Cuba's future must be determined by its own citizens, not the US
Sir: I appreciate Rupert Cornwell's effort to provide an objective assessment of Fidel Castro's leadership (3 August). As an American, it is unfortunate that I must turn to news sources outside of the US for objective news coverage of Castro.
However, the article gives the impression that the relatively poor economic performance of Cuba vis a vis countries like Mexico is primarily due to Castro's leadership. In fact, prior to the US embargo of Cuba, it was one of the largest trading partners of the US and was the largest foreign importer of American automobiles. The embargo was crippling to Cuba and, in the judgment of many, an act of war. We should also appreciate the fact that Castro tried to establish a healthy relationship with the US and was snubbed when foreign holdings were nationalised. It is fair to say that the US drove Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union and that Cuba today is as much a manifestation of US foreign policy as it is a fulfillment of Castro's vision.
There is a considerable bias in the US toward interfering in Cuba's internal affairs, predicated primarily on the judgment that the Cuban people live under dictatorial oppression, a view that is aggressively nurtured by the south Florida Cuban ex-patriot community. Whether Castro is a dictator or tyrant is highly disputable. But because Cuba is a shadow society to the US, meaning that its values stand in stark contrast to those that predominate in America, we tend to project our distasteful perceptions of Cuba onto the unknown attitudes of the Cuban people. Every dissident individual becomes a validation of our prejudices whereas in truth, we really don't know what the Cuban people want for their country.
I am very concerned about the political practice in the US of demonising political leaders of foreign countries in order to justify intervention in their internal affairs. In the case of Cuba, American public support for intervention turns on whether Castro is a dictator or not. We owe it to the wonderful people of Cuba, and to what little is left of the integrity of US foreign policy, to clearly understand their values and views. The last thing that they need is unwelcome intervention by the US. And the last thing I want is to be party to another mistaken incursion into another country's political life.
BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON, USA
The heartbreak of the Lebanese people
Sir: I am a British citizen, married to a Lebanese man and I have been living in north Lebanon for the past two years. We are now safe in Cyprus, after fleeing from Lebanon through Syria with our two young sons on the second day of this terrible war.
In the time I lived in Lebanon, the elected government had been holding discussions aimed at persuading Hizbollah to disarm, a requirement of UN Resolution 1559. The talks hadn't so far been successful, but at least the subject was under discussion.
Nobody in Lebanon believed the country would go back to a war situation because they were all totally against it. Since the last war in 1991, the country still does not have electricity round the clock, decent roads or pavements. However, all these things had been improving. After the major setback of the Hariri assassination, the tourism industry was beginning to flourish once again. An impressive new airport had been opened, hotels had been built, the downtown district of Beirut had been beautifully restored, beach resorts were full of tourists, roads were being resurfaced, flyovers built and investors from the Gulf had promised to build developments along the coast.
But now we see this tiny country being torn apart. All the hard work of the past 15 years destroyed in one week, and a million people displaced. The human cost and the destroyed infrastructure are not the only catastrophes. The bombed fuel tankers have leaked oil into the sea and the beautiful warm Mediterranean waters where we swam so happily just weeks ago are now a thick black sludge. War has brought an end, too, to conservation projects to protect rare turtles.
The hearts of Lebanese people all over the world are breaking as they see all their dreams of returning home one day go up in flames for the sake of a war between two sides that they don't support. Lebanon is a beautiful country; moutainous, fertile and green, with wonderful beaches and incredible ancient sites. The people are warm and welcoming and live happily side by side, Muslim and Christian.
Hizbollah must be stopped, but Israel cannot destroy them by demolishing Lebanon. By blasting Lebanon to pieces, Israel is feeding them, giving them even more reasons to exist and breeding recruits on their behalf. Every child murdered will create a new army of supporters, and this cycle will go on for eternity. It is Lebanon's tragedy that the Israeli and American governments have not yet grasped this fact.
Sir: Your headline(31 July) asks "What in the name of God have we done to deserve this?" The answer is simple: sheltered and supported Hizbollah, an illegal terrorist organisation which, despite compromises made by Israel in the recent past, still insists on shelling Israeli towns and cities.
I do feel sorry for the innocent Lebanese whose country is being used as a battlefield for an organisation supported by Syria and Iran, but they were told to get out of the area.
Sir: So it's 242 bad, 1559 good; imported Katyushas bad, imported F16s good; democratically elected government in Palestine bad, democratically elected government in Israel good; the dispossessed bad, the dispossessors good. Not exactly even handed is it?
PORT D'ENVAUX, FRANCE
Sir: Peter Slessenger/ Schlesinger (letter, 2 August) does not seem to consider how many of the "too many to count" relatives of his who were murdered in the Holocaust might have survived had the state of Israel existed in 1939.
DR TOM WEINBERGER
Tobacco is the most dangerous drug
Sir: Listing tobacco as being less dangerous than alcohol (1 August), is just about as unhelpful as the classification of illegal drugs into classes A, B and C. Your report is almost utterly without explanation as to what factors are involved or how those factors are positioned in making the final ranking of dangerousness.
Tobacco (ranked number 9) kills 114,000 people in the UK each year, according to the study your report is based on, while alcohol (ranked above tobacco at 5) kills 22,000. This is in spite of the fact that "most adults" drank alcohol but only a minority of adults used tobacco.
Nor does the harm done by tobacco to people who do not use it themselves seem to have been included. What about the 11,000 adult nonsmokers who are killed in the UK each year because of second-hand smoke? That figure alone would bring the total of deaths up to 125,000. Even this figure (from a study in early 2005) ignores the now firming evidence about the increased risk of breast cancer among second-hand-smoking women.
