These agencies, whether Irish Language movements, Literary Societies or Commemoration Committees, are undoubtedly doing a work of lasting benefit to this country in helping to save from extinction the precious racial and national history, language and characteristics of our people.
Nevertheless, there is a danger that by too strict an adherence to their present methods of propaganda, and consequent neglect of vital living issues, they may only succeed in stereotyping our historical studies into a worship of the past, or crystallising nationalism into a tradition – glorious and heroic indeed, but still only a tradition.
Now traditions may, and frequently do, provide materials for a glorious martyrdom, but can never be strong enough to ride the storm of a successful revolution.
If the national movement of our day is not merely to re-enact the old sad tragedies of our past history, it must show itself capable of rising to the exigencies of the moment.
It must demonstrate to the people of Ireland that our nationalism is not merely a morbid idealising of the past, but is also capable of formulating a distinct and definite answer to the problems of the present and a political and economic creed capable of adjustment to the wants of the future.
This concrete political and social ideal will best be supplied, I believe, by the frank acceptance on the part of ail earnest nationalists of the Republic as their goal.
Not a Republic, as in France, where a capitalist monarchy with an elective head parodies the constitutional abortions of England, and in open alliance with the Muscovite despotism brazenly flaunts its apostasy to the traditions of the Revolution.
Not a Republic as in the United States, where the power of the purse has established a new tyranny under the forms of freedom; where, one hundred years after the feet of the last British red-coat polluted the streets of Boston, British landlords and financiers impose upon American citizens a servitude compared with which the tax of pre-Revolution days was a mere trifle.
No! the Republic I would wish our fellow-countrymen to set before them as their ideal should be of such a character that the mere mention of its name would at all times serve as a beacon-light to the oppressed of every land, at all times holding forth promise of freedom and plenteousness as the reward of their efforts on its behalf.
To the tenant farmer, ground between landlordism on the one hand and American competition on the other, as between the upper and the nether millstone; to the wage-workers in the towns, suffering from the exactions of the slave-driving capitalist to the agricultural labourer, toiling away his life for a wage barely sufficient to keep body and soul together; in fact to every one of the toiling millions upon whose misery the outwardly-splendid fabric of our modern civilisation is reared, the Irish Republic might be made a word to conjure with – a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the Socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom.
This linking together of our national aspirations with the hopes of the men and women who have raised the standard of revolt against that system of capitalism and landlordism, of which the British Empire is the most aggressive type and resolute defender, should not, in any sense, import an element of discord into the ranks of earnest nationalists, and would serve to place us in touch with fresh reservoirs of moral and physical strength sufficient to lift the cause of Ireland to a more commanding position than it has occupied since the day of Benburb.
It may be pleaded that the ideal of a Socialist Republic, implying, as it does, a complete political and economic revolution would be sure to alienate all our middle-class and aristocratic supporters, who would dread the loss of their property and privileges.
What does this objection mean? That we must conciliate the privileged classes in Ireland!
But you can only disarm their hostility by assuring them that in a free Ireland their ‘privileges␁ will not be interfered with. That is to say, you must guarantee that when Ireland is free of foreign domination, the green-coated Irish soldiers will guard the fraudulent gains of capitalist and landlord from ‘the thin hands of the poor’ just as remorselessly and just as effectually as the scarlet-coated emissaries of England do today.
On no other basis will the classes unite with you. Do you expect the masses to fight for this ideal?
When you talk of freeing Ireland, do you only mean the chemical elements which compose the soil of Ireland? Or is it the Irish people you mean? If the latter, from what do you propose to free them? From the rule of England?
But all systems of political administration or governmental machinery are but the reflex of the economic forms which underlie them.
English rule in England is but the symbol of the fact that English conquerors in the past forced upon this country a property system founded upon spoliation, fraud and murder: that, as the present-day exercise of the ‘rights of property’ so originated involves the continual practice of legalised spoliation and fraud, English rule is found to be the most suitable form of government by which the spoliation can be protected, and an English army the most pliant tool with which to execute judicial murder when the fears of the propertied classes demand it.
The Socialist who would destroy, root and branch, the whole brutally materialistic system of civilisation, which like the English language we have adopted as our own, is, I hold, a far more deadly foe to English rule and tutelage, than the superficial thinker who imagines it possible to reconcile Irish freedom with those insidious but disastrous forms of economic subjection – landlord tyranny, capitalist fraud and unclean usury; baneful fruits of the Norman Conquest, the unholy trinity, of which Strongbow and Diarmuid MacMurchadha – Norman thief and Irish traitor – were the fitting precursors and apostles.
If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.
England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.
England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.
Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.
It would be tantamount to a public declaration that our oppressors had so far succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality that we had finally decided to accept those conceptions as our own, and no longer needed an alien army to force them upon us.
As a Socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve for our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or tittle of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline.
Such action would be neither honourable nor feasible. Let us never forget that he never reaches Heaven who marches thither in the company of the Devil. Let us openly proclaim our faith: the logic of events is with us.” James Connolly, “Socialism & Nationalism;” Shan Van Vocht, 1897
Numero Dos—“The principality of Pornia is not a large country and in the ordinary course of history it should have been swallowed entire, centuries ago, by one of the kingdoms which surround it. Its situation has saved it from this fate, for it is the buffer state between two great monarchies whose jealousy has preserved for Pornia an independent existence.Despite its independence, Pornia has never received much consideration from the rest of Europe, and the aim of its princes for many generations has been to foist it into the great councils by a strong alliance with one of the two kingdoms to which it serves as a buffer.
The long-desired opportunity came at last in the reign of Alexander VI, who, one morning, commanded Rudolph of Herzvina to appear at the palace. As soon as the worthy old baron appeared, Alexander spoke to him as follows: ‘Rudolph, you are an old and respected counselor, a devoted servant of the State, and therefore I am delighted to announce that the greatest honor is about to descend upon your family, an honor so great that the entire State of Pornia will be elevated thereby. The Crown Prince Charles wishes to make your daughter his wife!’
At this he stepped back, the better to note the joy with which old Rudolph would receive this announcement, but, to his astonishment, the baron merely bowed his head and sighed.
‘Your highness,’ said Rudolph of Herzvina, ‘I have long known of the attachment which the crown prince has for my daughter, Bertha, but I fear that the marriage can never be consummated.’
