Saturday, December 20, 2014

Che Lays Rubber: Cuba's Symbolic Importance

Wednesday's announcement that Cuba and the US will re-establish diplomatic relations has sparked many articles, Left and Right, by people who are interested in Cuba, many of them invoking victory or pronouncing defeat for Cuba or the US, with both opinions coming from both sides.

The confusion comes from no one knowing yet what the extent of US-Cuba interatction will be, or whether Cuba will follow the route of China or the former USSR Republics in embracing Capitalism: i.e. whether Wednesday's astounding news means the end of Cuban Socialism or guarantees its future, and by extension whether it somehow leads to the ultimate the death or continued existence of Socialism itself.

The volume of articles, however, is an indication of the great symbolic importance of Cuba and it's revolutionary leaders Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevara.

For the Left, of course, Cuba has long been a symbol of hope that a way would be found to make the world a more fair and equal place. The fact that Cuba has survived is a symbol of resistance and endurance and perseverance against the might of Capitalism, and a symbol that despite Capitalism's power it cannot always control either reality or the way it's pictured in the popular imagination.

The Right has also long used Cuba, and reports of suffering by Cubans and the trickle of Cuban refugees, as symbols of Capitalism's rightness and of "American exceptionalism." In the strange world conservative Americans inhabit where they are exceptional god sanctioned but constantly persecuted israelites, Cuba and its leaders have been used symbolically as foils by an endless stream of bellicose predictors of the Cuban Revolution's always-eminent demise, such as Jesse Helms, or Cuban Republicans in Florida, whose occasional ecstatic celebrations of the believed death of Fidel and whose hope for revenge against him and the people of Cuba for kicking their whore mongering plantation owning ancestors out of Cuba might now never be realized, at least not in the symbolic way they had imagined, as symbols of the defeat of a hated enemy.

One thing President Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba might do is to remove much of Cuba's symbolic importance for both sides. But I'd add that new symbols will always be found -- see Hugo Chavez -- and as in the case of Russia, old foils, even if they adopt Capitalism, can be recycled.

Che

Lebanese journalist Sami Kleib has an interesting article in Al Akhbar in which he explains through a visit he made to the Che Guevara memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba why the Cuban people have won. It's titled Che Guervara is laughing for Cuba has triumphed.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the transformation of the Russia and the Soviet Republics into outposts of Capitalism under Western lapdog Boris Yeltsin removed or at least greatly altered the symbolism of the USSR as an alternative and a  counterweight to US Capitalist Imperialism, and China's adoption of the capitalist economic model has done the same thing in the case of Chairman Mao.

But the popularity of "Che" as a he is often called, and as he is known to Cubans, has always remained steady and even increased in recent years, with several movies about him being produced in the last decade and with his picture forever being used in posters and Facebook memes.

I could never quite understand what I consider the romanticization of Che and have not posted pictures of him or written about him, but Cuba and especially Fidel Castro hold great symbolic importance for me and I've often written about Cuba and posted pictures of Fidel.

Cuba under Raul Castro has been moving away from the Stalinist model, and by that I mean simply state control of the economy, to something more resembling a mixed economy on the model of Sweden and other Social Democratic countries. In his announcement to the Cuban people about the new relationship with the US, Raul Castro emphasizes in each of his first five sentences that Cuba will not veer from its principles or its path and that Socialism and the ideals of the Revolution will continue.

But Fidel and Raul will be gone someday and interaction with US Capitalism might take on a life of its own.

It's up to the Cuban people, to whom the odious US blockade has been an important symbol of what's wrong with Capitalism and that helped them remain united and accept their material deprivations.

Will fantasies of material abundance be enough to get Cubans to put up with Capitalism's demands that all the gains of the Revolution go by the wayside; the free universal education through college that makes almost all Cubans scholars, the free universal health care, the best medical system in the world that has eradicated disease in much of the developing world and is leading the battle against Ebola while the US sends troops to Africa?

Unfortunately, the arc of experiments in Socialism like Cuba's usually follow the arc of the leader who pushed them through and made them work. Chavez in Venezuela,  Allende in Chile, Lenin in Russia. Not enough of the working class ever incorporates the leader's vision into their psyches. When the charismatic leader is gone and words of his speeches fade away they are more interested in the daily struggle for existence and consumed by the social forces around them.

