The United States, Cuba
and this thing called Democracy
by William Blum
During the Clinton administration, the sentiment has been
proclaimed on so many occasions by the president and other political
leaders, and dutifully reiterated by the media, that the thesis:
"Cuba is the only non-democracy in the Western Hemisphere"
is now nothing short of received wisdom in the United States.
Let us examine this thesis carefully for it has a highly interesting
During the period of the Cuban revolution, 1959 to the present,
Latin America has witnessed a terrible parade of human rights
violations -- systematic, routine torture; legions of "disappeared"
people; government-supported death squads picking off selected
individuals; massacres en masse of peasants, students and other
groups, shot down in cold blood. The worst perpetrators of these
acts during all or part of this period have been the governments
and associated paramilitary squads of El Salvador, Guatemala,
Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, Haiti
Not even Cuba's worst enemies have charged the Castro government
with any of these violations, and if one furtherconsiders education
and health care -- both of which are guaranteed by the United
Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and
the "European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms" -- areas in which Cuba has consistently
ranked at or near the top in Latin America, then it would appear
that during the near-40 years of its revolution, Cuba has enjoyed
one of the very best human-rights records in all of Latin America.
If, despite this record, the United States can insist that
Cuba is the only "non-democracy" in the Western Hemisphere,we
are left with the inescapable conclusion that this thing called
"democracy", as seen from the White House, may have
little or nothing to do with many of our most cherished human
rights. Indeed, numerous pronouncements emanating from Washington
officialdom over the years make plain that "democracy",
at best, or at most, is equated solely with elections and civil
liberties. Not even jobs, food and shelter are part of the equation.
Thus, a nation with hordes of hungry, homeless, untended sick,
barely literate, unemployed, and/or tortured people, whose loved
ones are being disappeared and/or murdered with state connivance,
can be said to be living in a "democracy" -- its literal
Greek meaning of "rule of the people" implying that
this is the kind of life the people actually want -- provided
that every two years or four years they have the right to go to
a designated place and put an X next to the name of one or another
individual who promises to relieve their miserable condition,
but who will, typically, do virtually nothing of the kind; and
provided further that in this society there is at least a certain
minimum of freedom -- how much being in large measure a function
of one's wealth -- for one to express ones views about the powers-that-be
and the workings of the society, without undue fear of punishment,
regardless of whether expressing these views has any influence
whatsoever over the way things are.
It is not by chance that the United States has defined democracy
in this narrow manner. Throughout the cold war, the absence of
"free and fair" multiparty elections and adequate civil
liberties were what marked the Soviet foe and its satellites.
These nations, however, provided their citizens with a relatively
decent standard of living insofar as employment, food, health
care, education, etc., without omnipresent Brazilian torture or
Guatemalan death squads. At the same time, many of America's Third
World allies in the cold war -- members of what Washington still
likes to refer to as "The Free World" -- were human-rights
disaster areas, who could boast of little other than the 30-second
democracy of the polling booth and a tolerance for dissenting
opinion so long as it didn't cut too close to the bone or threaten
to turn into a movement.
Naturally, the only way to win cold-war propaganda points
with team lineups like these, was to extol your team's brand of
virtue and damn the enemy's lack of it, designating the former
"democracy" and the latter "totalitarianism".
Needless to say, civil liberties and elections are not trifling
accomplishments of mankind. Countless individuals have suffered
torture and death in their pursuit. And despite the cold-war blinkers,
which even today limits the United States' vision of this thing
called democracy, there would still be ample credit due Washington
if, in fact, in the post-World War II period, the US had been
using its pre-eminent position in the world, its overwhelming
"superpower" status, to spread these accomplishments
-- to act as the unfailing global champion of free and fair elections,
multiple parties, a free press, a free labor movement, habeas
corpus, and other civil liberty icons. The historical record,
however, points in the opposite direction.
The two cold-war powers presented fraudulent faces to the
world. The Soviet Union's party line regularly extolled "wars
of liberation", "anti-imperialism" and "anti-colonialism",
while Moscow did extremely little to actually further these causes,
American propaganda notwithstanding. The Soviets relished their
image as champions of the Third World, but they stood by doing
little more than going "tsk, tsk" as progressive movements
and governments, even Communist Parties, in Greece, Guatemala,
British Guiana, Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere
went to the wall with American complicity.
At the same time, the words "freedom" and "democracy"
rolled easily and routinely off the lips of American leaders,
while American policies habitually supported dictatorships. Indeed,
it would be difficult to name a brutal right-wing dictatorship
of the second half of the twentieth century that was not supported
by the United States -- not merely supported, but often put into
power and kept in power against the wishes of the populace.
As numerous interventions have demonstrated, the engine of
American foreign policy has been fueled, not by a devotion to
democracy, but rather by the desire to: 1)make the world safe
for American transnational corporations; 2)enhance the financial
statements of defense contractors at home; 3)prevent the rise
of any society that might serve as a successful example of an
alternative to the capitalist model; 4)extend political and economic
hegemony over as wide an area as possible, as befits a "great
power"; and 5)fight a moral crusade against what cold warriors
convinced themselves, and the American people, was the existence
of an evil International Communist Conspiracy.
Over the past fifty years, in striving to establish a world
populated with governments compatible with these aims, the United
States has -- apart from monumental lip service -- accorded scant
priority to this thing called democracy.
Written by William Blum
Author: Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions
Since World War II