Democracy v. Dictatorship

by on August 30, 2017 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights

Image via Pixabay

By Stan Levin

Among the myriad of political systems societies flirt with, the most fragile revolutionary experiment — and possibly least likely to endure — might be democracy.

An ideal that people of different persuasions would willfully and collectively empower one another for the well-being of all defies odds. Democracy requires adherents to accept that all people have value, and are entitled to safe and satisfying lives, eschewing exploitation of any kind.

Dictatorship — the antithesis of democracy — once entrenched, may endure for generations before being dislodged, which not a simple process. Differences between styles of government are generally understood. Fidel Castro’s reign illustrates totalitarianism, as does the current, cruel regime of Kim Jong Un. There have been many tyrannical overlords in history visiting chaos and misery upon vast numbers of hapless humans.

How could a functioning democracy, lofty in idealism and benefits, morph into a regressive Dictatorship, foreclosing millions from a decent life, so as to nurture a small number of privileged individuals?

The answer brings this narrative to Donald Trump, whose maddening shenanigans are staged to deliver, by force or subterfuge, the assets and subservience of Americans into the hands of a favored few at the expense of everyone else. No holds barred.

Nothing is too immoral, illegal or insidious when seeking a democracy/dictatorship conversion. The fix is in for the Trump clan to emerge as the “winners take all.” Strategies spawning dictatorship are textbook, reflecting a recipe masterfully constructed by Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527).

In his treatise, “The Prince,” a bible for tyrants, he famously established a set of rules for dictators. Machiavelli’s prescriptions have since been applied to deceive inattentive, ill-informed masses who were unaware of or apathetic about who was running the show, instead being immersed in satisfying their own priorities. The Prince’s the priorities are simply to acquire and hold power, with an emphasis on self-gratification, ruthlessness and unbridled cruelty in the acquisition process.

We can observe Trump behaving daily in the Machiavellian tradition. He demonstrates a singular lack of compassion for all of those outside his circle. Voters have enthusiastically invited a bit-by-bit takeover of their lives by The Prince, gradually increasing their powerlessness. It has become imperative that Americans not acquiesce to the benefit of the rich and powerful.

We are witnessing fear-engendering historical events that are loudly clanging the death knell of the Grand American Experiment, and its descent into the hell of The Great Dictatorship. Control of the affairs of our nation have been gifted to a madman, whose narcissism and purposes are transparent. His subordinates are, in large measure, compliant with his nefarious anti-democratic, self-serving antics.

Greedy, cowardly, complicit politicians are striving vigorously to salvage their own skins and bank accounts, showing little concern for dignity, honor or dedication to their constituencies, who have entrusted them with enviable careers. Those shameful politicians are, like Trump, Machiavellian.

The president’s blatant purging of persons he perceives as threats to his ambition, his rejection of persons of competence and experience, his inclusion of incompetents in their stead, the vesting of authority in lock-step followers, and disregard for the Constitution are all perilous assaults on democracy.

Loyalty, above all else, is paramount, and Trump’s sole criterion for his hopeful underlings who value their own lives. His reckless destruction of governmental norms are steps to tyrannical domination. And apparently many proponents, who ought to know better, failing to satisfy whims of The Prince could at any moment become grist for his mill.

Appointments to the power pyramid, including family, are charged with making decisions bearing on the lives of millions subject to Trump’s blessing. Those lackeys, as well, should they be so audacious as to attempt to constrain The Prince, will be risking their own skins.

Trump’s, despite the glaring deficiencies of basic qualities required of a leader of a free society, has played his cards cleverly and cynically to a sufficiently compliant public, crushing resistance in the mold of Adolf Hitler (who, lest we forget, deceived the German people and turned the world upside down).

In the event Trump manages to install adoring, boot-licking yes-people by executing a massive purge of qualified leaders, then he will have achieved carte blanche to govern, absent dissent and constraints, with absolute power.

And that, my fellow citizens, will define the demise of democracy in America.

 


Stan Levin is a Korean War veteran and active member of San Diego chapter Veterans for Peace.

This post first appeared at San Diego Free Press.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Patterson August 30, 2017 at 5:29 pm

For a scholarly study of resistance to fascism, and worse, watch this speech by Erica Chenoweth. My take away is that non-violence sometimes works, but violence never works to the benefit of the people. Pass this on to those that are thinking violence is the way forward.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6jJGFv23Jw&index=2&list=PLsiZ_HNqGdBpP-M0AwGsA7Vv8vWdhZZf6

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie September 1, 2017 at 11:25 am

Thanks Dave, don’t agree with ya here. One can be against violence and still appreciate the need to take up arms against an oppressor; our revolutionary foremothers and forefathers did against the British; my father served during WWII against the Nazis and Japanese imperialists.

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Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 10:57 pm

“Fidel Castro’s reign illustrates totalitarianism” (Stan Levin)
“Now we shall have to pay for those sins” (JFK 1960)

“I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I believe that we created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it. I believe that the accumulation of these mistakes has jeopardized all of Latin America. The great aim of the Alliance for Progress is to reverse this unfortunate policy. This is one of the most, if not the most, important problems in America foreign policy. I can assure you that I have understood the Cubans. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.” (October 24, 1963, John F. Kennedy interview with Jean Daniel Bensaid, reporter with the French Le Express newspaper)

On March 10, 1952, three months before the elections, Batista, with army backing, staged a coup and seized power. He ousted outgoing President Carlos Prío Socarrás, canceled the elections and took control of the government as a provisional president. The United States recognized his government on March 27. (Acheson, Dean (1952-03-24). “Continuation of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba”. Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State.)

Throughout the 1950s, Havana served as “a hedonistic playground for the world’s elite”, producing sizable gambling, prostitution and drug profits for the American mafia, corrupt law-enforcement officials, and their politically elected cronies. (William Morgan: A Rebel “Americano” in Cuba at The Cuban History, May 16, 2012)

The playwright Arthur Miller described Batista’s Cuba in The Nation as “hopelessly corrupt, a Mafia playground, (and) a bordello for Americans and other foreigners.” (Cuba Before the Revolution by Samuel Farber, Jacobin Magazine, September 6, 2015)

When asked by the U.S. government to analyze Batista’s Cuba, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said “The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the government’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.” (The Dynamics of World Power: A Documentary History of the United States Foreign Policy 1945-1973, by Arthur Meier Schlesinger, 1973, McGraw-Hill)

According to the International Labour Organization, the average industrial salary in Cuba was the world’s eighth-highest in 1958, and the average agricultural wage was higher than some European nations. However, despite an array of positive indicators, in 1953, the average Cuban family only had an income of $6.00 a week, 15% to 20% of the labor force was chronically unemployed, and only a third of the homes had running water. (Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Democratic Dinner, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 1960 from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands—almost all the cattle ranches—90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions—80 percent of the utilities—practically all the oil industry—and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports. (Ibid)
In a manner that antagonized the Cuban people, the U.S. government used its influence to advance the interests of and increase the profits of the private American companies, which “dominated the island’s economy (Ibid)
As a symbol of this relationship, ITT Corporation, an American-owned multinational telephone company, presented Batista with a Golden Telephone, as an “expression of gratitude” for the “excessive telephone rate increase” that Batista granted at the urging of the U.S. government. (Ibid)

As of the late 1950s, U.S. financial interests owned 90% of Cuban mines, 80% of its public utilities, 50% of its railways, 40% of its sugar production and 25% of its bank deposits—some $1 billion in total.
(Before the Revolution by Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian Magazine, July 31, 2007.)

According to historian Louis Perez, author of the book On Becoming Cuban, “Daily life had developed into a relentless degradation, with the complicity of political leaders and public officials who operated at the behest of American interests.” (Ibid)

In addition, nearly “all aid” from the U.S. to Batista’s government was in the “form of weapons assistance”, which “merely strengthened the Batista dictatorship” and “completely failed to advance the economic welfare of the Cuban people”. Such actions later “enabled Castro and the Communists to encourage the growing belief that America was indifferent to Cuban aspirations for a decent life.” (Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Democratic Dinner, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 1960 from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

According to historian and author James S. Olson, the U.S. government essentially became a “co-conspirator” in the arrangement because of Batista’s strong opposition to communism, which, in the rhetoric of the Cold War, seemed to maintain business stability and a pro-U.S. posture on the island. Thus, in the view of Olson, “The U.S. government had no difficulty in dealing with him, even if he was a hopeless despot.” (Historical Dictionary of the 1950s, by James Stuart Olson, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0-313-30619-2, pp. 67–68)

On October 6, 1960 Senator John F. Kennedy, in the midst of his campaign for the U.S. Presidency, decried Batista’s relationship with the U.S. government and criticized the Eisenhower administration for supporting him:
“Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state—destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista—hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend—at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”
(Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Democratic Dinner, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 1960 from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

“Two years ago in September of 1958 – bands of bearded rebels descended from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains and began their long march on Havana – a march which ended in the overthrow of the brutal, bloody, and despotic dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
The slogans, the manifestos, and the broadcasts of this revolution reflected the deepest aspirations of the Cuban people. They promised individual liberty and free elections. They promised an end to harsh police-state tactics. They promised a better life for a people long oppressed by both economic and political tyranny.
But in the 2 years since that revolution swept Fidel Castro into power, those promises have all been broken. There have been no free elections – and there will be none as long as Castro rules. All political parties – with the exception of the Communist Party – have been destroyed. All political dissenters have been executed, imprisoned, or exiled. All academic freedom has been eliminated. All major newspapers and radio stations have been seized. And all of Cuba is in the iron grip of a Communist-oriented police state.
Castro and his gang have betrayed the ideals of the Cuban revolution and the hopes of the Cuban people.”
(Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Democratic Dinner, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 1960 from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

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Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 11:13 pm

I want to talk with you tonight about the most glaring failure of American foreign policy today – about a disaster that threatens the security of the whole Western Hemisphere – about a Communist menace that has been permitted to arise under our very noses, only 90 miles from our shores. I am talking about the one friendly island that our own shortsighted policies helped make communism’s first Caribbean base: the island of Cuba.
Two years ago in September of 1958 – bands of bearded rebels descended from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains and began their long march on Havana – a march which ended in the overthrow of the brutal, bloody, and despotic dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

The slogans, the manifestos, and the broadcasts of this revolution reflected the deepest aspirations of the Cuban people. They promised individual liberty and free elections. They promised an end to harsh police-state tactics. They promised a better life for a people long oppressed by both economic and political tyranny.

