Burma & Cuba – from Havel

Remarks from someone who has been there & done that:

Seemingly unshakable totalitarian monoliths are in fact sometimes as cohesive as proverbial houses of cards, and fall just as quickly. Continuing democratization of the whole region, together with growing dissent inside the country, must eventually have a positive effect. As Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her 60th birthday, I wish for her that those changes will happen as soon as possible, and that my silly idea — to hand her a rose — becomes a simple and easy thing to do.

I’m not sure just who this reinforces among the threads today, but it does give witness: totalitarian monoliths aren’t all that strong in important ways and a bloodless revolution from within can happen – it just doesn’t very often.

He also returns to Cuba, not allowing the folly he battled to slip away without mention; the EU

recently learned the hard way when it thought — partly out of naivete, partly out of expediency — that a more forthcoming attitude toward Fidel Castro’s regime would lead to a more forthcoming attitude on the part of Castro toward his political prisoners and dissent in general. But Castro made a fool of the E.U.

16 thoughts on “Burma & Cuba – from Havel”

  1. Totalitarian regimes aren’t strong in any sense. The very need to resort to draconian measures to maintain their rule is symptom of profound systemic weakness, not strength.

    Techs use the term “robust” to describe a system that will continue to function even if severely disturbed. Western democracies are very robust, relying on culture as much as politics for their existence. Destroying the leadership and police powers of the state does not destroy the democracy because the legitimacy of the democracy flows upwards from the people.

    Totalitarian regimes are not robust. They survive by isolating and terrorizing the people. They’re leaders live in constant dread of internal revolt. Chopping off the head destroys the regime.

    I think we intuitively believe Totalitarians regimes are more robust than democracies because we intuit that those with unrestricted power must have more control over events than those with restrictions. However, it is the very division of power within democracies that make them robust. Failure of one subunit does not cause the failure of the entire system.

    Democracies are real in a way Totalitarian regimes never are. Democracies exist in an organic way like an ecosystem as an entanglement of interacting cultural, social, economic and political interest. By comparison, Totalitarian regimes are mere illusions created by atomizing the population and convincing each individual that they stand alone against the overawing power of the state.

    Once that illusion is shattered the regime falls quickly.

  2. Havel deserves great credit for being one of the few prominent European public figures who does not mince words about the oppressiveness of the Castro regime.

  3. Cuba is an interesting case. Is it the consensus of opinion here that our hostile economic policy is improving life there and making it more democratic?

    Henry C K Liu recently made some provoking observations:

    For all its ill effects, the Cold War achieved two formidable ends: it prevented nuclear war and it introduced development as a moral imperative into superpower geopolitical competition with rising economic equality within each bloc. In the years since the end of the Cold War, nuclear terrorism has emerged as a serious threat and domestic development is preempted by global trade, even in the rich economies, while income and wealth disparity has widened everywhere.

    Hostility in the name of ‘freedom’
    Yet it is clear that political freedom is often the first casualty of a garrison-state mentality and such mentality inevitably results from hostile economic and security policy toward any country the US deems as not free. Whenever the US pronounces a nation to be not free, that nation will become less free as a result of US policy. This has been repeatedly evident in China and elsewhere in the Third World.

  4. Cuba is free to trade with many countries, yet somehow the US embargo always gets blamed for Cuba’s decreptitude. The embargo may or may not be a good idea but it is not the cause of Cuba’s woes. The entire blame must be placed on the communist regime.

    To blame the US for Cuba’s lack of freedom is obscene. To do so is to let the murderers who run Cuba off the hook for their many crimes.

    BTW, to give some idea of where Henry C. K. Liu is coming from, check out his pean to the so-called Great Leap Forward. Excerpt:

    Most of the mass movements initiated by Mao Zedong were successful in changing old ideas and reshaping Chinese society. Even the Great Leap Forward, for which Mao is vilified, was successful in important areas, and estimates of 30 million deaths are wildly exaggerated. Bad weather, famines and the US trade embargo caused most of the deaths. Today’s neo-liberal globalization has inflicted far more death and suffering than the Great Leap.

