This is new.

In my work, I frequently encounter push-back to the effect that talking about the history and legacy of slavery and race is counter-productive, because this history is now irrelevant and discussing it only encourages racial divisions and a mentality of victimh0od. A cursory glance at the facts shows this logic to be fatally flawed, but this view is nevertheless quite common.

To my knowledge, however, this is the first time that anyone has proclaimed that I, and what I do, are “sheer evil.”

This opinion comes courtesy of a blogger named Jorge Costales, who is a professional CPA in Miami, Fla., and who is livid about the current Associated Press story about my trip to Cuba.

While Mr. Costales’ argument isn’t entirely coherent, and is riddled with factual errors, it centers around what appears to be a genuine and profound concern about political repression in Cuba. As near as I can tell, he seems to be offering—and conflating—two distinct claims in his ad hominem attacks on me.

First, he condemns me because he believes the A.P. reporter has quoted me as saying that the family slave-trading business was “pure evil,” while I’m not similarly quoted condemning the present Cuban government. Second, he seems to believe that Katrina Browne and I made our “own pact with another version of evil” by striking some sort of self-serving bargain with the authorities in Cuba.

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that the first claim offered by Mr. Costales depends entirely on his repeatedly mis-quoting me as calling the D’Wolf slave trading empire “pure evil,” while in fact the article instead quotes Katrina as calling that business “sheer evil.” In the end, this distinction is hardly important, for I have no problem with what Katrina said. Let’s also ignore that Mr. Costales seems to be basing his second claim on his equally mistaken belief that we were in Cuba trying to film a documentary.

The problem with the first claim is that Mr. Costales has let his strong desire to castigate the Castro regime lead him into a vehement, personal attack against someone who, as far as he knows, may well share his views about the Cuban government. I simply don’t know why he reads any significance into the fact that Will Weissert, the journalist writing the article, didn’t devote space, in a story about my slave-trading ancestors, to quoting my views on contemporary Cuban politics. Does Mr. Costales believe that it is evil to do historical research in Cuba without speaking out publicly against the Cuban government? If so, does he really assume that I didn’t do so, simply because it wasn’t mentioned in one of the press stories covering my visit?

The difficulty with the second claim is equally obvious. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Costales condemns all travel to Cuba, even if specifically approved in advance by the U.S. government and conducted solely for historical and educational purposes. Instead, his argument appears to hinge on his specific grievance that we must have “sold out” by striking a deal with the Cuban government for … well, for what, exactly, he doesn’t say. It’s not at all clear what sort of benefits we might have bargained for, or why the Cuban government would want to offer us anything in exchange for our silence … especially since Mr. Costales, in another gratuitous attack, also states that I must be a “fellow traveler” sympathetic to the Castro regime, in which case, why would the Cubans need to silence me in the first place?

Certainly, in traveling to Cuba last month for the second time in my adult life, I encountered U.S. citizens who were there in violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. I also met U.S. citizens who were in the country legally, but who were enthusiastic in their praise of the current Cuban government. I could understand if Mr. Costales were speaking out against either phenomenon, on the grounds that he believes such activities lend unwarranted support to a regime he detests, and are thus, by his lights, “evil.” I just don’t understand what in the world he believes I’ve done to merit that label.

12 Responses to ““The moral relativism of the DeWolf family””


  1. LizO says:

    We have a saying at work that a person's perception, no matter how distorted, inaccurate or illogical, is his or her reality. Obviously, Mr. Costales' perception of your family's efforts does not match mine.

    I do try to understand people who appear to be incredibly misguided in their beliefs, but usually there comes a time when I agree to disagree and move on. Personally, I think this is one of those times where bewilderment is the best you can offer.

    For instance, I will never forget a conversation I had with a high-school classmate's father. He was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that "God" does not believe in race-mixing, and therefore I, a bi-racial individual, should never have been born. He said so in a very matter-of-fact, non-hostile manner, yet he also expressed an interest in whether I was a "born-again Christian". He didn't exactly see the inconsistencies of his own convictions, nor was he likely to change them as the result of debate alone.

