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Saturday, November 26, 2016


I have never been to Cuba, I do not speak, read, or write Spanish, I cannot recall ever having met someone from Cuba, and yet I feel a deep personal connection to the Cuban revolution.  The response of the newly elected John F. Kennedy to that uprising was the trigger that transformed me from a liberal to a radical.  I will leave to others the task of detailing the extraordinary social achievements in medicine and education that the Castro regime has managed despite the crushing economic embargo imposed by the United States.  Today I should like to re-post something I wrote only nine months ago, on the occasion of Obama's trip to Havana.  Here it is:

As President Obama prepares for an historic visit to Cuba, I feel a purely personal need to say a few things about the relationship of the United States and Cuba.  This is as much a stroll down memory lane for me as it is political commentary.  I suppose I should apologize, but blogs are, by the nature, exercises in naval gazing, so perhaps I can be forgiven.  My view on US-Cuba relations is so completely contrary to the view of virtually everyone in public life in this country that it is actually difficult for me to write about it without simply sounding delusional.  So be it.  I am going to try.

I was a young Instructor at Harvard in 1959 when the Batista regime fell.  Let me insert here a passage from my Memoir describing some of my  involvement with the consequences of that event:

"On Sunday, April 16, 1961, just three months after Kennedy took office, a group of Cuban exiles armed, trained, and funded by the C. I. A., mounted a disastrous effort to invade Cuba via the Bay of Pigs and depose Fidel Castro.

The abortive Cuban invasion hit the [so-called] New Left Club of Cambridge very hard.  We had all thought of ourselves as liberals.  Well, Kennedy was a liberal, if anyone was, and he had invaded Cuba.  That meant that we weren't liberals.  What then were we?  We took to calling ourselves radicals, but that was just a place holder, a way of indicating that whatever liberals were, we weren't that.  The day after the invasion, Max Lerner published a column defending it.  Marty Peretz, with his finely honed instinct for the main chance, stood by Lerner, and effectively broke with us.  Eventually, of course, he married money and bought The New Republic, thus securing for himself a charter seat on the runaway train called Neo-Conservatism.  He always was an egregious twerp.  

We had had indications that something of this sort was planned under the Eisenhower administration.  In fact, we had met with McGeorge Bundy the previous Fall, after he returned from a fact-finding tour of Latin America.  On that occasion, he looked us straight in the eye and lied to us, assuring us that the reports in the Nation of C. I. A. training camps for anti-Castro Cubans were untrue.  But by the time the invasion took place, he was settled into the Executive Office Building, serving as National Security Advisor.  Years later, after Bundy had left the White House to assume the presidency of the Ford Foundation, he wrote to invite me to participate in some sort of panel discussion.  I replied that since the last time I had seen him he had lied to me, I did not feel that I could engage in an open intellectual exchange with him.  I never heard from him again.

Within days of the abortive invasion, we had mobilized ourselves and were organizing to protest the attempts by the United States to overthrow the Castro government.  On the evening of April 26, 1961, just ten days after the invasion, we held a protest rally at Harvard chaired by Stuart Hughes, Nadav Safran, and myself.  Despite being somewhat upstaged by undergraduates protesting Harvard's decision to stop printing its diplomas in Latin, we managed to pull a big crowd, and because of the Harvard/Kennedy connection, we got considerable press coverage.  At the meeting, we formed the Cuba Protest Committee, which then circulated a statement for signatures by faculty at Harvard and elsewhere.  We collected two dozen signatures from senior Harvard faculty, including Barry Moore and Rod Firth."

I believed then, and have continued to believe in the intervening half century, that the United States should have embraced Castro and done everything it could to make his revolution a success.  Instead, after failing to overthrow Castro, Kennedy took the world to the brink of nuclear war in a showdown with Khrushchev, the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis," and then imposed an economic embargo that has been maintained for half a century.

In a manner that Edward Said and many others have analyzed trenchantly in their account of the European imperial mentality, Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have arrogated to themselves the authority to judge whether the Cuban government is behaving in a sufficiently "democratic" fashion to warrant our approval and some easing of our opposition to them.  It is an irony so bitter and so blatant as to beggar belief that Americans of every political stripe decry Cuba's jailing of political prisoners while America holds hundreds of political prisoners for years on end in Guantanamo jails on Cuban soil!!!