    Who would have guessed that liberal internationalism and US embargoes, rather than the twentieth century’s totalitarian governments, were the biggest killers in history?

  5. Jonathan,

    “not the cause of Cuba’s woes”

    perhaps a cause of Cuba’s woes? one of many?

    “The entire blame must be placed on the communist regime.”

    because national governments are the only causes of their nation’s woes? or…why?

    Economic warfare affects its targets–or we wouldn’t bother with it–no?

  6. “Economic warfare affects its targets–or we wouldn’t bother with it–no?”

    Your question you answer it.

    What exactly can Cuba not obtain because of the embargo? Europe is perfectly willing to trade with Cuba. Are EU products, medicines, foodstuffs and manufactures so inferior to US made goods that the disparity accounts for Cuba’s economic woes?

    If we were to economically engage Cuba we would be blamed for suporting yet another dictatorsip. Since we get the blame either way …

  7. Mark it isn’t that hard.

    How would you like not being able to express yourself freely?

    How would you like not being able to travel freely?

    How would you like not being able to:
    do what you want
    read what you want
    listen to the radio you want
    hang out with the friends you want to hang out with
    watch the TV and movies that you want
    start the business that you want?

    welcome to Cuba, baby.

  8. And the U.S. has an embargo on petroleum from Iran. How is Iran’s petroleum sales harmed? It isn’t, just as Cuba isn’t harmed by the U.S. not actively trading with Cuba for anything. The whole world can trade with Cuba and does.

    I mean, heck, if all of Europe doesn’t have any impact on Cuba’s economy, but the U.S. will… what does that say about Europe’s economic strength? Nothing, because the issue isn’t about the U.S. or Europe. It’s all about King Castro’s poor ability to run his island. Having the U.S. trade with Cuba won’t make a difference to the national Cuban economy just like Europe has no impact beyond tourist resorts.

  9. Havel is a true hero of liberty and the fact that he continues to openly and defiantly denounce totalitarianism at any level and in any place in the world is a tribute to his faith in natural rights and the independence of the human spirit.

  10. “income and wealth disparity have widened everywhere.” — Mark.

    I have been hearing this at least once a month since 1967, and am assured by reliable sources that the sentiment was common long before that. The usual bromide “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is attested before 1900. A different set of statistics is tortured every decade to preserve this myth, which must be oddly comforting to some people. I suspect those people are speaking from the resentment that others who they consider their inferiors are making more money than they are, which they translate as evidence that their society has terrible values and is totally unjust.

    While they were whining, the poor got richer. Again.

  11. “Economic warfare affects its targets–or we wouldn’t bother with it–no?”

    Sure we would. Our government does lots of things that have no effects related to their supposed purposes merely to please a particular constituency. It takes systematic, international sanctions to actually affect a country exzcept at a marginal level.

    The only economic effect the U.S. embargo on Cuba had prior to 1992 was a slightly reduced price on permium Cuban tobaccos, a financial penalty vastly smaller than the direct subsidies Cuba recieved from Moscow. Cuba’s Communists were ideologically opposed to the tourist trade, so there was no effect there. Sugar and non-premium tobacco are commodities, and so are fungible — the U.S. importing more from Castro’s neighbors while Europe and the Soviet Bloc imported more from Cuba would wash out even.

    Now, since the fall of the USSR, Cuba has opened up the tourist trade, but still not all that far. Making reasonable estimate based on comparisons with the Dominican Republic (and assuming the Cuban government would not ideologically clamp down on tourism), an end to the U.S. embargo would enlarge Cuba’s tourism sector by something like 233% — about a one-time 7% increase in the size of the Cuban economy.

    Now, certainly, an increase in per capita GDP from $2,800 to $3,000 would be an improvement, but Cuban would still be at half the Dominican Republic’s per-capita GDP. Cuban poverty is caused by the Cuban government, not the U.S. embargo.

