FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

John Kerry and the Exportation of US “Democracy” to Cuba

While the rapprochement between Cuba and the US will rank highly in the achievements of the Obama administration, it is a deal with sharp blades and rough edges. Such an issue provides a host of reactions. The doors may be opening, but what will Cuba be letting in?

The flag fetish on CNN was suggestive of omens to come. The aged marines who took the US embassy flag down from the embassy as Cuba fell to Fidel Castro were interviewed, while the new set were also given an airing about what it would be like to raise the holy item over the compound again.

The term “normalising” should perhaps be scrapped from the official US-Cuban handbook of engagement. There has been something fundamentally abnormal in the relations between Havana and Washington. Generations have witnessed empires with their ambitions and cruelties imposed upon Cuba. Spanish departure laid the way for US intrusions. Talk about emancipation was rapidly replaced by actions of the brute. When the Cuban mistress refused to comply with Uncle Sam’s lustful wishes, the anger exploded.

That tendency, in rather unedifying fashion, has continued in the form of Secretary of State John Kerry, who drew on that great tradition of US hectoring in telling the Cubans what they really wanted. That old, sadly ill-kept mummy called democracy was taken out of the tomb and displayed in speech. This was the mummy of distinct US pedigree.

Even before travelling to Havana to witness the flag-raising ceremony, Kerry was busy getting his grocery list of “what to tell Cubans” in order. There was the issue about how to deal with the excluded dissidents, for instance. As Kerry explained to the Miami Herald, “rather than have people sitting in a chair, at a ceremony that is fundamentally government-to-government, with very limited space, I will meet with them and actually have an opportunity to talk to them and exchange views.”[1]

For Kerry, a US embassy in Havana would be the best weapon of imposed reform, a Trojan horse of agitation. Yes, the Cuban people might be able to “decide” what reforms to have, rather than the United States, but “there is no question in my mind that we will have a better opportunity to stand up and fight for human rights there, being there, with an ambassador, with an embassy, able to engage with the people of Cuba.”

kerrycuba

John Kerry in Havana, Cuba.

Much of US-Cuban relations revolve around such themes, showing how traumatic the loss of Cuba (the Cuba of heavily pressed flesh, ribald entertainment, and Battista) proved to be. This was Nora walking out of the Doll’s House. It was repudiation rejection and a grand jilting. And still, Castro was willing to seek “normal” relations even as the abnormality of conditions was being reasserted. President John F. Kennedy did the rest.

The result was the continuous language of the aggrieved. Embrace the US liberal democratic model because civil rights are the great badge of freedom, and the US, well, does it better than anybody else.   Leave aside that, even as Cuba was winding back segregation policies under the Castro government, the United States was still, not so much flirting as comingling with racial separation.

Then there were those socialist nasties taking place close to US soil, repeatedly anathemized by the Washington establishment: free medical treatment, education, redistribution of land. This was social welfare on steroids, deemed a grotesque affront to liberty’s land.

Such is freedom, with its autochthonous gristle, its local inconsistencies, and even latent invisibilities. The world of ideas often floats above the cruelties of the real terrain. Both Cubans and many in the US may well know this, but the acceptance doesn’t necessarily translate into the official record.

And what of the export quality being suggested? US democracy, like various local wines, does not travel well, oxidising on route. Its battles are its own, organic conflicts that forge synthesis through internalised debates that only have a superficial universality. This lesson was well understood by such historians and writers as Daniel Boorstin, who made the stark point in The Genius of American Politics (1953).

Boorstin even went so far as to argue that, “Nothing could be more un-American than to urge other countries to imitate America. We should not ask them to adopt our ‘philosophy’ because we have no philosophy that can be exported.” Exceptionalism can never be flattered, even sincerely.

Kerry evidently doesn’t agree, seeing “normalisation” and Americanisation as more or less the same thing. Normalisation, for instance, entails that Cuba embrace a US “road map” one “toward real, full normalisation.” Lifting the embargo will happen, but on the proviso of the populace being able to “engage in a democratic process, to elect people, to have their own choices.”

But Realpolitik remains the elephant in the room, one which bastardises any effort to be entirely civil about civil rights or social reform inspired by any one, exported model. Give the people the vote, by all means, but redirect them, as in the case of Chile, if the outcome is undesirable to the super power chessboard.

The dirty wars of Central and South America, and the sturdy backing by Washington, linger like a malodorous smell. Memories of Henry Kissinger’s idea of directed democracy are everywhere. Melanio Martinez, almost 80, would remind Reuters about “who has committed more atrocities in the world than the United States? Who has invaded all of the countries of Latin America including Cuba? The United States.”[2] A touch hyperbolic for some, but not by much.

Notes. 

[1] http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article30921414.html

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/15/us-cuba-usa-reaction-idUSKCN0QK0CH20150815

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail