[Marxism] Saul Landau: Roger (Cohen) and me

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Dec 29 14:04:23 MST 2008

Dear Marxmailistas - 

It's been difficult fullowing Marxmail discussions
from here in Havana where Internet access is much
slower and harder to get to. So beyond the notes
about the debate in the British SWP, it hasn't
been possible to pay as much attention as I would
have liked. There are a couple of items which may
be of interest to Marxmailistas, and I'll post them
if possible. The dreadful article from the NYT which
Saul Landau is discussing may be found here:

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba

December 18 - 24, 2008

Roger (Cohen) and me

By Saul Landau 

As the prosperous, ethical and super-duper powerful United States
erodes, The New York Times Magazine editors decided to feature, on
its December 2 cover, the demise of Cuba’s socialist society.

“The End of the Revolution” appeared as reports emerged of a single
schnorrer (Bernard Madoff) gouging 50 billion dollars from the
smartest investors on Wall St. Foreclosures continue to force
millions out of their homes, unemployment rates rose each month and
the country’s infrastructure rots and cracks. The tell tale signs of
the end of “the American Century” appeared throughout the world: two
un-winnable wars; getting excluded from a major summit meeting of
Latin America and Caribbean leaders in Brazil; an economy sapped by
military spending unrelated to even the most remote needs of defense.
In this setting, the nation’s most prestigious newspaper sent
reporter Roger Cohen to analyze the crumbling physical and moral
structure of Cuban society.

Despite potential feature stories throughout the United States about
spectacular collapse of cities and regions larger and more populous
than Cuba, the “liberal” U.S. media continues to take particular
pleasure in describing how the dreams of the Cuban revolution have
faded into the grey and depressing reality of decay evident
throughout the island. Cohen describes accurately some of the apathy
and cynicism that foreigners can easily find in conversation with
“typical” Cubans on the street. What has any of this got to do with
the “end” of the Cuban Revolution?

Cohen bathes in his own sensitivity as he empathizes with nostalgic
and deprived Cubans; but for the purpose of undermining any alternate
vision of a good society. He dramatizes the dysfunctional aspects of
Cuba’s economy -- obvious to any observer. But Cuba’s failings pale
in comparison to what the U.S. public now experiences, thanks in part
to the myths spread by free market liberals and newspapers like the
Times. The implicit measure of his judgment seems to be based on some
healthy model, presumably one still operating somewhere in the noble
core of the United States or some third world country.

Cohen’s assumption that the United States “sometimes” acts in manners
that trnish its basic nature, for example, permeates the piece. 
In so doing, he effectively denies its basic imperial nature. Cohen
looks at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, which “had become synonymous
with some of the most egregious acts of Bush’s war on terror, acts
that have tarnished America’s name.” Did he forget 4 million dead
Vietnamese, Agent Orange that poisoned that land, hundreds of
thousands of dead Iraqis?

“There have been other moments of American dishonor over the years in
Latin America,” Cohen admits, “from Chile to Argentina, where “the
U.S. told generals it would look the other way.” Did he also mean by
“moments” the 20 year occupation of Haiti and Nicaragua, the
invasions of Cuba, Panama, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, the
placement of pro-U.S. governments in Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua headed
by tyrants -- Batista, Duvalier and Somoza? Washington not only told
the generals it would look the other way, it helped the generals
overthrow elected governments in several countries and then offered
them support to torture, disappear and murder their dissenting
citizens (Brazil in 1964, followed by Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in
the next decade). The modern U.S. vision for Latin America has always
contained internal contradictions at best. Kennedy promoted the
glorious Alliance for Progress, to carry Latin America forward
economically and encourage democracy. He also promoted -- with a far
larger budget -- counterinsurgency for the repressive enemies of
democracy in the military and police. Johnson kept the Peace Corps
going while backing a military coup in Brazil and invading and
occupying the Dominican Republic. Nixon and Kissinger together simply
preferred “authoritarian” governments. From 1970-3, while covering
their “preferences” with the facade of human rights, they blithely
altered the destiny of the Chilean people by ordering the CIA to
“destabilize” the elected Allende government.

