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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Carlos Alberto Montaner

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Carlos Alberto Montaner

Last Build Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2009 06:14:03 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

'Good' Tyrants Impoverish the People

Tue, 03 Feb 2009 06:14:03 -0600

Poverty in the United States is generally experienced in dwellings that may be gray and uniform but are supplied with electricity and running potable water. It does not exclude the possession of an automobile, air conditioning, color television, telephone, mail service, free education, food coupons, sewage, access to emergency medical services, police protection, a system of justice and a certain amount of money. In Venezuela, the setting usually is infinitely worse. No need to describe it; we all know the horror of tin-roof shacks, violence and privation that signifies being poor in Venezuela (or in Nicaragua, Bolivia and almost all of Latin America.)

Ignoring the people's misery

The same thing happens in Cuba. Houses are falling apart, one brick at a time. For the past 48 years, the Cubans' food and drinking water have been rationed. The sewers overflow, and the garbage is rarely ever picked up (to the rats' delight), while the Cubans flee aboard any object that can float.

But Fidel Castro -- who is dominated by a compulsive compassion and is incapable of perceiving the misery that surrounds him, mindless of the expenses incurred by his country -- dispenses scholarships to thousands of medical students from all over the Americas and sends tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, teachers, dentists and nurses to the Third World with the prodigality of a sultan.

Also, during the Cold War, an irate or emotion-filled Castro chose the causes that seemed to him to be just or suitable for his project of world conquest and sent his armies to fight against Morocco, Somalia, Israel or Jonas Savimbi's pro-Chinese, pro-American factions in Angola, sowing cemeteries of Cuban ''internationalists'' in every corner of the globe. No material or human sacrifice was enough for his kindness and idealism without borders or limits.

Why those extravagant shows of solidarity by these men? Doubtless because it is a demagogic public-relations campaign intended to demonstrate that their regimes are extraordinary and the ideology they support is marvelous. But also to show to the world, through someone else's sacrifice, that they are leaders endowed with the noblest hearts in mankind, something that gives them a gratifying sensation of moral superiority.

To give away what's not theirs, to sacrifice to the last man, to dispense compassion without ever considering their own people, who underwrite the expenses with their labor and cannot even complain about the largess, give these men an ineffable internal happiness that is, of course, an unhealthy expression of the narcissism that afflicts them. They are not as interested in other people's welfare (which is evident from the huge price they exact from their own people) as they are in carrying out a great deed, enshrining themselves in history, dazzling mankind and confirming their quality as exceptional human beings.

Destruction of the nation

The worst about this type of pathological compassion practiced from the highest peak of power is that the ''strong men'' who engage in it usually co-opt the legitimate altruism that is nestled in the hearts of most people. By hoarding all the wealth, controlling all the mechanisms to make decisions and arbitrarily disposing of the resources of society, these men mutilate the possibility of dispensing charity that almost all normal people possess in varying degrees.

At the end of the road, all that's left is a ''good'' tyrant and poor citizens, exhausted to the point of nausea and, paradoxically, bled dry of every vestige of their philanthropic drive.

Being good is no longer a possibility. Even that has been taken from them.

Raul Wants to Chat

Tue, 06 Jan 2009 08:00:32 -0600

Once he attains the first two objectives, Raúl Castro would practically liquidate what remains of the embargo. With the third, he would please Fidel Castro, who is determined not to die until his ''hardest'' agents return to Cuba. Naturally, despite the general clamor that demands deep political changes, neither Fidel nor Raúl would even think about opening the margins of participation in Cuban society. They intend to maintain a communist state with a single party and a total absence of freedoms.

Fidel's firm grip

Obama should harbor no illusions regarding Cuba. Ten U.S. presidents before him have bashed heads with the regime of the Castro brothers. However, it is probable that, during Obama's first four-year term, things will begin to change inside the island. The starting point for those changes could be the death of Fidel Castro, who has been slowly expiring since the summer of 2006. While it is known that most of those in the structure of power would like a profound reform, the old comandante, a stubborn Stalinist, prevents it.

This observation is important: While Fidel Castro is alive, any significant concession the Obama administration may make to Havana will be counterproductive. It will be interpreted as, ''Fidel Castro is right, and we don't need to make any substantial change in our totalitarian model.'' However, the moment Fidel disappears, Washington must make a goodwill gesture, even to Raúl Castro, as a sign of encouragement to the reformist forces, with the explicit message that the United States is willing to generously help Cubans transform the country into a peaceful and reasonably prosperous democracy.

For Obama's government, that must be the objective: Cuba's peaceful change into a stable democracy with freedoms and respect for human rights, a democracy with a productive apparatus that allows Cubans to live in their homeland without having to emigrate illegally to the United States. A nation similar to Costa Rica, with good relations with its neighbors and the United States; a nation that, far from expelling its people for lack of opportunities, is able to absorb the thousands of exiles who would return to Cuba if living conditions were acceptable there.

Washington discredited

The achievement of that objective leads one to discard any temptation to negotiate in Cuba with a tyranny like the one in China or Vietnam, with a kleptocracy like the one in Russia or with a military dictatorship. That only postpones the problem, it does not solve it. For almost all of the 20th century, the United States played the ''our-SOB'' card, and the results were dreadful. Washington became totally discredited because it preached democracy and protected the dictatorships. After Somoza came the Sandinistas. After Batista, communism came to Cuba. It makes no sense to revive that strategy in the post-Castro era.

