Not all is cheerful on the Caribbean front for Senator Barack Obama, someone who has gained the public support, memorialized in reggae and calypso tunes (as featured on this blog), by some prominent artists in the region. Writing in Granma‘s edition for Monday, 26 May, 2008, in a column titled, “The empire’s hypocritical politics” — a surprisingly short column considering the title which suggests a piece of encyclopedic proportions — Fidel Castro begins by saying: “it would be dishonest of me to remain silent after hearing the speech Obama delivered on the afternoon of May 23 at the Cuban American National Foundation created by Ronald Reagan.” Fidel quotes Obama as saying the following:
“Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice and repression in Cuba. Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy. (…) This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century – of elections that are anything but free or fair (…) I won’t stand for this injustice, you won’t stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba,” he told annexationists, adding: “It’s time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime. (…) I will maintain the embargo.”
(The Cuban American National Foundation does not carry the text of Obama’s speech on its website.)
Fidel reports on an irony, in light of Hillary Clinton’s odd obsession with referencing Senator Robert Kennedy’s assassination in totally unrelated contexts, that Obama himself praised a man, Jose Hernandez, whose plans to assassinate Fidel himself in Venezuela were unmasked by authorities there. Given the furious outrage over any shadow of a comment that “something might happen” to Obama, it is interesting, but not by any means surprising, to see how utterly silent American public commentary is on the issue of murdering foreign heads of state, even when the prospective murderers are applauded by the likes of an Obama. When there is not silence, there is cheering, when even “The Daily Show” can make grotesque humour of the hanging of Saddam Hussein (one wonders how many lower halves of exploded US troops they featured in comical spoofs for Memorial Day).
Of course the other irony is that everything Obama stated could just as easily, or more easily, apply to China…which does not seem to be suffering from anything remotely resembling an embargo. Why does Obama fall into line so easily, and what sort of different candidate is he, to be exact?
Fidel sums up his reaction to the speech’s contents as follows:
“Presidential candidate Obama’s speech may be formulated as follows: hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable hand-outs and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life behind it.”
In addition, Fidel poses a reasonable question to Obama, which is to explain how he thinks such terrible injustices could be perpetrated in Cuba for so long:
“No small and blockaded country like ours would have been able to hold its ground for so long on the basis of ambition, vanity, deceit or the abuse of power, the kind of power its neighbor has. To state otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of our heroic people.”
The rest of Fidel Castro’s commentary elaborates on the injustices perpetrated by the United States worldwide, without showering Obama with enmity. It is useful to have this sort of balance, when it is doubtful that, in terms of its global positioning, the United States will differ in any substantial manner under a President Obama. While promising a “phased” withdrawal from Iraq, Obama has promised renewed military action in Afghanistan. Why? Did Afghanistan attack the United States in 2001? Is Al Qaida based in Afghanistan? The same questions apply to a host of European nations, as well as Canada, which also have troops there.
Where are Obama’s stirring speeches against the use of torture, against the abusive detentions of hundreds of innocents in Guantanamo, of the countless violations of international treaties? When has Obama sought to educate his fellow citizens against maintaining imperial ambitions? When has Obama questioned why the U.S. is engaged in the world in the way it has been, why there is the automatic assumption that the U.S. must be ubiquitous like some god? Why has Obama not led his fellow citizens in questioning their right to tell anyone what to do and how to live? When has Obama questioned the U.S. approach in denying Iran’s international rights to nuclear energy? How has Obama proposed to pay compensation to millions of Iraqis, and to thousands of illegally detained persons? How does Obama propose to bring an end to NAFTA, which he seemed to criticize a few months ago?
If, however, Obama is “secretly” planning a serious transformation in the ways the U.S. engages in geopolitical dominance, then the problem that raises is that of votes acquired under false pretenses. That problem would be magnified given Obama’s insistence on courting votes from almost every sector imaginable, including the upper crust of Miami’s Cuban elites in this case. One does not, and ought not, play to every gallery in town when proposing radical changes. The resilient lack of fundamental questioning of U.S. imperial engagement, and the multiple masks and shields that have been politically instituted and culturally elaborated so as to make imperialism immune to the threat of such questioning, effectively render the U.S. a one-party state governed by decreasingly covert, and increasingly orthodox and defensive forms of totalitarianism. I still find it jarring to hear every leading candidate in the U.S. speak in terms of enemies, force, striking, leadership, and war — ultimately, this is the most consistent and distinctive feature of American domestic politics that contrasts violently with the political discourse to be found in most if not all other self-declared democracies. The U.S. has been in a permanent state of war since World War II*, and I have heard nothing from Obama that suggests an end is in sight.
(*This is a conservative statement: depending on some chronologies, such as this one, the U.S. has been engaged in warfare for over 200 years, almost constantly and with only very brief pauses.)
In terms of some stock American pathologies, shared by a number of American anthropologists who have no qualms about marching into Iraq and Afghanistan, armed and uniformed, “to do research to help people,” Obama is nothing new and offers no correctives and no example of inspiring difference. For someone who can so easily speak of the “marvelous” and “heroic” job done by U.S. troops in Iraq, this should serve as a chilling reminder that “change” in U.S. politics is often very superficial and sometimes the prelude to a new phase of imperial expansionism. Among those routinely singled out for representing a break with the pattern of America-the-brute, one can count John Kennedy (Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, Alliance for Progress), Jimmy Carter (El Salvador), and Bill Clinton (Desert Fox, Kosovo). Indeed, since World War II, and arguably for over 100 years, with the possible exception of Gerald Ford there has not been one single U.S. President who has not committed U.S. forces abroad or ordered military attacks against another nation. That is quite a track record, even for a rogue state, and nothing Obama has said promises any difference on this score. Hypocrisy is not so interesting by itself, were it not for the fact that one can use it to point to the presence of orthodoxy, since hypocrisy is an almost universal feature of all orthodoxies.