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RIP Fidel Castro: Musings on The Janus Face of his Legacy

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Gentlemen, the issue is not whether I live or die, for death comes to us all sooner or later, the issue is whether corruption which is faster than death, catches up with you and once it has caught up, it may not easily let you go.” -Socrates

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] ndeed, sooner or later, we will all die; there is little doubt about that. But what may still remain in doubt is whether or not death will find us prepared for it; whether or not we will confront it as heroes or as villains, as the father of Western philosophy wisely reminded us some two thousand plus years ago.

As we speak, there are older Cuban-Americans who are dancing in the street in Miami at the news of Fidel Castro’s demise at age 90. They seem to be saying “good riddance; it was time after half a century.” But the festivities are a bit premature and deceptive. In the first place, the undemocratic repressive regime remains in place via Fidel’s brother Raul. In the second place one notices that few if any younger Cuban-Americans have joined the exhuberance. They seem to be ok with a rapprochement between Cuba and the US allowing them to visit Cuba as tourists, even relocating or opening a business there; a situation that greatly benefits trade and commerce between the two countries; something that was interrupted by a one sided fifty-year imposed blockade motivated mostly by ideology.

Which brings to my mind a personal anecdote going back a couple of decades ago when I conducted a class visit to a Cuban-American professor who taught history. The professor had the reputation of being a great disciplinarian. He did not disappoint a bit. Later, while praising his discipline and control of the class, I also pointed out that he ran his classes like a little dictator: no interruptions to his lectures were allowed; nobody could speak unless they raised their hand first; there was little if any dialogue; in short the whole class had an intimidating atmosphere. This was not the Socratic method. Although I did not put those comments in the report, I got the strange feeling that there was in insight to be derived here: the reason why some Cuban-Americans hated Castro with a vengeance may have been due to a Junghian projection of some kind: they saw too much of themselves in him. By the way, this is the same professor who when confronted with the fact that Castro brought universal literacy to Cuba, retorted: “and what good is that if you do not leave people free to read what they want to read?” To which I retorted “that may be, but perhaps we can agree that to be an educated slave is better than to be an uneducated one; and that in fact, being educated may be the first necessary step toward ultimate freedom.”

That kind of ambiguity can also be found on the island itself where the average Cuban may also harbor ambiguous views on the recently deceased dictator. Yes, a good number of them may be willing to acknowledge that their freedoms were curtailed and violated, that democracy was never delivered, that their will ought to have been better respected, but then they also remember that before the left-leaning Castro dictatorship arrived on the scene in the late 50s, there was in place already the right-leaning corrupt dictatorship of Fulgenzio Battista in collusion with the US Miami mafia. The classic movie The Godfather portrays such a situation quite well.

They also remember the comment of an American politician: “Battista was a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.” So, the problem with Fidel was that he was the ungrateful Russian bear’s son of bitch and not our grateful son of a bitch. The fact is that the average Cuban as well as the average American knows and cares precious little about Marxist-Leninist ideology, but knows full well when his stomach, his wallet and his mind is empty.

That brings us to another ambiguity: before Castro’s era some 90% of Cubans were poor and illiterate. Today many of them are still poor, but most of them are literate; that is to say, both their bodies and their minds are better taken care of, even if their stomachs remains empty. The same thing applies to health care which, before Obamacare came into effect in the US, was in some way better for the vast majority of Cubans than for the majority of Americans. It certainly was not the health care which congressmen and senators enjoy in the US but it was universal, better and adequate enough for most Cubans; certainly better than the 40 million Americans who did not enjoy health insurance. Castro even exported his model of Medicine to Africa and other places when he sent Cuban doctors there. It may have been done for propaganda reasons but he would not have sent them if they were bad incompetent doctors.

I dare say that most Cubans, on the island, and even here in the US are fair-minded enough to give credit where credit is due. Fidel may have been ideologically misguided and repressive and anti-democratic in his methods, but he did have the common good in mind, something that can hardly be said for a Battista who was doing business with crime families and benefitting only himself and his business interests. They also will not easily forget that not since the revolution of independence from Spain had Cubans felt a sense of national pride in controlling their own destiny—hunger and all—independent of colonial powers’ manipulations and pressures. As was said by a Chilean in another context, that of the Chilean election of Allende to the Chilean presidency: “this may still be a shitty country, but it is my shitty country.” We know how that ended, with Pinochet, our very own son of bitch, installed by the CIA, Nixon and Kissinger.