    Look, I’m in favor of ending the embargo, but my reason is because it’s pointless, not because it’s hurting Cubans at anything but the margins. Cuba will be poor and backwards as long as it is being run by ideologically-blinded economic incompetents. And as the recent problems European companies have been having with their investments being liquidated and their debts left unpaid show, Cuba is still being run by those incompetents.

  12. @Mark: “The entire blame must be placed on the communist regime.”

    because national governments are the only causes of their nation’s woes? or…why?

    In Cuba’s case, yes. The national government is the only cause of that nation’s woes. The Cuban national government has taken upon itself to control all economic activity and has outlawed all individual initiative in improving ones economic situation. Fidel has cracked down on every sort of business outside of the State.

    In general, what national governments can do, is to create to conditions for economic growth and development by providing law and order, independent courts, secure property rights and enforcing honesty in economic transactions. Once they do that, stand back and watch the economy boom. Every time this has been tried, the People have responded with amazing economic development.

    Government doesn’t create wealth (economic development), it can only create the conditions for that growth.

  13. Before we get hoarse cheering for Havel, consider this quote from him which I located somewhere on the ‘net in Nov 2004 (source lost, sorry):

    “The end of the bipolar world represented a great opportunity to make the international order more humane. Instead, we witness a process of economic globalization that has escaped political control and, as such, is causing economic havoc, as well as ecological devastation, in many parts of the world.”

    Havel seems to have come under the influence of Naomi Klein and/or other neo-Marxists. His views are simple-minded slogans that perpetuate myths. He should be humored as one would a retired uncle who, though quaint and lovable, is too dotty to be trusted to do the shopping.

    Next: Castro. What seems to have escaped notice in the comments is that Cuba can get just about whatever it wants from the USA, as long as it is ordered by a Mexican distributor and the paperwork is faked. NAFTA makes it easy, so the USA can’t prevent goods from being trucked to Vera Cruz and shipped to Habana. Moreover, I’m not aware of a nation in the New World (besides the USA) that would refuse Cuban commerce. Of course Cuba can’t buy much, because the Neanderthaloid communism there keeps the nation impoverished. “Socialism AND Death.”

    The embargo is a fact of political life in Florida because if it were dropped, the wigged-out ethnic Cubans there would exact devastating political revenge. The GOP and the Dems are both scared to do anything in Florida: who touches the holy embargo, dies at the polls.

    Of course the embargo is silly. As is opposition to it. In the final analysis, it’s just grist for Castro’s propaganda mill, and a sop for some of the looniest voters in the USA.

  14. Very sorry for the duplicate post! Things simply did not work — original post did not take. I closed down, shut off my computer, later returned and hit “Preview” under a blank “Comments” box, and found my text! I copied-pasted, hit “Post,” and both copies wound up on the site. Apologies.

    BTW Havel also refers to the “continuing democratization of the whole region” — I’m in Thailand, and I wonder what he referring to. From my viewpoint, democracy seems to be static or in slight decline in SE Asia.

    OK, if this does not post properly on the first try, I’m NOT going to return!!

  15. Wait, was not Castro just listed as being in the Forbe’s Magazine top richtest men in the world?

    If this is true, (need to look at the list http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/ Royals and Rulers = Castro = $550M) it would mean that the Cubans are poor so as to finance Castro’s lifestyle. Does Saddam Hussein sound familiar? Have we not seen this before?

    So, the state takes away all property rights by giving it all to the leader, who then uses the secret police and the military to make sure everyone obeys and pays.

    Funny how communist leaders end up the richest people in their even handed ideological – make everyone equal states. This is not Communism as espoused by Marx. But then again was any communism that?

    No, Cuba, as any other dictatorship is simply a self centered, self-aggrandizing, self-enriching dictatorship – explains why the people are so poor. Don’t need embargoes to explain this…

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