Sunday, 27 November 2016

Castro's death divides the world

To some - a revolutionary guerilla leader who fought for social justice, who ensured Cubans had access to good healthcare and educations.

To others - a tyrant, who wielded absolute power, abusing human rights, denying free elections, freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

I err towards the latter assessment of the man.

I see human progress as being a continual struggle of the Network against the Hierarchy. The Hierarchy, embodied in the Great Leader at its pinnacle, is an ultimately flawed system. In it, the One Leader turns out to want no more than to gain power, consolidate power, and hold absolute power. Power flows vertically downwards from the Great Leader; there's no tolerance of bottom-up initiatives that see the world in different terms.

The Network, on the other hand, is self-regulating and proceeds in a measured way towards people's greater good while casting aside flawed models. Networks evolve to survive. Bad ideas, bad people, are discarded from the network, which is slowly but constantly improving. People work with each other, not for the person above them in the hierarchy.

History is full of leaders who dragged their followers to their doom - or else simply stifled their ambitions and their human potential.

Castro was such a man. For him, Marxism-Leninism, of socialism, of anti-imperialism, Cuban nationalism, were ideological tools, put into the service of his greater aim - absolute power.

Cuba today remains a backwater of an outmoded and utterly discredited ideology. To Western visitors seeing the sixty year-old American cars and crumbling Spanish Empire architecture under a hot sun seems appealing, but many Cubans must feel the same way as Poles and other Central and Eastern Europeans did under communism - poor, humiliated - unfree.

This weekend, the internet is full of comments regarding Castro's death. But in Cuba itself, with the lowest internet penetration rate in the Western hemisphere, all online content remains subject to review by the state censor - the Department of Revolutionary Orientation. The sale of computer hardware and software is strictly regulated. Internet access is controlled, and e-mail is closely monitored.

A price to pay for the much-vaunted healthcare system? Singapore had a similar GDP per capita to that of Cuba at the start of the 1960s; today, the average Singaporean's wealth is six times higher than the average Cuban's. So there was no need to repress the Cuban people with a one-party system, human rights abuses, to deny them freedom of speech, to shut them off from the West - with the right governance, free-market democracy would have delivered them a far higher standard of living.

I'd rather be governed by a committee of faceless, though democratically-elected decision-makers than by one Leader, be it a Stalin, a Hitler, a Mussolini, a Pol Pot, Louis XVI, Franco, Mao Tse Tung or Putin. Once such a person gains power, they then focus on extending and maintaining it. The ideology becomes nothing more than a convenient narrative that claims to have the People's best interest at heart - but is actually all about gaining, consolidating and maintaining power.

To submit to the will of the One Leader is to be intellectually lazy; hoping that the One Leader will deliver security and prosperity in exchange for limiting one's freedom is fatuous. It does not work. The lesson of Castro's Cuba, to all romantics of the left, is that one-man rule invariably leads to ruthless repression, censorship and economic hardship. No matter what cock-and-bull story is dreamt up to mask the One Leader's personal ambition.

And name me one country, one place in time, where One Leader has ultimately delivered on human progress?

Good government is about checks and balances, independent courts upholding the rule of law, free media, freedom of speech, freedom of movement.

Fidel Castro was not an exemplar to the free world. May his like never hold such power again.

The way to prevent such egregious abuse of power is to network - to engage in the political process, beginning at the local level, ensuring that decisions that affect your life are taken with your knowledge if not with your consent. Understanding the process of government - and it is a complex process - requires effort on the part of the citizen, but keeping an eye on the hands of those who govern is crucial.

Of everything I have read of the man, the three words that best epitomised this One Leader came from his own sister Juanita, who buggered off to Miami rather than share an island with her brother. "He never listened." A fitting epitaph for any One Leader.

I for one do not mourn Castro's passing.

This time last year:
London to Edinburgh by night bus
[yesterday I did the same trip in reverse]

This time three year ago:
The Regent's Canal, London

This time five years ago:
An end to the entitlement way of thinking

This time six year:
West Ealing - drab and sad suburb

This time seven years ago:
To Poznań by train

This time nine years ago:
Late autumn drive-time


Unknown said...