But in the 2 years since that revolution swept Fidel Castro into power, those promises have all been broken. There have been no free elections – and there will be none as long as Castro rules. All political parties – with the exception of the Communist Party – have been destroyed. All political dissenters have been executed, imprisoned, or exiled. All academic freedom has been eliminated. All major newspapers and radio stations have been seized. And all of Cuba is in the iron grip of a Communist-oriented police state.

Castro and his gang have betrayed the ideals of the Cuban revolution and the hopes of the Cuban people.

But Castro is not just another Latin American dictator – a petty tyrant bent merely on personal power and gain. His ambitions extend far beyond his own shores. He has transformed the island of Cuba into a hostile and militant Communist satellite – a base from which to carry Communist infiltration and subversion throughout the Americas. With guidance, support, and arms from Moscow and Peiping, he has made anti-Americanism a sign of loyalty and anti-communism a punishable crime – confiscated over a billion dollars’ worth of American property – threatened the existence of our naval base at Guantanamo – and rattled red rockets at the United States, which can hardly close its eyes to a potential enemy missile or submarine base only 90 miles from our shores.

He has transformed the island into a supply depot for Communist arms and operations throughout South America – recruiting small bands of Communist-directed revolutionaries to serve as the nucleus of future Latin revolutions. “This army,” Castro has boasted, “begins in Cuba and ends in Argentina.” His abusive anti-American and pro-Communist messages are carried in books and newspapers shipped to every corner of the hemisphere – often concealed in diplomatic pouches – and handed out together with Soviet propaganda by the Cuban embassies. Presna Latina – Latin America’s largest news agency, controlled from Havana – carries anti-American and pro-Soviet dispatches throughout the hemisphere. And Radio Mambi – the anchor station of a network which will be beamed at the entire South American continent – broadcasts constant attacks on the United States and the leaders of every Latin American democracy.

Exploiting the twin themes of human misery and Yankee hatred, Castro’s campaign has met with success in almost every country – in Brazil, where both Presidential candidates found it politically expedient to appeal to pro-Castro and anti-American elements in the electorate – in Mexico, where anti-American riots followed pressure on a pro-Castro spokesman – in Guatemala, where Castro-equipped revolutionaries are a real menace – in Uruguay, where a general strike was threatened if Castro was not supported at the San Jose Conference. And – at the same foreign ministers’ conferenc – the United States suffered one of its few diplomatic defeats in the history of inter-American relations, when it was forced to withdraw its protest over Communist efforts in this hemisphere.

This is a critical situation – to find so dangerous an enemy on our very doorstep. The American people want to know how this was permitted to happen – how the Iron Curtain could have advanced almost to our front yard. They want to know the truth – and I believe that they are entitled to the truth. It is not enough to blame it on unknown State Department personnel. Major policy on issues such as Cuban security is made at the highest levels – in the National Security Council and elsewhere – and it is the party in power which must accept full responsibility for this disaster.

The story of the transformation of Cuba from a friendly ally to a Communist base is – in large measure – the story of a government in Washington which lacked the imagination and compassion to understand the needs of the Cuban people – which lacked the leadership and vigor to move forward to meet those needs – and which lacked the foresight and vision to see the inevitable results of its own failures.

And it is a tragic irony that even while these policies of failure here were being pursued our policymakers received repeated and urgent warnings that international communism was becoming a moving force behind Mr. Castro and the revolution – that our interest and the interests of freedom were in danger – that a new Soviet satellite was in the making.

Our Ambassador to Cuba in the early days of the revolution – Arthur Gardner – repeatedly warned the administration that communism was a moving force in the Castro leadership. Testifying recently before a Senate committee, he was asked if he had not reported “that Castro talked and acted like a Communist and should not be supported by the United States.” “That was absolutely correct,” he replied, and he went on to say: “We all knew * * * that Raul Castro was a Communist;” but his warnings, he testified, were ignored, overlooked, or circumvented as the menace of Cuban communism grew.

Our Ambassador to Cuba in the closing years of the revolution – Earl Smith – also warned us that communism threatened Cuba. He, too, was asked by the same Senate committee if he had been warning “that Castro was a Marxist.” “Yes, sir,” he replied; but his warnings also had been consistently ignored.

And the State Department itself, in a paper issued little more than a month ago – belatedly admitted that “Communist influence existed in the early days of the revolution.”

But, if we are not to imitate the partisan irresponsibility of others, we must do more than charge that these storm signals were ignored. The real question is: What should we have done? What did we do wrong? How did we permit the Communists to establish this foothold 90 miles away?

The answer is fourfold.

First, we refused to help Cuba meet its desperate need for economic progress. In 1953 the average Cuban family had an income of $6 a week. Fifteen to twenty percent of the labor force was chronically unemployed.

Only a third of the homes in the island even had running water, and in the years which preceded the Castro revolution this abysmal standard of living was driven still lower as population expansion out-distanced economic growth.

Only 90 miles away stood the United States – their good neighbor – the richest Nation on earth – its radios and newspapers and movies spreading the story of America’s material wealth and surplus crops.

