-5: 88-4, 101-2 and 117-3) and been totally ignored by the convicted party. This is perhaps why the British, Canadian and Mexican gov- emments don't propose a motion to the Security Council condemning this further legislation which sets out to prevent free trade between Cuba and the rest of the world in terms which are in blatant breach of the UN Charter and the afore- said International Law. They've probably worked out that it would be like farting 'Annie Laurie' down a keyhole, as we used to say in the good old days. Be that as it may, the truth is plain: this is an exercise of arrogant power which stinks.
The most astonishing thing about Cuba is quite simply that it has survived. After over 35 years of the most ruthless economic violence, 35 years of unremit- ling and virulent hostility from the US, Cuba remains an independent sovereign state. This is a quite remarkable achieve- ment. Not many states have remained independent or 'sovereign' for long in the US'backyard'. Here are three short extracts from Duncan Green's book Silent Revolution. This is the first:
'10,000 delegates of the World Bank sat down to dinner. The dinner was catered by Ridgewells at $200 per person. Guests began with crab cakes, caviar, creme fraiche, smoked salmon and mini beef wellingtons. The fish course was lobster with corn rounds followed by citrus sorbet. The entree was duck with lime sauce served with artichoke bottoms filled with baby carrots. A hearts of palm salad was offered accompanied by sage cheese souffles with a port wine dressing. Dessert was a German chocolate turnip sauced with raspber-ry coulis, ice cream bon bons and flaming cof-fee royale.'The wine list isn't mentioned.
Here is the second extract: 'The tiny adobe house is crammed with gnarled Bolivian mining women in patched shawls and battered felt hats, whose calloused hands work breaking up rocks on the surface in search of scraps of tin ore. The paths between the miners' huts are strewn with plas-tic bags and human excrement, dried black in the sun.' 26/ RED PEPPER/ MAY 1996 This is a Bolivian woman speaking:
'In the old days women used to stay at home because the men had work. Now we have to work. Many of our children have been abandoned. Their fathers have left and there's no love left in us when we get home late from work. We leave food for them. They play in the streets. There are always accidents and no doctors. 1 feel like a slave in my own country. We get up at 4am and at 11 at night we are still working. I have vomited blood for weeks at a time and still had to keep working.'
No doubt after dinner the World Bank delegates discussed the Bolivian economy and made their recommendations. This monstrous inequality is precisely what inspired the Cuban revolution. The revolution set out to correct such grotesque polarisation and was determined to ensure that the Cuban people never have to endure such degradation again.
It understood that recognition of and respect for human dignity were crucial obligations which devolved upon a civilised society. Its achievements are remarkable. It constructed a health ser- vice which can hardly be rivalled and established an extraordinary level of lit- eracy. All this the US found to be abom- inable Marxist-Leninist subversion and naturally set out to destroy it. It has failed. And it must be true to say that Cuba could never have survived unless it possessed a formidable centre of pride, faith and solidarity.
There is the question of human rights. 1 myself don't believe in the relativity of human rights. 1 don't believe that 'local conditions', as it were, or a specific cultural disposition can justify suppression of dissent or the individual conscience. In Cuba 1 have always understood harsh treatment of dissent- ing voices as stemming from a 'siege situation' imposed upon it from outside. And I believe that to a certain extent that is true. But equally, apologists for Israeli actions have also stressed a siege situation brought about by external threat. Mordechai Vanunu is a dissent ing voice in Israel and was sentenced to 18 years solitary confinement for disclosing Israel's nuclear capacity to the world.
I am a trustee of the Vanunu estate and a defender of his right to speak. 1 must therefore logically defend, for example, Maria Elena Cruz Vareia's right to speak also. Socialism must be about active and participatory debate. However, the wrinkled moral frown of the US has always been good for a laugh. 'We deplore etc, etc the violations of human rights in such and such a country.' In their own country one and a half mil- lion people are in jail, 3,000 are on Death Row, nearly 50 million live under the poverty line, effectively disenfranchised, there is a huge black underclass, abused and condemned, 38 states practise the death penalty, corruption is vibrant and active at all levels of the hierarchy, police brutality is systematic, heavily racist, lethal. Human rights, where are you? There exists today widespread propaganda which asserts that socialism is dead. But if to be a socialist is to be a person convinced that the words 'the common good'and'social justice'actually mean something; if to be a socialist is to be outraged at the contempt in which millions and millions of people are held by those in power, by 'market forces', by international financial institutions; if to be a socialist is to be a person determined to do everything in his or her power to alleviate these unforgivably degraded lives, then socialism can never be dead because these aspirations will never die.

 

Harold Pinter's speech at the Cuba Rally, London 1997

CUBA RALLY The US embargo of Cuba bans the sale of medicines and medical equipment to Cuba by US companies and their foreign subsidiaries. If such a stringent embargo were applied to any other country in the developing world the effects on public health would be catastrophic. But Cuba's health care system rivals any European country. Health care is a right of every citizen and the responsibility of the government. It is free of charge. The infant mortality rate in Cuba is half that of Washington DC. Nevertheless the embargo is causing significant suffering and death. One shocking example of conditions will have to suffice here. Because of the unavailability of a crucial drug, children in a ward at the pediatric hospital in Havana undergoing pediatric chemotherapy are vomiting 28 to 30 times a day. Essential drugs and equipment which deal with treatment of cancer, heart disease, leukemia, kidney dialysis are unavailable. Only the extra-ordinary dedication of the Cuban medical community has prevented infinitely greater suffering and loss of life. The US government has acknowledged in the past that embargos of food and medicines violate international humanitarian law. In 1992 it supported a UN resolution which stated "the deliberate impeding of the delivery of food and medicine to civilian populations is a serious violation of international law". The US has since ignored overwhelming United Nations resolutions against its embargo for four consecutive years. Its actions remain barbaric, its indifference to world opinion monstrous, its arrogance contemptible.

   
 
We demand that the British government condemns the US embargo without reservation. I ask you to salute the fortitude, the determination, the dignity and the courage of the Cuban people.
     
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Click the above envelope to view the letter to The New York Review of Books June 9th 1994
   
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Click the above envelope to view the letter to the Times Literary Supplement 3rd December 1999
 
 
                         
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