It's a pretty grim scene along Havana's famed malecon seaside drive this week-- an electrified pissing match between two deeply hypocritical governments.
Washington has no formal in embassy in Cuba but its practical equivalent -- the U.S. Interests Section-- sits in a well-known building right on the coastal road. This week U.S. diplomats put up a merrily-lit Xmas exhibition on the property with twinkling lights, a Santa, a Snowman etc.
That alone probably would have ticked off Fidel's government. For some time Christmas wasn't "recognized" in Cuba and it was only a few years ago that Cubans could start buying very expensive artificial Xmas trees in the hard-currency stores. But what really got Castro's goat this time was the big number '75' that the Americans planted in the middle of the holiday display -- the number of Cubans hastily rounded-up and tossed into jail last year for thought crimes.
Now, on its own, this ain't a bad idea to hector Cuba over its transgressions. The rub, of course, is the obvious selectivity of the U.S. protest gesture. If the U.S. government boldly spoke out against repression in every country where it has a diplomatic mission this world would be a better place. So I'm not opposed to what the gringos did, per se. I just wish they did it everywhere (in China or Pakistan they would have to use a lot more than two digits).
Now, the Cuban government has responded tit for tat. Giant posters of the abuse pictures of Abu Ghraib have now been installed and illuminated right outside the doors of the U.S. mission in Havana. The Cubans have further embellished them with bright red swastikas--something that tells us volumes about the margins for subtlety in Cuban political thought (as it is).
I find both governments to be deeply, deeply hypocritical. The actions of both governments insult our collective intelligence. The U.S. display was certainly intended to provoke (which it has) and does NOT reflect real Bush administration policy (which is to tolerate equal or worse repression by our "friends").
The Cubans should take little succor from the outrages of Abu Ghraib. The misbehavior of American troops in Iraq -- or Guantanamo-- in no way explains, excuses, nor justifies the total lack of political freedom or the absence of rule of law in Cuba.
Those lights along the malecon -- from both sides-- illuminate only the folly of those who have placed them. Where are the adults?
P.S. Without taking a side in this silly stand-off, I will note that the tradition of using the area around the U.S. Interests Section as a site for "symbolic" graphic political statements was inititiated by the Cubans. Sometime during the 1980's, the Cuban government erected a huge, neon-trimmed billboard right in front of the building that read: "Mr. Imperialists: We Have Absolutely No Fear of You!" It was there for years and years and might still be there. If my memory serves me right, it was put up in the immediate wake of the 1980 Mariel crisis when 100,000 Cubans (including the prison population) were allowed to come to the U.S.
P.P.S. Apparently that old sign is still up. Here's a picture of it taken recently by a British tourist.