‘Come, come!’ said the prince genially. ‘It is a far leap indeed from Baron of Herzvina to father-in-law to Prince Charles, but there have been stranger things in history than this, though never anything that could so effectually elevate Pornia. Have no fear of Charles. He loves your daughter; he is strong-minded as the very devil; he will override any opposition from his father. As a matter of fact, it is no secret that Charles is already practically the ruler over his kingdom. So rejoice, Herzvina, and I will rejoice with you!’
But the baron merely shook his head sadly and repeated: ‘I fear the marriage can never be consummated.’
‘Why not?’ said the prince in some heat. ‘I tell you, his royal highness loves the girl. I could read passion even in the stilted language of his ambassador’s message. Why not?’
‘I was not thinking of his royal highness, but of the girl. She will not marry him.’
The prince dropped into a chair with jarring suddenness.
Rudolph continued hastily: “I have talked with Bertha many times and seriously of the matter; I have tried to convince her of her duty; but she will not hear me. The foolish girl says she does not love his highness.”
The prince smote his hands together in an ecstasy of impatience.
“Love! Love! In the name of God, Herzvina, what has love to with this? This is the thing for which Pornia has waited during centuries. Through this alliance I can make a treaty that will place Pornia once and forever upon the map of the diplomatic powers. Love!”
“I have said all this to her, but she is obdurate.”
“Does she expect some fairy prince? She is not a child; she is not even—forgive me—beautiful.”
“True. She is not even pretty, but even homely women, your highness, will sometimes think of love. It is a weakness of the sex.”
He was not satirical; he was very earnest indeed. He continued: “I have tried every persuasion. She only says in reply: ‘He is too old. I cannot love him.'”
An inspiration came to Alexander of Pornia. Under the stress of it he rose and so far forgot himself as to clap a hand upon the shoulder of Herzvina. In so doing he had to reach up almost as high as his head, for the princes of Pornia have been small men, time out of mind.
“Baron,” he said, “will you let me try my hand at persuasion?”
“It would be an honor, sire. My family is ever at the disposal of my prince.”
He answered with a touch of emotion: “I know it, Rudolph; but will you trust the girl in my hands for a number of days? A thought has come to me. I know I can convince her that this love of which she dreams is a thing of the flesh alone, a physical necessity. Come, send her to me, and I shall tear away her illusions. She will not thank me for it, but she will marry the crown prince.”
“I will send her to the palace to-day.”
“Very good; and first tell her why I wish to speak with her. It may be that of herself she will change her mind when she learns the wishes of her prince. Farewell.”
And the prince rode off to a review of the troops of the city guard. So it was that Bertha of Herzvina sat for a long time in a lonely room, after her arrival at the palace before the door opened, a man in livery bowed for the entrance of the prince, and she found herself alone with her sovereign.
Automatically she curtsied, and he let her remain bowed while he slowly drew off his white gloves. He still wore his general’s uniform with the stiff padding which would not allow his body to grow old, for a prince of Pornia must always look the soldier.
“Sit down,” he ordered, and as she obeyed he commenced to walk the room.
He never sat quietly through an interview if he could avoid it; a constitutional weakness of the nerves made it almost impossible for him to meet another person’s eyes. The pacing up and down gave a plausible reason for the continual shifting of his glance.
“A good day, a very good day,” he said. “The hussars were wonderful.”
His shoulders strained further back. The prince himself always rode at the head of the hussars; in her childhood she had admired him. He stopped at a window and hummed a marching air. That was a planned maneuver, for his back was far more royal than his face, with its tall forehead and diminutive mouth and chin. She felt as if she were in the presence of a uniformed automaton.
He broke off his humming and spoke without turning.
“My decision is unchanged.”
“Impossible! In the length of a whole day even a woman must think twice.”
“Yes, many times.”
“You will not marry him?”
“I cannot love him.”
He whirled, and the pale blue eyes flashed at her a brief glance which made her cringe. It was as if an X-ray had been turned on her heart.
“Love!” he said softly, and she shuddered again. “Because he is old? Bertha, you are no longer a child. Other women marry for what they may term love. It is your privilege to marry for the State. That is the nobler thing.”
He smiled and nodded, repeating for his own ear: “The nobler thing! What is greater than such service—what is more glorious than to forget self and marry for the good of the thousands?”
“I have an obligation to myself.”
“Who has filled you with so many childish ideas?”
“They have grown of themselves, sire.”
The pacing up and down the room recommenced. “Child, have you no desire to serve me? I mean, your country?”
She answered slowly, as if feeling for her words: “It is impossible that I should be able to serve you through my dishonor. If I should marry the crown prince, my life would be one long sleep, sire. I would not dare awaken to the reality.”
His head tilted and he laughed noiselessly. A weakness of the throat prevented him from raising his voice even in times of the greatest excitement.
“A soul that sleeps, eh? The kiss of love will awaken it?”
He surveyed her with brief disdain.
“My dear, you scorn titles, and yet as an untitled woman you are not a match for the first red-faced tradesman’s daughter. Stand up!”
She rose and he led her in front of a pier glass. Solemnly he studied her pale image.
“A sleeping soul!” he repeated.
She covered her face.
“Will that bait catch the errant lover, Bertha?”
“God will make up the difference.”
He cursed softly. She had not known he could be so moved.
“Poor child, let me talk with you.”
He led her back to a chair almost with kindness and sat somewhat behind her so that he need not meet her eyes.
“This love you wait for—it is not a full-grown god, dear girl, but a blind child. Given a man and a woman and a certain propinquity, and nature does the rest. We put a mask on nature and call it love, we name an abstraction and call it God. Love! Love! Love! It is a pretty disguise—no more. Do you understand?”
“I will not.”
She listened to his quick breathing.
“Bertha, if I were to chain you with a ten-foot chain to the first man off the streets and leave you alone with him for three days, what would happen?”
Her hand closed on the arm of the chair. He rose and paced the room as his idea grew.
“Your eyes would criticize him and your shame would fight in behalf of your—soul? And the sight of your shame would keep the man in check. But suppose the room were dark—suppose you could not see his face and merely knew that a man was there—suppose he could not see and merely knew that a woman was there? What would happen? Would it be love? Pah! Love is no more deified than hunger. If it is satisfied, it goes to sleep; if it is satiated, it turns to loathing. Aye, at the end of the three days you would be glad enough to have the ten-foot chain cut. But first what would happen?”
The vague terror grew coldly in her, for she could see the idea taking hold of him like a hand.