The impenetrable self-congratulatory arrogance of American society and the American state makes it impossible for me even to carry on a conversation on this subject with most of my  fellow citizens.

After the Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard, I received a telegram of congratulations from a large number of young Cuban artists and intellectuals.  I often wonder whether any of them are still there, and what has happened to them.


s. wallerstein said...

For better or for worse, the most important Latin American historical and political figure of the second half of the 20th century. He put Latin America on the map and defined its course for, say, 30 years, from 1959 to 1989. He was to Latin America what Napoleon was to Europe in the first part of the 19th century in historical terms.

Almost a Nietzschean overman: a brilliant and astute politician, a courageous guerrillero, a gifted athlete, an excellent military strategist. Beyond good and evil?

levinebar said...

Dulles, Nixon and Eisenhower left the world booby-trapped for young John Kennedy. The missiles in Turkey, the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the "advisors" in Saigon were all parts of a ColdWar that they feared Kennedy might rethink. To his enduring credit, Kennedy did not commit regular troops when it became clear that the Bay of Pigs invasion was failing; he would have done better to shelve the whole project.

Danny said...

If we go back to around 1965, I understand that Cuba had an economy largely patterned on the Soviet model; Marxism-Leninism was the regime’s official philosophy, Castro was the secretary general of a ruling party which had adopted the official name of Communist Party of Cuba, and both Moscow and Peking recognized this party and this state as members of the communist fraternity. These are I think merely facts, though I won't insist on the last word about it. It seems to me like some people can embrace the assumption that he Stalins, Maos, Khrushchevs, Castros of this world are benevolent, peaceloving social reformers who would be happy to concentrate on raising the living standard of their peoples if only wicked Uncle Sam and his gang of reactionary allies would permit them to do so. I am placing Castro in a certain context, here, -- he turned against the United States, but also, Mao was passed off on us as a mere agrarian reformer, and Stalin's subjugation of all Eastern Europe was explained to us as stemming from his intense desire for peace and security. I'm also curious what is our notion about pre-revolutionary Cuba -- was this perhaps starving peasants facing a tiny minority of land-owners?

s. wallerstein said...

Daniel Langlois,

After the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), Fidel had no option if he wanted the revolution to survive except to turn to the Soviet Union for protection.

Danny said...

He was a ruthless dictator, quickly pushed aside comrades in arms, executed thousands of opponents, imprisoned tens of thousands, installed a Communist regime, remapped South Florida if you consider the suffering of the refugees he sent pouring into Miami. Hundreds of thousands fled the society Castro created. Besides unleashing great waves of refugees, there is also how he was arming Latin American revolutionaries and sheltering fugitives from U.S. justice. Hundreds of thousands would give their lives in fruitless guerrilla movements he inspired in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Namibia, Angola and Zaire. Which, is not perhaps a criticism per se, but just, these are the facts, right?

Chris said...

First sentences sounds like a great description of Batista's regime...

s. wallerstein said...

Daniel Langlois,

In the context of the Cold War it's hard to decide who was more ruthless in Latin America, isn't it?

The U.S. has to its "credit", besides the Bay of Pig invasion, support for dictators (generally more ruthless and a lot more corrupt than Fidel) such as Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Stroessner in Paraguay, Pinochet in Chile, several Argentinian juntas (Videla, etc.), the Brazilian junta, the death squads in El Salvador, decades of genocidal dictatorships in Guatemala, etc. Then there's U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua, the invasion of Panama (1989), the invasion of Grenada (1983), the invasion of the Dominican Republic (1965) and I'm surely leaving a lot out.

So both sides were ruthless and I guess what redeems Fidel is that he is the little guy who stood up to the school bully (Uncle Sam) and landed a few good punches and even a few dirty ones. He was on the side of the poor, while the U.S. was on the side of the corrupt rich elites. I live in Chile and I could go and go about why the U.S. supported Pinochet against the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. I'll spare you a longer rant.

s. wallerstein said...