The number of non-fatal diseases and symptoms suffered by nonsmokers due to tobacco smoke is much, much longer. For instance, many asthmatics suffer asthma attacks triggered by tobacco smoke. Thousands of children suffer from glue ear because of adults' cigarette smoke. Are these factors not a form of "social harm and physical damage" that should have been included in the calculations?
All in all, tobacco should probably be placed at the top of the list.
Sir: Nigel Morris highlights the problems for ministers and the public regarding the classification of drugs ("Drug 'classes' have little link to the dangers", 1 August). We know drugs and alcohol can cause serious harm regardless of their legal status.
This makes drugs-prevention work, such as the provision of aspirational activities and mentoring schemes, vital at an early age, to help protect young people.
This is why we have launched schemes such as the Alcohol Misuse Prevention Awards, which recognises the best work from around the UK helping children develop healthy behaviour before harm occurs from this legal and socially acceptable drug.
We need more information on the harm drugs can cause and how to reduce it. The Government should put its money where its mouth is and fund sensible, evidence-based prevention work.
MENTOR UK, LONDON EC2
Sir: I am confused; if alcohol and tobacco are responsible for hundreds more times the deaths than, say heroin, then why are they so low down on the list? Or is death less important than economic cost? Or, as is more likely, the duty returns on both outweigh the negatives?
Commercialisation of stem-cell research
Sir: Roger Dobson's review (1 August) of the therapeutic potential of stem cells described them as a cure for "all our ills". Key to this collective benefit will be the future role played by the UK Stem Cell Bank which holds stem cell lines as public goods, available to medical research at marginal cost for eventual use in the NHS.
Elsewhere, especially in the United States, the privatisation and patenting of lines has created a market for stem cells that undermines the key requirement for the sustainability of research, a preparedness to donate tissue.
It is somewhat ironic that Bush's hostility to stem-cell research on moral grounds is heard in a country where commercialisation and declining donation go hand in hand.
PROFESSOR ANDREW WEBSTER
STEM CELL INITIATIVE, UNIVERSITY OF YORK
Sir: The article on stem cells may have given the impression that most patients with leukaemia receive a stem-cell transplant as part of their treatment. In fact, the majority of patients do not receive transplants; first-line treatment is chemotherapy with established anti-cancer drugs. For patients who do require a transplant, it is often the only potentially curative treatment.
A significant problem in finding donors for transplants is the shortage of potential donors of black, minority ethnic or mixed ancestry - this is because a patient is far more likely to find a tissue-matched donor from a person of the same ethnicity. For patients who face such problems stem-cell research may offer new solutions; for other patients refinements in existing treatments are likely to be more significant.
CLINICAL INFORMATION OFFICER, LEUKAEMIA RESEARCH FUND, LONDON WC1
Lustful sparrows inspire the poets
Sir: Your fascinating article "The Secret Life of Sparrows" (2 August) mentions two love poems by Catullus, written in the first century BC. In fact sparrows and their erotic connotations can be found in literature from an even earlier period. They are mentioned in Homer (circa 700BC), and 100 years later there is a lovely poem by the Greek poetess Sappho, writing on the island of Lesbos, an invocation to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, in which the goddess's chariot is drawn by sparrows. Sparrows and their lecherous habits have been noted by poets for more than two and a half millennia; it's just a pity that those habits should not have proved more effective in arresting their recent decline.
Sir: According to your report of 3 August, a 12 per cent fall in the potato harvest (output down by 720,000 to 5.28m) has been accompanied by a 36 per cent increase in wholesale potato prices. The potato industry's revenue seems therefore to have increased by 20 per cent: hardly the disaster for the farming industry that your article portrays.
THORNTON HEATH, SURREY
Sir: Mark Austin (Letters, 31 July) may be correct when he points out a correlation between solar activity and the changes in global temperature since 1860. But these cyclical changes account for only part of the temperature trend. If solar cycles were the only cause of temperature changes, we would expect to reach the 1940s peak by about 2020. This peak was passed in 1980 and we are now at least 0.4C above the 1940s peak and 0.7C above the one in the late 1870s. Global temperatures are rising faster than can be explained by natural cycles.
GRAHAM P DAVIS
Bath's Roman baths
Sir: I was very surprised to discover that, according to your News Quiz (1 August), the Roman Baths at Bath have been closed for 30 years. I think not. Rather like the Windmill Theatre, the Roman Baths never closed. However, the swimming baths were closed, due to a combination of an over-anxious public health department and an amoeba which in very rare and unusual circumstances may cause meningitis. In New Zealand, which is much more laid-back about these matters, they just tell you not to put your head under the water.
Scientists find work
Sir: I sympathise with Michael Petek's disappointment in his search for work (Letters, 2 August). However, the answer is clearly not to close the door to the people who escape from the trap of poverty through education. While all degrees teach graduates in ways of thought and approaching problems that employers value, the mistake is in assuming they represent a guarantee of a job. Michael suggests that vocational courses are more appropriate. Quite so. I cannot think of a science, engineering or medicine graduate of my acquaintance who is not using their skills in their work.
Sir: I have been a victim of the postal system in which size matters (Letters, 28 July). In the USA, I mailed Christmas cards to other parts of North America from a Manhattan post office and was stunned to discover that the cost of each related to the envelope size. Square envelopes presented a particular problem. In Canada, one has to have the precise post code and a return address on each item and even then there is also a distinct possibility of non-delivery. Our system is still far superior to many other so-called developed countries.
FLEET, HAMPSHIREReuse content