“If I were to do this, the world might term it a shameful thing, but I act for Pornia—not for myself. I consider only the good of the State. By this experiment I prove to you that love is not God, but blind nature. Yes, and if you knew it as it is, would you oppose me longer? The thought grows upon me! Speak!”
Her smile made her almost beautiful.
“Sire, in all the world there is only one man for every woman.”
He set his teeth because he could not meet her eyes.
“And who will bring you this one man?”
Once more the soundless laugh.
“Then I shall play the part of God. Bertha, you must now make your decision: a marriage for the good of the State, or the ten-foot chain, the dark room—and love!”
“Even you will not dare this, sire.”
“Bertha, there is nothing I do not dare. What would be known? I give orders that this room be utterly darkened; I send secret police to seize a man from the city at random and fetter him to a chain in that room; then I bring you to the room and fasten you to the other end of the chain, and for three days I have food introduced into the room. Results? For the man, death; for you, a knowledge first of yourself and, secondly, of love. The State will benefit.”
“It is bestial—incredible.”
“Bestial? Tut! I play the part of God and even surpass Him. I put you face to face with a temptation through which you shall come to know yourself. You lose a dream; you gain a fact. It is well. Shame will guard the secret in your heart—and the State will benefit. Still you see that I am paternal—merciful. I do not punish you for your past obstinacy. I still give you a choice. Bertha, will you marry as I wish, or will you force me to play the part of God?”
“I shall not marry.”
“Ah, you will wait for God to make up the difference. It is well—very well; le Dieu c’est moi. Ha! That is greater than the phrase of Louis XIV. You shall have still more time, but the moment the sun goes down, if I do not hear from you, I shall ring a bell that will send my secret police out to seize a man indiscriminately from the masses of the city. I shall not even stipulate that he be young. My trust in nature is—absolute. Adieu!”
She made up her mind the moment he left the room. She drew on her cloak. Before the pier glass she paused.
“Aye,” she murmured, “I could not match the first farmer’s daughter. But still there must be one man in the world—and God will make up the difference!”
She threw open the door which gave on a passage leading to a side entrance. A grenadier of the palace guard jumped to attention and presented arms.
“Pardon,” he said.
He completely the hall; the prince had left nothing to chance. She started to turn back and then hesitated and regarded the man carefully.
“Fritz!” she said at last, for she recognized the peasant who had been a stable-boy on her father’s estate before he took service in the grenadiers. “You are Fritz Barr!”
He flushed with pleasure.
“Madame remembers me?”
“And my little black pony you used to take care of?”
He grinned and nodded; and then she noted a revolver in the holster at his side.
“What are your orders, Fritz?”
“To let no one pass down this hall. I am sorry, madame.”
“But if I were to ask you for your revolver?”
He stirred uneasily and she took money from her purse and gave it to him.
“With this you could procure another weapon?”
He drew a long breath; the temptation was great.
“I could, madame.”
“Then do so. It will never be known from whom I received the gun—and my need is desperate—desperate!”
He unbuckled the weapon without a word, and with it in her hand she returned to the room.
There was a tall western window, and before this she drew up a chair to watch the setting of the sun.
“Will he ring the bell when the edge of the sun touches the hills or when it is completely set?” she thought.
The white circle grew yellow; then it took on a taint of orange, bulging oddly at the sides into a clumsy oval. From the gardens below came a stir of voices and then the thrill of a girl’s laughter. She smiled as she listened, and, leaning from the window, the west wind blew to her the scent of flowers. She sat there for a long time, breathing deeply of the fragrance and noting all the curves of the lawn with a still, sad pleasure. The green changed from bright to dark; when she looked up the sun had set.
As she turned from the gay western sky, the room was doubly dim and the breeze of the evening set the curtains rustling and whispering. Silence she was prepared for, but not those ghostly voices, not the shift and sweep of the shadows. She turned the electric switch, closing her eyes to blur the shock of the sudden deluge of light. The switch clicked, but when she opened her eyes the room was still dark; they had cut the connecting wires.
Thereafter her mind went mercifully blank, for what she faced was, like birth and death, beyond comprehension. Noise at the windows roused her from the daze at last and she found that a number of workmen were sealing the room so that neither light nor sound could enter or escape. The only air would be from the ventilator. And still she could not realize what had happened, what was to happen, until the last sounds of the workmen ceased and the deep, dread silence began; silence that had a pulse in it—the beating of her heart.
She was standing in the middle of the room when the first shapes formed in the black night, and terror hovered about her suddenly, touching her as with cold fingers. She felt her way back to a corner and crouched there against the wall, waiting, waiting. They had seized the doomed man long before this. They must have bound and gagged him and carried him to the palace.
A thousand types of men passed before her inward eye—thin-faced clerks, men as pale as the belly of a dead fish; bearded monsters, gross and thick-lipped, with thunderous laughter; laborers, stamped with patient weariness—and all whom she saw carried the sign of the beast in their eyes. She tried to pray, but the voice of the prince rang in her ears: “Le Dieu, c’est moi!” and when she named God in her prayers, she visualized Alexander’s face, the pale, small eyes, the colorless hair, the lofty brow, the mouth whose tight lips could not be disguised by even the careful mustache. When a key turned in a door, she sprang to her feet with a cry of horror.
“It is I,” said the prince.
“I am dying; I cannot stay here; I will marry whom and when you will.”
“Ah, my dear, you should have spoken before sunset. I warned you, and I never change my mind. It is only for three days, remember. Also, it is in the interest of science. Beyond that, I have quite taken a fancy to playing God for you for three days. Do you understand?”
The even, mocking tones guided her to him. She fell at his feet and strained his thin knees against her breast.
“Come! Be reasonable, Bertha. This is justice.”
“Sire, I want no justice. For God’s sake, be merciful.”
She heard the shaken breath of his soundless laughter.
“Is it so? You should be grateful to me. Trust me, child, I am bringing you the love of which you have dreamed. Ha! Ha! Le Dieu, c’est moi!”
The clanking of the chain which he carried stilled her voice. It hushed even the thunder of her heart. She rose and waited patiently while the manacle was affixed to her wrist. The prince crossed the room and tapped on the door, which opened, and by a faint light from without Bertha discovered two men carrying a third into the room. She strained her eyes, but could make out no faces. The burden was laid on the floor; a metallic sound told her that she was fettered to the unknown.