I open my morning newspaper (La Tercera) and I look at the declarations of Obama and Trump about Fidel.

Obama says (I translate from the Spanish): "history will judge the enormous impact of this singular figure".

Trump says (I translate too): "a brutal dictator who oppressed his people"

I wonder why some people who comment here are closer to Trump in their opinions about Fidel than to Obama.

Alan Nelson said...

Bob, do you have a perspective on Castro's influence in South Africa?

Danny said...

'In the context of the Cold War it's hard to decide who was more ruthless in Latin America, isn't it?'

I take your point to be that you don't care about ruthelessness, but I'm willing to tarry for your point. I posted quite a few facts, I'm glad we agree on the facts. Some more facts: 5,600 dissidents in front of firing squads. 1,200 in "extrajudicial assassinations". 2,199 documented political prison deaths. I guess we don't need to count peasant farmers and their children killed in the Escambray Mountains and at the Bay of Pigs, because let's not be pedants.

Danny said...

I see the idea here of comparing Batista and Castro -- well, I think Batista came to power in a coup in 1952, and had headed an increasingly ruthless and corrupt police state in latter years. He formed a renowned friendship and business relationship with gangster Meyer Lansky that lasted over three decades. Also, under Batista, Havana became a playground of choice for wealthy gamblers, and very little was said about democracy, or the rights of the average Cuban. Actually, on March 1958, the U.S. government stopped selling arms to the Cuban government followed by an arms embargo. I would not, however, say thatpre-Castro Cuba was a poor, wretched, backward hellhole fulll of victims desperate for radical social change. After all, during the 1950’s, Cuba was a developed nation with a GDP ratio equal to Italy. Maybe Batista was Cuba's Voldemort, and not who would succeed him! Yet I gather the impression that Batista was anything but formidable, as dictators go. Fidel was a much bigger and better liar. If Batista had been like, say, Pinochet, the Castro business wouldn't have gotten far. And even Pinochet was removed from power, through an electoral, non-violent solution. Batista never had absolute power or control, certainly not the kind Castro would later enjoy. His ambitions were much more conventional and far less grandiose than Fidel's, he had no interest in controlling people's lives, let alone reprogramming their minds. Was Batista a political albatross around Cuba's neck? Sure, but 1950s Cuba was doing very well economically and its society was vibrant, forward-looking and full of hope for the future, and was a very young country, and Batista's rule was not the real problem in and of itself maybe.

s. wallerstein said...

Daniel Langlois,

Fidel is basically a Latin American nationalist.

From 1901, under the Platt Amendment shortly after Cuban independence from Spain, Cuba comes under the domination of the United States. In fact, we can see that Guantánamo in Cuba territory is still a U.S. military base and torture center.

Fidel breaks those ties with the United States and gives all Latin America the hope of being autonomous of the U.S., which has intervened numerous times in Central and South America and the Caribbean to promote its own interests and those of elites who are allied to it.

Whether those efforts to achieve Latin American autonomy have been successful or not is another issue. Cuba ended up dependent on the Soviet Union and then on Venezuela, which is another mismanaged effort to achieve autonomy from the U.S.

You seem to place zero value on those efforts, while I place a lot of value of them even if they eventually yield few fruits.

Danny said...

anybody who would argue today that cuba has a viable society and a viable economy has got to be nuts. Say the same for North Korea.

s. wallerstein said...

Daniel Langlois,

You're off course now. I've known lots of people who have lived in Cuba, either as exiles during the Pinochet dictatorship or more recently as medical students, since studying medicine is free in Cuba and costly in Chile. Medical studies in Cuba are excellent.

Cuba is viable. It's not North Korea. It has a good primary and second educational system and good, free single-payer healthcare. In cultural terms it's repressive, but nowhere near North Korea. A good indicator of how repressive a culture is is what books are read there and I suggest that you read Leonardo Padura, a Cuban writer who lives in Cuba and is very critical of Cuban society without being an outright dissident. In Padura you'll see that there are problems of corruption, of crime, of drugs, of abuses of power (Padura is one of the most read authors in Cuba), but it's far less repressive than the Chile of Pinochet where I lived for 11 years.

