Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

I read the article with interest. It is well-written and wise. The only thing that amazed me was the omission of a watershed event that occured in 1962, namely the Cuban missile crisis. At this time Castro almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war with his irresponsible behavior.

ilan filip

Kiryat-ata, Israel

Dec 4 2009 - 7:54am

Web Letter

I was in Cuba at this time last year and I discovered that it was neither a Shangri-La nor a Stalinist hellhole. It was more like the most highly developed Third World country that I have ever seen, with a highly articulate population, among whom were dedicated, self-sacrificing Communists and loud-mouthed right-wingers who definitely did not lower their voices when they spoke of the government as José Manuel Prieto says.

It is a complex country with its own historical context that should not be viewed through the lens of US policy positions only. However, Prieto is insightful in positing Fidel Castro as an American politician, if you mean by that the Americas and not just the United States of America. Prieto reveals an interesting limitation to his own imagination there.

His idea that the popular terror conducted against Batista’s torturers in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution somehow infects Cuban reality today is overstated. The popular culture of the USA is far more shaped by the unresolved, violent legacy of the American Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction than Cuba is by the period before its governmental structures were constitutionally settled.

Historically, it has been a symptom of truly deep revolutions, ones in which class rule is changed, not just the constitutional actors, that they are accompanied by social terror. That was true of the French Revolution, the Haitian independence struggle and most others. The American War of Independence was a struggle over which ruling class would extract profit from the Americas, and so was generally free of terror. However, the American Civil War and its aftermath, which was a titanic struggle, most certainly involved terror.

Australian national culture is suffused by the unresolved issue of Aboriginal ownership of the land, which to this day is not addressed by a treaty or by proper legal guarantees. Terror is still used against Australian Aborigines; last year an Aboriginal man was literally baked to death in the back of a prison van driving through an outback desert, no police officer has ever been convicted of any of the many deaths in custody that still occur.

I never saw a single Cuban living in the conditions in which I see Australian Aborigines living. At least one Aboriginal leader has publicly asked for Cuban doctors to go to Aboriginal communities to help them, because the Australian government is incapable of doing it.

Taxi-driving is the traditional method by which poor immigrants scrap a living together to get themselves established in a new country. It’s often a lousy way of making a living, subject to all sorts of indignities. José Manuel Prieto should consider why it is that oppressed people all over the world, even within the belly of the beast, identify the Cuban Revolution as a symbol of their liberation.

Strangely, in my entire life I cannot remember once encountering an Aboriginal taxi driver in Australia. It is as though even that meager avenue for self-advancement is written out of Australian reality.

Prieto is exhibiting a remarkable level of self-indulgent myopia in his essay, through which the “memories of underdevelopment” seep.

Barry Healy

Darlington , Western Australia

Dec 2 2009 - 8:30pm

Web Letter

Jose Manuel Prieto's essay evokes reminiscenses of Alejo Carpentier's Salon de los Pasos Perdidos (more along the lines of "pasos perdidos" than anything else).Mr. Prieto's obssessive emphasis on Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz as the embodiment of the Cuban Revolution obviates the historical fact that the Cuban Revolution was a people's revolutionary movement and that the Cuban people were/are agents of change of archaic neocolonial social and economic structures. The setting is important: a Caribbean island-nation in the Western Hemisphere, only ninety miles away from the powerful Empire of the North.

Together with Castro in leadership positions, we must include, to be honest, political and intellectual contributions by Camilo Cienfuegos, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Raúl Castro Ruz, Celia Sánchez Manduley, Haydée Santamaría, Vilma Espin and many other distinguished sons and daughters of the Cuban Revolution, as well as various Cuban ideological ancestors in this centuries-old struggle toward decolonization--Antonio Maceo, José Martí, Antonio Guiteras, Blas Roca, Lázaro Peña, José Antonio Echevarría, and Frank País, among many many others. None of them, as a rule, hailed taxis in New York City, Paris or Stockholm. Some of them traveled by motorcycle, used falling-apart autos, rode horses or simply walked.

Mr. Prieto's distribe on "Fidel as the American politician" would appear to be the result of a lingering neocolonial mindset (cf. Franz Fannon's The Wretched of the Earth). As a child of the Revolution, in addition, Mr. Prieto would appear to be the product of a privileged educational structure where access to books and knowledge came easy and where a student did not have to work two jobs to pay tuition and fees.

The Cuban Revolution qualifies as a "black wwan" (see Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2007) and we in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere in the world are still attempting to decipher its unexpected occurrence and world-systems reach. Its contributions are many, from Angola to VietNam, to Nicaragua, and to many other countries in between (past, present and future) where Cuban professionals travel/ed, not to destroy but to build.

Granted that the Cuban form of popular democracy (i.e., organs of People's Power with elections held at municipal, provincial and national levels of power) are sometimes difficult to analyze and certainly merit further quantitative and qualitative research in situ, together with a study of the Cuban Constitutions of 1940 and 1977.

But there you have it. Democracy is not under an exclusive copyright or patent by the Empire of the North. Democracy is not for sale according to the tired/tiring rules of European ideologies. Democracy is not a PR stunt. Democracy evolves according to specific social, cultural, economic, ecological and political situations.

In today's uncertain world of environmental catastrophes and global warming, of militarization and endless wars, of financial collapse and energy plunder, we must take into account the importance of creating spaces for the evolution of different types of democratic structures. Cuban popular democracy is no "perestroika" (a failed neocolonial experiment) but a living witness to a people's perseverance, intelligence and hard work against many odds. In the spirit of energy savings and planetary good health, let's start walking and riding bicycles.

Aureliano Buendia

Washington, DC

Nov 29 2009 - 11:53pm

Web Letter

Shocked to see this article in The Nation. For too many years The Nation served as an enthusiastic apologist for nothing less than a totalitarian thugish regime. I was always appalled by the Castro sycophants (Hollywood was and apparently is all in yet) who could not see the obvious.

Worse were the people who could not distinguish a true tyrant in Cuba but could see without difficulty all of the real and perceived imperfections of their own country.

This seemed nothing less than a character flaw.

Hope to see more evidence that The Nation magazine can make out tyranny when administered from those who read the same books.

To all of the Castro worshipers who read The Nation, you should be truly embarrassed if not ashamed for the thousands of souls who suffered inhumanly while you postured.

steve mckee

Phoenix, AZ

Nov 28 2009 - 1:05am

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.