The prince said: “You are a brave girl All may yet be well. Then human nature is finer than I think. We shall see. As for your lover, your gift from God, he is sleeping soundly now. It may be an hour before the effects of the drug wear away. During that time you can think of love. Food will be placed three times a day within the door yonder. You can readily find it by feeling your way around the wall. Farewell.”
When the door closed she started to retreat to her corner, but the chain instantly drew taut with a rattle. Strangely enough, much of her fear left her now that she was face to face with the danger; temptation, the prince had called it. She smiled as she remembered. When the man awoke and learned their situation, she had no doubt as to how he would act. She had seen the sign of the beast in the eyes of many men, great and small; she had seen it and understood. The revolver might save her for a time, but what if she slept? She knew it would be almost impossible to remain awake during three days and nights.
The moment her eyes closed the end would come. It seemed better that she should fire the bullet now.
When he recovered his senses, it would be difficult to shoot effectively in the dark, for this was not the gloom of night—it was an absolute void, black, thick, impenetrable. She could not make out her hand at the slightest distance from her eyes. He might even attack her from behind and knock the revolver from her hand before she could shoot. Sooner or later the man must die. Even if she did not kill him it would be accomplished by the command of the prince at the end of the three days.
Far better that it should be done at once—that he should never awaken from his sleep. She reached the decision calmly and crept forward to him. Very lightly she passed her hand over his clothes. She had to move his arm to uncover the breast over his heart; the arm was a limp weight, but the muscles were firm, round, and solid. The first qualm troubled her as she realized that this must be a young man, at least a man in the prime of his physical strength.
Then it occurred to her that often bullets fired into the breast are deflected from the heart by bones; it would be far more certain to lay the muzzle against the temple—press the trigger—the soul would depart.
The soul! She paused with a thrill of wonder. A little touch would loose the swift spirit. The soul! For the first time she saw the tragedy from the viewpoint of the unknown man. His life was cut in the middle; truly a blind fate had reached out and chosen him from a whole city. Yet she was merely hastening the inevitable. She reached out and found his forehead.
It was broad and high. Tracing it lightly with the tips of her fingers she discovered two rather prominent lumps of bony structure over the eyes. Some one had told her that this represented a strong power of memory. She tried to visualize that feature alone, and very suddenly, as a face shows when a man lights his cigarette on the street at night, she saw in memory the figure of Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Young Painter.” He sits at his drawing board, his pencil poised, ready for the stroke which shall give vital character to his sketch. There is only one high light, falling on the lower part of the face. Inspiration has tightened the sensitive mouth; the questing eyes peer out from the shadow of the soft cap. She broke off from her vision to realize with a start that when she touched the trigger she would be stepping back through the centuries and killing her dream of the original of Rembrandt’s picture. A foolish fancy, truly, but in the dark a dream may be as true, as vivid as reality.
The unconscious man sighed. She leaned close and listened to his breathing, soft, hurried, irregular as if he struggled in his sleep, as if the subconscious mind were calling to the conscious: “Awake! Death is here!”
At least there was plenty of time. She need not fire the shot until he moved. She laid the revolver on her lap and absently allowed her hands to wander over his face, lingering lightly on each feature. She grew more alert after a moment. Every particle of her energy was concentrated on seeing that face—on seeing it through her sense of touch. The blind, she knew, grow so dextrous that the delicate nerves of their finger tips record faces almost as accurately as the eyes of the normal person.
Ah, for one moment of that power! She tried her best. The nose, she told herself, was straight and well modeled. The eyes, for she traced the bony structure around them, must be large; the cheek bones high, a sign of strength; the chin certainly square and prominent; the lips full and the mouth rather large; the hair waving and thick; the throat large. One by one she traced each detail and then, moving both hands rather swiftly over the face, she strove to build the mental picture of the whole—and she achieved one, but still it was always the young painter whom great Rembrandt had drawn. The illusion would not go out of her mind.
An artist’s hands, it is said, must be strong and sinewy. She took these hands and felt the heavy bones of the wrist and strove to estimate the length of the fingers. It seemed to her that this was an ideal hand for a painter—it must be both strong and supple.
He sighed again and stirred; she caught up the weapon with feverish haste and poised it.
“Ah, it is well,” said the sleeper in his dream.
She made sure that he was indeed unconscious and then leaned low, whispering: “Adieu, my dear.”
At some happy vision he laughed softly. His breath touched her face. Surely he could never know; he had so short a moment left for living; perhaps this would pass into his latest dream on earth and make it happy.
“Adieu!” she whispered again, and her lips pressed on his.
She laid the muzzle of the revolver against his temple, and, summoning all her will power, she pressed the trigger. It seemed as if she were pulling against it with her full strength, and yet there was no report. Then she realized that all her might was going into an inward struggle. She summoned to her aid the voice of the prince as he had said: “We put a mask on nature and call it love; we name an abstraction and call it God. Le Dieu, c’est moi!” She placed the revolver against the temple of the sleeper; he stirred and disturbed the surety of her direction. She adjusted the weapon again.
Up sprang the man, shouting: “Treason! Help!”
Then he stood silent a long moment; perhaps he was rehearsing the scene of his seizure.
“This is death,” he muttered at last, “and I am in hell. I have always known what it would be—dark—utter and bitter loss of light.”
As his hand moved, the chain rattled. He sprang back with such violence that his lunging weight jerked her to her feet.
“It is useless to struggle,” she cried.
“A woman! Where am I?”
“You are lost.”
“But what has happened? In God’s name, madame, are we chained together?”
“By whose power? By whose right and command?”
“By one against whom we cannot appeal.”
“For how long—”
He heaved a great sigh of relief.
“It is merely some practical joke, I see. That infernal Franz, I knew he was meditating mischief! Three days—and then free?”
“Yes, for then you die.”
Once more he was silent.
Then: “This is a hideous dream. I will waken from it at once—at once. My dear lady—”
She heard him advancing.
“Keep the chain taut, sir, I am armed; I will fire at the slightest provocation.”
He stopped and laughed.
“Come, come! This is not so bad. You have been smiling in your sleep at me. Up with the lights, my dear. If Franz has engaged you for this business, let me tell you that I’m a far better fellow than he must have advertised me. But what a devil he is to rig up such an elaborate hoax! By Jove, this chain—this darkness—it’s enough to turn a fellow’s hair white! The black night gets on my nerves. Lights! Lights! I yearn to see you; I prophesy your beauty by your voice! Still coy? Then we’ll try persuasion!”
His breast struck the muzzle of the revolver.
She said quietly: “If I move my finger a fraction of an inch you die, sir. And every word I have spoken to you is the truth.”
“Well, well! You do this finely. I shall compliment Franz on rehearsing you so thoroughly. Is this the fair Daphne of whom he told me—”
And his hand touched her shoulder.
“By everything that is sacred, I will fire unless you stand back—back to the end of the chain.”
“Is it possible? The Middle Ages have returned!”
He moved back until the light chain was taut.
“My mind whirls. I try to laugh, but your voice convinces me. Madame, will you explain my situation in words of one syllable?”
“I have explained it already. You are imprisoned in a place from which you cannot escape. You will be confined here, held to me by this chain, for three days. At the end of that time you die.”
“Will you swear this is the truth?”
“Name any oath and I will repeat it.”
“There’s no need,” he said. “No, it cannot be a jest. Franz would never risk the use of a drug, wild as he is. Some other power has taken me. What reason lies behind my arrest?”
“Think of it as a blind and brutal hand which required a victim and reached out over the city to find one. The hand fell upon you There is no more to say. You can only resign yourself to die an unknown death.”
He said at last: “Not unknown, thank God. I have something which will live after me.”
Her heart leaped, for she was seeing once more the artist from Rembrandt’s brush.
“Yes, your paintings will not be forgotten.”
“I feel that they will not, and the name of—”
“Do not speak of it!”
“I must not hear your name.”
“But you know it already. You spoke of my painting.”
“I have never seen your face; I have never heard your name; you were brought to me in this room darkened as you find it now.”
“Yet you knew—”
Her voice was marvelously low: “I touched your face, sir, and in some way I knew.”
After a time he said: “I believe you. This miracle is no greater than the others. But why do you not wish to know my name?”
“I may live after you, and when I see your pictures I do not wish to say: ‘This is his work; this is his power; this is his limitation.’ Can you understand?”
“I will try to.”
“I sat beside you while you were unconscious, and I pictured your face and your mind for myself. I will not have that picture reduced to reality.”
“It is a delicate fancy. You are blind? You see by the touch of your hands?”
“I am not blind, but I think I have seen your face through the touch.”
“Here! I have stumbled against two chairs. Let us sit down and talk. I will slide this chair farther away if you wish. Do you fear me?”
“No, I think I am not afraid. I am only very sad for you. Listen: I have laid down the revolver. Is that rash?”
“Madame, my life has been clean. Would I stain it now? No, no! Sit here—so! My hand touches yours—you are not afraid?—and a thrill leaps through me. Is it the dark that changes all things and gives eyes to your imagination, or are you really very beautiful?”
“How shall I say?”
“Be very frank, for I am a dying man, am I not? And I should hear the truth.”
“You are a profound lover of the beautiful?”
“I am a painter, madame.”
She called up the image of her face—the dingy brown hair, long and silken, to be sure; the colorless, small eyes; the common features which the first red-skinned farmer’s daughter could overmatch.
“Describe me as you imagine me. I will tell you when you are wrong.”
“May I touch you, madame, as you touched me? Or would that trouble you?”
She hesitated, but it seemed to her that the questing eyes of Rembrandt’s portrait looked upon her through the dark—eyes reverent and eager at once.
She said: “You may do as you will.”
His unmanacled hand went up, found her hair, passed slowly over its folds.
“It is like silk to the touch, but far more delicate, for there is life in every thread of it. It is abundant and long. Ah, it must shine when the sun strikes upon it! It is golden hair, madame, no pale-yellow like sea-sand, but glorious gold, and when it hangs across the whiteness of your throat and bosom the hearts of men stir. Speak! Tell me I have named it!”
She waited till the sob grew smaller in her throat.
“Yes, it is golden hair,” she said.
“I could not be wrong.”
His hand passed down her face, fluttering lightly, and she sensed the eagerness of every touch. Cold fear took hold of her lest those searching fingers should discover the truth.
“Your eyes are blue. Yes, yes! Deep-blue for golden hair. It cannot be otherwise. Speak.”
“God help me!”
“I have been too vain of my eyes, sir. Yes, they are blue.”
The fingers were on her cheeks, trembling on her lips, touching chin and throat.
“You are divine. It was foredoomed that this should be! Yes, my life has been one long succession of miracles, but the greatest was reserved until the end. I have followed my heart through the world in search of perfect beauty and now I am about to die, I find it. Oh, God! For one moment with canvas, brush, and the blessed light of the sun! It cannot be! No miracle is complete; but I carry out into the eternal night one perfect picture. Canvas and paint? No, no! Your picture must be drawn in the soul and colored with love. The last miracle and the greatest! Three days? No, three ages, three centuries of happiness, for are you not here?”
Who will say that there is not an eye with which we pierce the night? To each of these two sitting in the utter dark there came a vision. Imagination became more real than reality. He saw his ideal of the woman, that picture which every man carries in his heart to think of in the times of silence, to see in every void. And she saw her ideal of manly power. The dark pressed them together as if with the force of physical hands. For a moment they waited, and in that moment each knew the heart of the other, for in that utter void of light and sound, they saw with the eyes of the soul and they heard the music of the spheres.
Then she seemed to hear the voice of the prince: “You should be grateful to me. Trust me, child, I am bringing you that love of which you dreamed. Le Dieu, c’est moi!”
Yes, it was the voice of doom which had spoken from those sardonic lips. The dark which annihilates time made their love a century old.
“In all the world,” she whispered, “there is one man for every woman. It is the hand of Heaven which gives me to you.”
“Come closer—so! And here I have your head beside mine as God foredoomed. Listen! I have power to look through the dark and to see your eyes—how blue they are!—and to read your soul beneath them. We have scarcely spoken a hundred words and yet I see it all. Through a thousand centuries our souls have been a thousand times and in every life we have met, and known—”
And through the utter dark, the merciful dark, the deep, strong music of his voice went on, and she listened, and forgot the truth and closed her eyes against herself.
On the night which closed the third day the prince approached the door of the sealed room. To the officer of the secret police, who stood on guard, he said: “Nothing has been heard.”
“Early this afternoon there were two shots, I think.”
“Nonsense. There are carpenters doing repair work on the floor above. You mistook the noise of their hammers.”
