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Armando Chaguaceda: At 33, I feel sometimes old and tired; other days I wake up with the desire to strive, to be surprised and to persevere—with decency, affection, ideas and values. I was born in the town of Regla, with its provincial charm and custom of ignoring the sidewalks. I grew up atheist, surrounded by believing friends, in a family of Martí followers and enemies of dogma. I have assimilated my growing marginality, in relation to so many friends who have emigrated, fellow “fighters” of daily Havana life who, regrettably, have been added to the growing bandwagon of the “apolitical.” For 12 years I have combined my dying passion for politics and social sciences with teaching. I’m currently in Xalapa, Mexico, but I feel within me the imperative to return and do something in a Cuba too present, too uncertain, too beautiful, frank, harrowing and different. I hope I will.

A Cuban Look at the US Elections: Reasons to Vote

November 2, 2012 | Print Print |

Armando Chaguaceda

A campaign ad.

HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago, as part of an event at my university, a couple of young students (he’s Mexican and she a US citizen) shared their life stories with the audience.

With emotion and simplicity, they explained the intricate backgrounds of the struggle for the rights of immigrants in the United States, the repressive policies implemented by various state governments and regularization attempts promoted through the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act,” better known in English by its acronym: The “Dream Act.”

This bill, introduced in the context of delayed immigration reform policy — that justifies the rage of Latinos over such a debt by the Obama administration — would open the way to citizenship for undocumented students who had arrived in the United States as minors.

Changing the tune of the discussion, another young US citizen from Arizona, questioned the speakers about the reasons why he should, through his taxes, finance federal policies supporting migrants.

As much as the students tried to convince him, citing the contributions of “illegals” to the US economy — with their labor, purchases and indirect taxes — and noting their contribution to the development of US culture, the Arizonian didn’t buy it.

At that time I spoke, remembering that this involved not merely the reluctance of a few WASPs to help their darker neighbors, but the unwillingness of an entire sector of “gringo” society to contribute to the construction of a European-style welfare state with quality universal coverage.

I exemplified this with the agonizing saga of Obama’s health reform, an affair that showed the existence of a “possessive individualism” capable of undermining those forms of public and organized solidarity necessary in a modern society.

Such possessive individualism — so well described by C. B. Macpherson in his criticism of the commercializing substrates of classical liberalism — again reared its ugly head through the Republican candidate during the presidential debates.

Reducing social spending, eliminating disaster prevention and recovery agencies, prioritizing the incomes of the rich versus jobs, small businesses and millions of citizens are a substantial part of the agenda of a right wing determined to return to the White House.

It doesn’t matter that they are the ones who got the US (and the world) into the most serious crisis since the Great Depression with their policies of neoliberal cronyism. Nor should we pay attention to their fundamentalist, homophobic and racist positions or those that are disrespectful of women’s rights, a platform that would cause nausea on the part of any thinking citizen.

They want their nation to regress and — what’s worse — they believe that’s what the country needs.

Taking note of this threat doesn’t mean to forgive President Obama for his performance over the past four years. The occupant of the Oval Office was weak in addressing the issue of immigration, while maintaining questionable policies that violate the sovereignty of other countries — such as assassinations employing “drones” — and he maintains in his rhetoric addressed to the mythical middle class, which makes invisible millions of workers and poor who live in the US today.

It is disturbing to see the fear of the National Rifle Association and its sacred invocation of the constitutional amendment that supposedly justifies gun ownership, a factor that is such a substantial part of criminal violence within and outside the country.
No doubt many of those who believed in Obama in 2008 as the “candidate of hope” — for being an African-American, the son of an immigrant and a democrat — have good reason to be frustrated.

However, with the juncture of November 6th, realism doesn’t leave many options to choose from. Before the armed unilateralism of the Republicans, the preventive multilateralism of Obama would be less costly in human lives and leaves open a door to the peaceful settlement of conflicts.

Imagine what would have happened in the “Bush epoch” in light of the current crisis in the Middle East or the friction with Iran.

In the domestic arena, instead of the “possessive individualism” that condemned to their fate those affected by the bankruptcies of 2008/2009, the plans for federal aid — to businesses and individuals — mark the difference in the lives of ordinary people, the same as today in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Neither candidate tells us much about Latin America. The Middle East, Asia-Pacific region and, thirdly, Europe — along with the perennial war on terrorism — are the key foreign policy issues of both Obama and Romney.