    Another curious phenomenon that seems to be pervasive in the Southern US is the idea that "Mormons don't believe in Jesus." Hmmmm…so why is it, I asked, that those same Mormons' named their religion the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints??? Even with the truth staring them in the face, I was unable to change the perceptions of any of those people.

    Bewildering? Absolutely. Worthy of more than a cursory period of introspection? Not really. Should you make the effort to convince Mr. Costales of the flaws in his logic? Of course…but only to a point. I think it's time to move on.


  2. James says:

    Thanks, Liz. That's very nice of you to say. I'm inclined to agree that simple bewilderment is probably all that this case requires. I did want to do the courtesy of responding here, if only because it's evident that Mr. Costales is sincerely upset at whatever it is that he mistakenly thinks I represent.

    Of course, as you know, I do tend to offer responses that are thorough, and usually more so that strictly required. Especially when it comes to issues of race, history, or politics.

    This is why, for instance, I do regularly engage with people who, like your classmate's father, are convinced that our perception in the U.S. of what "races" are reflects not just a social convention, but also a biological or theological reality that suggests miscegenation violates the laws of nature or God. I think it's worthwhile to continue gently probing such convictions in an attempt to educate or to plant doubts. This, however, is an abstract conviction, and I have no doubt that bewilderment was the most you needed to offer as a bi-racial teenager to those who believed you ought not to exist.

    On a personal level, I can't imagine having to go through that experience, Liz. Fortunately, I think you and I and most of the people we associate with as adults can agree that whether or not you, or I, should ever have been born is entirely independent of the issue of race. ::smile::


  3. Jorge Costales says:

    First, let me admit to the errors you point out in the post.

    It was a mistake in attributing the "pure evil" quote to you, although even you note that the "distinction is hardly important, for I have no problem with what Katrina said." That was honest of you.

    Also, in the strongest point you made, you note that I assumed that you did not speak out publicly against the Cuban government simply because it wasn’t mentioned in the press stories covering your visit? You're right, I did.

    I was predisposed to that type of assumption based on what I know [all indirect knowledge] about the type of people or organizations who get authorized to visit Cuba, namely those who are sympathetic to the regime to various degrees and can be counted upon not to embarrass them.

    But now I've visited your web page, taken a look at a few of the posts leading up to the Cuba trip and after, done a few searches and can find no evidence of any criticism of the regime who authorized your travel. Exactly what I would have expected. If there are none on this web site, it would seem to me to make your objections seem disingenuous.

    So let me not assume and just ask directly, when have you spoken out against the Cuban dictatorship? [As your amateur lawyer, I would advise you not to answer that].

    You described my post as a "vehement, personal attack." Please a little credit, the 'pure evil' reference, clearly playing upon the quote in the article, I attributed to an imaginary "James DeWolf Perry XII," whom I sarcastically assume will continue the family tradition of exposing the errors of their ancestors.

    To be clear. I do not think you are evil or that people who visit, let alone those who do so for professional reasons, Cuba are evil. While I wish they would abstain from their 'support,' I understand it is their prerogative as free adults. I, and those who think as I do, just need to do a better job of persuading people otherwise.

    However as adults, they have should a moral responsibility for their actions. At this point, those who visit Cuba in 2010 cannot possibly have any allusions as to repressive nature of the regime and the apartheid conditions which exist for the benefit of tourist dollars [are you only opposed to apartheid which it is racially based?].

    As such, I continue to believe that the 'fellow traveler' label is the one that is most appropriate in general and to Ms Browne and you specifically.

    Fellow traveler defined: …refers to a person who sympathizes with the beliefs of an organization or cooperates in its activities without maintaining formal membership in that particular group.


