Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Castro on Obama: Class and Intellectual Allegiances Trump Race

One used to speak of President Bush as a "teflon" president--a man against which little scandal attached. President elect Obama appears to have inherited a similar quality, especially among his natural critics in places like Cuba. One gets a great sense of both the reticence of foreign leaders to criticize the incoming President and also the dismay at what they see as a return not to "change" but pre-Bush business as usual, in the recent quite disappointed but restrained reaction of the former Cuban President to the announcement of Mr. Obama's foreign policy team. See Fidel Castro Ruz, Navegar contra la marea Reflexiones Del Compañero Fidel, Granma Internacional Dec. 5, 2008 (Sailing Against the Tide). What emerges is an interesting change in the handling of the leader of the empire. While Castro had been effectively using confrontational rhetoric against the prior Republican administrations, he is adopting a different rhetorical stance to the incoming president--one closer to the approach taken with the Brazilians than the one used against the Bush and Clinton Administrations.

Castro starts by reminding the incoming President of the ten questions he had posed to the presidential candidate back in May, 2008. These were Castro's litmus test for acceptable changes in American attitudes (it seems all ideologies come with them now)--a sort of transformational litmus test--that is a test of the limits of the "Change" rhetoric than being deployed by the Obama campaign.
No cuestiono la aguda inteligencia de Obama, su capacidad polémica y su espíritu de trabajo. Domina las técnicas de comunicación y está por encima de sus rivales en la competencia electoral. Observo con simpatía a su esposa y sus niñas, que lo acompañan y animan todos los martes; es sin duda un cuadro humano agradable. No obstante, me veo obligado a varias delicadas preguntas, aunque no pretendo respuestas, únicamente consignarlas. Fidel Castro Ruz, La polítical cínica del imperio, Reflexiones Del Compañero Fidel, Granma Internacional Dec. 5, 2008 ("I am not questioning Obama’s great intelligence, his debating skills or his work ethic. He is a talented orator and is ahead of his rivals in the electoral race. I feel sympathy for his wife and little girls, who accompany him and give him encouragement every Tuesday. It is indeed a touching human spectacle. Nevertheless, I am obliged to raise a number of delicate questions. I do not expect answers; I wish only to raise them for the record." Id.)

There is a suggestion here both of questioning and guiding. The questions were rhetorical in the sense that they were meant to suggest the appropriate answer--or in their absence, the emptiness, from the perspective of the Castro camp, of the lofty rhetoric then being pumped up.

The questions--and the attempt at educating the neophyte, the former "candidato afroamericano" (the African American candidate)--remains strong. Castro praises the man he assessed as the most capable and politically astute of the candidates seeking the Presidency last year. "A pesar de las cáusticas interrogantes, no dejé de ser amable con el candidato afroamericano, en quien veía mucha más capacidad y dominio del arte de la política que en los candidatos adversarios, no solo en el partido opuesto sino también en el seno del suyo." Fidel Castro Ruz, Navegar contra la marea supra. But also criticizes the way a teacher approaches a student who hasn't properly learned his lessons.

The focus remains the questions--the usual batch of questions about the American position in the world and its relation specifically to Cuba, globalization, consumption and development--were first uttered when, in Castro's view, then candidate Obama appeared to be pandering to the worst conservative elements at the " Cuban American National Foundation created by Ronald Reagan." (Fidel Castro Ruz, La polítical cínica del imperio, supra; Id. in English). Worse, Mr. Obama suggested that
Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy. (…) This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century – of elections that are anything but free or fair (…) I won't stand for this injustice, you won't stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba," he told annexationists, adding: "It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime. (…) I will maintain the embargo." (Fidel Castro Ruz, La polítical cínica del imperio, supra; Id. in English) ("¿Qué afirmó?"A través de mi vida ha habido injusticia y represión en Cuba, y nunca durante mi vida el pueblo ha conocido la verdadera libertad, nunca en la vida de dos generaciones ha conocido el pueblo de Cuba una democracia... no hemos visto elecciones durante 50 años... Nosotros no vamos a soportar estas injusticias, juntos vamos a buscar la libertad para Cuba," les expresa a los anexionistas y continúa: "Esa es mi palabra. Ese es mi compromiso. ...es hora de que el dinero estadounidense haga que el pueblo cubano sea menos dependiente del régimen de Castro. Voy a mantener el embargo..."").
To Castro's chagrin, the incoming President has appeared to indicate some continuing unsatisfactory responses through his choices for appointment to key positions. Indeed, Mr. Obama's recent appointments appear to suggest, from the perspective of the Cuban former leader, a revelation of the fundamental caucasian privileging conservatism of the partially African president elect (and thus, perhaps, the constant play on the racial component of the incoming President). Imagine Castro's consternation at the announcement of the revival of Clintonism as American foreign policy in the person of the former President's wife.
No olvido, por mi parte, que fue la rival del Presidente electo, Barack Obama, y esposa del presidente Clinton, que sancionó las leyes extraterritoriales Torricelli y Helms Burton contra Cuba. Durante su lucha por la postulación, ella se comprometió con dichas leyes y con el bloqueo económico. No me quejo, simplemente lo hago constar. (Id.) ("For my part I do nor forget that it was the rival of President-elect Barack Obama, and wife of President Clinton, who enacted the extraterritorial laws Torricelli and Helms Burton Act against Cuba. During their struggle for the nomination, she affirmed her commitment to such laws and the economic blockade. I am not complaining, I just note it.").
But though the strike is direct and potentially potent, Castro is satisfied by simply mentioning the appointment rather than complain about it.
An equal measure of irony was used to note the appointment of Janet Napolitano, Robert Gates, James Jones, and Susan Elizabeth Rice--in Mr. Obama's own words. And thus the fear and disappointment.

Con Obama se puede conversar donde lo desee, ya que no somos predicadores de la violencia y de la guerra. Debe recordársele que la teoría de la zanahoria y el garrote no tendrá vigencia en nuestro país.

Ninguna de las frases de su último discurso contiene elementos de respuesta a las preguntas que formulé el pasado 25 de mayo, hace solo seis meses.

No diré ahora que Obama es menos inteligente; por el contrario, está demostrando las facultades que me permitieron ver y comparar su capacidad con las del mediocre adversario John McCain, a quien por pura tradición la sociedad norteamericana estuvo a punto de premiar sus "hazañas". Sin crisis económica, sin televisión y sin Internet, Obama no ganaba las elecciones venciendo al omnipotente racismo. Tampoco, sin los estudios que realizó primero en la Universidad de Columbia, donde se graduó en Ciencias Políticas, y luego en la de Harvard, donde obtuvo el título de Derecho, lo que le permitió convertirse en hombre de la clase modestamente rica con solo varios millones de dólares. No era ciertamente Abraham Lincoln, ni esta época se corresponde con aquella, pues se trata hoy de una sociedad de consumo donde el hábito de ahorrar se ha perdido y el de gastar se ha multiplicado. Id.

In English: "One can speak with Obama as one likes, because we are not preachers of violence and war. But he ought to remember that the theory of carrot and the stick will have no effect on our country.

Nothing that he previously said in his last speech contains even partial answers to questions that I posed last May 25, just six months ago.

I will not say now that Obama is less intelligent; on the contrary he is evidencing those faculties that allowed me to see and compare his ability with that of his mediocre opponent John McCain, who by the habits of American spociety was about to reward his "feats." Without the economic crisis, without television and without the Internet, Obama would not have won the elections, beating omnipotent racism. Nor without having first studied at Columbia University, where he graduated in political science, and then at Harvard, where he obtained a law degree, that made it possible for him to transform himself into a member of the modestly rich class having only amassed a modest number millions of dollars. He is certainly no Abraham Lincoln, not does this historical period correspond with that one, as today society is defined by consumption where the habit of saving has been lost and spending has increased."

Again, the deliciously ironic use of race, the rhetorical turns and double meanings. A partially African origined president elect who is no Abraham Lincoln, an intelligent man who is an astute manipulator of media to acquire the fruits of democratic choice (in opposition to the manipulative election system Mr. Obama suggested exists within Cuba), a man of the people who has been transformed into the image of the very people who once set the tone of racial subordination, a man seeking change who is comfortably embedded within the class and class tastes of an established and comfortable (white European) elite.

