A Cargo Cult of Allegations


Editor’s note: this past week I received considerable correspondence that denounced the presence of José Azel’s article on “The Cuban ‘Cargo Cult.’” Two strongly worded and lengthy emails came from Ana Dopico and alleged plagiarism, echoed by about half a dozen additional emails and further comments and tweets. However, since the accusations were plainly without basis, I rejected any request for his article to be taken down.

The PanAm Post was far from alone in receiving hostile correspondence, so Azel has had little choice but to defend himself. Here is his letter in response to the false allegations, unedited and republished in full.

April 17, 2015

Ana Dopico
Director, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU
53 Washington Square South, Suite 201, New York, NY 10012
Tel: 212-998-3655; Fax: 212-998-4804
Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Comparative Literature
New York University
19 University Place, Room 419
New York, NY 10003

Señora Dopico,

As promised in my email of 15 April, when I got home last night I looked immediately, and FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE at the blog you referenced of which I had no knowledge. Frankly, I see no similarity between your arguments and the ones in my article: Raul Castro y el “culto a la carga.” In fact, I could not find a single sentence that could even remotely be viewed as taken from your piece. Sadly, you have elected not to respond to my effort to reach out to you.

As I informed you on 15 April, I was not even aware of your blog where you use the term in an entirely different context. I do not plagiarize. If you want to see how generously I credit authors see for example my article “Latin America’s ‘Wiki-constitutionalism’” published in The Miami Herald in 2013.

I also note in the first paragraph of my article the term “cargo cult” is often used by social scientists in a number of different ways. I also mention in my article, with full accreditation, the metaphorical use, which you, I, and many others employ is attributed to renowned physicist Richard Feynman who popularized the term in 1974. Parenthetically, I did not see the attribution to Dr. Feynman in your blog.

A search on Google of the term “cargo cult” does not reveal any reference to your blog and the Wikipedia definition of the term does not reference your blog in its notes or references. My article does not make any etymological claims to the use of the term cargo cult or to its metaphorical use with regards to Cuba. In fact, the gist of my journalistic article is to poke fun at General Raul Castro. There was no need for me to search for provenance of Cuba and Cargo Cult.

On the other hand, you do seem to be making an academic all encompassing etymological first use claim to the use of the term cargo cult with reference to Cuba. In which case, you are certainly expected to conduct an exhaustive etymological search. I fear you did not, and your self righteous claim is certainly suspect.

The term cargo cult has been used with reference to Cuba way before you or I used it. A fact my researcher discovered ex post facto, as a result of your unfortunate attack on my character. Just as a sampler here are three authors that use of the term cargo cult with respect to Cuba. We have identified others, which will be revealed in the discovery process.

  • Rieff, David. The Exile: Cuba in the Heart of Miami. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 187.
  • Gonzalez, Servando. The Nuclear Deception: Nikita Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Oakland, CA: Spooks Books, 2002), 192.
  • Hawisher, Gail E., and Cynthia L. Selfe. Global Literacies and the World-Wide Web. (London: Routledge, 2000), 218.

Perhaps you were not aware of these prior usages (I certainly was not), or perhaps you did not think their work touched on your work. But that is precisely the courtesy you should have afforded me before launching your campaign to discredit my scholarly reputation without reaching out to me for a conversation that could have addressed this issue in one minute.

Again, I cannot find in your blog any accreditation to these authors who, as far back as 1993, began using the term cargo cult with specific references to Cuba. Given this prior usage, it is hard for me to understand how your use in a very recent and obscure blog would grant you the proprietorship you claim.

You claim your blog is not obscure, but one with worldwide readership. That is an empirical question that will be addressed with readership statistics that will be compelled as part of the discovery process. I base my tangential inference statement in the supporting fact that my researcher tells me that you have only 72 followers on Twitter — not an impressive number. Frankly, I barely know how to use Twitter and I show five times as many users.

But perhaps more perplexing to me is your approach to problem solving. My email was listed in the article you question to facilitate contact with the author, but instead of contacting me you elected to:

1. Call and write a lengthy vitriolic and accusatory e-mail to my employer accusing me of plagiarism and more. This is a serious accusation that seeks to impair my livelihood.

2. Call and write to the editors of El Nuevo Herald — who had published my article in Spanish — with the same accusations and also requesting that they remove the article and issue a retraction of some sort, impeaching my professional reputation.

3. Call and write the editor of the PanAm Post who had published the English version of my article to also demand that the article be removed, etc.

4. You sent a second rather threatening email to this organization when the editor decided not to remove the article.

5. Specifically, in the above noted communications, you made the following false and defamatory statements, directly and by implication:

a. you were the original creator of the idea of making an analogy between a Cargo Cult and Cuba (“(Azel) used without attribution the well-known and original analysis of Cuba as a Cargo Cult that I have written about . . . “);

b. your analysis of Cuba as a Cargo Cult was  well-known and original (“(Azel) used without attribution the well-known and original analysis of Cuba as a Cargo Cult that I have written about”);

c. my article constituted  plagiarism, namely the knowing passing off of your original ideas and analysis as my own (“it is plagiarism”);

d. my article constituted a  recapitulation of your analysis (“Azel’s indisputable recapitulation of my analysis”);

e. I knowingly used your material and your ideas without attribution (“Azel’s indisputable recapitulation of my analysis”; “it is plagiarism”; “Mr. Azel’s unattributed use of my work”;  “its use of unattributed material”);

f. my alleged used or your materials and your ideas was caused by my disdain for scholarly or written practice and integrity. (“ . . . this is a violation of academic integrity, or at the very least a sign of sloppiness and disdain for scholarly or written practice and integrity”);

g. I wrote my article without conducting or following the basic rules of research. (“disdain for the basic rules of research”).

6. In all this correspondence you elected to gratuitously copy a number of individuals and scholars with the only purpose, I suppose, of impugning my character as widespread as possible. Involving unrelated third parties from the start can only be interpreted as an effort to harm my reputation, which you have done.

7. I suspect you did more, judging by the postings on my Facebook page and Tweets repeating your accusations of plagiarism. This too will fully surface in the discovery and deposition phases.

You undertook this extensive defamation campaign instead of simply reaching out to me as the author of the article for a clarification or to make me aware of your feelings. Why? It is quite clear to me that your objective was not to inform me of your claim, but only to impugn my character and to damage my reputation. The conventional thing to do was simply to call me or write me an e-mail. Yet, you elected, from the beginning, to launch a destructive campaign without extending me the courtesy of a simple phone call. How unfortunate.

And yet, I will, as a gentleman, extend you the courtesy that you did not extend to me. It is going to be nearly impossible to un-ring the bell you rang by spreading defamatory and false statements about my character and my work. But I will give you the opportunity to do so. If you undertake immediate and heroic efforts to undue the damage you have caused to my reputation I will consider not undertaking the next step.

Govern yourself accordingly.


José Azel
Senior Researcher
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS), University of Miami

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