  4. James says:

    Jorge, thank you for posting a polite and direct response to this post. I very much appreciate that you're willing to engage this issue in a constructive and considerate manner.

    It's interesting that you admit up front that your description of my activities as "sheer evil" were based on an assumption you made concerning "the type of people or organizations who get authorized to visit Cuba."

    Let's leave aside whether it's ever a good idea to condemn someone for what you believe people like them tend to do or not do.

    I do want to ask, though, just what authorization to travel to Cuba are you referring to? I assume you're not referring to authorization from the U.S. government. As I'm sure you know, but some readers here may not, any U.S. citizen can travel lawfully to Cuba for the purposes and under the conditions stated in OFAC regulations. The U.S. government does not attempt to review the sympathies of potential travelers to Cuba, would have no reason to try to limit travel to those sympathetic to the Cuba government, and in fact travel under general licenses does not even require the prior U.S. approval.

    Meanwhile, the Cuban government makes no effort to limit the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba on the basis of ideology. Cuba only requires that U.S. citizens have a travel visa to enter the country, and these are routinely handed out without any attempt to research the views of those proposing to travel to Cuba (although I assume that anyone who's already come to their attention for activities against the Cuban government would be another matter).

    In other words, I could have been well-known among my friends and readers for my anti-Castro views or for being a communist sympathizer, and the Cuban government wouldn't have known either way. I submitted a simple form, and the specific license information from the U.S. government authorizing my travel, and the designated travel agency produced a tourist visa to enter Cuba almost instantaneously. I assume that an activist already known to the Cuban government and on a watch list would have been denied a visa, but they had no opportunity to go out and research my political leanings.

    Surely you also know that in practice, a wide variety of U.S. citizens visit Cuba, including those highly sympathetic to the Cuban government as well as conservatives highly critical of that government (these are often Cuban-Americans visiting family or otherwise maintaining ties).

    So what could you possibly have meant by jumping to any conclusion at all about my politics, based merely on the fact that I traveled to Cuba for reasons connected to historical research and education?

    You also note with displeasure that my blog, which is about the history and legacy of slavery in the U.S., has entries discussing my travel to Cuba to advance understanding of the history and legacy of U.S. slavery, but does not have any discussion of contemporary Cuban politics.

    Do you believe that all U.S. citizens need to go on record online with their views on the Cuban government? All U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba for any reason? Does the same apply to anyone traveling to any non-democratic country?

    Do you really believe that a blog devoted to an historical topic is the right place to comment on Cuban politics? That travelers to Cuba must post on their blogs, rather than somewhere else, to make their political views known?

    Finally, is it at all relevant to you that I'm not an expert on contemporary Cuban politics? Does that have any bearing on whether I should be offering definitive judgments about the Cuban political system? Or offering them on a blog devoted to another subject, rather than offering them in a personal context, both in the U.S. and in Cuba?

    What if I'd offered my views on Cuban politics, and someone here with an opposing view had stated that it was the height of irresponsibility for me to use my visit as a platform to advance my beliefs about a political system I'm not even remotely qualified to talk about? Wouldn't they have a point?

    You described my post as a “vehement, personal attack.” Please a little credit, the ‘pure evil’ reference, clearly playing upon the quote in the article, I attributed to an imaginary “James DeWolf Perry XII” ….

    Actually, if you will review your own post, you did not attribute the words "pure evil" to the hypothetical descendant of mine whom you invented for this purpose.

    You said that "we know" what this descendant of mine would be doing, and then, in your own words, you said that he would be contemplating what you called "the sheer evil of his fellow traveling 21st century ancestors who sold out" to the Cuban government.

    I do appreciate the cleverness of the hypothetical, sarcastic scenario, and the rhetorical device of echoing the words you believed I'd said in the article. I have no problem with any of that, as long as you're prepared to stand by the use of those words, at least roughly, to describe me.