But instead of holding out a helping hand of friendship to the desperate people of Cuba, nearly all our aid was in the form of weapons assistance – assistance which merely strengthened the Batista dictatorship – assistance which completely failed to advance the economic welfare of the Cuban people – assistance which enabled Castro and the Communists to encourage the growing belief that America was indifferent to Cuban aspirations for a decent life.

This year Mr. Nixon admitted that if we had formulated a program of Latin American economic development 5 years ago: “It might have produced economic progress in Cuba which might have averted the Castro takeover.” But what Mr. Nixon neglects to mention is the fact that he was in Cuba 5 years ago himself – gaining experience. He saw the conditions. He talked with the leaders. He knew what our aid program consisted of. But his only conclusion as stated in a Havana press conference, was his statement that he was “very much impressed with the competence and stability” of the Batista dictatorship.

Mr. Nixon could not see then what should have been obvious – and which should have been even more obvious when he made his ill-fated Latin American trip in 1958 – that unless the Cuban people, with our help, made substantial economic progress, trouble was on its way. If this is the kind of experience Mr. Nixon claims entitles him to be President, then I would say that the American people cannot afford many more such experiences.

Secondly, in a manner certain to antagonize the Cuban people, we used the influence of our Government to advance the interests of and increase the profits of the private American companies, which dominated the island’s economy. At the beginning of 1959 U.S. companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands – almost all the cattle ranches – 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions – 80 percent of the utilities – and practically all the oil industry – and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.

Of course, our private investment did much to help Cuba. But our action too often gave the impression that this country was more interested in taking money from the Cuban people than in helping them build a strong and diversified economy of their own.

The symbol of this shortsighted attitude is now on display in a Havana museum. It is a solid gold telephone presented to Batista by the American-owned Cuban telephone company. It is an expression of gratitude for the excessive telephone rate increase which the Cuban dictator had granted at the urging of our Government. But visitors to the museum are reminded that America made no expression at all over the other events which occurred on the same day this burdensome rate increase was granted, when 40 Cubans lost their lives in an assault on Batista’s palace.

The third, and perhaps most disastrous of our failures, was the decision to give stature and support to one of the most bloody and repressive dictatorships in the long history of Latin American repression. Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in 7 years – a greater proportion of the Cuban population than the proportion of Americans who died in both World Wars, and he turned democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty.

Yet, our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror.

Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a stanch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.

In October 1958 just a few days before Batista held a rigged and fraudulent election – Secretary of State Dulles was the guest of honor at a reception held by the Batista Embassy in Washington. The reception made only the social pages in Washington; but it made the Havana–and it was used by Batista to show how America favored his rule.

We stepped up a constant stream of weapons and munitions to Batista – justified in the name of hemispheric defense, when, in fact, their only real use was to crush the dictator’s opposition, and even when the Cuban civil war was raging – until March of 1958 – the administration continued to send arms to Batista which were turned against the rebels – increasing anti-American feeling and helping to strengthen the influence of the Communists. For example, in Santa Clara, Cuba, today there is an exhibit commemorating the devastation of that city by Batista’s planes in December of 1958. The star item in that exhibit is a collection of bomb fragments inscribed with a handshake and the words: “Mutual Defense – made in U.S.A.”

Even when our Government had finally stopped sending arms, our military missions stayed to train Batista’s soldiers for the fight against the revolution – refusing to leave until Castro’s forces were actually in the streets of Havana.

Finally, while we were allowing Batista to place us on the side of tyranny, we did nothing to persuade the people of Cuba and Latin America that we wanted to be on the side of freedom. In 1953 we eliminated all regular Spanish language broadcasts of the Voice of America. Except for the 6 months of the Hungarian crisis we did not beam a single continuous program to South America at any time in the critical years between 1953 and 1960. And less than 500 students a year were brought here from all Latin America during these years when our prestige was so sharply dropping.

It is no wonder, in short, that during these years of American indifference the Cuban people began to doubt the sincerity of our dedication to democracy. They began to feel that we were more interested in maintaining Batista than we were in maintaining freedom – that we were more interested in protecting our investments than we were in protecting their liberty – that we wanted to lead a crusade against communism abroad but not against tyranny at home. Thus, it was our own policies – not Castro’s – that first began to turn our former good neighbors against us. And Fidel Castro seized on this rising anti-American feeling, and exploited it, to persuade the Cuban people that America was the enemy of democracy – until the slogan of the revolution became “Cuba, Si, Yanqui, No” – and Soviet imperialism had captured a movement which had originally sprung from the ideals of our own American Revolution.

The great tragedy today is that we are repeating many of the same mistakes throughout Latin America. The same grievances – the same poverty and discontent and distrust of America which Castro rode to power are smoldering in almost every Latin Nation.

For we have not only supported a dictatorship in Cuba – we have propped up dictators in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic. We not only ignored poverty and distress in Cuba – we have failed in the past 8 years to relieve poverty and distress throughout the hemisphere. For despite the bleak poverty that grips nearly all of Latin America – with an average income of less than $285 a year – with an exploding population that threatens even this meager standard of living – yet our aid programs have continued to concentrate on wasteful military assistance until we made a sudden recognition of their needs for development capital practically at the point of Mr. Castro’s gun.

