Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Some reflections on Castro's Cuba

Fidel Castro died at 90 years old three days ago. His death has sparked predictable rows about his legacy and the state of human rights in Cuba. He has been described as a dictator and a Stalinist but in my view was more likely a pragmatist. When he lead the revolution which overthrew the dictator Batista, Cuba was a giant casino-cum-brothel run by the US mafia. The overthrow was popular. Initially Castro asked the USA for help and when that was not forthcoming he turned to the Soviets instead. The USA did its best to undermine the revolution, carrying out many assassination attempts against Castro, sponsoring the infamous 'Bay of Pigs' invasion and carrying out an economic blockade that has lasted for over 50 years.

On the positive side the revolution has lead to free universal healthcare and education for Cubans, and Cuban aid in healthcare has been extended to other parts of the world - notably Africa. Cuban literacy is the highest in Latin America (100%) and 48.9 % of national assembly members are women. The Cubans helped in the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa and acted as beacon for liberation in South America and a bulwark against American imperialism. However, there have clearly been limits imposed on freedom of speech and association in Cuba, there has been persecution of LGBT people, though this has now come to an end, and there are differing views on the number of people who may have been executed and tortured by the regime.
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Photo: Alberto Korda

Much of the criticism of Castro has focused on the lack of 'democracy' in a one party state. The assumption appears to be that only liberal democracies are democratic and that any truly democratic society must follow the Western model of representative democracy. But democracies in the West have important flaws such as in the UK where there is an unelected second chamber, no written constitution, and a first-past-the-post voting system which denies people the representation they want. In the USA there has recently been much criticism of the electoral college in a Presidential election where the winner Donald Trump got 2.5 million votes less than his opponent Hillary Clinton. So is liberal democracy the only form of 'acceptable' democracy or are there better alternatives? I think there are and I've posted about this previously on this blog.

Cuba also has to be viewed in the context of human rights abuses in liberal democracies such as the USA which has been involved in rendition and torture of many individuals, some of whom are still being held at Guantanamo Bay. In addition US drone strikes have been responsible for the assassination of 'terrorists' and the deaths of many innocent civilians. The USA disproportionately imprisons and kills black people through its judicial and police systems. These atrocities are rarely if ever mentioned in any discussion about Cuba in which the Western media focuses on denouncing Castro and Cuban governance.That is not to excuse any human rights abuses in Cuba. They were and are wrong and should be condemned.

What should a democratic system in a socialist state look like and how can the gains for the people made by a revolution be protected? Is it possible to have a functioning democracy without the kind of pluralism we see in liberal democracies? What is the point in having a revolution if the gains can be swept away by political parties backed by big money and vested interests as in the USA? I don't pretend to know all the answers but I do know that if the revolution in Cuba fails and it once again becomes a capitalist state the gross inequalities, including lack of healthcare and poverty, present in other countries such as the USA, will soon return. In our liberal democracy in the UK we have freedom, the freedom to starve, and sleep on the streets.