Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fidel Castro on the American Elections: Obama's Partiality and the Perceptions of the Developing World

Sometimes the most trenchant analysis comes from unexpected sources. And so it may be for the American presidential election which is being held this day. As my election day contribution to this great republic, I draw on the perspective of an unusual source, but one whose knowledge of and fascinated antipathy for the American political system might provide more valuable insights, even if only perversely so, than the slew of media sycophants and "players" that tend to dominate the narcissistic and involved Western media. Fidel Castro Ruz, The November 4 Elections, Reflections of Fidel, Granma International, Nov. 4, 2008 (in the original, Las elecciones del 4 de noviembre, Reflexiones de Fidel, Granma internacional, 4 Nov. 2008).

Castro starts with the usual platitudes that have been heard incessantly in the past several weeks. "Tomorrow will be a very important day. World opinion will be following what happens with the elections in the United States. It is the most powerful nation on the planet." ("Mañana será un día de gran importancia. La opinión mundial estará atenta de lo que en Estados Unidos ocurra con las elecciones. Se trata de la nación más poderosa del planeta.") But Castro adds his usual twist, providing a space for chiding both the nation and its new leader:
With less than five percent of the world’s population, it annually sucks up enormous quantities of oil and gas, minerals, raw materials, consumer goods and sophisticated products from other countries; many of these, especially fuel and products that are mined, are not renewable.
Id. ("
Con menos del 5 por ciento de la población del mundo succiona cada año enormes cantidades de petróleo y gas, minerales, materias primas, bienes de consumo y productos sofisticados procedentes del exterior; muchos de ellos, en especial los combustibles y los extraídos de las minas, que no son renovables.").

But then we get down to business--the United States, whatever its power, and powerful ability to suck up global resources, also produces other and more noxious effects.
It is the largest producer and exporter of weapons. The military industrial complex also has an insatiable market within the same country. Its air and naval forces are concentrated on dozens of military bases in other countries. The strategic missiles of the United States, which carry nuclear warheads, can reach any point in the world with total precision.
Id. ("
Es el mayor productor y exportador de armas. El complejo militar industrial cuenta, además, con un insaciable mercado en el propio país. Sus fuerzas aéreas y navales se concentran en decenas de bases militares ubicadas en el territorio de otras naciones. Los cohetes estratégicos de Estados Unidos, portadores de cabezas nucleares, pueden alcanzar con total precisión cualquier punto del mundo.").

And its effects on the global market for creative and talented people is especially intense. "
Many of the most intelligent minds in the world are plucked out of their native countries and placed at the service of this system. It is a parasitical and rapacious empire." Id. ("Muchas de las mejores inteligencias del planeta son sustraídas de sus países de origen y puestas al servicio del sistema. Es un imperio parasitario y saqueador."). Castro, of course, has felt this directly. Not so much with his doctors and teachers (they are, after all a dime a dozen in the United States) but with his far more valuable sports and artistic personnel on which the Cuban state has lavished its scarce resources. This has been the subject of many lamentations in the recent past. See, e.g., Fidel Castro Ruz, El robo de cerebros, Reflexiones de Fidel, Granma Internacional, 18 julio 2007.

But now to business. Though the analysis is meant to look carefully at both candidates, Castro apparently has also studied the latest American polling. Much of the essay is devoted to candidate Obama, candidate McCain is dismissed as an ossified fossil whose views and positions are hardly worth the effort. Without the slightest evidence of irony, Castro writes, "
McCain is old, bellicose, uncultured, not very intelligent and not in good health.” (Id.) ("McCain es viejo, belicoso, inculto, poco inteligente y sin salud.").

And thus, on to candidate Obama. First there is the issue of the "racing" of candidate Obama. Castro first contextualizes his race within the cliched understanding of the racial ethos in the United States. "
As everybody knows, the black population that was brought into the United States through slavery for centuries is victim of intense racial discrimination." Id. ("Como se conoce, la población negra introducida a través de la esclavitud en el territorio de Estados Unidos a lo largo de siglos, es víctima de una fuerte discriminación racial."). And within this context he situates the candidate.
Obama, the Democratic candidate, is part African, and the color black and other physical traits of that race predominate in him. He was able to study at an institution of higher learning from which he graduated with brilliant grades. He is no doubt more intelligent, educated and level-headed than his Republican rival.
Id. ("
Obama, candidato demócrata, es en parte de origen negro, y en él predominan el color oscuro y otros rasgos físicos de dicha raza. Pudo estudiar en un centro de educación superior donde se graduó con notas brillantes. Es sin duda más inteligente, culto y ecuánime que su adversario republicano."). Now this is both interesting and insightful. Castro acknowledges both the partiality of Obama's race, and its interpretation by others. A man of partial African origin whose outward form (physical traits) suggests a certain racing (from a biological, cultural and other perspectives as well?) but whose acculturation suggests a different sort of racing--a cultural racing different from his physical traits. This play on partiality comes to play a large role in Castro's analysis of the election and of this candidate.

This play on partiality--and the suggestion that the parts may not add up--are then developed in the paragraphs that follow. He reminds us of Toni Morrison's suggestion that the "black candidate" (Id.) ("El candidato negro") ought to be understood as both "
future president and poet of that nation." (Id.) ("lo califica de futuro Presidente y poeta de esa nación."). But then there is the subtle and ironic criticism larded with praise:
has articulated his ideas well, and strikes with them over and over in the minds of voters. He does not hesitate to affirm that above all, more than Republicans and Democrats, they are the people of the United States, citizens that he describes as the most productive in the world; that he will cut taxes for the middle class, in which he includes almost everybody; he will eliminate them for the poorest and raise them for the richest. Income will not be allocated to saving banks.
Id. ("
tiene bien articuladas sus ideas y golpea una y otra vez con ellas en la mente de los votantes. No vacila en afirmar que por encima de todo, más que republicanos y demócratas, son estadounidenses, ciudadanos que califica como los más productivos del mundo; que reducirá los impuestos a la clase media, en la que incluye a casi todos; los eliminará a los más pobres, y los elevará a los más ricos. Los ingresos no estarán destinados a salvar a los bancos.").