If you drive through certain old neighborhoods in Albuquerque such as are spread up and down the South Valley you'll see big tracts of small, modest stucco frame houses, and then here and there in the middle of them you'll see a big ostentatious estate with a multiple car garage. Someone has built their dream house with tall fancy gates and curving driveways among the little places where people park in their front yard.

I'm not a native New Mexican but it seems to me that part of the reason at least must be that what matters most to most people is how they see themselves in relation to those they are most familiar with, their peers, their neighbors, the people they grew up with and go to church with.

We live in the immediate world of the ego, which doesn't have a memory or a vision of the future. It's like when someone one ups you by telling a lie that they know will be found out later. What matters to the ego is winning the conversation. It's that which satisfies the ego that drives us, and the ego is amoral, doesn't consider right and wrong, or the future.

The struggle is over human nature. So far, Capitalism works because it's a system that reflects who we are and reproduces us as we are.

Che may be laughing, but not, I fear, for long.

Go Che!


Che Guevara in 1958. AFP/Getty Images/Antonio Nunez Jimenez copied rom Al-Akhbar



Note: Al Akhbar is a "Progressive," Left leaning news magazine published in Beruit that has a strong anti Zionism stance and has come to be an important publication in the Middle East. Prominent Lebanese professors Sharmine Narwani of Oxford and As'ad AbuKhalil (the Angry Arab blog) of UC-Stanislaus write columns for it. It now has an English language web site.



Note: I came across a video of a US Senate session from Oct 12, 1995 in which New Mexico's former Democratic senator Jeff Bingamon is arguing for a new policy on Cuba, using logic that's reflected in President Obama's rationale for normalizing relations with Cuba. There's also a transcript of the session, entirely in capital letters:






03:16:42
Jeff Bingaman
TIME THAT WILL BE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT WE EXPERIENCED DURING THE COLD WAR. CHILDREN STUDYING HISTORY WILL LOOK IN THEIR TAX -- TEXTBOOKS AND SEE CLEARLY THE DEMARCATION BETWEEN THAT PERIOD OF THE COLD WAR AND WHAT WE ARE NOW BEGINNING TO EXPERIENCE. THEY' LL SEE THE BREAKING POINT WHEN THE BERLIN WALL FELL, THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSED, WHEN THE ECONOMIC -- WHEN ECONOMIC STRENGTH RATHER THAN MILITARY MIGHT BEGAN TO DEFINE A COUNTRY' S REAL POSITION IN THE WORLD. IT SEEMS THAT JUST ABOUT EVERYONE KNOWS THAT HISTORY IS DRAGGING OUR COUNTRY FORWARD THAT WE NEED TO ADJUST TO NEW CIRCUMSTANCES, AND EVERYONE SEEMS TO KNOW THIS, BUT THOSE WHO ARE IN FACT MAKING DECISIONS IN THIS AREA THAT THIS BILL DEALS WITH. THE CUBAN LIBERTY AND DEMOCRACY DEMOCRATIC SOLIDARITY ACT -- OR THE HELMS- BURTON BILL, SENDS US NOT FORWARD INTO THIS NEW ERA BUT, RATHER, BACK ABOUT 30 YEARS. OUR NATION' S FOREIGN POLICY IS RIFE WITH AKNACK CRONISMS AND I CANNOT PERSONALLY BE SUPPORTIVE OF HELPING TO REINFORCE AND TO ENTRENCH OUR FOREIGN POLICY IN THESE OUTMODED AND OUTDATED POLICIES. THE ISSUE WE ARE DISCUSSING TODAY IS NOT WHETHER THE UNITED STATES SUPPORTS PEACEFUL TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY IN CUBA. EVERYBODY HERE WANTS TO SEE THAT OCCUR. THAT GOAL IS NOT IN QUESTION. THE MEANS OF GETING THERE IS WHAT IS IN QUESTION. I FEEL THAT THE PROVISIONS OF THE HELMS- BURTON BILL WILL STALL, RATHER THAN HELP, OUR EFFORTS TO GET TO A DEMOCRATIC REGIME IN CUBA. ABOUT A WEEK AGO, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES ANNOUNCED A PLAN THAT RECEIVED MUCH BIPARTISAN PRAISE. THE PRESIDENT PROMISED TO MORE VIGOROUSLY ENFORCE UNLICENSED TRAVEL TO CUBA, TO BROADEN SUPPORT FOR CULTURAL, INTELLECTUAL, AND EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE IN A WAY THAT THE PEOPLE OF CUBA COULD ENCOUNTER MORE FREQUENTLY AND BROADLY THE BENEFITS OF DEMOCRACY THAT ARE AT WORK HERE IN THE UNITED STATES. THE PRESIDENT STATED THAT HE WOULD LICENSE NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS TO OPERATE IN CUBA, TO PROVIDE INFORMATION, TO PROVIDE ON A RELIEF BASIS, WHEN NEEDED, TO PROVIDE THE NECESSARY INFRASTRUCTURE TO HELP GUIDE CUBA AND ITS PEOPLE TOWARD DEMOCRACY IN THE FUTURE. THE PRESIDENT ALSO NOTED THAT CUBAN- AMERICANS WITH RELATIVES STILL IN AMERICA WILL BE PERMITTED TO VISIT CUBA TO TEND TO FAMILY CRISES, AND THAT THESE AUTOMATIC, ONE- TIME- PER- YEAR LICENSES TO VISIT WOULD NOT BE STYMIED BY THE CURRENT DELAYS AND MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS THAT FRUSTRATE AMERICAN CITIZENS FROM GETTING TO CUBA WHEN FAMILY EMERGENCIES EXIST. THE PRESIDENT HAS ALSO -- THE PRESIDENT IS ALSO INSTRUCTING THAT WESTERN UNION BE LICENSEED TO HANDLE WIRE TRANSFERS OF FUNDS TO FAMILIES IN NEED ON THAT ISLAND. BUT DO ANY OF THESE ACTIONS BY THE PRESIDENT -- OR PROPOSED ACTIONS -- STRENGTHEN CASTRO' S HAND? IN MY VIEW, THEY DOFMBITS WHAT THESE PROVISIONS DO IS TO HELP BOND THE PEOPLE OF CUBA TO THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. FOR 354 YEARS WE' VE TRIED TO BRING IF I -- FOR 35 YEARS WE' VE TRIED TO BRING FIDEL CASTRO DOWN WITH HEAVYHANDED TACTICS. ONE MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT THAT DURING SUCH A LONG PERIOD OF TIME, WE MIGHT HAVE FIGURED OUT THAT OUR POLICY HAS NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL. WE NEED A NEW DIRECTION. IT MUST INVOLVE BUILDING BRIDGES WITH THE CUBAN PEOPLE. THEY HAVE, IN THEM, THE BEGINNING OF A POLICY THAT WILL BRING DEMOCRACY TO CUBA. AND THIS BILL DOES NOT HELP IN THAT PROCESS. I DO THINK THAT THE PRESIDENT' S PLAN IS AN IMPORTANT STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. THE HELMS- BUFMT RTON