Of course one can make the case that ultimately Fidel was trapped by the Socialist ideology and ended up in the clutches of the Soviet Bear; but one ought not ignore the attempt of the CIA to poison him, to have his beard fall off, to discredit him, and ultimately to have Miami Cubans invade the island. An invasion which greatly embarrassed JFK and prepared the way for the Cuban missile crisis. Is it any wonder then that Castro, in desperation, resorted to Russia’s protection?

Indeed, Castro presents us with a Janus face. It is quite possible to like his reforming spirit, his sense of the common good while condemning the other side of the coin: his repressive dictatorial ways. It is, in fact, the only way, to be fair and balanced about his heritage and predict how history may ultimately remember him.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Ground Wars and Star Wars: Trump in Hog Heaven?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Four weeks and counting the shutdown continues except the Trump-Congress tit-for-tat is fast approaching kindergarten level.

The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the office of President.  The Democrats having won back the House she is a Democrat, and Donald Trump just canceled her morale-boosting trip, together with a congressional delegation, to the soldiers in Afghanistan.  He was able to do that very simply by denying the use of the military aircraft scheduled to fly them there; he cited the shutdown.  He even suggested they could fly commercial to Afghanistan, but disclosing plans to a war zone by such a high-level elected official has left some dismayed.

A day earlier, Ms. Pelosi had urged the president to postpone his State of the Union address, which is hosted by the House, again because of the shutdown.

Meanwhile some Federal workers are having difficulty buying groceries — some 800,000  either continue to work without pay or are just sitting at home waiting to return.  Many, if they can, are taking on temporary jobs.

As the cost of the shutdown rises, so does the political cost.  A new Marist poll finds 54 percent blame Trump for the shutdown while 31 percent believe the Democrats are the cause.  But, cutting across party lines, 70 percent do not like the shutdown and agree it is a bad negotiating strategy.  It looks like it might cost all incumbents, and Republicans are likely to suffer worse.

The latest shot fired is a threatened investigation by Democrats.  It is alleged that Mr. Trump instructed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.  The House Intelligence Committee will investigate the claims according to its new chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, adding that suborning perjury before this committee is the most serious charge to date against the president.

From ground wars to space wars:  President Trump has now announced new missile defense plans.  A layer of space sensors to detect missile launches anywhere on earth is the intent.  “Our goal is simple:  to ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, any place.”  Inevitably the new plan invites comparisons with Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” concept introduced in the 1980s but later shelved because of its inordinate cost after the Soviet Union dissolved.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review notes four countries (China, Iran, North Korea and Russia) that could be possible threats with missiles capable of hitting the U.S.  “We have some very bad players out there,” according to Mr. Trump, though it is almost impossible to imagine any of the four countries mentioned launching a missile strike.  Given the consequences, including a nuclear winter to threaten the planet as a whole, it is difficult to envision circumstances leading to nuclear war.  And Russia warns of a new arms race.

Naturally, Mr. Trump wants immediate funding for these plans.  But the House holds the purse strings.  Oops!  It’s back to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  The game continues.

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Americas

Nancy Pelosi and her dual approaches

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In her remarks, the United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asserted that Trump’s border wall campaign has nothing to do with border security. She said it’s one of the US President’s plans for energizing his conservative base, and in this way, he aims to distract the country from the various scandals dogging his administration.

“I don’t even know if the president wants the wall. I think he just wants a debate on the wall. And he’s having some difficulty with it,” Pelosi said during a press briefing at the Capitol.

“He keeps increasing the amount of money; increasing the amount of beds; increasing the obstacles to finding a solution — because I don’t think he really wants a solution,” Pelosi said. “I think he loves the distraction that this is from his other problems,” She added.

Pelosi, along with Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, noted that they disagree with Trump over building a physical border wall, which according to them, would be expensive and ineffective.

“Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it … Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” said Schumer in answer to Trump’s recent remarks.

On the other hand, Pelosi is among those who are seriously standing against Trump’s impeachment. This dual approach taken by Pelosi towards the White House, and the fact that the House speaker and other Democrat leaders have argued against the serious consideration of Trump’s impeachment, may lead to conflicts inside the Democratic Party in the future.

“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we’ll just have to see how it comes,” Said Pelosi.

