Friday, December 19, 2014

Obama, Cuba and Trickle-Down Democracy

Obama has missed yet another opportunity for historical greatness.  He came close. But his lack of understanding of what has been happening in Latin America shows. The opportunity to eliminate "Castroism" and the culture of "caudillismo" ("the military strongman politics") from the Latin American scene just went passed by right under his watch.

What may seem to him and to the academic left as a great achievement may be in fact a setback for Latin America.  But we must remember that for that academic left in the U.S. the Castro dictatorship is not Castro’s doing but the fault of the United States. Castro never had any other alternative but to be a dictator, so the leftist lore goes.

But this is where the shallow understanding of Cuba and Latin America shows.  On one hand, they have always denied that Cuba is a dictatorship, and on the other hand they accept that the Castro regime is a dictatorship, although not his fault. If the U.S. had not embargoed Cuba, Cuba would have been a democratic socialist paradise. It is the fault of the U.S. that socialism has failed to flourish to its maximum expression in Cuba. It was the U.S. who turned Castro into a dictator. On the other hand, Cuba’s socialist success cannot be possible without American capitalism; the irony is lost, somehow, that without the participation of the U.S. economy in Cuba, Cuba’s “socialist” experiment cannot be.

But if Obama said something truly correct about Cuba, buried in his speech, is the fact of the regime’s imminent collapse.  Yet, what Obama has done is save it from that collapse and in doing so it has given away the major negotiating advantage the U.S. had to demand clear and verifiable reforms and democratization in Cuba.

But that American academic left has always lived in denial that in Cuba exists a Stalinist style regime. They have denied and ignored the existence of political prisoners, many, if not most, Afro-Cubans. So perhaps, there is no rush to accept those facts, even now.

Why? It could be because for that American academic left Cuba has always represented the model for Latin America (and the U.S.) to follow; the model for socialized medicine, socialized education, etc.  That left cannot contemplate the Castros ending like Ceaușescu in Romania.

At a time when Latin American is searching for a new footing, reexamining its economic and political thinking, turning away from statist and populist caudillo politics, President Obama has given the Castro dictatorship a new lease on life and still a place and role on the hemispheric stage.  In granting full diplomatic recognition to the Castros, without any democratic concessions in return, Obama has validated a Latin American military dictatorship.

The total and formal elimination of the embargo is in the hands of Congress. It’s in the hands of Congress now to implement the “stick and carrots” steps necessary to extract concessions from the Castros and at the same time avoid a catastrophic collapse of the regime.  Meanwhile, what Obama has done with his unilateral give-away is insured the legitimation and consolidation of everything the Castros and their generals have appropriated for themselves and their progeny.

Could there be a silver lining in all this?  Perhaps. Albeit, unintended, we may see some trickle-down economy for all Cubans coming down from the new state-capitalist elite in Cuba.  And who knows, we might even see some trickle-down democracy.


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