Today time is running out in Latin America. Our once firm friends are drifting away. Our historic ties are straining under our failure to understand their aspirations. And although the cold war will not be won in Latin America, it could very well be lost there.

If we continue to repeat our past errors – if we continue to care more for the support of regimes than the friendship of people – if we continue to devote greater effort to the support of dictators than to the fight against poverty and hunger – then rising discontent will provide fertile ground for Castro and his Communist friends.

What can a new administration do to reverse these trends? For the present Cuba is gone. Our policies of neglect and indifference have let it slip behind the Iron Curtain – and for the present no magic formula will bring it back. I have no basic disagreement with the President’s policies of recent months – for the time to save Cuba was some time ago.

Hopefully, events may once again bring us an opportunity to bring our influence strongly to bear on behalf of the cause of freedom in Cuba. But in the meantime we can constantly express our friendship for the Cuban people – our sympathy with their economic problems – our determination that they will again be free. At the same time we must firmly resist further Communist encroachment in this hemisphere – working through a strengthened organization of the American States – and encouraging those liberty-loving Cubans who are leading the resistance to Castro. And we must make it clear to Mr. Castro once and for all that we will defend our naval base at Guantanamo under all circumstances – and continue to seek reparation for his seizures of American property.

But whatever we do in Cuba itself, ultimately the road to freedom in Havana runs through Rio and Buenos Aires and Mexico City. For if we are to halt the advance of Latin communism, we must create a Latin America where freedom can flourish – where long enduring people know, at last, that they are moving toward a better life for themselves and their children – where steady economic advance is a framework for stable, democratic Government – and where tyranny, isolated and despised, eventually withers on the vine.

These are difficult problems – problems requiring a program which I will soon discuss in a major address on Latin American policy. But only if we extend the hand of American friendship in a common effort to wipe out the poverty and discontent and hopelessness on which communism feeds – only then will we drive back tyranny until it ultimately perishes in the streets of Havana.

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Cincinnati, Ohio, Democratic Dinner
October 6, 1960

And, so tonight, I address myself not only to the people of Ohio and the people of America, but also to the people of Cuba. And to our friends – the Cuban people – I recall the scriptural injunction: “Be of stout heart. Be not dismayed.” The road ahead will not be easy.

The perils and hardships will be many. But here in America we pledge ourselves to raise high the light of freedom – until it burns brightly from the Arctic to Cape Horn – and one day that light will shine again.

Reply

Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Cincinnati, Ohio, Democratic Dinner
October 6, 1960

Reply

Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 11:38 pm

https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/01/the-fierce-debate-over-castros-legacy/

Fidel Castro’s death, at 90, has sparked a fierce debate in the West over his legacy. I specifically mention the West as elsewhere there is no debate: Castro has rightfully been lauded as one of history’s great emancipators, a man who led a revolution that succeeded in throwing off the yoke of US imperialism.

But in the West the liberal commentariat has united as one in denouncing Castro as an evil tyrant and torturer who ruled Cuba for over five decades with an iron fist, quashing the human rights of the Cuban people, who in the wake of his death can now look forward to the future safe in the knowledge that freedom and democracy beckons.

When we talk about Castro’s critics, it is worth pointing out that we are talking people who live in societies where poverty has been unofficially criminalized and the poor demonized, despised, and abandoned to a fate of destitution and despair. We are talking, in the main, the kind of men and women who walk or drive past the ever-growing army of homeless who colonize the streets of towns and cities throughout the West, casualties of a neoliberal economic system that is the real tyrant in our world, without batting an eyelid. In other words, we are talking people whose condemnation of Fidel Castro is suffused with hypocrisy, the kind that is common among those who have imbibed the received truths of empire. The most fundamental of those truths is that the West has been divinely ordained with the task of colonizing a Third World – culturally, economically, and geopolitically – that consists of peoples of lower cultures, civilizations, and human worth.

The metric by which Castro’s legacy should be judged is the transformation of Cuba as a result of the revolution he led and inspired. And in this regard one salient fact shines forth more than any other – namely that the only place in the world where you will find homeless Cuban children today is Miami.

Let us take a moment to examine in detail the legacy of the “tyrant” Fidel Castro:

+ Cuba is today the only country in the Americas where child malnourishment does not exit (UNICEF).

+ Cuba has the lowest child mortality rate in the Americas (UNICEF).

+ 130,000 students have graduated from medical school in Cuba since 1961.

+ Cuba has eliminated homelessness (Knoema).

+ 54% of Cuba’s national budget is used for social services.

+ Cuba has the best education system in Latin America.

+ Cuba has sent hundreds of doctors and nurses on medical missions across the Third World.

+ Cuba was the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV (World Health Organization).

If only the Haitian people or the people of the Dominican Republic had such a tyrant ruling their countries. If only the poor in the US and UK had such a tyrant at the head of their respective governments.

When it comes to the accusation that gays were persecuted in Cuba after the revolution, there is no doubt that LGBT rights were non-existent in Cuba in the sixties and for most of the seventies, just as they were non existent throughout much of the world. Homosexuality, for example, was decriminalized in Cuba in 1979, which compares favourably to Scotland and Northern Ireland in the UK, where it was decriminalized in 1980 and 1982 respectively. Moreover, same-sex sexual activity was only made legal across the entire United States in 2003. It is also worth bearing in mind that homosexuality today is criminalized in Saudi Arabia – a close UK and US ally and a society in which women are treated as chattel and people are routinely beheaded – where it is punishable by death.