I've looked at videos of Fidel speaking to the crowds in Cuba and he walks through the crowd greeting people (with security of course), something Pinochet never dared to do. That seems to show that Fidel was a lot more popular in Cuba than Pinochet was in Chile.

Looking at Wikipedia, I see that unfortunately, most of Padura's books are not available in English (they are available in French, German and several other European languages). However, his novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs, is available in English. It's about Ramon Mercader, the man who murdered Trotsky, who after serving many years in a Mexican jail, spent the last days of his life in Cuba. Mercader meets a Cuban writer (in the novel), who is very critical of the regime and the book focuses at times on Mercader's life leading up to the murder of Trotsky, the exile of Trotsky and the Cuban writer who gets to know Mercader.

In fact, I see that Padura has won literary prizes in Cuba. His detective books are especially worth reading because they show the darker side of Cuban life.

Unknown said...

I applaud your tone and patience, s. wallerstein.

Danny said...

anybody who would argue today that cuba has a viable society and a viable economy has got to be nuts. Say the same for North Korea.

Danny said...

Maybe I have much to learn about how the Cuban work environment functions and what the true wages are, when accounting for government subsidies. We can work out that the average hourly salary is about 11 cents per hour. Or, let's just say, about 12 to 15 cents per hour. Heck, maybe the average wage in Cuba is closer to $30 per month. An approximate hourly wage of more than 20 cents per hour. Looking like it is extremely low by western standards, but we can factor in that Cuba does not have a capitalist economic system, and is communist / socialist, meaning that most workers work for the state meaning that the state provides for them in different ways. Perhaps we say that the population in general is happy with their lives and the economic system and maybe that in Cuba, it's not all about money, and that the average Cuban salary ($30 per month) is enough, just enough, for the average person to cover all their expenses and to enjoy a few outings with their friends once a month, though there are no large screen TVs or deluxe computers. You know, fewer high end products -- less comforts. So okay, let us approach Cuba's economic fate. Perhaps, after a few decades of struggle and reorientation, it will end up at the income level of the Dominican Republic. Let's agree to call this the most optimistic forecast for Cuba?

s. wallerstein said...

First of all, Cuba does have better healthcare and educational statistics than the Dominican Republic. If you are over 65 (as I am) and have severe healthcare problems (I don't, but I know people who do), good free public healthcare is more important than a large screen TV. Cuba also has a better GINI index, that is, a more equal income and wealth distribution.

Cuban healthcare is so good that middle-class Chileans travel to Cuba to have surgery. Even with the flight expenses, surgery in Cuba is cheaper than surgery in Chile and you can recuperate at the beach. In the Sunday paper in Chile you'll see ads for Cuban healthcare. All very viable.

Important note: until the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. did not give a shit about Latin America. As a result of the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. multiplied its foreign aid and educational programs for Latin America, for example, Kennedy's Alliance for Progress. In the 60's the Kennedy and Johnson administrations supported (with lots of cash) the centrist Christian Democrats in Chile who carried out important reforms, such as land reform and expanding public education and healthcare. But if there had been no Cuban Revolution to scare Uncle Sam into supporting reformists like the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva, the U.S. would have continued supporting the rightwing oligarchy in Chile. So when someone claims that other Latin America countries have similar levels of welfare as Cuba does, that is the case because fear of similar revolutions led the U.S. and local elites to support reforms. So in a certain way we can thank Fidel for that.

Yesterday I mistakenly claimed that most of Leonardo Padura's books are not translated into English. In fact, his detective stories are in English. They feature Cuban detective Mario Conde, a hard-drinker and lover of beautiful women, who uses his brains more than his fists and gun to solve cases. A good portrayal of Cuban urban life today.

Danny said...

'Fidel is basically a Latin American nationalist.'

What about the concept of Latin American nationalism. Maybe break it down into economic, political, cultural. I imagine that one could speak about nationists in Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, but I think there would be much more to say in these cases if we are talking about nationalists who didn't actually come to power. I figure that with Fulgencio Batista, it's Nationalism as window-dressing. But none of this is offered as an expert's opinion, it's not meant as opinion at all. My opinion is that there is much that is interesting here, but passionate politics is not interesting.

