Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Socialismo o muerte - Part II, or, law school starts over

I think there's something in that title, especially given the readings we've been assigned for the public interest law class that begins today. But what I really need to say is, "It's over, Johnny. It's over."

Yes, I know. Thanks for stopping by, and for all your emails. I really need to get my shit in gear this semester. Sayonara.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Socialismo o muerte - Part I

The spring semester is about to begin. Friends are returning to balmy UM [home of the 5-time NCAA champion Hurricanes] from trips home for the holidays. Gym workout schedules are being negotiated to meet new year's resolutions. Grades are trickling in. And I need to put my affairs in order before I can concentrate on law school again. So, without further ado, my latest rant.

Ralph Peters is a retired US officer and author of several military strategy books, numerous articles, etc. etc.. Most recently, he castigated Saudi Arabia in the WSJ as "obvious source of . . . terrorism, subversion and hatred." He is clearly an intelligent man and an iconoclastic thinker, which made it all the more depressing to read the following opinion in an otherwise worthwhile article [i quote in full to prevent untintentionally distorting his meaning]:

"Cuba may be a small problem in the geostrategic sense, but it certainly fixes America's attention. The instability likely to embarrass us in Cuba will come after Castro's disappearance, as the island's current regime weakens and dissolves. The Batista-Cubans we have harbored in South Florida, whose political influence has maintained one of the most counterproductive of American policies, will try to reclaim, purchase, and bribe their way into power in the land they or their elders exploited then fled. The Cubans who stayed in Cuba, for better and worse, do not want their rich relatives back. And were we to be the least bit just, we would recognize that those who stayed behind have earned the right to decide how their island will be governed in the future.

For all our ranting about the Castro dictatorship--which may not be admirable, but which is far more liberal and equitable than many of America's client governments (tourists clamor to go to Havana, not Riyadh)--an honest appraisal reveals that the average Cuban, though impoverished by the policies both of his own government and of the United States, enjoys a better quality of life than that of the average resident of many a "free" Caribbean state. If we intervene at some future date to protect the "rights" and the "legitimate property" of the Miami Cubans at the expense of the Cuban people themselves, we will shame ourselves inexcusably. Post-Castro Cuba, on its own, has an unusually good chance of evolving into a model democracy, but it will not do so if we sanction and support the carpetbagging of emigres who have never found American democracy fully to their tastes."

1. "The instability likely to embarrass us in Cuba will come after Castro's disappearance, as the island's current regime weakens and dissolves." I thought Peters' thesis was that instability was good for the U.S.. Why the US should be embarassed if the current despotic regime weakens and dissolves is beyond my understanding. No matter. There is no evidence that the present Cuban government has any intention of 'dissolving' once Castro dies, or that those in positions of power have failed to take Fidel Castro's mortality into account. In fact, they are trying to consolidate their positions for a succession of power.

We know Cuban government representatives and officials have been traveling around South Florida talking to people, trying to cut deals, trying to get people on board. They are talking with the "dialoguero" types and working their way up the chain. Their message is: Fidel is on his way out. We are on our way in. The danger for us is all the people who have been yipping and yapping about lifting the embargo will take this and give up any advantage we have, and cement into place all the people with blood on their hands, and corruption and crime, racial discrimination in Cuba.
The Washington Times, Sept. 4, 2001, interview with Ambassador Dennis Hayes

2. "The Batista-Cubans we have harbored in South Florida, whose political influence has maintained one of the most counterproductive of American policies, will try to reclaim, purchase, and bribe their way into power in the land they or their elders exploited then fled. The Cubans who stayed in Cuba, for better and worse, do not want their rich relatives back. And were we to be the least bit just, we would recognize that those who stayed behind have earned the right to decide how their island will be governed in the future." Batista-Cubans? Who is he kidding? The vast majority of Cubans living in exile who were alive during the revolution supported the revolution to some extent. That is what makes Castro's treachery all the more bitter. The "Batista-Cuban" smear comes straight out of Havana's propaganda machine. What about the people who emigrated in the 1970s? During Mariel? As rafters in the 1990s? The twenty thousand who come legally every year? All Batistianos? Elian Gonzalez' mother, Batista supporter?

I suppose Peters is referring to the embargo when he writes of "one of the most counterproductive of American policies." But he could not be more wrong. The embargo was imposed by Kennedy in 1962 to punish the confiscation of billions of dollars in American assets. I don't see how it can be counterproductive to warn Third-World governments that robbing Americans of their property will result in economic sanctions. Additionally, to the extent that it helped drain Soviet coffers (estimates of their subsidies range from $70 to 120 billion, excluding military aid) the embargo helped facilitate the fall of the Soviet Union. Hardly counterproductive. But perhaps he means that the embargo has not led to Castro's downfall. Well, sure. But Castro is free to trade with the entire rest of the world (86% of the world's economy takes place outside the US), and he allows neither person nor institution to threaten his grip on power.

Cubans love no one better than their rich relatives, who send them tens of millions of dollars worth of money, clothes, and medicine a year, and whose intellectual and monetary capital will be in dispensable to the island's recovery. And as far as I know, what Cuban exiles ask precisely that its people be allowed to decide "how their island will be governed in the future." For the embargo to be lifted, 3 conditions should be met: (1) The establishment of a transition government in Cuba that would free all of Cuba's political prisoners; (2) The legalization of all political parties; (3) A call for public elections [congressmen Lincoln Díaz-Balart, March 25 1998, Washington, DC]. If that is not a call to decide the future in an open, democratic way, I don't know what is.

3."For all our ranting about the Castro dictatorship--which may not be admirable, but which is far more liberal and equitable than many of America's client governments (tourists clamor to go to Havana, not Riyadh)--an honest appraisal reveals that the average Cuban, though impoverished by the policies both of his own government and of the United States, enjoys a better quality of life than that of the average resident of many a "free" Caribbean state." Peters' argument seems to be that because the US supports some states that are (perhaps, in some ways) more despotic than Cuba, we lack the moral authority to insist that Cuban people be freed of the dictator who has "impoverished" them for the past forty-two years. I don't buy his argument. First, because Cuba does not even rank with American "client governments" in freedom: it's right there with North Korea, Lybia, and Iraq. Second, because the proper measure of comparison of living standards would Cuba's rank relative to other Latin American countries before Castro and now. And an honest appraisal reveals just how dismal Castro's rule has been.

Why do tourists clamor to go to Havana instead of Riyadh? Because no one can get into Saudi Arabia without an invitation. And if they went, what could they see? It's a friggin desert half a world away. Tourism has been an important industry in Cuba since before the revolution. The weather is nice, it has great beaches, and you can satisfy your preferred vices -- drugs, rum, smokes, prostitutes -- very cheaply.

to be continued. . .