He waved the man away, and as he fitted the key into the lock he was laughing softly to himself: “Now for the revelation, the downward head, the shame. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
He opened the door and flashed on his electric lantern. They lay upon a couch wrapped in each other’s arms. He had shot her through the heart and then turned the weapon on himself; his last effort must have been to draw her closer. About them was wrapped the chain, idle and loose. Surely death had no sting for them and the grave no victory, for the cold features were so illumined that the prince could hardly believe them dead.
He turned the electric torch on the painter. He was a man about fifty, with long, iron-gray hair, and a stubble of three days’ growth covering his face. It was a singularly ugly countenance, strong, but savagely lined, and the forehead corrugated with the wrinkles of long, mental labor. But death had made Bertha beautiful. Her eyes under the shadow of her lashes, seemed a deep-sea blue, and her loose, brown hair, falling across the white throat and breast, seemed almost golden under the light of the torch. A draft from the open door moved the hair and the heart of the prince stirred in him.
He strove to loosen the arms of the painter, but were frozen stiff by death.
‘She was a fool, and the loss is small,’ sighed the prince. ‘After all, perhaps God was nearer than I thought. I bound them together with a chain. He saw my act and must have approved, for see! He has locked them together forever. Well, after all—le Dieu, c’est moi!‘” Max Brand, “Out of the Dark;” Ten Foot Chain, Or, Can Love Survive the Shackles: A Unique Symposium, “Second Tale,” 1920
Having received several verbal invitations from President Fidel Castro to visit Cuba, I accepted an official one in January, and we made arrangements for the trip through the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. Our key request was for me to speak directly to the Cuban people, preferably in the evening and with live television coverage, and this was granted.Prior to the trip, we had a number of briefings from interested groups, including the conservative Cuban American National Foundation, moderate and relatively unbiased experts, international agencies, and the U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies. One key question that we asked American officials was if there was any indication that Cuba had been involved with any foreign government in promoting terrorist activities, directly or indirectly. We were assured that no such evidence existed.
Our goals were to establish a dialog with Castro, to reach out to the Cuban people, and to pursue ways to improve U.S.-Cuban relations. I wanted to explore with the president and other Cuban leaders any indication of flexibility in economic or political policy that might help to ease tensions between our two countries. For instance, having been quite familiar with Deng Xiaoping’s transformation of China’s economy by gradually permitting small family businesses to expand, I thought this might be one possibility. Also, foreign investors would be more inclined toward Cuba if they could hire and pay their own employees directly instead of through state agencies.
The Varela Project was a subject of great publicity, and a petition from more than 11,000 citizens was presented to the National Assembly a few days before our arrival. As apparently permitted under Cuba’s constitution, the petition called for a referendum on: a) freedom of ex-pression and association; b) amnesty for political prisoners not accused of attempted murder; c) rights of private enterprise; d) direct election of public officials; and e) elections to be held within one year. In my speech to the nation, I called for some of these rights, for the establishment of a blue-ribbon commission to resolve property claims, an extensive exchange of university students, and for the utilization of responsible Cuban Americans as a possible bridge between Cuba and the United States.
We were received at the Havana airport by the president with full honors and a warm welcoming address. We considered it significant that he wore a business suit rather than his normal military uniform, and this was his custom throughout our visit until he said goodbye at the airport the day we left. I responded in Spanish, giving the time and place of my major speech and expressing hope that it could be broadcast both through television and radio. I wanted to be sure that there would be some public awareness of the university address. Subsequently it was advertised in advance in the government newspaper Granma.
During our ride in to the hotel, President Castro and I had a friendly chat about growing peanuts, the total freedom we would have while in Cuba, and his hope that I would attend the All-Star baseball game and perhaps throw out the first ball. He was thoroughly familiar with our plans for the visit, and assured me that there would be no restraints, that all my activities and statements would be covered by the large media contingent, and that my Tuesday speech would be on TV and radio and rebroadcast at later times.
When we arrived at the small Santa Isabel Hotel in colonial Havana, President Castro introduced us to Eusebio Leal, the historian and curator who has been responsible for the renovation of the old city. After lunch and a tour of the historic area, we met with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. I decided to cover the major items I wanted to discuss later with President Castro, so that he would be forewarned and we might be more likely to focus on the specific matters. We then visited with the U.S. Interest Section for a briefing and to greet the families.
That evening President Castro and I had a general discussion of issues and then enjoyed an ornate banquet, attended by our group and by President Castro, Vice President Carlos Lage, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, and a few other officials. President Castro had apparently been urged to abbreviate our meeting, but he was inclined to recite detailed information about Cuban achievements in health, education, and other matters. I gave him a collection of recently declassified documents from my administration and tried to concentrate on a few key suggestions.
Among the items I discussed were the themes that would be included in my speech, such as the Varela Project, the right of families to have small businesses and hire neighbors, Cuba’s inviting the International Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit the country and ascertain the status of prisons and human rights, and student exchanges. President Castro took notes, said he would consider all the issues, and that he would explore assisting with African health problems.
Monday morning we met with Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Varela Project and Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba’s best-known human rights leader. Paya explained the process of securing more than 11,000 signatures on the petition, assured us that the U.S. government had not given assistance in the effort and stated that he would refuse such help. I described to them the responses I had received during the previous evening’s banquet, which were technical in nature, and attempted to distinguish between changes in laws vs. constitutional amendments. Our hotel was staked out by some of the 150 or so foreign reporters who are covering our visit, and they talked to Payá and Sanchez afterward.
We then went to the Center for Genetic Engineering, where we received a detailed report on some of Cuba’s extraordinary commitments to research and production of advanced medicines needed in the Third World, including Hepatitis B and C, some forms of cancer, and meningitis. They have shared technology with several nations and a number of international pharmaceutical companies, under tight constraints against use for illicit purposes. They have agreed to a recent arrangement with Iran that is not yet implemented, but none with Iraq or Libya. I informed the research scientists that I had been briefed by state and intelligence agencies and discussed my trip with the White House, but no one had mentioned any concern about Cuba’s involvement with bio-terrorism or any other terrorism. In fact, when we had asked pointedly if there was evidence of any kind about Cuba’s contributing to terrorist activities in any foreign country, the answer was “No.” If there is evidence, I’m sure the U.S. will reveal it, or take advantage of President Castro’s public offer to welcome any international investigative team to biomedical laboratories.
