PPI-016-William Blum: `this thing called Democracy’


Richard Moore

 - a public service of CADRE (Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance) -

                     The United States, Cuba and
                     this thing called Democracy

                           William Blum

                   Author: Killing Hope: U.S. Military and
                           CIA Interventions Since World War II

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The United States, Cuba
and this thing called Democracy

     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 implication.

     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 and Honduras.

     Not even Cuba's worst enemies have charged the Castro
government with any of these violations, and if one further
considers 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.


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