Yet even this criticism was strangely muted. And sounded more disappointed, and frustrated--especiually since there was no other aspirant on which to bet in the American presidential race. When Mr. Castro now looks to Mr. Obama, he begins to sees the good old days of the Clinton Administration and the cynical application of the old policies of the carrot and stick. But the game remains the same--destabilize the Cuban government and replace it with something more to the liking of Mr. Obama and the people he believes he serves in this respect. The promise of the exotically origined president elect appears to be dissipating in the realities of Mr. Obama's class loyalties, his allegiances to the ruling elites and his apparent eagerness for the security of conformity. I have noted the importance of class origins and loyalties in Castro's assessments of individuals. This perspective was critical to the cultivation of Brazil's Lula. See the four essays on Castro and Lula, recently posted. The first provided the set up for the discussion, establishing to deep-rooted commonalities binding Brazil and Cuba, Castro and Lula. For my discussion, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva, Law at the End of the Day, Jan. 26, 2008. The second pointed to the bases on which a mutually beneficial and strategic alignment made tremendous sense for both states. For my discussion, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part II: Castro Continues his Wooing of Lula, Law at the End of the Day, Feb. 10, 2008. The third pointed to the parallel developments of Cuba and Brazil, through Castro and Lula, and more importantly, the critical role that Brazil could play in the protection of Cuba and in the safeguarding of the intellectual and political independence of Latin America form the United States, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part III: Cuba and Brazil in Parallel Strokes, Law at the End of the Day, February 24, 2008. In the last, Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part IV: Bringing Lula Into the Cuban Orbit; Bringing Cuba Into the Brazilian Orbit?,Law at the End of the Day, March 7, 2008, Castro sums up his sense of the stage of Cuban Brazilian relations, and the role each plays in the greater amalgamation of Latin America against the United States. Here we see nicely drawn the political and ideological legacy that Castro wishes to institutionalize before his passing.

It is dawning on Mr. Castro (and perhaps the government headed by Mr. Castro's brother) that the partial African parentage and unconventional upbringing of the child Obama may not be enough to negate the class allegiance and intellectual training that shaped the man and placed him squarely within the nice center-left American elite--comfortable, safe, unadventurous, conformist, and unlikely to deviate in substantial respect from traditional American policy. This is ironic. Castro's own Stalinist Marxist orientation should have prepared him for the inevitable conclusion that class trumps race. Indeed, the campaign sloganeering and media line of the then candidate made that point quite clearly to American audiences. Thus the disappointment--for the Cubans.

And thus also the warning. "Nuestros principios son los de Baraguá. El imperio debe saber que nuestra Patria puede ser convertida en polvo, pero los derechos soberanos del pueblo cubano no son negociables." Id. ("Our principles are those of Baraguá. The empire should know that our country can be turned into dust, but the Cuban people's sovereign rights are not negotiable.") While Americans are preparing for "change" the Cubans appear to be preparing for "business as usual."

Mr. Castero's insights servesmore as a warning to Cuba (and states like it) than as a criticism of the Americans. It suggests that in a world turned upside down--where the great capitalists are Marxist Leninist Chinese and the great ideological revolutionaries pushing global projects in (oddly conceived at times) democratic establishment is the United States--little troublesome states, like Cuba, will have to manage their survival in very different ways than a generation ago. To avoid American ideoloigical transformations, it remains necessary for Cuba to seek protection within the networks of global economic engagement. Great webs of financial obligations--like those Cuba is constructing with states of great value ot the Americans-- are greater protection for Cuba than all of the military power it might otherwise muster. That will require a move towards authoritarian capitalism. That the Cubans resist this for fear of losing control of the state apparatus (or reducing the control of the party-state apparatus on all aspects of life on the Island) is hardly a reason for failing to confront this choice. And indeed it is an idea worth reconsidering. Either the Cubans begin to restructure their economy to protect themselves against American political intermeddling, or they face the real risk of a successful campaign of intermeddling. What Mr. Obama's conservative (and ideological) turn ought to remind the Cuban state is the importance of the development of a sustained project of cotrolled economic transformation. Larry Catá Backer, On the Anniversary of the Attack on the Moncada Barracks: Cuba Moves Forward towards its Chinese Future, Law at the End of the Day, July 27, 2007.

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