We had lunch with Vice President Carlos Lage and the Director of the Central Bank, and talked mostly about economic matters. They were proud of Cuba’s relatively stable currency (27 pesos per dollar), and Lage seemed adamant against any liberalizing of Cuba’s policy concerning self-employment. We then visited a School for Social Workers, where high school graduates who do not pass the high standards for the university are given two years of college level education in subjects that train them to serve the needy, distribute books, become assistant teachers and health workers, etc.
Our next visit was to a remarkable medical school for students from African countries, 23 Latin American nations, plus the United States. Here, with all expenses paid, more than 6,000 young people receive six years of education and are then prepared to pass the international examination to practice medicine. The 31 American students have completed their first year, including Spanish language training, and told us that their only cost is the airplane ticket when they return home for a visit. After enjoying a brief outdoor musical presentation to the entire student body, I made a few remarks about health projects of The Carter Center, and then Fidel spoke to them for more than an hour.
We were late for our private supper with the ambassadors of Canada, Spain, Mexico, and the UNDP representative, each of whom gave us a detailed analysis of Cuba’s internal and foreign relations.
Tuesday we visited the Los Cocos AIDS sanitorium, where each patient is given three to six months of treatment and counseling. Any pregnant woman found to be HIV positive receives a complete course of AZT treatment (produced in Cuba). The people are then free to return to their home communities. WHO statistics show that the incidence of AIDS in Cuba is the lowest in this hemisphere, and there are now more than 800 Cuban doctors in Haiti alone working to control the AIDS epidemic. President Castro has offered an almost unlimited number to be sent to Africa, to be paid by the Cuban government with only a small stipend from the host countries.
Our next visit was to an agricultural cooperative, where 151 farm families work about 700 acres of land, producing a wide variety of grain, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The elected leader of the co-op made a very large salary, the equivalent of $1,200 annually. They pointed out that there is a high degree of private enterprise in the marketing of agricultural products and that city families have recently been encouraged to plant small plots around their homes and sell their excess produce. This is one of the few opportunities for self-employment permitted in Cuba, except for motor transport, the renting of rooms in one’s home, and doing home repair work for others.
That evening at the University of Havana I made a speech and then answered questions that, as promised, was carried live on television and radio. It was later rebroadcast, and the entire transcript was published in the two Cuban newspapers. Subsequently, we could not find anyone on the streets or in the markets who had not heard it. All analysts said it was the first time in 43 years that citizens had heard any public criticism of the Cuban government, much less direct condemnation of human rights violations, a call for international inspectors, and promotion of the Varela project. I anticipated President Castro would be upset, but he greeted me after the session, and we attended the Cuban All-Star baseball game, where I threw out the first pitch.
The next morning we visited centers for the treatment of mentally retarded and physically handicapped children, who gave amazing musical and dance performances. Later, Rosalynn and Dr. Hardman met with psychiatrists who described the treatment of patients with mental illnesses. We visited Las Guasimas, a housing development similar to a Habitat for Humanity project, with families obtaining title to their homes and making monthly payments of 40 pesos, equivalent to US$1.50. Not even President Castro’s enemies questioned the fact that 85 percent of Cubans own their own homes, or that practically 100 percent of the people are literate, immunized against 13 diseases, and have family physician care.
After this we had an alfresco lunch with National Assembly President Alarcon, and spent most of the time talking about how he will handle the Varela petition. He replied in circuitous language that the government had not yet made a decision, but he saw both a technical issue based on interpretation of the law and also a political issue. Legally, the petition could be peremptorily rejected, and many arguments could be made against it. Politically, it would be necessary to justify a decision to the people, with those already knowing or caring about it, he said, already realizing that it was a “North American” project. We tried to convince him that the petitioners deserved a full and open hearing even if their effort was rejected.
That afternoon we went to the Martin Luther King Center for an assembly of Jews and Protestant Christians. After songs and the main sermon, mostly concerning suffering caused by the U.S. embargo, I gave an impromptu Christian message in Spanish. This group seemed fervent in their faith but almost totally aligned with Cuba and when questioned could think of no criticisms or prospective changes in government policies. They did ask for more access to mass media, publishing materials, and new church buildings, and realized that they had to be more united.
That evening Rosalynn and I met privately for almost two hours with President Castro, where I pressed him unsuccessfully on some suggestions for opening up his closed political and economic system. We assessed his motivations to be a genuine belief in maintaining equity of treatment and an absence of class distinctions for Cubans and determination to retain the tightest possible control over all aspects of life in the nation. Also, he fears that any conciliatory action would be seen as a sign of weakness against a country “that is still attacking us.” After an exchange of gifts, we attended a large, ornate, and delightful official banquet, to which my son Chip and his entire Friendship Force exchange group were invited. The courses of food were interspersed with delightful musical entertainment, and afterward we lingered to greet all the performers and the guests. After our party left for the hotel, President Castro stayed for another hour to have individual photos and to sign autographs for the 23 Friendship Force members.
Thursday morning we drove to the Pinar del Rio province for bird watching, followed by unscheduled visits to villages and public markets that were arranged by Luis Gomez Echeverria, the UNDP representative who has been in Cuba for three years. In one typical small city of about 25,000 there were three health clinics and one hospital, with a doctor for each 170 people. Doctors at the poorest clinic saw about 80 patients daily, had some shortages of medicine, and an EKG machine with the wrong kind of paper; but they said they could act to prevent illnesses, give routine family care and emergency treatment, and that the EKG in the hospital worked properly.
At a large farmers’ market we visited some of the 700 booths that are rented to private entrepreneurs for 5 percent of their sales. There was a wide assortment of prepared foods, vegetables, fruits, and meats. The shopkeepers said they bought their produce directly from campesinos, and their businesses were thriving. The place was packed with hundreds of customers, and the prices were astonishingly low, about 1/20 of those in U.S. stores. There was a small section devoted to sales by the government, with very few customers in the area.
We then had extensive meetings with a wide range of the most notable dissidents, each the leader of an organization and many having completed prison sentences for their demands for change in the socialist regime. They were unanimous in expressing appreciation for my speech, willingness to risk punishment rather than be silent, hope that American visitation could be expanded, and opposition to any elevation of harsh rhetoric from the United States toward Cuba and to any funding of their efforts from the U.S. government. Any knowledge or report of such financial support would just give credibility to the long-standing claims of President Castro that they were “paid lackeys” of Washington. Although some doubted the efficacy of the Varela project, all except one of the 27 agreed that their organizations should support it.