Danny said...

So okay, let us approach Cuba's economic fate. Perhaps, after a few decades of struggle and reorientation, it will end up at the income level of the Dominican Republic. Let's agree to call this the most optimistic forecast for Cuba?

s. wallerstein said...

Daniel Langlois,

There are different figures, but from what I can see the Dominican Republic has around 15,000 dollars gdp per capita adjusted for purchasing power and Cuba has around 10,200 dollars gdp per capita adjusted for purchasing power. Income in Cuba is more justly distributed according to the Gini index. Cuba has an educated work force, and so unless Trump destroys all the progress in Cuban-U.S. relations achieved by Obama, I imagine that Cuba will end up at the income level per capita of the Dominican Republic fairly soon, given that more tourists will arrive, more hotels will open up, U.S. capitalists will invest in other sectors of the economy, European capitalists will feel more confident about investing in Cuba, a huge demand for consumer goods among Cubans, buying computers, cars, etc., will stimulate the economy, etc.

Danny said...

You're talking about the Cuban Revolution provided a kind of David against the US Goliath., and about wy it was such a tremendous break from the past, victories were few, for Latin American nations, self determination, or national sovereignty, has been hard fought. I picture a time, say 1961, when maybe Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica, appeared sufficiently advanced, so to speak, socially/economically, to be stable nation-states. But, had not yet reached such consolidation. I say that passionate politics is not interesting, and I mean that I don't think the nation is a mystical good in itself, nor is it a manifestation of evil in itself. I'm actually intrigued by the idea of the sense of distinctiveness that is at the heart of nationalism. Nationalism might be totalitarian, or might be democratic. It might be nothing more than parade fodder, but implies the mobilization of the masses. And, Latin American history is, maybe, characterized by the political marginalization of significant segments of the population. I don't know -- you brought up 'nationalism'. Okay, as opposed to what, undiscriminating universalistic ideas? Okay, I do not see where communism fits into your scheme exactly, but perhaps I am quibbling when the point is that passionate politics is interesting.

s. wallerstein said...

Paradoxically, I'm a decadent cosmopolitan myself, but for people who have felt dominated or oppressed or scorned or stepped upon for generations, nationalism seems to be a step towards a sense of self-worth. For example, what Israel means or meant to the Jews after the Holocaust or what Palestinian statehood means to the Palestinians, even though their standard of living may be higher as second-class Israeli citizens.

So from the Monroe Doctrine on, there have been endless U.S. interventions in Latin America, which led many Latin Americans to see themselves as colonial subjects of American imperialism. I've already listed some of the U.S. interventions post 1960, but the first half of the 20th century is filled with them, including so-called gun-boat diplomacy. Fidel Castro represents and embodies that nationalism, which generally takes on an anti-U.S. character.

As I've said, I'm not a nationalist myself, but I can understand why the search for identity of oppressed or dominated or colonialized people takes that form.

Danny said...

I'm actually, in my own eyes, a perfectly reasonable guy, and in that spirit, I'm willing to let you have your say -- and I'll read it. also, I note this from the op:
'In a manner that Edward Said and many others have analyzed trenchantly in their account of the European imperial mentality, Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have arrogated to themselves the authority to judge whether the Cuban government is behaving in a sufficiently "democratic" fashion to warrant our approval and some easing of our opposition to them.'

I wonder about these shudder/sneer/scare quotes here -- "democratic". What is being implied, here, about that particular expression? Is the word 'democratic' perhaps not one that we would normally use, out of an opinion that there is something dubious about the idea of 'democracy' or its application to Cuba? Or is the word being mis-used? I do not think I am to be trusted to work out on my own what is the nature of the element of doubt or ambiguity or outright contempt regarding the word 'democratic' that is implied, here? I see the about about who has 'arrogated to themselves the authority' and I guess this is one alterntive to denying responsibility. Thoughts?

s. wallerstein said...

I obviously have no idea what Edward Said meant by the above statement.

I myself would not characterize Cuba as a democracy.

However, what seems out of place to me is that Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, put so much energy into condemning the lack of democracy in Cuba when they have sponsored and backed a long list of non-democratic governments in the Western Hemisphere: Somoza in Nicaragua, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Pinochet in Chile, juntas in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, Stroessner in Paraguay, several bloody dictatorships in Guatemala, as recently as 2009 a coup in Honduras backed by Secretary Clinton and undoubtedly by Obama.

As Chomsky says, "look in the mirror". That is, before condemning others (in this case, Cuba), make sure that you're not committing the same sin yourself.

However, it seems to me that so much condemnation in the U.S. is directed against Cuba because Cuba is the rebel, is the country which challenged U.S. domination and hegemony in Latin America. If Fidel Castro had been a pro-American, pro-free market dictator, the U.S. media and moralists would have devoted one tenth of the condemnatory energy and space to him that they did.

Danny said...

I'm reading your posts, considering a more direct reply, but off the cuff, let me attempt a broader view, here, concerning 'communism'.

I can figure out what, shall we say, 'Trump’s longtime affinity for predatory capitalism' means. To coin a phrase. And I can peruse Trump's pro-Wall Street cabinet as a whole, maybe. However, put it this way, I'm kind of an economically liberal and free-trading sort. I mean, how do we describe the economy favored by the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and central European states? Is this not open, competitive? Consider a European Union, and the idea of opening up the community's internal market. I bring up the power dynamics of European leadership and such, in a spirit of being empirical, here. My ideas about economic common sense are my ideas, for whatever they are worth. We don't have to agree, but if I have my way, we have to discuss the 'wedge' issues. Communism is what you are selling me? Then I ask about North Korea and about Cuba's gross domestic product. Which, I look this up it's 80.66 billion US dollars. Or, shall we say, it's half of what the US government spends on research. I maybe ought not to say it with a short laugh, but I say it. Indeed, I count against Cuba the point that I cannot believe its reported numbers because commies lie. I mean, do you think otherwise? Do you believe what they say? I try to anticipate your reply 'not only commies lie everybody in Latin America lies'. Fine, and I say touché, with a short laugh.

s. wallerstein said...

The figures I use come from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Both organizations are used to dealing with 3rd world countries and they have huge staffs of experts on economic statistics. I assume that they have ways of checking whether the Cuban figures are correct or not. I've never seen the Cuban figures doubted anywhere and I have seen figures from other Latin American countries doubted. For example, no one believes the official figures on inflation in Venezuela. People tended to doubt the official economic figures from Argentina during the Kirchner governments.

I have no reason to believe that communists lie more than capitalists do. Sartre once remarked that the problem with the left (he was referring to the Marxist left)is not that they lie more than the right does, but that they lie so badly. I doubt that you want to listen to long list of lies by the U.S. government and by big corporations. So let's just agree that all governments lie....

No, I'm not selling communism to you or to anyone else. I personally am a social democrat: I believe that the government should guarantee healthcare, education including university education, decent housing, public transportation, a decent minimum wage, etc. I don't believe that your small bookstore or restaurant should be nationalized.

However, during this conversation I have tried to make clear why Fidel Castro, a radical nationalist, ended up allied to the Soviet Union after the Bay of Pigs invasion and countless other attempts by Cuban exiles (funded by the CIA) to sabotage the Cuban economy. As an ally of the Soviet Union, Fidel, who never showed signs of being a dogmatic communist previously, with all the fervor of those who are recently converted became more communist than Marx and Lenin combined. Here is Brian Leiter's take on what Fidel would have done in Cuba if he really had been a Marxist:

Danny said...

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.” I am not going to assume that I know what Dr. King would describe as “immoral means,” but I think the process we use to reach those goals is as important as identifying what they are. As the saying goes, 'lie down with the dog, get up with the fleas.' There are times that the line between getting your hands dirty and co-optation of your goals becomes very narrow.

s. wallerstein said...

The ends and means dilemma is too complicated to go into here and there is no easy formula to calculate what means can be justified for what ends.