What can Obama do to stimulate changes in Cuba? He can adopt several measures: to gradually reduce the economic sanctions if the dictatorship releases political prisoners or relieves its pressure on the dissidents; elevate the rank of the United States' diplomatic representation to the category of embassy; facilitate sports and academic exchanges.

But before any initiative is taken in Washington, a key question must be asked: Will that step lead Cubans toward democracy and an economic opening, or will it help consolidate in power an authoritarian oligarchy that abusively divvies up the nation's revenues? That's the litmus test. If the result is the latter, there's no sense even in trying.

Putin Wants to Follow Peter the Great

Tue, 30 Sep 2008 00:36:56 -0600

For Vladimir Putin -- who is really the one in charge in Russia -- it is a good thing to have the Russian flag defiantly waving around the Americas aboard a ship that carries the name of one of the people he admires most. Putin has a picture of Emperor Peter the Great in his office, and he is probably one of his most important sources of inspiration. After all, this absolutist monarch decided to defeat the West by imitating it.

Sarah Palin's neighbor

Peter learned to build ships from the Dutch and reorganized his army following the German model to face the Swedes, Poles, and Turks. He then set out to fashion Russia into a European power -- even into the Americas -- and was able to achieve it, because following his orders the Russian Navy, commanded by Vitus Bering, touched upon the land of Sarah Palin, starting the slow and eventful Russian occupation of the enormous Alaskan land, which Russia ended up selling to the government of Andrew Johnson in 1867 for the same reason that Napoleon sold Louisiana to Jefferson -- to ensure that the British would not take over all this territory.

Putin wants to follow Peter the Great. And, whoever wins the U.S. presidency, as well as those that periodically head up the European Union, need to face up to this great threat: Russia is intent on being a focus of power, having elected, like Peter the Great, to model itself after the West, but to confront the West, not to work with it. And an even more uncomfortable element is added to the mix: Although the strategic objectives are those of the brutal czar, its tactics and modus operandi are those developed by the Kremlin throughout the 20th century, whose starting point was the Comintern created by Lenin in 1919 with the goal of recruiting Marxist sympathizers throughout the world to orchestrate an all-fronts international battle.

Enter Hugo Chávez, whose political project (designed with the help of a dying Fidel Castro) is also, essentially, anti-West. He believes he has found in Moscow the perfect ally to guard his back, while he and his satellites -- Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa -- build their socialism of the 21st century. They have allied themselves with whatever government shares their anti-Western obsession, be it an Islamic theocracy such as Iran, or the Marxist-Leninist crazy house of North Korea. It is not ideological coherence that unites them but rather their hate for a common enemy.

It would be a dangerous irresponsibility for the United States and the European Union not to enter into a serious dialogue regarding this new threat. World War III was never closer to exploding than during the October Missile Crisis of 1962. It is still possible for a new Cold War to emerge with Moscow, but first the West has to understand the danger that is starting to develop in order to come up with a common defense. Chávez could have been a small-time grotesque character, but provided with billions of petrodollars and at the bow of a Russian nuclear cruiser, he becomes very dangerous. To ignore these facts is to play with national security.

On the Road to a New Cold War?

Tue, 19 Aug 2008 00:33:52 -0600

Opportunity to strike

Burdening Moscow's budget with adventurous and inept leaders who were uncontrollably beggarly and ruinous administrators -- such as Fidel Castro, the Ethiopian Mengistu and the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega -- to a great extent had provoked the financial collapse of the Soviet empire.

At that moment, Moscow's deficit amounted to some $80 billion. Cuba's subsidy alone, through 30 years of sponsorship, had exceeded $100 billion. It was the first time that the colonies had sacked and ruined the metropolis.

Among the reformists close to Kozyrev, in addition to the certainty that the conquest of the world had been too costly and counterproductive an enterprise, another key idea had blossomed: The West should not be fought but embraced, imitated and invited to invest. Russia should compete within the rules of the game of market capitalism. Those diplomats understood that Russia did not have to become anybody else's counterweight or play into a bipolarity that could only bring the nation conflict and poverty. After all, Russia was the largest nation in the West, the third Rome (the second had been Constantinople), and it made no sense to adopt an attitude of hostility toward a world that was as much theirs as France's or England's.

All this is apropos of Russia's attitude in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. It is very probable that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili acted rashly when he attacked South Ossetia in an effort to reconquer that territory, but it seems evident that Moscow had been waiting for an opportunity to strike. The attack on Georgia began on Aug. 8. On July 20 (19 days earlier) the Russians already knew Saakashvili's plans and had unleashed a cyberwar intended to dismantle the communications of their ill-tempered neighbor via the Internet. It was a magnificent moment to teach a lesson to the Georgians and the rest of the world, most especially the United States, which was sponsoring Georgia's admission to NATO.

My impression is that the United States and Europe (because of ineptness and a woeful shortsightedness) missed an excellent opportunity to foster Russia's westbound lurch after the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

Tinge of paranoia

That was a magic moment to bet on one of the two opposite forces that, since the 18th century, have clashed in Russian society. One, perhaps the weaker, leans toward the West and subscribes to a passion for progress and modernity; the other, a darker force, is perniciously nationalistic, has a dangerous tinge of paranoia, is suspicious of any foreign influence and treats other countries as if they were potential enemies. That seems to be the Russia that prevails today -- guided by the team of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and supported by a majority of the population.

Can Western diplomacy try to reverse this trend? I don't know. I fear that President Bush lacks the refined vision that an effort of that kind would require, while the Europeans, divided and without a visible leader, try to pacify Russia, not to seat it at the table to share in the feast.

Down this road we go again, to a new and absurd version of the Cold War.