What resonates is the Republican promise to “expand trade” in the region — with an eye on allies such as Chile, Mexico and Colombia — and warnings to the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, with Cold War electioneering rhetoric.

Alternately, the declarations of the current president — dismissing the supposed Venezuelan threat — and his contacts with leaders of the region, such as Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, presumably are turning toward a relaxed but non-priority stance.

With Obama, Cuba can expect conciliatory policy-related gestures — ones related to the maintening of travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans and the recognition of measures taken by Havana, such as the recently announced immigration reform — with all of this accompanied by questions about the legitimacy of the Cuban government and human rights situation on the island.

Only those who don’t seem to understand the difference between a member of the “Tea Party” and a “New York liberal” can show themselves indifferent to the eventual triumph of one or the other candidate.

I deeply respect those among my friends who are declared abstainers or don’t believe in American democracy: I know them and I know they’ll do their best with marches, community service and national campaigns, maintaining the spirit of the Republic against the wiles of the Empire.

But facing the possibility of a openly oligarchic and militarist presidency — in the hands of Mitt Romney — I think the defense and expansion of the rights and freedoms that conform to the best qualities of the American soul deserve another chance in the figure of Barack Hussein Obama II.


What's your opinion?

  • Mark G

    Armando makes many points I agree with.

    There is a lot at stake – for all of the reasons Armando describes so well – should Obama or Romney win next Tuesday’s election.

  • Moses

    I am a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party and sent my absentee ballot in a month ago with my support for the current administration. Supporting Obama however is very different from supporting the Castros. I would be very disappointed in Obama if he were to weaken his position toward Cuba. I support equal dialogue among nations but also within Cuban society. The US, in a second-term Obama administration must continue to seek to encourage political reform in Cuba. American-style democracy barely works in America. Cuba must seek its own destiny through free and open debate from all sectors of the political spectrum. That will only happen if the Castros permit socialists and dissidents alike to come together as equals.

    • Cimarron

      I must confess to being confused about the formulae for democracy as it applies to different countries. Could you enlighten us on the difference between Cuba and China and why that which is demanded of Cuba is never applicable to China (and Vietnam too, for that matter)?

      • Moses

        We were not always BFFs with China. When Taiwanese and Hong Kong businessmen meant more to the US economy than ¨Red¨ China, we had only limited relations with the Peoples Republic. Obviously, that situation has reversed itself, hence better relations. When good relations with the Castros or their successors means more to the White House than the 29 electoral votes in Florida currently controlled by the anticastristas, you will see greater Washington-Havana dialogue.

    • Lawrence W

      RE: “Supporting Obama … is very different from supporting the Castros.”

      Obviously. Obama, like you, supports the blockade. You share more than skin colour with him, although I like Chris Rock’s riff on Obama being as white as it gets. That’s the only way a black man can get elected in the US.

      Even Mitt Romney is blacker than Obama, Rock says, with his tiny four-person family and Romney’s tribe of dozens. More evidence: “Playing golf … wearing mom jeans … polo wearing … league bowling.” Play any sports ‘Moses’?

      RE: being “disappointed in Obama if he were to weaken his position toward Cuba.”

      That “position’ is the one that continues the blockade, responsible for many of Cuba’s economic problems. Just so we are clear about what you stand for.

      Re: “I support equal dialogue among nations but also within Cuban society.”

      The Cuban government continually calls for “respectful dialogue between the two countries based on equal terms”, as in the recent Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement, which the US continually ignores. Why not concentrate on getting your government to live up to your stated ideals rather than continually offering bad advice to Cubans?

      RE: “a second-term Obama administration must continue to seek to encourage political reform in Cuba.”

      Continuing “to seek to encourage political reform” translates out to more pain and hardship for the Cuban people. Did you ever consider applying for a job at Abu Ghraib?

      RE: “American-style democracy barely works in America”.

      Wrong. Presumably “American-style democracy” means rule by a 1% elite class with no real input or choice for ordinary people. That seems to work quite well – for the 1 %.

      RE: “Cuba must seek its own destiny”.

      Then why are you attempting to interfere with it? Unless you somehow feel the blockade is not interference. The rest of the world thinks it is.