    I do not think you are evil or that people who visit, let alone those who do so for professional reasons, Cuba are evil. While I wish they would abstain from their ’support,’ I understand it is their prerogative as free adults. I, and those who think as I do, just need to do a better job of persuading people otherwise.

    I appreciate your clarification that you didn't actually mean to suggest that I, and others like me, are evil.

    I can also appreciate that you believe that visits like this constitute "support" that you would rather not take place, and that you're therefore not in total agreement with U.S. government policy regarding whether travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba, for the purposes specified in OFAC regulations, constitutes inappropriate support of a communist regime or appropriate contacts notwithstanding the existence of a communist government.

    In our case, the U.S. government specifically reviewed our travel plans and authorized our travel and our planned activities within Cuba. It is the policy of the U.S. government that such activities are in the interest of the United States, despite any political or economic succor which the Cuban government might derive from such contacts. This official stance is highlighted, for instance, by the fact that our group was the subject of a reception at the residence of the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.

    As you can probably tell, I happen to support U.S. law and policy regarding visits for purposes like this, and in general I support the exceptions administered by OFAC to the general restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.

    I can also sympathize with your point of view, since inevitably such exceptions, whatever purposes they serve, will also somewhat weaken the impact of economic sanctions and travel restrictions and are therefore surely welcomed by the Cuban government.

    While I doubt this will be of much comfort to you, the issue of what statement was made by our mere presence in Cuba was never far from my mind while in the country. This was especially true because our visit was the focus of such intense press coverage: we appeared repeatedly in stories in the Cuban and foreign press, and even were shown on the Cuban nightly news. In fact, and I'm sure you'll find this especially interesting, at our events we met cabinet and sub-cabinet officials and even the president of the National Assembly. So the issue of whether such a visit, for any purpose, lent any sort of support to the Cuban government was laid out rather starkly in this instance.

    At this point, those who visit Cuba in 2010 cannot possibly have any allusions as to repressive nature of the regime and the apartheid conditions which exist for the benefit of tourist dollars

    Actually, I had the impression that many U.S. citizens in Cuba while I was there didn't fully appreciate either the nature of the political system or the starkly different conditions which exist for foreign tourists and Cuban nationals. But I think your point applies regardless of whether or not visitors are, in fact, aware of these issues, since they certainly should be.

    I continue to believe that the ‘fellow traveler’ label is the one that is most appropriate in general and to Ms Browne and you specifically.

    "Fellow traveler" is a term usually restricted to those who are in sympathy with an organization's beliefs.

    Since you have absolutely no reason to believe that Katrina or I sympathize at all with the communist ideology of the government of Cuba, this remains a wildly inappropriate claim.

    Now, if you're relying on the part of the definition you cited from Wikipedia which refers to those who "cooperate" without being at all sympathetic, and if you interpret that to mean those who "cooperate" without desiring to help the organization in any way, then we have a different issue.

    If that's the case, then I can respect your views, if not your means of expressing them, and I encourage you to elaborate here for the benefit of my readers. As I've said, though, I have no problem with U.S. government policy allowing and encouraging contacts in carefully defined circumstances like these. In this case, I think you simply need to ask yourself whether it's responsible or appropriate to castigate your fellow citizens as immoral fellow travelers for going along with a U.S. policy that you don't happen to agree with.


  5. Jorge Costales says:

    Mr D'Wolf:

    I concede that you're not just another fellow traveler, heck you just might be the new Wikipedia poster boy.

    You actually wrote the following: "the Cuban government makes no effort to limit the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba on the basis of ideology." Sensing the absurdity of such a comment, you add as an aside, "although I assume that anyone who’s already come to their attention for activities against the Cuban government would be another matter."

    Left unsaid is that the "things that come to their [Cuban government's] attention" would boggle the mind of the average US citizen. I'm assuming you've heard of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Or are the reports of constant vigilance regarding counter-revolutionary activities exaggerated? Have you ever checked out the most prominent dissenter Cuban blogger – Yoani Sánchez [http://desdecuba.com/generationy/]? I'm guessing she couldn't make your dinner.

