Monthly Archives: December 2014

What if we tried to emulate instead of demonize Cuba?

The right-wing narrative on Cuba is so peculiarly imbecile and propagandistic that it takes properly educated intellectuals to swallow it. I mentioned a short editorial in yesterdays Dagens Nyheter, our most important paper, in which the Castro regime was described as “grotesque and disgusting”. The author claims that the Castro brothers have used the US embargo as an excuse for “tormenting their people”.

This torment must of course have been very sophisticated since it has placed Cuba at the very top, among Latin American countries, on United Nations Human Development Index list, second only to Chile. It has also given Cuba more medical doctors than any other nation in the world (6 of 1000 inhabitants), making it possible for the poor country to send 19 000 doctors and 10 000 nurses to help people in need around the globe. The Cubans, living on pennies, enjoy the same longevity as people in USA, and have a lower infant mortality. Adding also things like successful land reforms and an advanced educational system, most poor people in Latin America have a lot to envy the Cubans.

So, what torment is the author referring to? It seems first of all to be about freedom of expression, or the lack of it. “Dissidents, journalists and human rights activists are subject to harassment, random house arrests and other restrictions”, DN claims. The heart-felt concern for these indeed brave people is of course warming, especially since the traditional assassinations, which was the standard procedure for eliminating dissidents in the rest of Latin America through all the years, had left DN remarkably unconcerned. The endemic neo-Nazi and other extreme regimes on the continent were treated by DN as just some kind of quite natural disruption, nothing to lose temper about.

A childish narrative implies that the communists’ persecution and oppression of dissidents is part of their nature, and something they engage in for the pleasure of exhibiting their power, eliminating competitors, or something equally deplorable. But Stalin has been dead for 60 years, implications of which many right-wingers have difficulties accepting. Cuban leaders are in all likelihood aware of the bad PR that actions against dissidents generate in the world, and most certainly know that they would be much better off with a more lenient treatment.

To deliberately perform seemingly counterproductive actions implies some kind of necessity and coercion. I dealt in the previous Postcard with CIA’s horrible and numerous terrorist activities hitting Cuba during many decades. It’s likewise well known, and obviously trivial, that CIA has used its unlimited resources to conduct advanced espionage and unscrupulous provocations towards Cuba, using all kinds of obnoxious methods and crooked agents. No regime whatsoever could have watched these kinds of subversive activities by an enemy state without reacting. The repression in Cuba is in many ways defensive.

The Cuban situation is more revealing for us, the self-proclaimed saints of western “capitalism”, than for the island’s leadership. Living conditions when it comes to health care, education and other things we call quality of life, is arguably much better in Cuba than in many places elsewhere in the developing world. The very policies that have created these welfare conditions are the ones that right-wing westerners consider “grotesque and disgusting” and fight with utmost frenzy. We never seem to ask ourselves the simple question: Why is it that our abundantly wealthy societies have such difficulties in taking care of those who are most in need, at least in par with the poor country Cuba? We neither seem to reflect upon the quite obvious answer.

Is Cuba tortured enough?

“Bring terrors of the earth to Cuba!” was the order given by John F. Kennedy to his administration in 1962 after the embarrassing defeat in the Bay of Pigs adventure. And he certainly was obeyed. Cuba became the most terror stricken country probably in all history. CIA got to exhibit every aspect of its creativity and cruelty.

A number of agricultural facilities and industries were blown up, among them an oil refinery where 500 people were killed. Cuban embassies around the world were bombed, as well as a passenger airliner killing 73 people. Dengue fever was implanted (contained only thanks to Cuba’s well functioning health care system), on top of that an African swine flu forcing the slaughter of every pig on the island.

Sugar cargoes destined to the Soviet Union were tampered with to make the sugar inedible. (Once though, CIA succeeded with a blunder making Kennedy furious. A Soviet vessel carrying sugar had suffered machine breakdown and was forced to enter a port in Puerto Rico, where CIA routinely destroyed the sugar. Presumptuous as it is, CIA overlooked that Puerto Rico is US territory, thus giving the Russians the opportunity of a formal protest against USA.)

All this was on top of numerous attempts to murder Fidel Castro, in which every fanciful method imaginable was tried. Fidel had to change quarters each night for years (thus fathering a number of new Castros). When assassination was no longer a suitable tactic CIA worked on other ideas, such as doping Fidel’s cigars with substances intended to make his hair and beard fall off. It was all like a Grimm fairy-tale in real life.

Unimaginable irony: In 1982 Cuba was put on the US terrorist list, the same year Saddam Hussein was taken off the list!

Two of the more notorious CIA terrorists were identified as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, guilty of the airliner bombing among other horrible things. Since the plane had taken off from Caracas it became a legal issue for Venezuela (this was long before Hugo Chávez, of course) and they demanded the two terrorists after they had been captured. Not surprisingly Bosch and Posada Carriles “succeeded” to escape from custody in Caracas and find shelter in USA. There they enjoyed their comfortable existence when George W. Bush declared his famous pretext for the war of aggression against Afghanistan: “those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves”.

Now President Obama intends to loosen the hard grip USA has held on Cuba for more than 50 years. Reactionaries in his country find this an all too benevolent action and are expected to prevent any attempts in Congress to abolish the embargo. Our reactionaries in Sweden, such as they appear in “our NYT” – Dagens Nyheter – reluctantly accept Obama’s first step towards normalization of the Cuban relations.

Although DN in an op-ed finds Obama’s initiative “reasonable”, the rest of the article dwells on formalist arguments on why the Cuban government still is “grotesque and disgusting”. This is in itself grotesque enough to come back to in a forthcoming postcard.

Noam Chomsky 86 today – may he live forever!

An email to Noam Chomsky on his 86th birthday:

Dear Noam,

My warmest congratulations to you on your birthday! I sincerely hope that you will have an enjoyable day, which you deserve more than anyone. Your contributions to progressive development for mankind are unmatched, as are the wonderful inspiration you give to many, many of us who want to work for the elimination of unnecessary deficiencies of our societies. Like Galilei and other great minds demonized by the powerful of their times, you will one day be recognized by all as a leading thinker in man’s whole history.

I wrote you a few lines one year ago, telling about the neoliberal deterioration in Sweden since at least 2006. You asked me if there was something written in any of your languages on the matter. My answer bounced, since your were travelling, so I can say now that I haven’t come across anything of what you asked for. Our intellectuals and scholars usually work within the system, producing the customized texts, molded after the requirements posed at them. There are many more independent, competent thinkers in USA, and they are allowed much more space in media.

I can think of just one clear-sighted writer published in English, Jan Myrdal (son of the Nobel economist Gunnar Myrdal, who in 1928 wrote a fundamental critique of neoclassical economics). Jan M’s translated works on Swedish matters are from the 60s and 70s, when he was a central figure in the left-wing movement. He is now 87 and still very active, but ostracized and exiled to marginal, dissident papers. His latest book in English is about the Naxalites in India.

Our “intellectuals” of international fame are caricatures like Johan Norberg, who earned his credentials with a book titled “In Defense of Global Capitalism”. There seem to be some shortage of neoliberals capable of writing a whole book, so Norberg became a kind of celebrity in the US (and in Egypt). He is now a freelance writer and blogger, connected to the Cato Institute as a fellow.

To the morning coffee I now read, among others, New York Times on the web and find it to be an enlightened and versatile paper compared to its Swedish counterpart, Dagens Nyheter. Particularly now, with the conflict in Ukraine, DN appears in comparison to be a provincial, propagandistic and warmongering rag. To obtain insights not heard of here we have furthermore The Nation magazine and a host of other well informed US websites. On the other hand we don’t have the opposite extremes like your worst neocon talk show hosts, religious fundamentalist congress members, fanatic climate deniers and their compatriots (but perhaps rather that than the one-dimensional conformity we suffer here).

There is not much new to report on the Swedish neoliberal front. The core of our welfare state is admittedly still there, but the right-wing government succeeded to stab some rather ugly wounds into the body of the caring society. We had an election in September in which the Social Democrats together with the Left and the Green parties barely became the largest fraction. But our ultra-right, xenophobic party (The Sweden Democrats) doubled its number of voters, thus becoming kingmaker in Parliament. Since none of the others wanted to have anything to do with the xenophobes, and yet wouldn’t cooperate over the aisle, a government crisis was inevitable. Thus a new election will be held in March next year.

Our neoliberal government since 2006 managed to privatize and deregulate some parts of key sectors of the welfare state, such as pre-schools, schools, pharmacies, health centers, hospitals, nursing homes and the like. Robber capitalism was invited into the system and a number of scandals followed. Even the mainstream press reported on the scandals and people got furious. In polls the government parties were practically destroyed. Still they won the elections in 2010, for the same reason as in the US (in your words): elections in our democracies are not won on issues but on imagery. And our whole media apparatus is nowadays in the bourgeoisie playing field. The Social Democrats have only some small countryside papers left.

Just one example of the neoliberal stranglehold on politics is people’s view on profits in private welfare corporations. Two polls have been taken, both with the same result: 90 percent of Swedish voters want either a total ban on profits or a ban on dividends paid to shareholders. Of those who vote for the Social Democrats 99 percent want such restrictions. So when the new leader of the Social Democrats, Stefan Lofven, had been installed he immediately and strongly declared that there would be no changes in the present system, thus challenging 99 percent of his own voters. Why, one could ask. Well, he probably knows where the real power lies, and what the media had done to him had he said anything different.

We have in other words a lot of work to do and we try to do what we are able to. In that effort your dedication is our inspiration, together with your wisdom and unbelievable knowledge. I simply want to thank you for all that, and for what your work means for me personally.

Best regards

The economic life as a marbles game

When I was a kid every boy played marbles. Later my children did too, in their case with some girls also participating. It was an interesting schooling for the life to come.

The older guys had the most marbles to begin with, and at the end of the day the younger ones, less affluent, usually had lost the few marbles they had started out with. The older ones were also the strongest, so the outcome of any controversy about rules and other conflicts was given beforehand.

The reward for the small guys was the privilege to get to play with the big guys in the first place. And the fairness of it all lay in the fact that the younger ones one day became the older ones, thus able to retaliate for past inequities, bringing home large bags of marbles.

This game is a parable for life, except that in reality those who are poor from the start seldom get the chance to ever come on top, regardless of age. The well-offs in the world have the upper hand all the way, and the richer countries can indefinitely dominate the poorer and dictate terms.

This inequity plays out in trade rules. “Free trade” is a core concept seemingly promising the poor nations shelter under the umbrella of the rich world, which undertakes to open its borders to share its wealth. But just as in the marbles game, where the rules are the same for all, the real outcome is decided by wealth and strength.

The economic “sciences” provide convenient theories to prove that free trade brings prosperity to all. In the real world it’s an instrument serving above all the already rich nations. The most powerful are served the most. It’s no difference from the situation within nations: the rich have the most bargaining power to acquire even more wealth.

The mechanisms by which businesses in rich countries can use “free trade” to enhance their predominance are often equally simple and horrendous. One basic step is to overflow developing countries with cheap, heavily subsidized agricultural products. Thus imperialistic agribusiness effectively wipes out domestic farmers, and forces them to enroll the army of unemployed, serving foreign-owned industries with labor forced to work for pennies.

Absence of tariffs gives businesses in the industrialized world the opportunity to establish workshops in poor countries and profit handsomely on minimal wages. One result of this can easily be found in the numerous rust belts in the rich world, where material destruction leads to destitute societies where people lose hope.

Modern imperialism also uses free trade agreements to avoid all kinds of regulatory constraints, such as environmental regulations, laws ensuring workers security and other kinds of “unnecessary” obstacles to the ever growing profits. Other absurd clauses give corporations the right to sue countries that enforce laws which restrict possibilities to make profit.

The Nation provides a comprehensive and revealing text on the consequences for Central America of the free trade agreement DR-CAFTA. Recommended reading!