LEGISLATION, WHICH WE' RE NOW DEALING WITH ON THE SENATE FLOOR, WOULD INJURE AND ALIENATE ORDINARY CUBANS IT WOULD WEAKEN CUBA' S CIVIL SOCIETY IT WOULD RETARD THE FLEDGLING EFFORTS TO MOVE TOWARD DEMOCRATIZATION IN THAT COUNTRY, AND THE UNPRECEDENTED EFFORT TO IMPOSE U. S. POLICIES ON OTHER COUNTRIES WOULD MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THE U. S. GOVERNMENT TO COOPERATE WITH ITS ALLIES IN FASHIONING A JOINT APPROACH TOWARD CUBA. WE CAN NOT ENDLESSLY BULLY OUR ALLIES AROUND THE WORLD ON ISSUES RELATEED TO TRADE, EXCEPT WHEN THE MOST SEVERE NATIONAL INTERESTS OF OUR NATION ARE AT STAKE. WE' VE HAD 34 YEARS OF STALEMATE WITH REGARD TO CUBA. AND FINALLY THINGS SEEM TO BE INDICATING SOME TRANSITION IS OCCURRING. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DO BATTLE WITH EUROPE AND WITH ASIA OVER OUR RELATIONS WITH CUBA. NOW IS THE TIME TO DEVELOP STRATEGIES TO HELP THIS NATION AS IT DOES MOVE INTO A NEW ORDER. MR. PRESIDENT, I MUST ALSO MENTION THE SERIOUS CONCERN I HAVE WITH TITLE 3 OF THE BILL, WHICH CREATES THE RIGHT FOR U. S. PERSONS WHO ARE NOT -- WHO WERE NOT U. S. CITIZENS AT THE TIME OF PROPERTY EXPROPRIATION TO SUE IN U. S. FEDERAL COURTS PERSONS WHO TRAFFIC IN U. S. PROPERTIES IN CUBA. THIS PROVISION WILL PROVIDE AN UNFUNDED MANDATE ON OUR FEDERAL COURTS. IT WILL LEAD TO A FLOOD OF NEW LAWSUITS, COSTING U. S. TAXPAYERS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN COURT EXPENSES. FURTHERMORE, THE $ 50, 000 THRESHOLD THAT THIS BILL CONTEMPLATES IN SUCH CASES MEANS THAT WE ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF RELATIVELY WEALTHY CUBANS AND NEGLECTING THOSE WHO WERE VICTIMIZED BUT IN FACT WERE LESS WEALTHY. IF WE ARE TO MAKE DECISIONS OF THIS SORT, WE SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRIMES COMMITTED AND NOT TO THE PARTICULAR WEALTH OF THE INDIVIDUALS WHO WERE HARMED. NEVERTHELESS, TO HANDLE THIS MATTER IN AMERICAN COURTS WOULD CERTAINLY IMPEDE CURRENT' S EFFORTS TO RESOLVE OUTSTANDING PROPERTY CLAIMS DISPUTES. IT WOULD IMPEDE ECONOMIC REFORMESTS BY A TRANSITION GOVERNMENT IN CUBA, AND IT WOULD OVERBURDEN OUR ALREADY- OVERBURDENED FEDERAL COURTS. IN THE INTERAMERICAN DIALOGUE, IT WAS RECENTLY REPORTED THAT -- USED ONLY AS AN INSTRUMENT OF PRERX THE EMBARGO THAT WE CREANTSLY HAVE -- OF PRESSURE, THE EMBARGO THAT WE CURRENTLY HAVE AGAINST CUBA MAY HAVE THE OPPOSITE RESULT OF STIFFENING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE, CONSTRUCTIVE USE OF THE EMBARGO REQUIRES THAT THE UNITED STATES OPEN AN ACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT TO FOSTER CUBA' S DEMOCRATIZATION AND ENCOURAGE A RANGE OF POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REFORMS. IN CLOSING, MR. PRESIDENT, I' D LIKE TO ADD ONE LAST CAUTION, AS OTHERS HAVE STATED HERE ON THE FLOOR WITH REGARD TO THIS LEGISLATION: THIS BILL WAS NOT REPORTED OUT OF THE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE. IT DID NOT GO THROUGH A MARKUP. THIS BILL IS HANDLING MATTERS THAT ARE VERY CONSEQUENCE CONVENTION FOR OUR RELATIONS WITH THAT NATION, AND IN SUCH CONSEQUENCE CONVENTION MATTERS WE CLEARLY NEED TO SCRUTINIZE WHAT WE' RE DOING, ACT WITH CAUTION, AND I BELIEVE WE NEED TO FOLLOW THE NORMAL PRACTICE WHICH EXISTS HERE IN THE SENATE AND HAS FOR MANY YEARS, AND THAT IS TO ALLOW COMMITTEES TO WORK ON LEGISLATION, ALLOW COMMITTEES TO REVISE LEGISLATION BEFORE THAT LEGISLATION IS BROUGHT TO THE FULL SENATE FOR PASSAGE OR DEFEAT. I URGE MY COLLEAGUES NOT TO SUPPORT THIS BILL AS IT NOW STANDS. I THANK THE CHAIR, AND I YIELD THE FLOOR. THE PRESIDING OFFICER: THE CHAIR RECOGNIZES THE SENATOR FROM CONNECTICUT. MR. DODD: MR. PRESIDENT, BEFORE HE DEPARTS THE FLOOR, LET ME COMMEND OUR COLLEAGUE FROM NEW MEXICO FOR A VERY







No comments:

Post a Comment