What's Left

October 25, 2002

Bankers don't like it, corporate directors don't like it, and the White House sure doesn't like it, but for the rest of us, it's...
A model with many charms

By Stephen Gowans

When the vagaries of world markets force people out of jobs in the US, Canada and Britain, the unemployed are on their own. The luckiest find new jobs quickly, but most live with months of insecurity before finding work again, some depleting their savings, losing their homes, their automobiles, their marriages, their health, others sinking into an economic morass from which they never escape. For most, losing a job is a deeply distressing -- and potentially devastating -- event.

So with demand for sugar depressed, forcing the shutdown of scores of sugar mills in Cuba, you would think that personal tragedies would be magnified a thousand-fold as Cuban sugar-industry workers are turfed out on the street to fend for themselves, as Americans, Canadians and Brits regularly are under similar circumstances. But that hasn't happened. Instead, the Cuban government has developed a transition program that will see the unemployed transferred to new jobs, while others are retrained. And those being retrained won't find themselves in straitened circumstances as they await their placement in new jobs. "More than 84,000 Cuban sugar industry workers have registered in classes and retraining schemes while continuing to receive their full salaries," according to Radio Havana. And unemployed Cubans don't have to worry about access to healthcare, or scraping together enough money to send their kids to college; healthcare and education are free.

You might think this is a model to be emulated, but as USA Today recently pointed out, the "U.S. works for regime change in Cuba, too." Washington's preferred replacement regime isn't one that would smile upon free healthcare or look favorably upon safeguarding people from economic insecurity. Instead, the kind of regime Washington is thinking of is modelled after the US itself: a multiparty democracy where two or more fundamentally indistinguishable pro-capitalist parties, representing an economic elite, oversee a robust capitalism, bearing all the usual charms -- economic insecurity, healthcare and the best education only for those who can afford it, extreme inequality, and, for those living on the margins of the US empire, the kind of squalor and misery Cuba's neighbours, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, to name only three, enjoy under the American yoke.

This is, according to George W. Bush's National Security Strategy, the "single sustainable model for national success." It is "freedom, democracy, and free enterprise": the freedom of the wealthy to dominate a county's political and economic life, elections featuring at least one pro-capitalist party Washington can bankroll and support, and the subjugating of human requirements to those of industry and finance, rather than the other way around. Adolph Hitler, a kind of early version of Bush, had something close to the same idea. "We stand for the maintenance of private property," he said. "We shall protect free enterprise as the most expedient, or rather, the sole possible economic order."

So the US is engaged in the business of blotting out Cuba's affronts to the "single sustainable model" -- its free education, its free healthcare, its bending the economy to human needs.  This was the same project Hitler, and his crony, Benito Mussolini, had undertaken, except their attention was focussed on the Soviet Union, another place where full employment, free healthcare and free education were seen as something to be desired.

Somehow Cuba manages to muddle through, and has for more than 40 years, despite Washington's unrelenting efforts to restore Cuba to its former glory as a Haitian look alike, where most everyone is desperately poor except a small elite serving the interests of US firms engaged in plundering the island's natural resources and people for the good of shareholders back home. If the Cuban model has been sustained in the face of four decades of enormous pressure from a bullying and implacably hostile Washington, might there be just a little wrinkle in Bush's claim that there is only one sustainable model?

Today, Washington is robbing Americans of their taxes to underwrite a variety of programs to force Castro and his free education, free healthcare, full employment-loving creeps out of Havana, in favor of much more admirable rulers who know that when people lose their jobs, that's just tough, and if the rich can pay for the best healthcare, the poor just better work a little harder, and as for free education, that's not the American way.

According to USA Today:

Officials at the U.S. Interests Section [in Cuba], as the 51-person diplomatic mission here  is called, have handed out more than 1,000 short-wave radios to Cubans. The radios, paid   for by American taxpayers, allow listeners to pick up signals around the world,  particularly Radio Marti, the anti-Castro station financed by the U.S. Government.
For good measure, US taxpayers are also supporting Cuban dissidents and pro-US journalists, whose idea of democracy is returning the exiled pre-revolutionary economic elite to the island to pick up where they left off.

"Cuban government officials are agitated about what they regard as the U.S. officials' improper intervention in their internal affairs," says USA Today. One can imagine how agitated US officials would become were US-based foreign diplomats openly distributing short-wave radios to Americans, to broadcast propaganda calling for regime change in the US. But then, hypocrisy has become the necessary grease that keeps the wheels of US foreign policy turning. That, and liberal dollops of deception.
Take the claim that Washington abhors terrorists and terrorism and is engaged in a titanic struggle against the scourge. You don't have to lay aside the one-sided definition of terrorism favoured around the Potomac that excludes "state terrorism" to see the claim is vacuous. No country has engaged in more state terrorist attacks than the United States, making Washington's claims to be fighting a war on terrorism roughly equivalent to Jeffrey Dahmer advocating vegetarianism. (As journalist and filmmaker John Pilger points out, Hiroshima was Sept. 11 one hundred times over.) Instead, all you have to do is mention a man in whose name the city of Miami once proclaimed a day of honor: Orlando Bosch.