We then met with Catholic Church leaders, who deplored their lack of freedom, were grateful for permission to have services and not be outlawed completely, and extremely cautious about any public challenge to the government on any controversial issue.
After a tour through Ernest Hemingway’s home, we attended a concert of classical music and dance, modern Cuban music, and folklore. At the end, all of us joined the performers on the outdoor stage and continued dancing. Alarcon was at the performance and gave me a summary of comments derived from a public opinion poll after my speech. There was a broad range of opinion, in general much more negative than the reaction of people who lined the streets, cheered us at every stop, and greeted us profusely in the market places.
Friday morning I summarized my thoughts about issues and our experiences in Cuba during a press conference before our departure.
Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the University of Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 14, 2002
The United States and Cuba: A Vision for the 21st Century
I appreciate President Castro’s invitation for us to visit Cuba, and have been delighted with the hospitality we have received since arriving here. It is a great honor to address the Cuban people.
After a long and agonizing struggle, Cuba achieved its independence a century ago, and a complex relationship soon developed between our two countries. The great powers in Europe and Asia viewed “imperialism” as the natural order of the time and they expected the United States to colonize Cuba as the Europeans had done in Africa. The United States chose instead to help Cuba become independent, but not completely. The Platt Amendment gave my country the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs until President Franklin Roosevelt had the wisdom to repeal this claim in May 1934.
The dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown more than 43 years ago, and a few years later the Cuban revolution aligned with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Since then, our nations have followed different philosophical and political paths.
The hard truth is that neither the United States nor Cuba has managed to define a positive and beneficial relationship. Will this new century find our neighboring people living in harmony and friendship? I have come here in search of an answer to that question.
There are some in Cuba who think the simple answer is for the United States to lift the embargo, and there are some in my country who believe the answer is for your president to step down from power and allow free elections. There is no doubt that the question deserves a more comprehensive assessment.
I have restudied the complicated history (in preparation for my conversations with President Castro), and realize that there are no simple answers.
I did not come here to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs, but to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people and to offer a vision of the future for our two countries and for all the Americas.
That vision includes a Cuba fully integrated into a democratic hemisphere, participating in a Free Trade Area of the Americas and with our citizens traveling without restraint to visit each other. I want a massive student exchange between our universities. I want the people of the United States and Cuba to share more than a love of baseball and wonderful music. I want us to be friends, and to respect each other.
Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship and the way we think and talk about each other. Because the United States is the most powerful nation, we should take the first step.
First, my hope is that the Congress will soon act to permit unrestricted travel between the United States and Cuba, establish open trading relationships, and repeal the embargo. I should add that these restraints are not the source of Cuba’s economic problems. Cuba can trade with more than 100 countries, and buy medicines, for example, more cheaply in Mexico than in the United States. But the embargo freezes the existing impasse, induces anger and resentment, restricts the freedoms of US citizens, and makes it difficult for us to exchange ideas and respect.
Second, I hope that Cuba and the United States can resolve the 40-year-old property disputes with some creativity. In many cases, we are debating ancient claims about decrepit sugar mills, an antique telephone company, and many other obsolete holdings. Most U.S. companies have already absorbed the losses, but some others want to be paid, and many Cubans who fled the revolution retain a sentimental attachment for their homes. We resolved similar problems when I normalized relations with China in 1979. I propose that our two countries establish a blue-ribbon commission to address the legitimate concerns of all sides in a positive and constructive manner.
Third, some of those who left this beautiful island have demonstrated vividly that the key to a flourishing economy is to use individual entrepreneurial skills. But many Cubans in South Florida remain angry over their departure and their divided families. We need to define a future so they can serve as a bridge of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States.
Are such normal relationships possible? I believe they are.
Except for the stagnant relations between the United States and Cuba, the world has been changing greatly, and especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. As late as 1977, when I became President, there were only two democracies in South America, and one in Central America. Today, almost every country in the Americas is a democracy.
I am not using a U.S. definition of “democracy.” The term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948, and it was defined very precisely by all the other countries of the Americas in the Inter-American Democratic Charter last September. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials.
Only such governments can be members of the OAS, join a Free Trade Area of the Americas, or participate in the Summits of the Americas. Today, any regime that takes power by unconstitutional means will be ostracized, as was shown in the rejection of the Venezuelan coup last month.
Democracy is a framework that permits a people to accommodate changing times and correct past mistakes. Since our independence, the United States has rid itself of slavery, granted women the right to vote, ended almost a century of legal racial discrimination, and just this year reformed its election laws to correct problems we faced in Florida 18 months ago.
Cuba has adopted a socialist government where one political party dominates, and people are not permitted to organize any opposition movements. Your Constitution recognizes freedom of speech and association, but other laws deny these freedoms to those who disagree with the government.
My nation is hardly perfect in human rights. A very large number of our citizens are incarcerated in prison, and there is little doubt that the death penalty is imposed most harshly on those who are poor, black, or mentally ill. For more than a quarter century, we have struggled unsuccessfully to guarantee the basic right of universal health care for our people. Still, guaranteed civil liberties offer every citizen an opportunity to change these laws.
That fundamental right is also guaranteed to Cubans. It is gratifying to note that Articles 63 and 88 of your constitution allows citizens to petition the National Assembly to permit a referendum to change laws if 10,000 or more citizens sign it. I am informed that such an effort, called the Varela Project, has gathered sufficient signatures and has presented such a petition to the National Assembly. When Cubans exercise this freedom to change laws peacefully by a direct vote, the world will see that Cubans, and not foreigners, will decide the future of this country.
Cuba has superb systems of health care and universal education, but last month, most Latin American governments joined a majority in the United Nations Human Rights Commission in calling on Cuba to meet universally accepted standards in civil liberties. I would ask that you permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and that you would receive the UN Human Rights Commissioner to address such issues as prisoners of conscience and the treatment of inmates. These visits could help refute any unwarranted criticisms.
Public opinion surveys show that a majority of people in the United States would like to see the economic embargo ended, normal travel between our two countries, friendship between our people, and Cuba to be welcomed into the community of democracies in the Americas. At the same time, most of my fellow citizens believe that the issues of economic and political freedom need to be addressed by the Cuban people.
After 43 years of animosity, we hope that someday soon, you can reach across the great divide that separates our two countries and say, ‘We are ready to join the community of democracies,’ and I hope that Americans will soon open our arms to you and say, ‘We welcome you as our friends.'” Jimmy Carter, “President Carter’s Cuba Trip Report;” 2002