Salvador Allende, another Latin American radical, was elected president of Chile in 1970 in a 3-way race in which he received a plurality. While Allende was president, the Chilean constitution was strictly observed. The opposition media, which, as was later revealed, received funding from the CIA in a campaign against Allende, attacked Allende daily without any repression. There were no cases of torture or of extrajudicial executions, no death squads. There were fair, open elections for congress and municipal government, as scheduled by Chilean law. The big banks and some big corporations were nationalized, with compensation. Radical land reform was carried out. The minimum wage was increased as was social spending on education and healthcare. Finally, the U.S. copper companies were nationalized, with compensation, but with amounts of compensation which those companies and the U.S. government believed to be insufficient.

From the day Allende was elected, even before he took office, Nixon, the CIA director and rightwing Chilean business leaders began to plot a coup against him. This is all a matter of public record, which you can find in CIA documents which are now public and in congressional hearings (the Church Committee, for example). It took them some time to win over all the Chilean military, but by 1973 they were ready.

Allende, always a model democrat, seeing that his popularity was falling and opposition to his radical reforms was increasing, was planning to call for a plebiscite in which Chileans could decide whether they wanted him to continue as president or not, but before Allende could announce his plebiscite, they struck.

The result: 17 years of Pinochet's dictatorship, thousands murdered, maybe a hundred thousand tortured, hundreds of thousands forced into exile, social spending on healthcare and education radically cut, etc.

Should Allende have thrown away the constitution in order to stay in power and to avoid the greater evil of a 17 year fascist dictatorship?

I think that this discussion is drawing to an end. It's been interesting and some difficult questions have been raised.

Danny said...

You mention the IMF, so I'll mention Cuba’s withdrawal from the IMF in the early 1960s. This ended regular article IV consultations, and there is very limited coverage of Cuba in IMF and World Bank databases.

Getting a handle on even basic information about Cuba’s economy is difficult, for a number of reasons. National statistics are not always complete or reliable. According to Cuba’s national statistical agency, the country’s gross domestic product in 2013 was 77.2 billion pesos. There is little publicly available data regarding individual incomes. Internet access and content remain severely restricted in Cuba, with only a very small percentage of Cubans, about 5%, enjoying web access at home. I give all these little pieces of info, on top of what I have already given, which is to my knowledge 100% accurate, all of it. If we take me for a capitalist, I am one who has not lied to you, and I think the issue of trust is very serious indeed, in this life. I am amused by the contrast between the language of facts and figures, and political rhetoric. For example, in discussions and analyses of economics and public policy in Cuba. You assure me that capitalists lie, and this is apparently supposed to be distracting me from my own point, that commies lie. Shall we agree to be fascinated when we meet somebody who doesn't lie.

Also, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama produce either monthly GDP or a monthly activity indicator, and countries such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru are heavily scrutinized by private sector analysts involved in their various public and private market issuances. But, in the sea of rhetoric surrounding the political economy of Cuba, I think that ilands of dispassionate empirical analysis are rare. So, I give this a little effort, and I find that Standard and Poor rated 26 countries in Latin America in April of 2010, with Chile receiving the highest rating in the region (A+/AA) and Ecuador the lowest (CCC+). Consensus Forecasts, a vendor that summarizes existing country forecasts, published detailed forecasts of 24 private sector analysts for Argentina, and for Brazil (17), Chile (16), Mexico (20), Venezuela (17), Colombia (13), and Peru (15) as well as summary coverage of Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The 2009 public opinion survey of Latin America published by Chile-based Latinobarómetro found that economic problems such as unemployment or inflation are the highest concern for half of the population of Latin America.

None of these sources cover Cuba.

Anyways, you ask about Salvador Allende. Forty years after his death? I'm not sure I have an opinion, though I remember something about his Marxist credentials -- his left-wing politics. What role did the U.S. play in the overthrow of Salvador Allende? Well, the CIA has acknowledged knowledge of—but not involvement in—the plot. I am not an expert, nor really am I interested in defending the United States on any particular point. It's not, for me, about the United States. You can criticize the United States if you like. My point would be that you can even do this in the United States. Can you criticize Cuba in Cuba?