19 February 2008

Take the Cuba Quiz!

This is a simple multiple choice challenge. Match the statement issued today on Fidel Castro's resignation with the U.S. presidential candidate who uttered it:

1. "I think this provides a great opportunity for the people of Cuba. I'm hoping that the new leadership will take steps to move Cuba toward democracy, release political prisoners, lift a lot of the oppressive burdens that have prevented the Cuban people from really having the kind of future that they deserve to have.
“Certainly the people of the United States would meet a new government to talk about what needs to happen, if that new government takes some action that demonstrates they're willing to change. And so we're hoping that we'll see some evidence of that. But it is a very stark reminder that even if you've been in power for 50 years you cannot hold onto power forever and people of Cuba deserve to have leadership that respects their human rights and gives them the opportunity to fulfill their own destiny. We need a president who will work with countries around the world, in Europe and the Western hemisphere to push Cuba now to join the community of nations and to become a democracy and I will certainly do that as president."

2. "Today should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba's history. Fidel Castro's stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba. Cuba's future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime. The prompt release of all prisoners of conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past. It's time for these heroes to be released.
"If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring the Americans together."

3. "Today's resignation of Fidel Castro is nearly half a century overdue. For decades, Castro oversaw an apparatus of repression that denied liberty to the people who suffered under his dictatorship. Yet freedom for the Cuban people is not yet at hand, and the Castro brothers clearly intend to maintain their grip on power. That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections. Cuba's transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when -- not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba. The Cuban people have waited long enough."

4."The Cuban people deserve nothing less than free and fair elections which would provide the only hope for a prosperous and democratic Cuba. Until Fidel Castro is dead there can be no significant movement towards reform in Cuba. Raul Castro has proven that he's as much a tyrant and dictator as his brother Fidel. Simply providing more power to another dictator does nothing to promote freedom and democracy to the Cuban people."

A. Sen. Hillary Clinton

B. Gov. Mike Huckabee

C. Sen. John McCain

D. Sen. Barack Obama

It doesn't look like there's much difference, apart from No. 4's admirable brevity. On some issues, apparently, partisanship is irrelevant. In this country, dictatorship is one of those issues, especially at election time, and especially if you're a presidential candidate hoping for Florida's vote. If you must know who's who, you can figure it out here.

Overlooked in the rush to condemn Castro is the unusual fact of his resignation. To my knowledge, he is, to say the least, very rare among first-generation Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leaders in giving up supreme power while still alive. More typically, thinking of Stalin, Mao, Tito, Kim Il Sung, etc., you have to pry power from these people's cold, dead hands. Maybe Castro is different in having a brother he can trust rather than dubious underlings. But maybe he's different in not having absolute power as the be-all-end-all of his existence, or in thinking that he has better things to do in the time remaining for him than governing a country.

But how can that be if he's a dictator? Doesn't that make him by definition a power-mad bloodthirsty megalomaniac? The answer depends on whether you define dictatorship as a political form or a personality type, and whether you believe that a rational, humane person could come to believe that dictatorship is necessary, and that necessity requires him to be a dictator.

Before you dismiss that possibility, consider that the line separating dictatorship from revolution is very lightly drawn. Even if Gandhi is your model, any revolution is an act of coercion. It might be moral coercion through shaming your oppressor, but more often it requires physical coercion as well, because revolution presupposes resistance -- otherwise mere reform should suffice. Americans forget themselves if they think you can, or they did, have a revolution without coercion -- not just military force against Britain, but coercion against Tories, many of whom ended up fleeing the country. I doubt if any objective person would say that Tories were treated fairly during the American Revolution. But if you're convinced that Independence is necessary, will you really allow one group's objections to obstruct you until you can someday convince them that you're right?

For all that the word revolution evokes the turning of a wheel, revolutionaries act on the assumption that there is no turning back or returning to your starting point. If anyone proposed returning the U.S. to British rule, he'd be considered a traitor. If someone proposes turning back from a communist revolution, a Leninist regards him as a counter-revolutionary, in effect the same thing as a traitor. The Leninist errs in thinking he has to arrest every counter-revolutionary, or at least enough to intimidate the rest. But he has as much right to insist that there be no turning back as an American has to insist that there's no going back to Britain. If you say otherwise, you're really saying that revolutions have no right to exist, or that revolutions lose legitimacy if even one person objects and suffers for it.

None of this is a judgment on the Cuban revolution. I don't know enough about it, and I'm ashamed to admit that my image of the Batista regime is largely molded by The Godfather Part II, but I tend to be biased in favor of free speech, and I've never been a Castro fan. I don't think revolutionaries have to arrest dissidents or suppress free speech, though they have a right to defend themselves from actual coup attempts, but I don't necessarily think that suppressing dissent automatically disqualifies a revolution from legitimacy. I'm willing to believe that there are times when individual rights are not the sole or supreme value. If you believe that a nation is something more than an accidental collection of individuals, or a police force protecting the haves from the have-nots, you should be willing to at least consider the point.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

Also, please keep in mind that the people who really lost during the Cuban revolution were people who did not have the best interests of Cuba at heart---they were American mobsters and the Cubans who sided with them. Their sole interest was in how much profit they could squeeze from the populace. Anyone who didn't support the revolution, in effect, supports crime cartels. Now ask yourself which is worse? A country run by outsiders who are also members of organized crime families or a communist regime who at least tries to deal with the problems of the people?