    Given the media coverage given your trip, proudly recounted on your blog, you were no doubt vetted and as we can all now see on your blog and subsequent comments, the Cuban government had nothing to fear by way of critical remarks by you.

    Both in your initial blog post and initial response to me, you made it a point to say that I have no idea what your true thoughts are about the Cuban dictatorship. Finally, you wrote: "What if I’d offered my views on Cuban politics, and someone here with an opposing view had stated that it was the height of irresponsibility for me to use my visit as a platform to advance my beliefs about a political system I’m not even remotely qualified to talk about? Wouldn’t they have a point?"

    Do you feel similarly that people who weren't experts on slave trading, should have maintained a meekly silence? Edmund Burke's response to that would be that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do [and say] nothing." I'm assuming that "evil" and "pure evil" are interchangeable for our purposes.

    To visit Cuba in 2010 and decline to comment on the regime — even on your blog, safely away from the island gulag — because someone somewhere might object is not the act of a moral man. It is however, exactly what a fellow traveler would say.

    Come'n D, grow a pair dude.


  6. James says:

    First of all, Jorge, it's not "Mr. D'Wolf." If you prefer to use my last name, it's "Perry," as stated in the article.

    you’re not just another fellow traveler, heck you just might be the new Wikipedia poster boy.

    You do seem to enjoy straining the definition of "fellow traveler," using it to describe someone who has expressed no sympathy whatsoever for the Castro regime.

    You actually wrote the following: “the Cuban government makes no effort to limit the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba on the basis of ideology.”

    You seem to agree that this statement is entirely true. You simply say that it leaves something important unsaid … and, interestingly, not that the Cuban government may limit entry by political activists, which I did say, but just the details of how vigilant the Cuban government is about political dissent.

    The details of what political activities might or might not cause the Cuban government to deny visas to foreign tourists aren't relevant here. That sort of restriction is inherent in a communist regime, as I'm sure you're well aware.

    The issue is that you said you believed you could infer sympathetic ideological leanings on the part of U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba, because of who the Cuban government does, and does not, let into the country.

    As I correctly pointed out, the Cuban government doesn't deny tourist visas to U.S. citizens on the basis of their lack of sympathy with the communist revolution. In my case, for instance, they didn't even wait long enough to check what my views might be.

    Thus U.S. citizens of all political views can, and do, travel to Cuba, and you can't infer anything from our presence there. The fact that active opponents of the regime may be denied visas to visit doesn't change that in the least.

    Have you ever checked out the most prominent dissenter Cuban blogger – Yoani Sánchez [http://desdecuba.com/generationy/]? I’m guessing she couldn’t make your dinner.

    I don't know what dinner you're talking about, but I met with people of all political persuasions while in Cuba, including those who made politically incorrect statements at our events. Naturally, I don't deny that the Cuban government limits political dissent, but I can't figure out what that might have to do with the claims you've made about me in your blog.

    Given the media coverage given your trip, proudly recounted on your blog, you were no doubt vetted ….

    Do you mean that as a U.S. citizen traveling to Cuba, I was vetted in advance by the Cuban government? As I've patiently explained, that's just a fantasy of yours, as they didn't wait long enough to find out anything about my political views before issuing me a visa.

    Or do you mean that I was vetted after arriving in Cuba, and before the media was allowed to cover my activities? I can assure you that I made no statements, in public or private, about my views on Cuban politics prior to our first press availability.

    So how, exactly, do you believe this vetting might have occurred?

    … as we can all now see on your blog and subsequent comments, the Cuban government had nothing to fear by way of critical remarks by you.