I have been to Cuba seven times over the last decade. It is a clean and safe country to visit for us Canadian tourists. Certainly there is much more to Cuba than 60 year-old cars and crumbling architecture. I have spoken to Cuban teachers, doctors, engineers, maids, bartenders, who are uniformly healthy, vibrant, educated and yes, patriotic. Undoubtedly, they wish their economic situation could be better, but they deplore the thought that their beautiful country could become the capitalist quagmire of their northern neighbour, the USA, upon the death of the Castros. I would be careful in judging Fidel too harshly - go and visit Cuba before passing comment.

Michael Dembinski said...

I'd let Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch pass the final judgment on Mr Castro, his brother and their regime.

It's not just a question of economic situation - it's about freedom.

I'm sure many tourists to communist Eastern Europe had many of the same thoughts - clean, safe, good education.

At least the repression here lasted only 45 years. Cuba's had 57 years - and still no end in sight.

If people don't capitalist quagmire, they should vote not to become one.

Suggesting that once the people are free to vote for whatever system they want, the country will automatically turn into a capitalist quagmire rather suggests that the people do not trust themselves.

Unknown said...

I was in Poland at the height of communism - it was neither clean, nor safe. As to the quality of education, I cannot pass comment, but I have my doubts. Healthcare - don't even get me started. What I saw in Poland then, was a gray, tired, demoralized, desultory people. These do not resemble the Cubans that I have met. Even if Cuba becomes "free", Cubans worry about American (ie. capitalistic)exploitation which will increase inequalities between the 'haves' and the 'have nots.'

Anonymous said...

Did you choose Singapore as a deliberate provocation? A right-wing, some would say "dictator" state that grants its citizens about as much rights as Cuba does. Or are you suggesting that right-wing dictatorships are "better" than left-wing ones. Argentina?

How do you feel about Lexit? London independence from Ingerlund, Singapore style - 1967ish from Malaysia.

Just as Johore, London has easy ways to defend its borders (M25), as discussed before.


Unknown said...

Let's take a look at some of the freedoms that citizens of the USA have:

1. Freedom to pack a gun, according to the second amendment. Freedom to use it liberally at the slightest provocation, because you can. Freedom to take your semi-automatic rifle into an elementary school to kill defenseless children and traumatize the survivors, their parents, the paramedics, ER staff and pretty much anyone left still standing.

2. Freedom to employ greedy bankers, who will plunge your country into such a recession that the financial repercussions will still be felt almost a decade later.

3. Freedom to have no health insurance, because you lost your job in the recession. That hip replacement surgery you were banking on when you retired - that's not going to happen because you were 55 when you got that pink slip and nobody is going to hire you now. Buy yourself a cane or a walker and hope for the best.

4. Freedom to send your black child to a dilapidated inner-city school in Detroit, where teachers fear for their lives, as armed guards with sniffer dogs patrol the halls. His friends will be coke addicts and meth heads and single mothers, who have 3 children, sired by 3 different daddies.

5. Freedom to elect Mr. Trump - a president who has never had a moment of public or military service. Whose own party despises him. Who ran a campaign using his OWN money. The best part - he didn't get the job through a revolution or a military coup - he was ELECTED through the freedom of a democratic vote.

I wonder how many human rights abuses were committed under the auspices of the Trump corporation. I wonder how many human rights abuses will be committed under his presidency. But we'll never hear about those when Mr. Brietbart is hired to silence all mainstream media who dare defy The Donald.

Cuba is starting to look pretty good.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Unknown, @ Anonymous.

You both miss my point. It's not about 'left' vs. 'right' - it's about the rule of one man vs. the rule of many. Yes, Singapore was a deliberate wind-up - here's another one - Venezuela.

Do you think the people of Cuba would voluntarily chosen at the ballot box, over a period of 57 years, to maintain this political course in free elections?

Of course not.

What you're suggesting is that the people cannot be trusted, because they'd screw up the Marxist dream.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

Had America supported freedom and democracy in Cuba sixty years ago, Castro wouldn't have got a look in. But America did quite the opposite.

Had America not blockaded Cuba for decades, attempted to destabilise the country, fomented invasion attempts and tried to assassinate its leader, the regime would have softened and perhaps been replaced. But America wanted revenge.

Castro's Cuba is best seen as a symptom of its venal, bullying neighbour. Far from perfect, a place where abuses occurred, but a happier nation overall than it would have been had no revolution occurred.

Unknown said...

So true WHP. Eloquently spoken.