Thursday 18 December 2014

So, Too, Must Dictatorship

Owen Jones is gettting grief from all the right people for this important piece:

The US embargo against Cuba is nothing less than an act of vindictiveness and spite; the fact it is finally crumbling will alleviate the suffering of millions of Cubans.

It’s “just another concession to a tyranny”, wails Republican senator Marco Rubio. Such politicians risk drowning in their own hypocrisy: their selective interest in human rights does not extend to imposing an embargo against Saudi Arabia, a vicious, woman-oppressing tyranny that decapitates people for being gay or “sorcerers”.

Despite sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to die (and killing countless civilians) in Vietnam, the US normalised ties with the ostensibly Communist-ruled south-east Asian nation in the 1990s. So why not Cuba?

But here’s a quid pro quo.

Now this long-lasting foreign policy outrage is finally having a rendezvous with common sense, opponents of the embargo need to talk a lot more loudly about democracy in Cuba.

Yes, the Cuban revolution has delivered many achievements that have transformed lives: they are all the more the impressive given the nation has been embargoed by a global superpower located 90 miles away for so many decades.

Its healthcare system is recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the world’s finest. Its life expectancy is roughly the same as that of the United States. The island sends tens of thousands of doctors abroad to save lives in developing nations.

It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. It is a pioneer of sustainable development and a keen promoter of urban agriculture, or “organopónicos”.

All of these are examples that nations – rich and poor – can and should learn from.

And yes, the revolution overthrew a human rights-abusing US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who presided over corruption, gangsterism and chronic social and economic injustice. But that was 55 years ago. 

Yes, Cuba was spared the horrors of the US-backed regimes in Latin America that disappeared thousands and threw political dissidents out of helicopters.

But – with the glaring exception of Colombia – the sordid era of US-backed brutality in Latin America is at an end, thanks to progressive governments that promote social justice as well as democracy.

They have lifted 56 million people out of poverty this millennium, and have done so without imposing a dictatorship.

Cuba’s human rights have been steadily improving: as Human Rights Watch – arch-critics of the Cuban regime – have put it, the government has released dozens of political prisoners (although they now face exile), and punitive prison sentences and “draconian travel restrictions” are being relaxed.

But it is not good enough.

Cuba is not a nation where the people can freely determine who represents them. Freedom of speech is curtailed, as is a free media.

Social and economic rights are not compensation for political rights; they should complement each other.

There were many dictatorships that called themselves “socialist” in the 20th century: almost all fell, and their lasting contribution has been to sully the cause of socialism.

Democracy is a universal right, not something that only some peoples or some cultures deserve.

Having an exceptional healthcare and education system, or defying a concerted attack by a global superpower, does not mean being let off the hook when it comes to allowing your people to vote for whoever they want.

Supporters of the Castros have long argued that a transition to democracy is made impossible by US hostility. Well, that excuse may now disappear.

If Cuba establishes democracy – while maintaining the grand achievements of the revolution – it could become a beacon for those who desire an alternative once again.

But those who defend the political status quo in Cuba do a disservice to both democracy and to socialism. 

The embargo is disappearing; so, too, must dictatorship.


  1. Neil Clark said all of this years ago, I have a feeling you published this on here.