    I'm quite certain that the Cuban government has nothing to fear from any critical remarks that I, or you, or any citizen in the U.S., might have to offer. Their concerns rightly center on domestic political attitudes, and on any political activities that U.S. citizens might engage in. Not in the fact that most of us in the U.S. are opposed to communism.

    However, I find it bizarre that you continue to defend your remarks about my "moral" failings at having "sold out" to the Cuban government by pointing to a blog about the history and legacy of U.S. slavery and noting that there are no discussions of contemporary Cuban politics here. Of course there aren't.

    If you mean that the Cuban government never had to worry that I would suddenly start opining about Castro on a blog about the U.S., then you're right.

    Do you feel similarly that people who weren’t experts on slave trading, should have maintained a meekly silence?

    That's an excellent point, Jorge.

    I believe that people in the U.S. who weren't experts on the slave trade could, and should, still have offered their views on the morality of enslaving other human beings.

    They would have been wrong to analyze matters they knew little or nothing about, such as the logistics or economics of the slave trade, or conditions at other points of the triangle, such as Africa or Cuba.

    Edmund Burke’s response to that would be that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do [and say] nothing.”

    Indeed. But I don't exactly think of myself as someone who's shy with his opinions. Nor does anyone who's ever met me, I suspect, including the Associated Press reporter whose story angered you so.

    Do you speak up against every injustice in the world? (Do reporters always quote you when you do?) Do you at least speak up any time you visit a country that isn't free? Or when you purchase clothing, food, or other goods from any country whose citizens aren't free?

    Do you speak up, for instance, every time you buy goods made in communist China? If not, why not?

    It is however, exactly what a fellow traveler would say.

    Are all your talking points straight out of the McCarthy era?

    You can't point to any opinion of mine that suggests I'm sympathetic to the communist regime in Cuba (because I'm not), so you variously suggest that a communist sympathizer could behave the way I do, or that my mere presence in Cuba is suspicious, or that you believe you know my "type," etc.

    Let's be honest, shall we? You are obviously extremely anti-Castro in your views. Not just anti-Castro, as most of us in the U.S. are, but so anti-Castro that you call even those who follow U.S. policy on Cuba "evil" and believe anyone who travels to Cuba and who isn't quoted in the newspapers (or in a blog on an unrelated topic) as denouncing the Cuban government must be in league with Castro.

    Now, I certainly have no problem with your opposition to the Castro regime. But can you at least be honest about your concern that the Cuban political system is bolstered by U.S. policy, and those who follow it, and not insist on making absurd claims about other people's political views and morality?

    Finally, Jorge, since you've been castigating me publicly for not expressing myself enough about Cuba, and demanding answers from me on any issue that concerns you, let me turn the tables on you:

    You've repeatedly objected, in very strong terms, that Katrina or I referred to slavery as "evil."

    Do you believe that slavery is "evil"? If not, why not? And if so, isn't it wrong of you not to say so when the subject comes up?

    Isn't slavery today a vital issue, affecting more people than Cuban politics? Aren't the history of slavery and its legacy terribly important as well, both to the people of the U.S. and to the people of Cuba? Don't you need to make your views known on this issue, at least when you choose to speak up on the topic, or else be morally complicit in lax attitudes about slavery?


  7. Jorge Costales says:

    If I was ever the invited guest of, for example, a pro-apartheid government in South Africa, I would feel the need to respond to questions as to my positions on slavery. But I've never sunk that low [politically speaking].

    False protestations to the contrary, your political views towards the Castro regime are evident in what you won't say. I'll try again after the premiere. Try not to step on any Damas En Blanco being dragged from churches on the way in to the Theatre.


  8. James says:

    Jorge, you seem to be conflating apartheid and slavery, which are two unrelated institutions. In terms of the distinction you're trying to make, though, is there really a difference between being an invited guest in a nation where slavery is prevalent, and buying goods from such a country? Or living in a nation profoundly affected by slavery?