Cohen refers repeatedly to history only to vitiate history itself.
Indeed, the most important line in his essay contradicts his thesis.
Elena Alvarez, an Economics Ministry official, tells him: “The
revolution has been a success.” She included in her definition the
achievement of sovereignty, national pride and surviving “fifty
years” of aggression by “the most powerful country in the world.”

She could have added that the revolution also allowed Cubans to make
history in southern Africa, save countless lives after natural
disasters around the world, as well as the eyesight of tens of
thousands who had no access to such medical service. The point about
its past success eludes Cohen and most other mainstream writers who
bask in the discontent of Cuba’s shabby present, and then point to
“countless talented Cubans” who sit around “plotting to get out.”
It’s true that a million Cubans have left since 1959 for the
wealthier shores of Florida. Another million, however, fought
alongside Africans for Angola’s independence from 1975-1978. Cubans
played roles in the Vietnam War and served in the 1973 Middle East
war as well. Others climbed mountains in Pakistan to save lives after
the 2005 earthquake; Cuban doctors treat the poor in sub-Saharan
Africa and other places most doctors would not go.

To present the case against Cuba, history first must suffer severe
body blows. Cohen laments “the fruitless paralysis of the
Cuban-American confrontation.” Note how he reverts to the passive
voice to deflect historical cause and effect. “Diplomatic relations
have been (my emphasis) severed since 1961; a U.S. trade embargo has
been in place…” He could have made the article both active and more
accurate by saying “President Eisenhower broke relations in January
1961 and Kennedy formally placed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962.”

Cohen lists several factors that work against restoring relations:
“bad history, predatory U.S. practices and the expediency of
autocratic regimes of casting the United States as the diabolical
enemy.” By bad history, did he mean naughty? On whose part?

In fact, the United States has acted like Cuba’s diabolical enemy.
The very language used to justify the embargo and travel ban
emphasizes “punishing Castro.” The United States instigated thousands
of terrorist attacks against the island, prepared and launched an
invasion at the Bay of Pigs, tried to cut off Cuba from the rest of
the world and possibly engaged in biological and chemical warfare
during certain periods. If that’s not diabolical, what is?

Both sides have “traded accusations” of terrorism, writes Cohen,
implying mutual responsibility. The record shows, however, the United
States actively practiced assassination and sabotage against Cuba.
Evidence of Cuban aggression against U.S. leaders or installations,
on the other hand, appears non-existent. Cuba could, of course,
metaphorically, stop punching the United States in the fist with its

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, Cuba drifted with survival measures.
This year, 3 hurricanes destroyed a good percentage of its
agriculture and hundreds of thousands of homes. Its wage-salary
structure is rife with irrationality and aspects of paternal
governance inherited from colonial Spain irritate the highly educated
citizenry-- as does media censorship.

Fifty years of an experiment in socialism with a lethal enemy at its
door has yielded some startling successes: Cuban art and music stun
visitors. Cuban literature, film, dance and sports claim rightfully
high places in the world. Cohen doesn’t return to the era of Batista,
when the Mafia ran hotels and casinos, when the United States
dictated Cuba’s policies. True, fifty years has not produced an ideal
society or a model others would now copy.

How does one measure a nation’s history, its progress? In 1868, Cuban
patriots initiated the first war for independence from Spain. Almost
100 years later, Castro led the revolution to realize that dream.

Cohen writes of the “terrible price” Cubans have paid for “Fidel’s
communist revolution,” as if he did it by himself. In Cuba, no one
has disappeared and no journalists have been murdered. No single man
could steal $50 billion from others.

Cubans did pay a price, perhaps most in having divided families. Most
of the wealthy and middle classes left by the early 1960s. The poor
face scarcity, but also receive benefits, like guaranteed medical
care, housing, education and food, albeit not as much as they enjoyed
twenty years ago. But the flaws inherent in revolutionary or
evolutionary processes -- think of the U.S. Civil War, the centuries
of slavery and apartheid -- should point to the uneven and combined
nature of human development itself. And, like most historical eras,
one major actor, 90 miles away, helped determine the context in which
a less powerful player evolved.

That Cuba survived 50 years of almost unrelieved punishment by a
superpower neighbor is a modern miracle. I toast to its necessary
reforms in 2009!

Saul Landau’s films with Fidel are available on DVD from

     Havana, Cuba
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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