The fact is that the existence of homophobia in Cuba predated Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution by around five centuries. It was entrenched as part of the cultural values of Cuban society, indeed the cultural values throughout the Americas, courtesy of the Catholic Church. Fidel Castro was a product of those values and to his credit later renounced them, awakening to the justice of LGBT rights. Today his own niece, Mariela Castro, plays an active role in the Cuban LGBT community, leading the country’s annual gay pride parade in Havana last year.

As for torture, meanwhile, the only place on the island of Cuba where this can be found is at the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

The key point to be borne in mind when it comes to Cuba and its state of development is that countries and societies do not exist on blank sheets of paper. In the Third World their development cannot be divorced from a real life struggle against the huge obstacles placed in their way by histories of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and imperialism, responsible for retarding their progress in service to the exploitation of their human and natural resources.

The legitimacy of the Cuban Revolution lies in its survival in the face of the aforementioned US blockade, designed to starve the country to its knees for daring to refuse to be slaves of global capital. To understand what that would look like all we need do is cast our eyes over to the aforementioned Haiti or Dominican Republic, countries of comparable size located in the same region. Compared to them Cuba stands as a beacon of dignity, social and economic justice, and sustainable development.

Fidel Castro was no dictator. On the contrary, he dedicated his life to resisting Washington’s dictatorship of the Third World. Moreover, as a result of the Cuban Revolution the right to be homeless, illiterate, and to go without healthcare no longer exists in Cuba. In their place have come the most fundamental human rights of all – the right to be educated, to healthcare that is free at the point of need, and the right to live with dignity and pride in being the citizen of a small island that has stood over decades as a beacon of justice in an ocean of injustice.

This, in truth, is the reason ‘they’ despise him. And this, in truth, is why millions of Cubans will come out and pay tribute to his life and legacy on the day of his funeral. For them he will forever be ‘El Comandante’.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie September 1, 2017 at 11:27 am

Thanks Colin; perhaps you ought to write a post about all of this debate over Cuba and Fidel’s legacy.

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Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 11:40 pm

https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/25/history-will-be-the-judge-fidel-castro-1926-2016/

“While they were in the Sierra Maestra, the direction that the revolution would take was still not clear – even to Castro. Until that point, he had never been a socialist, and relations with the official Cuban Communist Party were often tense. It was the reaction of that noisy and powerful neighbour from the north that helped determine the orientation of the Revolution.”

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader of revolution, has died aged 90. Here is an extract from Tariq Ali‘s introduction to The Declarations of Havana, Verso’s collection of Castro’s speeches.

On 26 July 1953 an angry young lawyer, Fidel Castro, led a small band of armed men in an attempt to seize the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente province. Most of the guerrillas were killed. Castro was tried and defended himself with a masterly speech replete with classical references and quotations from Balzac and Rousseau, that ended with the words: ‘Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.’ It won him both notoriety and popularity.

Released in an amnesty in 1954, Castro left the island and began to organize a rebellion in Mexico. For a time he stayed in the hacienda that had once belonged to the legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. In late November 1956 eighty-two people including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set sail from Mexico in a tiny vessel, the Granma, and headed for the impenetrable, forested hills of the Sierra Maestra in Oriente province.

Ambushed by Batista’s men after they landed, twelve survivors reached the Sierra Maestra and began the guerrilla war. They were backed by a strong urban network of students, workers and public employees who became the backbone of the 26 July Movement. In declarationshavana1958 the guerrilla armies began to move from the mountains to the plains: a column led by Fidel began to take towns in Oriente, while Che Guevara’s irregulars stormed and took the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. The day after, Batista and his Mafia chums fled the island as the Rebel Army, now greeted as liberators, marched across the island into Havana.

The popularity of the Revolution was there for all to see. Castro’s victory stunned the Americas. It soon became obvious that this was no ordinary event. Any doubts as to the Revolution’s intentions were dispelled by the First Declaration of Havana, Castro’s declaration of total Independence from the US made in public before a million people in Revolution Square. Washington reacted angrily and hastily, trying to cordon off the new regime from the rest of the continent.

This led to a radical response by the Cuban leadership. It decided to nationalize US-owned industries without compensation. Three months later, on 13 October 1961, the United States severed diplomatic relations; subsequently, it armed Cuban exiles in Florida and launched an invasion of the island near the Bay of Pigs. It was defeated. President Kennedy then imposed a total economic blockade, pushing the Cubans in Moscow’s direction.

On 4 February 1962, the Second Declaration of Havana denounced the US presence in South America and called for the liberation of the entire continent. Forty years later Castro explained the necessity for the Declarations:

At the beginning of the Revolution … we made two statements, which we called the First Declaration of Havana and the Second Declaration of Havana. That was during a rally of over a million people in Revolution Square. Through these declarations, we were responding to the plans hatched in the United States against Cuba and against Latin America – because the United States forced every Latin American country to break off relations with Cuba … [These declarations] said that an armed struggle should not be embarked on if there existed legal and constitutional conditions for a peaceful civic struggle. That was our thesis in relation to Latin America …

While they were in the Sierra Maestra, the direction that the revolution would take was still not clear – even to Castro. Until that point, he had never been a socialist, and relations with the official Cuban Communist Party were often tense. It was the reaction of that noisy and powerful neighbour from the north that helped determine the orientation of the Revolution.

The results were mixed. Politically, the dependence on the Soviet Union led to the mimicking of Soviet institutions and all that that entailed. Socially the Cuban Revolution created an education system and health service that remain the envy of much of the neo-liberal world.

History will be the final judge, but Fidel Castro has already been elevated by a vast number of Latin Americans to the plinth occupied by those great liberators Bolívar, San Martín, Sucre and José Martí.

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Colin Purdy August 30, 2017 at 11:42 pm

https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/09/the-cuban-revolution-defying-imperialism-from-its-backyard/

“Cuba’s new revolutionary government in 1959 made noises that sounded awfully familiar to the elites in Washington, D.C. They did not hear echoes from the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR) since Castro had not made his intentions towards communism clear. What they found objectionable was Castro’s agenda: to conduct land reforms, to expropriate the entrenched elite and to expel the American mafia.”

Fidel Castro died at age 90. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and Cuban exiles had tried for decades to kill him. In the U.S. Congress’ Church Committee Report (1975), U.S. politicians wrote: “The proposed assassination devices ran the gamut from high-powered rifles to poison pills, poison pens, deadly bacterial powders and other devices which strain the imagination.” One of these devices was an exploding cigar, which was to be given to Castro at the United Nations. None of these succeeded. In April 1959, when Castro visited New York, he marvelled at the headline of an American paper: “All Police on Alert—Plot to Kill Castro!” The Cuban leader ducked all these attempts, 634 by one count. He gave up smoking in 1985 and suffered poor health over his last decade. It was old age that took him, not the wiles of the CIA.

Cuba’s new revolutionary government in 1959 made noises that sounded awfully familiar to the elites in Washington, D.C. They did not hear echoes from the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR) since Castro had not made his intentions towards communism clear. What they found objectionable was Castro’s agenda: to conduct land reforms, to expropriate the entrenched elite and to expel the American mafia. The template for the U.S.’ displeasure at the Castro government was set in Guatemala, where the CIA conducted a coup in 1954 against the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. His crime was land reform and protection of workers’ rights, both anathema to the old rural elites and the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. When Arbenz’s nationalist government went to work, the CIA planned to assassinate leading figures in his government and to allow its proxies to start an armed struggle. In 1952, the CIA created a “disposal list” containing the names of 58 leaders in the country. The text on assassination is chillingly precise: “The simplest tools are often the most efficient means of assassination,” the CIA wrote, pointing towards hammers, axes, wrenches, lamp stands “or anything hard, heavy and handy”. The CIA also primed its agent on the ground, Carlos Castillo Armas, who had no qualms about brutality. “If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it,” Armas said, “I will not hesitate to do it.” Arbenz was dispatched in a coup in 1954. Castro’s fate, by 1960, was to be the same.

Castro saw what the U.S. would try to do as he moved on his socialist programme. He had seen what happened to Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and to Arbenz in 1954, and he watched as the U.S. helped overthrow Brazil’s Joao Goulart in 1964 and intervened in the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent the restoration of the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch. In Africa, most spectacularly, the West and a section of the Congolese military assassinated the democratically elected President Patrice Lumumba. These men were not communists but liberal, anti-colonial nationalists. Their liberal nationalism pitted them against local elites and U.S. multinational corporations, at whose behest the U.S. government acted to prevent them from being in power. A decade later, when other nationalists attempted to come to power in Central America—from El Salvador to Nicaragua—they faced the same fate. Castro was their beacon. Cuba had escaped the dragnet of imperialism.

Castro knew that the CIA would not be able to do in Cuba what it had done in Guatemala. In October 1959, Castro met with the Soviet intelligence agent Aleksandr Alekseyev. Alekseyev, a veteran KGB agent, reported to Moscow that Castro had presciently told him: “All U.S. attempts to intervene are condemned to failure.” Why was Castro so certain of his position? The Cubans knew that over 90 per cent of the population had supported the revolution against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. The encrusted elite fled rapidly to the U.S., 144 kilometres away, where they set up shop in Miami’s new Little Havana. The CIA went to work amongst these exiles to find a Castillo Armas to lead the revolt against Castro and to find an assassin to kill him. When the CIA-backed exiles tried to invade Cuba in April 1961, they were routed by the Cuban forces and the armed Cuban population at the Bay of Pigs. The attention now went towards the assassination of Castro, which would sow chaos and allow a U.S.-backed force to seize power. That was the hope.

In April 1960, the U.S. State Department created a memorandum on Cuba. It found that “the majority of Cubans support Castro” and that “there is no effective political opposition” on the island. Communist influence, the memorandum noted, was “pervading the government and the body politic at an amazingly fast rate”. What could the U.S. do to undermine the Castro government on behalf of the old Cuban elites and the U.S.-based corporations? “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” wrote the State Department’s Lester D. Mallory, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” The U.S. government must, therefore, use “every possible means” to “weaken the economic life of Cuba”. Castro knew this. During his meeting with Alekseyev, Castro said that he did worry about Cuba’s economy.