    More importantly, what allows you to draw these lines, and not me, or anyone else, or each of us for ourselves? Why do you get to say exactly what contacts morally obligate one to speak out, and in exactly what forum?

    Most importantly, what lets you declare that anyone who draws that line differently from you must be secretly in league with those you despise?

    I'll also point out that I've never been an invited guest of the government of Cuba, and that your objection to the article wasn't that I hadn't responded to questions about my positions on Cuba, but that you assumed I hadn't spoken out about them.

    False protestations to the contrary, your political views towards the Castro regime are evident in what you won’t say.

    You're simply wrong about that, Jorge.

    You've also heavily criticized objections to slavery in your responses, and have repeatedly declined to state that you oppose it. Am I to believe that you must favor slavery, or at least be sympathetic to it? That seems absurd to me, yet the logic is the same, isn't it?

    I’ll try again after the premiere.

    If you mean the premiere of our documentary, as the article stated, it came out in 2008, and its Cuban premiere was two weeks ago. So please don't hold back on that account.

    Try not to step on any Damas En Blanco being dragged from churches on the way in to the Theatre.

    Ah, there are those McCarthyite insinuations again. I've certainly never said anything to remotely suggest that I don't support the Ladies in White, and you know that.

    Let's please be honest here, shall we? You're obviously quite upset about something. I don't want to presume anything, but you appear to have a hatred towards the Cuban government that goes well beyond what I could imagine you might have towards each and every repressive regime in the world. You also seem very angry at U.S. policy towards Cuba, and quite angry at those who, unlike me, sympathize with the Cuban Revolution.

    So why are you angry at me? Why are you determined to make accusations towards me which any reader here can see are utterly baseless?

    After all, there are important political and moral issues we could be discussing here, such as just what constitutes support of a repressive regime, or when one is morally obligated to speak out on an issue they encounter in the world.

    Is it just because I was willing to do historical research in Cuba, and to engage the Cuban people in dialogue about our shared history? Or can you simply not believe that someone might be willing to do that, and see it not as a betrayal of the Cuban people, but as supportive of them? Or is it something else?


  9. Jorge Costales says:

    James

    I have accused you of being a fellow traveler ["cooperates in its activities"] for the following reasons:

    1- Not for having done historical research, but for being disingenuous about who gets to travel to Cuba with the type of access you had [“the Cuban government makes no effort to limit the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba on the basis of ideology”]

    2- Being unable to bring yourself to criticize the regime even after your trip.

    However, the notion that I am angry is something that I disagree with. I do think it is important to call out people who engage with the Cuban regime and then try to claim that that engagement should not be construed as support.

    Bottom line here for me is that I appreciate the opportunity to post comments on your blog and am comfortable with what "any reader" might conclude as to our views based on what has been posted.

    Thanks


  10. James says:

    I appreciate, Jorge, that you're now talking more about what standards you have for the behavior of others with regards to repressive regimes, and less about what you believe, on little or no evidence, about me.

    Your first charge, however, is still factually incorrect. I was quite clear that since you had claimed to be able to infer my political ideology from the fact that I was allowed into Cuba, I was refuting the specific idea that the Cuban government makes any effort to keep out U.S. visitors on the basis of their political views. The fact that the Cuban government may keep out those who have actively agitated against them is an important issue, but not relevant to assessing the politics of those who are allowed in. (Had you said that you could infer that I wasn't already on the Cuban government's radar as a known political agitator, for example, or I wouldn't have received a visa, that would be a different matter altogether.)

    So I believe you're the one being entirely disingenuous when you persist in suggesting that my travel to, and access in, Cuba was somehow related to my politics. The Cuban government simply did not attempt to check my political views before issuing me an entry visa, and that appears to be their standard practice. Nor did they attempt to ascertain my views prior to allowing any of our events to proceed.

    This is true of all of the U.S. citizens involved in related activities while we were in Cuba: the three of us from the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, as well as those who work with the Amistad or traveled to Cuba in association with it.

    This group included individuals who sympathize closely with the Cuban government, as well as those who are staunchly opposed to it. All received the same travel permission and access.

    Your second charge is, strictly speaking, factually incorrect as well, since you claim to know that I can't "bring myself" to criticize the Cuban government. As I've explained, it's not about being unable to criticize that government. I simply feel no compulsion whatsoever to opine on foreign governments on a web site devoted to the history and legacy of slavery in this country (or, for that matter, to write those opinions on takeout menus or in the pews at my church).

    This, though, gets to the heart of a real difference between us, and I think it's an important one: you seem to believe that any citizen who has contact with Cuba is thereby obligated to speak out against that country's government, and to do so in all conceivable times and places (or, perhaps simply on any web sites they control, or something similar; you haven't spelled out the principle involved here, but you condemn the fact that I express my views on the Cuban government openly, but don't see fit to do so on this particular web site).

    Have I characterized your position correctly? Do you want to clarify or elaborate on that position, or on the reasoning behind it?

    I'm especially interested to know why you draw the line where you do. After all, you rejected my suggestion that the same principle would seem to require you to condemn other repressive governments as well, either when you travel to those countries or when you become directly complicit by, say, buying goods from those countries.

    However, the notion that I am angry is something that I disagree with. I do think it is important to call out people who engage with the Cuban regime and then try to claim that that engagement should not be construed as support.

    I'm quite content to defer to you on the issue of any anger you might have.

    However, this raises a further issue that you had already hinted at here: you seem to believe that any engagement with Cuba, even engagement supported and actively endorsed by the United States government, lends impermissible support to the Cuban government, regardless of whether one speaks out against that government.

    Again, I welcome any clarification or defense of your position. I'd be particularly interested to know whether you hold this view consistently for all repressive foreign regimes, or only for this one, and if so, why?

    I think it's safe to say that any travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba, at least outside of trips solely to criticize or undermine their government, will lend some measure of support to the Cuban government.

    I also think it's safe to say that U.S. law and policy weigh that support against the benefits to the U.S., and to the Cuban people, of particular kinds of contacts, and forbid tourism and most business travel, while permitting and even actively encouraging travel for other purposes where the good is seen to outweigh the harm.

    As I've said, I have no problem whatsoever with U.S. law and policy allowing travel to Cuba for legitimate historical and educational purposes such as ours. But I welcome anything you're willing to share here about your reasons for feeling differently.

    Our travel to Cuba was for the purpose of promoting public understanding, in the U.S. and in Cuba, of important, shared historical events which deeply affect the peoples of both nations today, and to promote dialogue in the U.S. and Cuba about that history and its legacy today. This includes understanding the sources of our nations' wealth and exploring such difficult social issues as inequality and racial prejudice.

    I believe that our trip was successful in, among other things, raising awareness in Cuba of these historical issues and discussion of their resonance within Cuban society today.

    Do you believe that, on balance, the benefits of this particular trip were outweighed by the implicit support lent to the Cuban government by our mere presence on the island? If so, I respect your position, but I would certainly be interested to know why.


  11. Jorge Costales says:

    I promise to revist and attempt to respond to your questions at a later time. The delay is work related [thankfully].


  12. The Moral Relativism of the DeWolf Perry Family | 2 Think Good says:

    [...] To paraphrase the Bible, don’t point out the evil 19th century slave trader in your family’s history when you are making your own pact with another version of evil — a 21st century Gulag. At least we know what James DeWolf Perry XII will be doing. Documenting the sheer evil of his fellow traveling 21st century ancestors who sold out for the attention the academic equivalent of a Jerry Springer family throw down would bring [Incestuous twins bare all!]. Update: Posted April 9th: Mr. Perry [you will not be surprised] has a blog and responded [you should be surprised] to my post. He was kind enough to allow me to respond at length on his blog. Read the exchange, to date, here. [...]

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