Give President Bush credit for chutzpah. Yesterday, he delivered a speech decrying tyranny and economic oppression by Fidel Castro while continuing his gulag at Guantanamo Bay and his brutal embargo against the Cuban people.
First of all, let’s not forget why Bush and the Pentagon established their prison camp in Cuba — because they didn’t want to have to put up with the Constitution, a document they took an oath to support. They set up their gulag in order to exercise dictatorial power — the same type of dictatorial power that Castro exercises on his side of the island.
One of the misconceptions under which Bush suffers is his belief that democracy and dictatorship are opposites, a misconception that was apparent in his speech. He honestly believes that if there were free and open elections in Cuba, the Cuban people would finally be free of dictatorship. Perhaps he had in mind the recent “free and open” elections by which his friend and partner Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan, was recently “elected.”
What Bush doesn’t understand is that democracy is simply a means by which people change rulers. Dictatorship is measured by the extent of powers that a ruler wields. Thus, it is entirely possible to have a dictator — that is, a ruler with dictatorial power — who is democratically elected. In fact, that’s the only “freedom” that most countries in Latin America have known — the “freedom” to elect a new dictator at election time.
That’s exactly the direction that the United States has been headed in, especially since 9/11. Look at Guantanamo Bay, for example. In Bush’s mind, his power to run his prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is as total as Castro’s power to run the rest of the island. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court put the quietus to Bush’s dictatorial dreams for Gitmo, he and the Pentagon have done everything they can to circumvent judicial interference with their Cuban operations.
It’s also important to keep in mind that Bush’s treatment of accused terrorists on his side of Cuba is no different — and quite possibly worse — from how Castro treats suspected terrorists on his side of Cuba. Torture and sex abuse (assuming that Castro also believes in sex abuse of prisoners). No trial by jury. No due process. No speedy trials. Secret proceedings. Use of hearsay and evidence from torture. Tight restrictions on the press. Kangaroo military tribunals. Forever detentions.
In his speech, Bush said that he intended to maintain his brutal embargo against the Cuban people — the embargo that the U.S. government has maintained for almost 50 years in the hopes that it would squeeze the Cuban people into ousting Castro from power and replacing him with a U.S-approved puppet.
This is what Bush calls “freedom.” You know, as in prosecuting, imprisoning, and fining Americans who travel to Cuba without Bush’s permission and spend money there.
Never mind that the embargo, especially in combination with Cuban socialism, has kept the Cuban people on the verge of starvation. In imperial Washington, no price is too high to pay for the hope of a favorable regime change, as UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright pointed out when she said that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the embargo against that country had been “worth it.”
In what was one of the most embarrassing parts of Bush’s speech, he promised the Cuban people that if they would just oust Fidel from power, Bush would establish an international fund to finance computers, scholarships, and Internet access for them. In other words, here’s a nice little socialist bribe for you if you will just oust your socialist dictator and replace him with a U.S.-approved dictator comparable, say, to the military dictators the U.S. government has supported in other parts of Latin America.
Is that not shameful or what? After all, that’s exactly what the Chinese Communists and the democratically elected socialist dictator of Venezuela are offering the Cubans — a socialist dole. And here comes Bush, offering to outbid them with a U.S.-supported socialist bribe.
What Bush still doesn’t get is that the Cuban people despise socialism, revere Fidel Castro, love America, and despise U.S. officials. Unlike many Americans, they draw a sharp distinction between the U.S. government and the American people. I noticed this several years ago when I visited Cuba. I would ask people, “Why are you so nice to me given the embargo?” Their response: “What fault do you have for what your government has done to us?”
If Bush thinks that the Cuban people would rally toward the United States in a war of aggression against Cuba, ala the U.S. war of aggression on Iraq, it’s just more proof that he’s living in la-la land. The reason that Cubans revere Castro is not because of his socialism, which they resent, but because he has had the courage and the fortitude to keep Cuba independent of U.S. control. Here are two reactions to Bush’s speech from the New York Times that, in my opinion, reflect the dominant thinking among Cubans:
“Humberto Valdez, 39, who sells sandwiches on the seaside boulevard in Havana called the Malecón, said: ‘The embargo has only proven damaging to the Cuban people. Because of it, we lack medicine, clothes, food. It is unfair.’ Laudelina Rivas Corp, 74, said: ‘War! War! War! That’s about all Bush wants. War against Iraq, against Afghanistan and against the Cuban people.’”
In pointing a finger at Fidel Castro at the State Department yesterday, Bush would be wise to remember that he was simultaneously pointing three fingers back at himself.