Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Our Man In Havana by Armstrong Williams
As the rumors of Cuban President Fidel Castro's impending mortality spread we here in The U.S. should resist the temptation to gloat over his imminent demise. Instead times of change require us to take a rigorous look at the path that led us to the present.
Lest we forget, in our righteous indignation over Cuba's present state of dictatorship and failed economy, Castro's regime rose to power precisely because our man in Havana at the time of the revolution of January 1959, Fulgencio Batista, had usurped power and abused his authority. Cuba did not descend from democracy to its present state of despotism. Indeed, the current dictator inherited a state already suffering from rigid authoritarianism. Then, as now, Cubans did not enjoy freedom of the press, political dissent was met with harsh repression, and the country was entrenched in a tradition of social and economic inequality. Indeed Batista's corrupt rule and ruthless disregard for human rights sewed the seeds of discontent upon which Castro's revolution fed and grew to maturity.
A rigorous examination of the past would reveal that America has never been an innocent bystander in the affairs of Cuba. Our government quietly assented to Batista's rise to power by armed coup in 1952, even though it knew he was backed in large part by the Sicilian Mafia, whom he had befriended while in exile in Daytona Beach in the 1940s. American foreign policy turned a blind eye as Cuba descended from a fledgling democracy with a literate middle class into a bordello of organized crime, gambling and prostitution. In a cynical display of realpolitik that would presage our dealings in the middle-east and other places in the world where our interests are often promoted at the expense of our principles, the Roosevelt administration not only backed the Batista regime, but armed it against the popular rebellion of a morally outraged Cuban citizenry.
With a band of only eight hundred ideologically fervent troops, Fidel Castro was able to defeat a much larger U.S.-backed Cuban army and seize power from a demoralized regime that had lost the confidence of its people. Many Cubans initially rejoiced in his triumph and backed Fidel's platform of ridding the country of corruption, promoting social and economic equality, and holding free and fair elections. Sadly, though, Castro could never deliver on that promise, and instead dragged Cuba into a dangerous game of cold war gamesmanship culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and precipitated a permanent freeze on U.S.-Cuba relations that has lasted until today.
Further, Castro quickly found out that fomenting rebellion and leading a nation are different beasts entirely. While it makes good revolutionary rhetoric to advance the notion of extracting resources from the indolent rich and handing them over to the deserving poor, Castro's experiment with state-owned economy failed because it could not capture the spirit of innovation and enterprise that arises only in free societies. Consequently, tens of thousands of Cuban citizens, their rights trampled and property confiscated by Castro's regime fled the country, draining it of much needed human capital. To compensate for the dramatic decline in productivity caused by government usurpation of private enterprise, Cuba accrued a staggering foreign debt burden, currently owing billions of dollars to both Western nations and Russia, and appears at the head of a list of failed regimes clamoring for debt forgiveness from the leading world economies.
On the other side of the coin, under Castro's regime, access to medical care and education for the vast majority of poor and working class Cubans increased dramatically. Illiteracy in Cuba is a thing of the past. Currently, Cuba has one of the highest average life expectancies - the average Cuban lives to over 75 years old --- and lowest infant mortality rates in the world. This is something no market economy has been able to achieve, even here in America. As such, Cuba has become a model among Latin American countries such as Venezuela, whose leftist elected president Hugo Chavez has closely aligned himself with Castro and against the United States.
The answer to the question about how we should relate to Cuba in the post-Castro era has to be placed within the wider context of America's leadership in a world terrorized by evil forces. The question is whether we should shun those we disagree with, or welcome them into the fold. The question is whether or not embargoing Cuba for forty years has ultimately harmed our interests and betrayed our principles. The answer will require courage and introspection. And it won't be easy.
Armstrong Williams can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him at www.armstrongwilliams.com
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
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