Likewise, Obama's position on the Iraq war is both lauded and mocked. It is lauded for its objective--to force an exit of the American forces form Iraq. And mock--that exit is both inevitable as a consequence of the defeat of American policy and objectives, and inevitable because of the cost of that adventure. The suggestion, of course, is that Obama's position was hardly principled--it was based on a calculation of the political mileage he could get from capitalizing on the economic effects of the war on the American taxpayer (and their stomach for further spending) rather than necessarily on reasons of right.
He reiterates over and over that the ruinous spending on Bush’s war in Iraq should not be paid for by U.S. taxpayers. He would put an end to that and bring back the U.S. soldiers. Perhaps he took into account the fact that that country had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It has cost the blood of thousands of U.S. soldiers, dead or injured in combat, and more than one million lives in that Muslim nation. It was a war of conquest imposed by the empire in its search for oil.
Id. ("Reitera una y otra vez que los gastos ruinosos de la guerra de Bush en Iraq no deben ser costeados por los contribuyentes norteamericanos. Le pondrá fin y traerá de regreso a los soldados de Estados Unidos. Tal vez tuvo presente que ese país nada tuvo que ver con los atentados terroristas del 11 de septiembre de 2001. Ha costado la sangre de miles de soldados de Estados Unidos, muertos o heridos en los combates, y más de un millón de vidas a esa nación musulmana. Fue una guerra de conquista impuesta por el imperio en busca de petróleo."). And of course, the implication is, that every other American well trained at elite institutions and inculcated with American elite values, he would be as indifferent as the next American if it was politically expedient.

Like his American pundit colleagues, Castro suggests that the turn for Obama was as much about economics as it was about the candidate's eloquence.
“The people of the United States are more concerned about the economy than the war in Iraq." (Id.) ("Al pueblo de Estados Unidos le preocupa más la economía que la guerra de Iraq."). And ultimately, this forms the basis for a suggestion of the structural limits to the possibility of change in the United States--even when the privileged rule behind a historically subordinated facade. There is no power sharing possible in this view; there is merely privilege protecting itself by clothing its power in a more acceptable guise while retaining the power to extend largesse (in the form of policy).

But that leads to a most remarkable paragraph, one that I think nicely crystallizes the world's hope and cynicism as it views the unfolding of this most remarkable American presidential race:
Obama is defiant; I think that he has run and will run increasing risks in the country in which an extremist can legally acquire a sophisticated modern weapon on any street corner, just like in the early 18th century in the West of the United States. He supports his system and will base himself on it. Concerns over the world’s pressing problems really do not occupy an important place in Obama’s mind, and even less so in the mind of the candidate who, as a war pilot, dropped dozens of tons of bombs on the city of Hanoi, more than 15,000 kilometers from Washington, without any remorse in his conscience.
("Obama es desafiante, pienso que ha corrido y correrá crecientes riesgos en el país donde un extremista puede adquirir por ley un arma sofisticada moderna en cualquier esquina como en la primera mitad del siglo XVIII al Oeste del territorio de Estados Unidos. Apoya su sistema y se apoyará en él. La preocupación por los agobiantes problemas del mundo no ocupan realmente un lugar importante en la mente de Obama, y mucho menos en la del candidato que, como piloto de guerra, descargó decenas de toneladas de bombas sobre la ciudad de Hanoi, a más de 15 mil kilómetros de Washington, sin remordimiento alguno de conciencia."). Here Castro brings Obama's part-this-and-part-that home--a white black man, a signifier of an oppressed (and perhaps structurally oppressed group) who is also the embodiment of the sort of privilege that makes him as indifferent to the cares of the rest of the world as any of his white predecessors. And he cannot help himself. he is a product not of his skin color or his racial features but a captive of his cultural and class position. He will have the sensibilities of Eleanor Roosevelt, the developing world seems to hope, but also her distance and the protection of her privilege to keep her safely distanced from those for which she feels an obligation--but always form a position of privilege. And so, Castro tells us--black or white or in between--the relationship between Americans and the rest of the world, from an American perspective, must necessarily be vertical. But at least the rhetoric of subordination will sound better to the ear.

Castro suggests, as perhaps only an old fashioned Marxist can, that class will trump race (or the appearance of race)--even in the United States. Castro reminds us that the peculiarly American fixation on race, as both a simplifying proxy and a complicating issue
for the construction of a unified polity, is not universally privileged as the basis for analysis in the rest of the world. For all that, Castro would endorse candidate Obama, if for no other reason than pragmatic ones (though clothes in the usual heroic language).
“If my estimates should be erroneous, all kinds of racism prevail and the Republican candidate obtains the presidency, the danger of war would grow and the opportunities of the peoples to advance would be reduced. Despite everything, we must fight and raise awareness about this, no matter who wins these elections.”
(Id.) "Si mis cálculos estuvieran equivocados, el racismo de todas formas se impusiera y el candidato republicano obtuviese la Presidencia, el peligro de guerra se incrementaría y las oportunidades de los pueblos para salir adelante se reducirían. A pesar de todo, hay que luchar y crear conciencia sobre esto, gane quien gane esas elecciones."

No comments: