Cuba’s hard-right dictatorship
According to Andrew Heywood, a well-known British specialist in political taxonomy, left-wingers tend to be keen on “ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism,” while right-wingers prefer “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism.” This is fair enough, but where does it leave dictatorships like Cuba’s? If the words used by Heywood mean anything, it is far to the right of all European governments, with the possible exception of the one ruling Belarus, as well as those of the United States and most countries in Latin America. It has nothing but contempt for freedom and human rights, it is as authoritarian as they come, it cannot be described as egalitarian because it makes sure that its apparatchiks enjoy a standard of living that is denied to the rest of the population and it is fervently nationalistic.
Much the same could be said about the late and unlamented Soviet dictatorship, but until its demise men and women who proclaimed themselves leftists defended it against all-comers. Since then, they have been doing the same with its Caribbean variant, which is why Kirchnerites – who for some reason are habitually described as “left-wingers” by foreign journalists – are reluctant to criticise the brutal repression of dissent that followed last week’s protest demonstrations in Cuba. Led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, they remain convinced that the desperately poor police-state the Castro brothers ruled for well over half a century is still a beacon of hope for the unhappy victims of capitalist infamy, which is why Alberto Fernández said he did not know enough about what was going on to risk an opinion.
When applied with caution, as they have been in Western Europe, the United States and other developed countries, left-wing ideas have done much to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of people. The trouble starts when those who are in thrall to them get too enthusiastic and acquire too much power. The moment such zealots run into difficulties, they are unable to resist the temptation to try and overcome them by force, so after removing individuals who stand in their way they go about “liquidating” entire social classes. Convinced of their own rectitude, they tell themselves that, given the circumstances, they have no choice but to put dissidents and their relatives to work in concentration camps or, if that proves expensive, to clear the way ahead by massacring them.
By then, many of the people who helped install a leftist dictatorship will be remembering with nostalgia the days when they assumed that it would be easy to reshape reality. They become increasingly conservative. Uncomfortably aware that their achievements do not measure up to the hopes that once inspired them, they remind themselves and others that the revolution they brought about had triumphed against all the odds, as though this meant that they were bound to succeed in the long run. Like elderly generals, they keep fighting the last war because they have nothing new to offer
This has happened so many times that one might have thought that by now progressives living in democratic countries would have been put off by the gruesome results of such endeavours and by the inability of those responsible to explain why they made so many mistakes. After all, they must appreciate that the “socialist experiments” which were tried in North Korea, Cambodia, Soviet Russia, China before she went capitalistic and, needless to say, Cuba and Venezuela, went terribly wrong and it would therefore be utter folly to attempt to give it another go, but this has not been the case.
In many parts of the world – including the United States of all places if reports from that country are to be believed – communism is enjoying something of a comeback among “progressives.” Presumably, the appealing image the Left has somehow managed to retain is due to the frustration many people feel. As a result, they find just about any alternative to the status quo attractive.
Argentina is by no means the only country in which saying that a person is “right-wing” is considered insulting. Much the same is true in North America, Europe and Australia. However, despite the all too evident fact that regimes which pride themselves on their adhesion to left-wing ideologies exhibit, often in a grotesquely exaggerated form, characteristics which are traditionally attributed to the extreme right, this does them no harm in the eyes of believers. As far as these are concerned, Cuba’s dictatorship – which for long was as much a family affair as North Korea’s – is now a senior member of the great left-wing fraternity and therefore deserves to be given their unstinting support.
The Cuban regime owes its waning but still considerable popularity among those who see themselves as rebels against the established order to its revolutionary origins. Propagandists make much of this. They have yet to tire of telling the faithful that “the revolution,” or what they call “socialism,” obviously matters far more than the lives, let alone the welfare, of the island’s inhabitants.
Kirchnerites remain convinced that the desperately poor police-state the Castro brothers ruled for well over half a century is still a beacon of hope for the unhappy victims of capitalist infamy.
Their approach would make sense to believers in a violent religious cult who take it for granted that martyrdom will ensure them preferential treatment in the afterlife, but it is surely inappropriate among left-wingers who like to say they are against such antiquated superstitions. Nonetheless, ever since the late 18th century there has been no lack of intelligent individuals ready to sacrifice themselves for an allegedly rational political ideology. By and large, they have far more in common with the holy warriors of Islam and their Christian equivalents of former times than with the rationalist thinkers who provided them with material for the revolutionary ideology to which they hew.
Does the discontent that last week bubbled up to the surface in Cuba mean that the dictatorship’s days are numbered? Many certainly hope so, but perhaps they underestimate the willingness of Miguel Díaz-canel and the rest of them to go to any lengths to cling to power. For them, and, it would seem, for many other people, if in order to defend the revolution they felt themselves obliged to eliminate the entire population of the island they would be proud to do so. For fanatics, the cause they are devoted to is infinitely more important than anything else, and there can be no doubt at all that, despite the evident failure of the revolution to deliver the promised goods, there are still plenty of fanatics in Cuba.
“Beginning to leave the Macri-cristina grieta in the rearview mirror is a necessary condition for progress.”
Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, China. The ideological battle regarding Argentina’s alignment, or lack thereof, with the United States continues to reverberate through the political class as the electoral campaign kicks into high gear. And at the centre of this divide are the two major opposing forces in Argentine politics of the last 20 years: Mauricio Macri and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Their fixation on 20th century binary political categories seeps into every corner of public discourse, inundating the collective subjectivity of the nation with the aid of mass and social media, deepening the canyon between opposing political collectives that have taken the country hostage with their ethical debasement of the concept of ends justifying the means – i.e., polarisation as the only way to win elections and thus the recipe needed to root out the infidels and instill an ideologically influenced idea of what reality should look like. By no means is this an Argentine phenomenon, but our particular variant of the post-modern schism is, like the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, extremely aggressive.
The protagonism that both former presidents continue to attract speaks to the lack of charisma of their nominal successors, Alberto Fernández and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, but also to this very Argentine (read: human) taste for showmanship. Both Cristina and Macri have built their political careers around their mutual clash, using every public appearance to vilify their counterpart in order to attract the hardline voters at the ideological extreme of the political rift that separates Peronists and their detractors. Under that lens, Alberto’s charlatanerie and Rodríguez Larreta’s moderation come across as bland, unseasoned and unappetising. Even though opinion poll after opinion poll illustrates society’s major concerns pertain to the economic crisis, and that polarising figures exude mighty disapproval figures, both Fernández de Kirchner and Macri retain a certain centrality that goes beyond their formal power, or lack thereof, projecting them forward into a role they very much need in order to keep the hounds at bay. Letting down the guard, for either of them, could have dangerous consequences for the wellbeing of their respective families.
There are a few self-evident concepts that disarm the ideological divide and expose it as a charade being played by groups with clearly defined selfinterests. For anyone who wishes to try and look at things as impartially as possible, both Cuba and Venezuela are totalitarian states run by dictators, or dictatorial parties that use the excuse of anti-imperialism to hold on to a power that appears to be gradually slipping away. Their populations – the ones that haven’t managed to escape their devastated nations – are amongst the poorest and worst off in the region. At the same time, the United States abuses its status as global superpower, picking friends and foes on the basis of self-interest. Its blockade of Cuba has been devastating for the economy of the island nation to the point of exaggeration and in great part responds to internal political pressures, as does Washington’s tough-guy stance on Venezuela. The US has both committed and been complacent with rulers who violate human rights and uses its economic and military power to try and counter Chinese influence in the region, without a regard for its collateral effects. And of course, the United States, China, and Russia are all playing the global geopolitical vaccine contest.
Bolivia and Argentina are mere spectators in the big leagues of international relations, as is Latin America more broadly. Thus, Argentina needs to be on good terms with both the Chinese and the United States, whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump are in the Oval Office. Vladimir Putin’s vaccines are very much needed as well. And, if Argentina aspires to some semblance of progress, it needs as many markets as possible for its agricultural exports, and hopefully for its intellectual property and digital goods and service exports too.
But this debate is not about geopolitics at all, much less so about an actual alignment with Western or Eastern hegemonies, or multilateral non-alignment. Ultimately, the only thing that matters to both Cristina and Mauricio is domestic power, and so they engage in ideological populism that is simple for the masses to understand and therefore translatable into potential votes. It’s easy for Fernández de Kirchner to claim the accusations for high treason based on the Memorandum with Iran respond to an international conspiracy from ‘The Right’ to subjugate Argentina using dollar-denominated debt to punish us for resisting Western imperialistic tendencies. It’s a lot thornier to follow the money and notice that the near US$10 billion Macri’s first economy minister, Alfonso Prat-gay, coughed up to holdout creditors helped a certain billionaire hedge funder named Paul Singer specialised in complex litigation make a windfall. It’s equally as easy for Macri and the hardliners within the Juntos por el Cambio coalition to claim President Fernández defends the governments of Venezuela and Cuba because the ruling Frente de Todos coalition has an explicit intention of trampling on personal freedoms while dragging the country towards dictatorship. It’s a lot more difficult to explain that the balancing act required to keep together the electoral coalition that is the Frente de Todos leads to ambivalent and purposefully hazy positions regarding thorny issues, particularly when it comes to the ideology of a substantial group of voters closer to Kirchnerism.
Listening to Macri and Cristina over the past several weeks with a critical ear reinforces the view that they are only out for their own personal interests. They both treated the public apparatus as an extension of their own private lives, and both added their metric tons of salt to sink the country deeper into decrepitude. Both of them and their associates made money by virtue of being in power.
There’s always hope, and the possibility that finally both of these actors begin to fade away is also around the corner. A technical tie in the midterm elections would deliver a tough electoral defeat for the Frente de Todos, which doubled down on a strategy of polarisation that is Cristina’s making. In the opposition, the gradual consolidation of Rodríguez Larreta as major powerbroker, brushing Macri off to the side, could be read as a victory of the doves over the hawks. Beginning to leave the Macri-cristina grieta in the rearview mirror is a necessary condition for progress. Insufficient, but necessary.