Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Comradely Greetings From Castro To Obama

When the times get tough, you have to take your friends where you can find them. Fidel Castro, who has been photographed in surprisingly good health, has weighed in on President Obama's political woes. Reuters News writes of "El Comandante" Castro as follows.

Obama does not want to change the U.S. political and economic system, but "in spite of that, the extreme right hates him for being African-American and fights what the president does to improve the deteriorated image of that country," Castro wrote.
"I don't have the slightest doubt that the racist right will do everything possible to wear him down, blocking his program to get him out of the game one way or another, at the least political cost," he said.
Castro, who writes regular commentaries for Cuba's state-run media, has criticized Obama, complimented him occasionally and said that he is watching him closely to see if he means what he says about changing U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Castro has been writing columns for Cuba's state run press even as his participation in Cuba's political affairs has scaled down. Castro has been striking a notably conciliatory tone since Obama has taken office. The Obama administration has drastically curtailed the criticism of Cuba's communist government, in marked contrast to previous administrations that put up billboards and beamed broadcasts at Cuba providing news that is blacked out in the state media.

Cuban propaganda directed at the US has traditionally expressed pious indignation about segregation and racism against African Americans. Its propaganda, directed at potentially receptive sectors of American society was actually far more attuned to American sensibilities. But a close look at Cuban life and society makes Castro's criticism ring rather hollow.

Cuba only abolished slavery (by Spanish royal decree) in 1886. Cuba is according to its own statistics 51% mixed race, 37% white, 11% Black and 1% Chinese. Cuba had institutionalised segregation that was so strict that even Fulgencio Batista, the last dictator before the Cuban revolution in 1959 was barred because of a trace of African ancestry.

Despite Cuba's lip service to defense of the oppressed and its condemnation of America's racism against African Americans, the Cuban Communist Party and Cuba's communist government have made very little progress in fighting the racism entrenched in Cuban society. The higher you go in the Cuban government, the whiter it becomes. A picture of Cuba's top leadership is far lighter in skin tone than the population at large. According to Directorio.org, only 19% of the members of Cuba's "Assembly of Popular Power" are of African or mixed race, in contrast to the general population in which they account for 60% of the population.

New America Media paints an even bleaker picture of life on the street and in the workplace. New American Media reports as follows.

"The European Union recently dispatched anthropologists to study racism in Cuba. Their findings were shocking: Not only was racism alive and well in the workers’ paradise, but it was systemic and institutional. Blacks were systematically excluded from positions that involved coming in contact with foreign tourists (where they could earn tips in hard currencies), they were relegated to poor housing, complained of the longest waits for health care, were excluded from managerial positions, received the lowest remittances from relatives abroad, and were five times more likely to be imprisoned. "

For Castro to criticise American racism towards African Americans makes him sound like a valiant defender of the downtrodden. It is unfortunately little more than escapism. Of all the forms of racism that exist in America, the American people have done far more to address their racism against African Americans than has Cuba. We face our daunting economic woes with a press and broadcast media that is cumulatively far more free than that in Cuba.

The race card has fallen into increasing disrepute in the United States, where the a principled and spirited debate is raging about our nation's future.

I wish Cuba success in overcoming its social, political and economic woes. Cuba's Leader seems to share with his government the ability to languish at death's door without actually assuming room temperature.Fidel Castro has, after being hospitalised for a serious illness offered an embrace of friendship to President Obama. Barack Obama would do well to spurn such overtures, which carry with them a strong risk of contamination with guilt by association. Such friends, Obama doesn't need.
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