However, Pelosi’s remarks were not unprecedented! When Pelosi was the House Minority Leader in the years between 2016 and 2018, she opposed the idea of impeaching Trump. Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that she has a conservative approach towards Trump. This is while with a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, Democrats can initiate impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. The fact that some Democrat leaders have opposed Nancy Pelosi’s Minority leadership in the US House of Representatives is rooted in the same reason. In any case, it seems that Pelosi prefers scenarios such as “making a political deal with Trump” to “Confrontation with the President”. Nancy Pelosi argues that Democrats’ direct confrontation with Trump, and in particular the impeachment of the President of the United States, will lead to the anger of some American citizens, and the Democrats will be accused of posing a blow to the American political and social equations. However, it seems that some Democrats do not agree with Nancy Pelosi’s opinion! Politicians such as Bernie Sanders believe that Trump is not politically negotiable. They believe that any compromise reached between Democrats and Trump will hold a bad result for them in the US 2020 presidential election.

At any rate, there’s plenty at stake: Amid this crisis, Trump has come with the idea of declaring a national emergency at the border, a move that could free up wall funding without the Congress approval.

“If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely,” said Trump.

The US government shutdown, which is resulted from the disagreements over border wall funding, is still ongoing. Trump is demanding $5.7 billion for new wall construction; Pelosi and the Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security measures, but have opposed construction of any new physical barriers. In spite of this, Trump has previously claimed that he’s ready to hold the shutdown for months and even years! If Pelosi surrenders in the face of Trump’s demands, she would be regarded as a defeated figure inside the US political circles.

First published in our partner MNA

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Americas

Trump is mocking Biden

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News sources in the United States announced that Joe Biden, the U.S. former Vice-President (from 2009 to 2017), and a prominent figure in the Democratic Party will soon announce his run for the president in 2020. Biden has previously said that he’s “the most qualified person in the country” for being president.

Biden mentioned these words in a controversial interview which has attracted the attention of many American analysts. However, Biden’s final decision for participating in the presidential campaigns wasn’t clear. Eventually, a number of Biden’s followers, including his brother Frank Biden, announced his final decision to run for the general elections. Polls conducted in the United States indicate that Biden is currently more popular than other potential candidates of the Democratic Party in the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, Biden is probably to face rivals such as Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, and even Hillary Clinton. During the 2016 presidential competitions, Biden was also scheduled to attend the in-party election competitions, but he changed his mind due to his son’s death and Hillary Clinton’s insistence on attending the presidential campaign. Biden’s remarks, however, show that he’s greatly interested in defeating Trump in the 2020 election.

However, we shouldn’t forget that Biden can’t really count on the current polls conducted among Democrat supporters! We can all remember that during the 2008 presidential elections and inside the Democratic Party, Obama had far less chance of reaching the final round of the elections than those like Hillary Clinton. But his successful speeches in states like Iowa and South Carolina led to Clinton’s final defeat and Obama’s victory.

Hence, the success of Biden’s rival candidates in states like Iowa and New Hampshire (where American in-party elections begin with them) can completely change the equations, and that won’t be to Biden’s advantage.

Accordingly, Trump’s position on Biden’s participation in the presidential competitions are noteworthy. In a phone interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, Trump called Joe Biden “weak”. He also claimed that he’s not worried about a potential challenge from the former vice president in the 2020 presidential race; “You know, a lot of people say Biden’s doing OK, but he was always a 1-percenter. He was a 1 percent guy. He ran two or three times, he never got above 1%, and then, Obama came along and took him off the trash heap, and he became the vice president. He’s weak. So, we’ll see what happens with him.”

Trump’s words came on the same day that Biden had told some top Democrats that he was definitely running for president. “If I’m walking, I’m running,” said Biden.

Trump’s literature on Biden’s presence in the U.S. presidential race, reflects the U.S. President’s dissatisfaction and anger with the country’s former Vice President and his candidacy. Obviously, Trump preferred figures such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren to be his potential rivals in the next general elections.

However, Trump knows well that Biden can challenge his position at the White House by maneuvering again on issues such as public medical health insurance plan. On the other hand, Trump attempts to turn the game into an emotional rivalry through using ugly words against Biden, and this is very much like Trump’s populist personality and approach. However, Biden now has his main focus on Democrats’ inner-party race, and he doesn’t consider direct competition with Trump until he has won his victory in the competition.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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