Bosch is an exiled Cuban who would very dearly like to see Castro gone, so much so that he once blew up a Cuban airliner with scores of people aboard. And Bosch has more than an airline bombing to his record of terrorist acts. Still, Washington ignores Cuba's requests for extradition. The State Department once tried to deport Bosch, but George H.W. Bush, then president, intervened with the help of his son, Jeb Bush, to keep Bosch out of the clutches of those who would bring him to justice. And so Orlando Bosch, anti-Castro terrorist, lives in Miami today, unmolested by US authorities. Writer William Blum asks, "Can you imagine the reaction in Washington if bin Laden showed up in Havana and the Cubans refused to turn him over? Can you imagine the reaction in the United States if Havana proclaimed Osama Bin Laden Day?"

As for democracy in Cuba, the acid-test of whether a country is democratic, according to Washington, is whether it has elections, a wimpy definition that has as much merit as saying a country is just, simply because it has courts of law, a judiciary and lawyers. The US is supposed to be a democracy because it has elections.  That only half of American voters see any point in bothering to go to the polls, that electoral politics is dominated by big money, is of no matter. That the last presidential election was a farce, doesn't matter, either. America's democracy is the best, like everything else American. It just is.

But even so, by this wimpy US definition, Cuba is a democracy; it has elections, elected representatives, and a popular assembly. But what it doesn't have is a free-enterprise, pro-US party, and that, to Washington, is all that matters. When Washington says "democracy," it really means  "capitalism" -- capitalist democracy, which is to say the best democracy money can buy. Phil Ochs, the American songwriter of  the 60's, used to say, "The name for our profits  is democracy." No party to look after profits; no democracy.

As for the United States having a free press, and Cuba's being "kept", we might ask, "Exactly what is the American media free of?" The answer, of course, is that it's free of the government.  Cuba's isn't, so it gets a black mark. But is the American media free of other interests? Hardly. It's controlled by the same people who control political parties, and think tanks, and big corporations, and come to think of it, the government, too. People with money, who own and control the economy. Maybe that's why the free press seems to have a hard time disagreeing, either amongst itself, or with the government. All that money makes its owners see the world in pretty much the same way.

Take the American media's view of US foreign policy. William Blum asks, can "you name a single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia three years ago?" How about "a single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the US bombing of Iraq eleven years ago?" Try this: "A single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the US bombing of Afghanistan?

There are 1,500 daily newspapers in the United States and none of them unequivocally opposed any of these wars. Surely a "free press" wouldn't be so monolithic, so in step with the government. But remarkably, it is. Every daily newspaper, every network, lines up with the government.

So what, in an accounting of plusses and minuses, does the United States offer, that Cuba doesn't? It doesn't offer free healthcare. Education through college isn't free. If you lose your job, you fend for yourself. There's one party to vote for, under two names, both ardently pro-capitalist. And as for the media, it's remarkably monolithic. The country is a haven for terrorists. Tax dollars are channelled into programs to subvert states that have organized their economies in ways that bend to human needs, rather than being spent on healthcare, and jobs, and homes for the homeless, and protecting the environment. In other words, rather than spending money helping people at home, Washington manages to spend most of its time, spending money on hurting people abroad. Is this a model to emulate?

It depends on who you are. If you own or control the economy, there are certain charms to having a minimal social saftey net: labor is more pliant and you can keep employee costs low (leaving more for yourself and shareholders). There is also much to be said for declaring economic arrangements that work to your own benefit to be inevitable, the sole sustainable model. Add to that a robust military and intelligence apparatus to break down doors that would otherwise foreclose opportunities to accumulate profits abroad, and you've got something that serves your interests to a tee. But does it serve the interests of the rest of us?

Bush's (and earlier, Hitler's) claim that there is a single sustainable model is the self-interest of an economic elite lurking behind a readily punctured myth about inevitability. If the model is inevitable, how do you explain Cuba, or the dozens of mass anti-capitalist movements that continue to arise in every corner of the globe, despite triumphalist claims of the end of history and the victory of capitalism? Capitalism is not inevitable, any more than it's desirable for the majority, or the best that can be achieved. Indeed, Cuba provides a glimpse of what is possible, a model that's all the more compelling considering the United States has labored incessantly to undermine it, and yet it goes on. At the root of the model is an idea any rational person would accept as desirable: that a country's political and economic life should be organized to serve the people in it. Americans, and Canadians, and Brits --those who actually run these places, as opposed to simply collecting the profits -- might like to think of Cuba not only as a place they may someday visit (or be allowed to visit in the case of Americans who are denied this freedom by a government that professes to lead the "free" world), not only as a country they urge their governments to refrain from molesting, but as a model of what's possible in their own country.


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