Saturday, May 31, 2008

Meet Me In Miami

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about politics and especially the US presidential campaign lately, but my mind apparently refuses to generate words about other topics. And then I found this link to this speech by Barack Obama, addressing Cuban exiles in Miami, eulogizing “our” common experiences:

These bonds are built on a foundation of shared history in our hemisphere. Colonized by empires, we share stories of liberation. Confronted by our own imperfections, we are joined in a desire to build a more perfect union. Rich in resources, we have yet to vanquish poverty.

Of course Obama won’t acknowledge that the US itself is the “empire” most relevant to the rest of the Americas, but to speak of a “shared history” in this context is insultingly dishonest. Masters and slaves, occupiers and the occupied, invaders and the conquered also have a shared history, but it should never be pretended that they are equals. And, especially in the Cuban exile community of Miami, that “shared history” includes a history of support and safe harbor for terrorists.

What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it. Political freedom. Religious freedom. But also freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At our best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the Americas. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that at times we’ve failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner. …

I suppose it’s unrealistic to think that Obama would acknowledge, before such an audience, that the US has consistently, actively fought democracy in the Americas. It would be interesting to hear some specific examples of times that “the United States has been a force for these four freedoms” there. Given the actual history, from the Spanish-American war to the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, from Somoza and Pinochet and the Argentine generals to the latest overthrow of Aristide in Haiti, from the Bay of Pigs to the terror-bombing of Cuban airliners by Cuban exiles now living comfortably in Miami, to say “we’ve failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner” is to riot in understatement. It’s reminiscent of Obama’s former advisor Samantha Power’s claim that when Indonesia invaded East Timor, the US looked the other way. (In reality, the US actively supported and protected the invasion for a quarter of a century, in a fine example of the “bipartisan” foreign policy Obama wants to emulate.)

After eight years of the failed policies of the past, we need new leadership for the future. After decades pressing for top-down reform, we need an agenda that advances democracy, security, and opportunity from the bottom up. So my policy towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that what’s good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States. That means measuring success not just through agreements among governments, but also through the hopes of the child in the favelas of Rio, the security for the policeman in Mexico City, and the answered cries of political prisoners heard from jails in Havana. …

So which is it: “eight years” or “decades” of failed policies? As far as the Americas go, Bush has done nothing notably new. But this is an election campaign, after all, so Obama must give first priority to targeting the Republicans, even if Democrats have never done any differently. And don’t forget that “top-down reform” here is a euphemism for military coups, torture, dictatorships, starvation, repression.

I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations. That’s the way to bring about real change in Cuba – through strong, smart and principled diplomacy….

Why, sure, the embargo has helped Cuban political prisoners immensely! And we know how committed the US has always been to freeing political prisoners, especially in Latin America where their jailers were trained in torture at the School of the Americas, and often supervised by American personnel to make sure the electrodes were properly attached. That’s why every Latin American dictatorship was placed under embargo by the US. … Sarcasm aside, and forgetting for the moment Obama’s own votes for the Patriot Act, which has given the US many political prisoners of its own (we should embargo ourselves), and given the vast numbers of political prisoners in US clients like Israel (embargo, anyone?) whose violations of political freedom don’t seem to bother Obama, the embargo of Cuba has weakened Castro very little, if at all. Even if I granted the US the right to dispose of governments at will, the embargo should count as a “failed policy” on its own terms. (This article, from a few years back, is still relevant.)

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration's blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened his hand.

This is a flat lie. Chavez is no angel, but he does govern democratically. His actions, including a great deal of social services spending, have served the people of Venezuela and in doing so have enhanced his power and status. But when he lost a vote, as he did in the recent referendum, he accepted it instead of dissolving the legislature as a dictator would do. When “the Bush Administration’s … clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez” went as far as support for a coup, the mass of Venezuelans revolted to bring him back. Either Obama has swallowed US propaganda whole, or he’s lying (as I think), but in either case he’s offering no change here. All in all, an appalling performance.

P.S. Avedon Carol at The Sideshow links to this post at Cab Drollery which calls for a "sane foreign policy" toward Cuba, and says we'll only get it if The Democrat wins.

Cab Drollery also thinks that the US is entitled to "remove Fidel", only (boo-hoo!) the embargo didn't succeed in doing so. She quotes some yammering goober who claims that the embargo only made Castro stronger, and provided him with "a convenient antagonist to help whip up nationalist fervor on the island" -- as though Castro were manufacturing a threat, in the same way that the US government has used him -- and mentions the poverty of most Cubans as if the embargo had nothing to do with that, as if it weren't one of the aims of the embargo.

The very fact that Obama wants the US to lead shows that he's not interested in anything but "top-down reform." Cubans and other Latin Americans don't need the US to give them their freedoms. What they need us to do is get our collective national foot off their necks.

P.P.S. This great comment on Obama apologists by saurabh at A Tiny Revolution (unfortunately I can't link to the individual comment, so I'll just quote it):

This is what I don't get about Obama supporters. If the guy never says all he wants to say, how do you KNOW what he actually wants to say? It's voting for a simulacra. Maybe what Obama REALLY wants to say is: "Greetings! I am Lord Xypto, from the planet Korg in the Ztrog Nebula! I have come to enslave humanity and harvest your rich supply of biliary fluids to nurse our spawn with. Starting tomorrow, you will all be chained to a funnel in a vomitorium. Muahahaha!!" But he can't say that, 'cause there will be people who won't be ready yet.