High Fidelity

Here’s a leftover photo from my sojourn in New York a couple of weeks ago. It’s a sign in the hallway of my cousin’s apartment building in the Bronx:

Looks like Shrubby boy just won’t give up with the imperial ambitions. According to this WaPo article, a new White House proposal would set in place expanded powers of military courts to prosecute suspected terrorists (even US citizens) without the protections currently provided for by the US constitution. Heck, why not just shred the damn thing already? I’m rightly reminded of a very timely quote by writer Sinclair Lewis:

“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

In brighter news, despite being a hotbed of racial intolerance at times, in many ways Australia is a bit of paradise. Whaddya think, Phil? More on the meter maids (lordy, lordy) here.

The big new news is that Fidel Castro may be dying. You don’t need me to point out what a gargantuan figure he has been in modern history. And, depending on your ideology, he has been either a hero or a villain. As always, I prefer the more complicated view: that he is/was a hero with villanous tendencies.

Let us very briefly examine the history of Fidel’s revolution. Cuba acquired independence from Spain as a result of the Spanish American War, and from 1898-1902 was actually ruled by the USA, hence the superpower’s continuing paternal interest in the island state. Immediately prior to Fidel, Cuba was ruled by the US-backed proto-dictator Fulgencio Batista, who was a classic military thug in a business suit (though who also has a fascinating political history, to be discussed another time). The Batista government was cozy with American developers and the mob, allowing great prosperity to flow into the country, but in a stratified sense, with the lion’s share remaining with the foreign elite. In 1959, a pro-democracy Fidel Castro led the successful revolution that ousted Batista and made an enemy for life of the United States. Castro’s turn to the USSR for ideological and financial assistance didn’t help matters much, leading to several failed CIA assassination attempts and at least one US invasion attempt.

Contrary to the democratic principles he espoused as a young lawyer, Fidel eschewed elections and installed himself as dictator for life, in a country that had already been ruled by a series of successive dictators. But let’s look at some of the things he accomplished as dictator:

  • 97% literacy
  • universal health care
  • national independence for almost 50 years
  • inconsequential HIV/AIDS rate (<0.1%), compared to neighbouring countries
  • racial harmony
  • negligible crime and corruption
  • a thriving artistic community

Castro’s crimes are also worth noting. Cuba’s low HIV/AIDS rate is due to mandatory testing and forced incarceration of anyone testing positive. Castro’s is a homophobic regime which imprisons homosexuals and which employs classic police state tactics to stifle dissent.

Perhaps the fairest way to look at Fidel’s accomplishments/crimes is not to compare Cuba to the ideals of the 21st century, but rather to ask ourselves, where would Cuba be today if Batista had remained in power? In my opinion, she’d be another Miami: a crime-ridden 3rd world megalopolis that thinks its in in the First World, and whose people slip through gaping chasms in the decaying social system.

Cuba’s lack of democracy has never been an issue for me, since in this space I have often expressed the opinion that democracy is overrated as the great panacea of global discord. Indeed, one could argue that during the Cold War, the CIA (read: USA) saw democracy in its neighbours as a weakness to be exploited: in Chile, Colombia and Nicaragua, where democratic elections led to left-leaning governments, the USA instead backed rightist tyrants and attempted to stifle those nations’ economies; we see the same thing happening in Chavez’s Venezuela. As one discussion forum participant pointed out, those Carribean/Latin American counties that did follow the US-standard democratic model tended to suffer for their efforts, in terms of human rights; Haiti is the perfect example.

Castro’s time is over. The “progressive” world has better role models to follow now, Chavez and Morales among them.