The Civil Society Ploy
Can the United States export democracy to another country, the way it exports Coca Cola? Apparently the government,particularly, USAID, and the mass media – think so. But, some tricky issues emerge because we – the USA – the ‘city on the hill” represent “exceptionalism.”
The United States, our teachers tell us, was God’s special gift to the world. God blesses America. Yet, as the exception, we ironically attempt to export the very qualities that make us exceptional? Or maybe our policy elite just want other countries to behave like junior partners of the GRAND OL’ EXCEPTION?
Moreover American “exceptionalism” has unfolded from the 17th Century when “the chosen People” landed at “The City on a Hill”(Boston, Massachusetts) and others came to “the promised land” (Virginia) and bought slaves from Africa to farm their lands.
The American “Dream” has also evolved into a land of foreclosures and evictions in the best democracy that money can buy. And banks provide credit cards that have helped shopping become our universal spiritual value.
When nations disobey US rules, as Cuba began to do in January 1959, following its revolution, Washington administers rebukes and punishment. In October 1960, President Eisenhower invoked Cold War rhetoric to disguise his real motives. He castigated disobedient Cuba by imposing an embargo Kennedy formalized that cut of US economic relations with the island during and the Missile Crisis two years later.
By the late 1990s, however, the Soviet Union and Cold War had vanished and Washington found new “reasons” for maintaining its hostile Cuba policy: a newer version of counterrevolution emerged under the name of ‘democracy promotion” or the THIRD WAVE of democratization, a bizarre academic misnomer that those university professors aspiring to government offices articulate and for which they receive grants. By the 1990s, the aspirants to power and status around government and media had jumped onto the federally-funded gravy train called “”building a civil society in Cuba.”
The Washington and Miami elite identified no Democratic organizations on the island. So, they planned to export the US model — “little Havana” into big Cuba. And do it in the American way: pay people here to develop a civil society — “democracy building” — there.
Miami shone as an example of civil society. The democracy for Cuba project does not say that Miami has 163 crimes per square mile, a figure that would clearly inspire Cubans on the island. Other winning Miami data includes: a violent Crime Rate three times higher than the national average, including a startlingly towering murder index that should certainly make Havana residents envious. Miami boasts a three times more than the national average robbery rate as well. 7.36 out of 1000 residents in Miami Dade get assaulted, compared to the US average of 2.52. Likewise, burglary and theft rates for south Florida rate as exceptionally elevated.
According to the FBI, Miami has also become the center of Medicare fraud and stolen identities. In fact, the FBI has created a Medicare Fraud Strike Force and one of them resides in Dade County. Such a civil society paradise should surely entice 11 million Cubans to throw out their government and import the US option. We adore our civil society. But the above figures cast doubt on its civility.
Amazingly, no reporter has asked US officials what they mean when they call for a “civil society” in Cuba. Trace the term back to the French revolution, and to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s version: a civil society would provide peace for everyone and ensure the right to property for anyone lucky enough to have possessions; or, an advantage to property owners, since it transforms their de facto ownership into rightful ownership and keeps the poor dispossessed. In his social contract government insures that the poor get much less out of the arrangement than do the rich. But the rich live in fear and worry because they think the poor will rise up and seize their property.
In fact, the bourgeoisie designed civil society in post-revolutionary France to insure their property, privilege, power and status.
For the US imperial policy elite the reintroduction of this old phrase offered comforting sounds, but little meaning to the public.
To bring civil society to Cuba, the policy elite devised a plan to create social unrest in Cuba by making “dissidence” financially attractive. But those who receive civil society promotion grants inside Cuba serve far better paid US intermediaries: the Miami or Washington-based entrepreneurs making big bucks in the “civil society grants” business. They pocket large sums of taxpayers’ dollars; then, farm out smaller contracts to dependent recipients in Cuba. For their “political” work on the island, the Cuban recipients get US government HANDOUTS like welfare chiselers” or “welfare queens.” These so-called “dissidents” parade on Havana’s streets under the dignified title of “Ladies in White.”
Oddly, the US government does not promote real independent producers inside the island. For example, tobacco or coffee growers – mostly family farmers, independent of the state since the 17th century cannot, by US law, sell their product to Americans, despite the fact that if they were able to do so they could become an autonomous class of producers. But, US law allows our government to send tax payers’ monies to Cubans on the island who never develop an independent economic base, but continue a cycle of dependency on the US Treasury.
Cubans overthrew the old, pre January 1959 civil society because it did not behave in a civil manner. In 1952, General Fulgencio Batista, staged a coup d’etat, received US blessings for it, and then tortured and murdered his opponents, and went into the gambling bed with the Mafia. But he always behaved obediently toward Washington. For those reasons, most of the Cubans who removed Batista’s civil society wanted a different order, one based on equality and social justice, not on property rights. They also fought for an old Cuban goal: sovereignty, independence from Washington’s dictates.
The propertied and those aspiring to property did not appreciate the Revolutionary uprising. Nor did the powerful in Washington. After half a century of from violence (terrorism) and economic strangulation as policies to oust the revolutionary government, US officials have switched to “civil society” creation.
Congress yearly allots money through USAID to subvert the new order and replace it with a US-type civil society — our fizzy product, but without Coca Cola’s carbonation. Yet, Cuba’s real and new civil society is unfolding, at the behest of the Cuban government, and no one in Foggy Bottom seems to know or care.
Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens n Oct 24 at the Vermont International Film Festival.
Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.