As with many colonies, Cuba had been forced into a one-crop economy, in its case sugar. The Batista government had relied upon sale of sugar to the U.S. and on tourism from the U.S. Both would have to end if Cuba was to succeed. “The only danger for the Cuban Revolution,” Castro told Alekseyev, “is Cuba’s economic weakness and its economic dependence on the U.S., which could use sanctions against Cuba. In one or two years, the U.S. could destroy the Cuban economy.” In October 1960, almost two years after Castro came to power, the U.S. Congress decided to embargo exports to Cuba. This blockade (el bloqueo) was extended in 1962 to basically throttle the island.

What saved Cuba was that Castro’s government had the support of the island’s people and the Soviet Union, which provided Cuba with material assistance. Castro told Alekseyev in 1959: “Never, even under mortal danger, will we make a deal with American imperialism.” Instead, Cuba turned to the USSR for assistance. This assistance, which included military protection, would last until the USSR collapsed in 1991. In a stroke, Cuba lost its market for sugar and its supplier of foodstuffs and fuel. The U.S. saw an opening. The U.S. Congress tightened the noose. The Torricelli Act (Cuban Democracy Act of 1992) and the Helms-Burton Act (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996) extended the embargo to include foreign companies. Cuba was isolated. It was during this Special Period that Cuba had to be innovative: reusing, repairing and recycling its products. It was a difficult time, and yet the Cuban Revolution did not collapse. It did not follow the USSR into oblivion. “Why did we resist?” Castro asked a decade later. “Because the Revolution always had, has, and increasingly will have the support of a nation, an intelligent populace, which is increasingly united, educated and combative.”

Every chink in the armour is an opening for the U.S. to insinuate itself against the Revolution. Castro had aggravated the U.S. by providing material assistance to national liberation forces across Africa and Latin America and medical and educational aid to his neighbours in the Caribbean. Castro took a leadership role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which Cuba hosted in 1979 and 2006, and in the more radical Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL), which is based in Havana. Cuba did not retreat into a shell. It went outwards, building solidarity networks across the world to help it break the embargo. In fact, during the Special Period, the Indian communist movement raised 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice, which were shipped to Cuba. Each Cuban received a loaf of bread from that shipment. Castro would call the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet the “Bread Man”. Such solidarity, in material and moral terms, kept Cuba going and allowed it to stand firm against U.S. pressure. When NAM became pliant and OSPAAL became dormant, Cuba turned towards the “pink tide” in Latin America—with the rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales providing a new fillip to Cuban ambitions. The weakness of the “pink tide” threatens to push Cuba once more into isolation.

Castro outlasted 11 U.S. Presidents, including Barack Obama. The Americans reached out to Cuba, via the Vatican, to begin diplomatic relations. Castro’s brother Raul accepted the invitation to a dialogue partly to break out of the isolation. There was no clear sign, however, that the U.S. wanted to invalidate its 60-year history of supporting Cuban exiles and big corporations who are eager to exploit the Cuban landscape and its population. The talks between the countries produced no real breakthrough. Some gestures were allowed, such as the start of some direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba. Also, Obama restored diplomatic relations between the countries in 2015: The Cuban embassy opened in Washington, D.C., on July 20 and the the U.S. embassy opened in Havana in August with Secretary of State John Kerry there for the raising of the flag. Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Havana after the 1959 Revolution when he made a trip in March 2016.

Nothing more was on the table. But even these small moves are now to be rolled back by the administration of Donald Trump. Trump believes that the death of Castro will hasten the end of the Cuban Revolution. The U.S., which had wanted to assassinate Castro all these decades, has come to believe that the Revolution is merely his fancy and not a commitment of the Cuban people. Trump will squeeze the Cubans for more concessions until the negotiations will break down. There is no appetite in Washington for peace. In one of his last pieces in Granma, Castro wrote of the “uncertain destiny of the human species”. He worried about the ascension of Trump and other like-minded politicians, but he also worried about the policies of Obama. None portend well for the planet. Trump and Obama might appear different, Castro suggested, but they are united in their fealty to the U.S., the “most powerful imperialist country that has ever existed”. Both Trump and Obama, wrote the old revolutionary on his deathbed, “will have to be given a medal of clay”. The earth cannot afford to give them anything else. They have already laid claim to everything.

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Colin Purdy August 31, 2017 at 1:59 am

One basic impression I have of Trump is that he’s something of a proto- American self-inflicted despot, the most willing modern US President to wreak here at home the level of economic, and all other manner of commonwealth, extraction and privation, and social repression, more typically exhibited or allowed by American propped despots abroad. All US Presidents serve the wealthy and powerful, but Trump seems most beholden, with brazenly certain appeal to basest social interests, the classic fig leaf for divide and conquer. He proclaims common cause with working classes, but commits no act in our favor, instead, for example, promising “great healthcare,” but working to increase prices for less of it.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie September 1, 2017 at 11:22 am

I do not agree with the author’s assertion: “Fidel Castro’s reign illustrates totalitarianism …”; it’s much more complicated than that. And to lump both North Korea in with Cuba is ahistorical and denies the genuine revolutionary movement that liberated the island.

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