Wednesday, October 1, 2008

As the Day Draws Nearer

With only one week left before I step off the plane in Caracas there's been a lot on my mind. Already having left Vancouver, most of my goodbyes have come and gone, with one lingering question: "What are you looking forward to the most?" Easy. Aside from escaping another rainy season in Vancouver and the imminent cold of a Montreal winter, I anticipate the new, "enlightened" perspectives that will be afforded by an extended and intimate experience within this controversial social experiment.

Before traveling to Cuba for a field studies program in Sustainable Agriculture, I was a fervent proponent of most aspects of the contemporary Cuban Revolution, and with whatever degree of conscientiousness, turned a blind eye to many of its failures and circumventions of human rights.

That was two years ago and my support for Cuba has changed, not in fundamentals, but some of my lost objectivity has been restored. Now more than ever, I continue to champion their national agricultural program and attribute their material shortcomings and the relative economic stagnation more to the economic sabotage of the US than the failings of their socialist policies, yet that which is deeply problematic, such as the restrictions of speech, movement and association remain as blemishes on the credibility of the regime.

But even these seemingly obvious issues are not easily reconciled. The people did, after all, democratically elect a revolutionary government with revolutionary social agendas. Adding the insidious nature of US responses to leftist movements throughout Latin America to that original democratic context, I understand the need to disallow unfettered opposition to a government who, at the end of the day, I truly believe holds the best interests of the people at heart.

The 2002 coup attempt against Chavez is evidence enough of what happens when a hostile opposition movement operates unchecked, in clandestine, to overturn democratic change. The entire charade was made possible thanks to the ability of the National Endowment for Democracy, a publicly funded US entity that actively supports the political success of right-wing governments who are sympathetic to the Washington agenda, to fund hostile opposition groups within Venezuelan borders, not to mention the total control of the overtly politicized media by traditional elite classes.

How does the dialogue begin to reconcile these issues? While Chavez truly is concentrating power in the executive and riding a wave of populism, is there any merit to the argument of benevolent dictatorship, especially when considering the hostility of outside forces and push to revert Venezuela to a subservient of the Washington consensus and its related neoliberal economic policies?

Furthermore, in acknowledging the abysmal failure of all previous regimes to tighten the gap between rich and poor, achieve some semblance of economic sovereignty and prioritize regional autonomy over slavery to the global capitalist agenda, shouldn't part of us want to be yielding and just see where he goes with this? After all, in the end doesn't it come down to the nature of one's intentions? Propaganda will always sound good, but what kind of society does a leader actually want to create and what type of power structure is he perpetuating and strengthening with his actions?

The more I read about Chavez and the more I discuss him and his policies with others, the less certain I am about my own oppinions. Wondering how this irresolution will evolve is among the most anticipated aspects of this journey.


Dave said...

Hey Spencer,

Very nice blog. I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences in Venezuela.

On the issue of democracy in Cuba, I have to strongly disagree with you. I don't think the people elected the government at all. The opposition pretty much doesn't exist.

For example, as you know there is a huge black market in Cuba. Given this, one can assume many people want to have the right to have home-based and private businesses. So on issues like this, given many people want something like this, who represents their wishes? Are there any politicians that run a campaign proposing new rights for private business?

I think the same can be said for what many other Cubans complain about: free speech, freedom of movement etc. Until these issues have representation in elections, I would not consider the elections democratic. There is the right to vote in Cuba, but no diversity in who one votes for.

The New Socialism said...

Hey Dave,

Great to hear from you again. I've been curiously following your travels around the continent. Thanks for the commentary, much appreciated, and keep it coming as I know we share very similar interests in these areas.

First, I shouldn't have been so sloppy in my narrative, as I was actually referring to Venezuela, but I did transition without warning.

I agree with you as well. Although it can be argued that the Communist Party of Cuba is internally democratic there is still no effective platform to put forth new ideas that conflict with their broader social construction, or any way to create real change outside of that same framework.

I haven't really followed the changes under Raul, but it appears that he's not the hardliner Communist that many feared. He's loosened regulations on cell phone use (a minor freedom I know, but a freedom nonetheless), created new "frontiers" for free speech and seems willing to talk reconciliation with the US. Hopefully these minor testaments of goodwill can actually lead to more pronounced and progressive change.