Friday, August 14, 2009

Two Comments on Exporting Democracy

The Pastors for Peace article and photos are here

My own impression from a decade of annual visits to Cuba is there are ideological and practical differences between Cubans, including Fidel and Raul, on how the country can most effectively meet contemporary domestic and international challenges. It is apparent that Fidel has trouble taking on a Nelson Mandela role of revered but uninvolved founding father, and that his personal engagement has complicated Raul's efforts at reform.

However, I am disturbed by Americans, whether friendly or hostile, becoming strongly involved in another country's internal social and political choices. Making Fidel a savior or a devil and elevating idealized revolutionaries or marginal dissidents and bloggers to more than symbolic political significance complicates the task facing Americans.

Our job is to simply give Cubans as much space as is possible in this densely interconnected world to sort out their own priorities and personalities. Getting President Obama to end limits on non-tourist travel and the Congress to enable tourism and all other travel are the first essential steps to opening windows and doors for dialogue and confidence building. Terminating interventionist USAID programs, US Interests Section sponsorship of dissidents and hostile TV and radio broadcasts and the false characterization of Cuba as a State Supporter of Terrorism are the second step toward normalcy. Listening to virtually the whole world and ending the aggression of a unilateral embargo is the third and most decisive stage.

Whomever is in charge of Cuba's government, Fidel, Raul, or their collective successors will by choice or necessity engage with that new reality. My guess, and only a guess, is that the initial direction will be similar to Vietnam, opening to domestic and international market economics and increasing the amount of personal freedom.

Where that goes and how fast in terms of American and Hemispheric concepts of freedom of association, press and governance is only up to the people and institutions of Cuba. The more we insist, from the left, center or right, on what should happen, the harder it is for an organic evolution to take place.


You are to be congratulated for the diversity of your readership. So far the comment makers tend more to the devil than savior interpretation of Fidel. For historical context they might want to read what appeared in the English press after the American Revolution.

There remain analogues in the Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian refugee communities, especially among political leaders whose power in part derives from stoking the fires of resentment and nostalgia. However, they do not control US policy and, as with Cuban Americans, do not represent predominant sentiments. More significant are those who regularly visit their homeland, send remittances, invest in small and large enterprises, and increasingly choose to retire there.

Re your comment,
"I don’t agree. We love our freedom and democracy and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to export that to Cuba."

It is not wrong to aspire; it is wrong and counterproductive to try to export.

First one must be realistic about what our democracy consists of. I cut my political teeth in the civil rights movement in the south. Until very recently citizens of the US were denied the right to vote because of race and suffered many forms of discrimination. In a way, it was even worse that the rest of the country knew of and tolerated gross forms of discrimination, not to mention practiced its own subtler forms of prejudice, including in housing and employment.

We also have a history of political repression when our system feels threatened, in the last century the Palmer Raids, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, etc. Then we can look at the last Administration which came to power as the result of a Supreme Court coup and proceeded to shred fundamental Constitutional rights after 9/11.

I have been a Democratic Party activist much of my life and treasure our freedoms of speech, assembly and competitive elections. But I am also aware of the disproportionate role that money, concentrated power, and high tech psychological manipulation play in our democratic choices.

I see many problems in Cuba's system of government and economy, and frankly discuss my views with friends there, as they do their perspective on the US. However we cannot escape the reality of history. Every time the US intervened in Latin American, it was justified by democratic rhetoric, including in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Granada and Panama. There is well documented evidence that we were largely motivated by economic and security self-interest. We have a disgraceful history of colluding with some of the most outrageously oppressive regimes in the Hemisphere. (These are the reasons the rest of the Hemisphere disagree so strongly with our Cuba policy and are uneasy with the ambiguity of our response to the Honduras coup.)

Our original role in Cuba was justified as freeing the country from Spanish colonialism, but most Cubans feel we hijacked their long painful independence struggle, imposed our racial prejudices and made them a neo-colony via the Platt Amendment which lives on in the unequal treaty that gives us control of Guantanamo. Our role before the 1959 revolution led to foreign domination of Cuba's economy and a heavy hand in its politics. Since the revolution we have used every form of intervention imaginable to impose our interests, not least the embargo.

Some dissidents and bloggers no doubt are true patriots, committed to a free and independent Cuba. Others presumably have less noble agendas. In any case, they are entitled to the same rights of free speech and assembly as everyone else in the world. However, many opponents of rulers face denial at least as grave as in Cuba, including by countries with which the US is closely allied or at least enjoys normal diplomatic and economic relations.

Inescapably dissidents and hostile bloggers are seen as intentional or unconscious agents of the overwhelmingly powerful neighbor. The more they are lionized here, the more certain is the conviction in Cuba that they are tools and allies of their enemy and the more subject they are to control and repression. We all make compromises with our ideals in order to have an effect on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. People whose standing outside their culture and country is disproportionate to their role inside can be misled as to their personal importance and power and lose touch with what really matters to bring about internal change.

As I wrote in my first post, the way to achieve space for Cuba as a country and Cubans as people is to back off, to try to overcome a tendency especially pervasive in big and powerful countries, regardless of ideology, to think their values and practices are naturally and inherently superior. Fittingly we can do far more to expand freedom in Cuba by expanding it here.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development


leoasi said...

Hola, muy bueno tu blog, los invito a todos a llegarse a CUBA NOTICIAS el sitio de los cubanos, pon tus posts o otras noticias cubanas de cualquier pagina, para que sean comentadas y votadas si tus posts alcanzan suficientes votos llegaran a la portada y seran vistos por miles de personas,tambien podras comentar y votar los otros posts que prefieras, CUBA NOTICIAS es el sitio donde están los verdaderos temas sobre la realidad cubana escritos por cubanos de todo el mundo.


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