      RE:”the Castros permit[ting] socialists and dissidents alike to come together as equals.”

      Like in your country? Let’s see, how many socialists hold office in the US? There’s Bernie Saunders and… That’s it despite Wikipedia saying polls show adults under 30 are evenly divided between socialism and capitalism: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.

      The obvious message is once “American-style democracy” is let in, you can kiss real choice goodbye.

      • Moses

        On several occasions, your latent racist views surface. (Remember what you said about black folks and travel?) Chris Rock is a comedian and his ¨jokes¨ are meant to sound ridiculous. When you use a comedian´s riff to make a point, you sound ridiculous too, just not in a funny way. African-americans dress all sorts of ways, have families of all sizes and play all kinds of sports or none at all. We do not fit in the box you appear to want to put us in. As it is clear you do not fit in the box I had imagined for Canadians, intelligent and open-minded. By the way, I was a second team All-American college football player, drafted late in the sixth round of the NFL draft.( Did not make the team though). I continue to play sports at least three times a week with men usually half my age. Like my Cuban experiences, my athletic credentials are impeccable.

        • Lawrence W

          RE: ‘Moses’ playing the race card.

          It is a handy excuse to ignore everything else I wrote. Based on past experience, you would have ignored it anyway but I gave you the opportunity to play the race card in order to give me the opportunity to respond.

          I like Chris Rock’s humour because it is more than just an opportunity to “sound ridiculous” as you only thought it was. It has an edge to it and offers a commentary on his society. We seem to be slowly edging back to the George Carlin-Dick Gregory school of standup comic. The times call for it.

          Chris was obviously, in a subtle way, referring to Obama as a ‘coconut’. Obama will be struggling to retain the astounding 96% of the black vote he received in 2008. We know it will have slipped, but by how much, we shall see. He has not been a friend of the ‘hood, that’s for sure.

          Americans, however, will again be doing what they habitually have to do – voting for the lesser of the two evils. That certainly is the way all HT writers, including Armando, perceive it. In fact, it’s a solid chorus of writing by anyone to the left of Romney, which is to say, a pathway 12 highway lanes wide.

          Except for you, dear ‘Moses’, who has no problem with Obama, even having the audacity to express on this website enthusiasm for his support of the astounding 50 plus year blockade that has caused so much hardship for the Cuban people.

          In your desperation to find a ‘gotcha’ talking point to write about, your sense of humour has disappeared down the sewer. The video of Chris’s interview has gone viral. Toronto is a multicultural city. We have several ethnic comedians who poke fun at their cultural stereotypes. Cultural differences create tensions. It’s good to use humour to acknowledge them in order to defuse the tension harmlessly.

          What I wrote about Chris was reported in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, ostensibly ‘liberal’. Not, but that’s another story. No corporate media, obviously, can be.

          I was not asking about your athletic credentials, only following on Chris’s riff that Obama engages in traditionally white sports and your stated philosophy is more typical of whites than blacks.

          If you are to be believed – sorry, your record does not lead one to trust anything you write – your athletic experience was more that of what African-Americans in your country engage in. Are we to believe this or are you just trying to prove you are not a coconut?

          Unfortunately, once one loses credibility, it’s difficult to believe anything that is written. At any rate, I welcome the discussion, even if I have to use a bit of subterfuge to tease it out of you.

          • Moses

            Lose the ¨coconut¨ references when you refer to middle-class blacks. It´s offensive. (Please note Mr. Robinson). BTW, my ¨hood¨ cred is impeccable too.

          • Lawrence W

            Your description of your lifestyle and recent economic history – a partner in a software company – if it’s to be believed – hardly places you in the category of “middle-class blacks”. Your recent “‘hood cred” is downtown San Francisco as I recall and then there was military college, usually requiring a government official’s sponsorship to get in, followed by working on Wall Street.

            But it’s not the income level that determines the application of the term, it’s the politics. Danny Glover recently came to Toronto in support of the Cuban Five. We can assume he’s quite well off. No one would ever think of him as a coconut.

  • Michael N. Landis

    Although I see the differences between the “friendly fascism” of an Obama and the iron-fisted fascism of a Romney, I’ve grown tired of always having to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” Hence, this time around, (as in 2000, when I “wasted” my vote on Nader), I’ll be voting for either Jill Stein (Green Party) or “Rocky” Anderson (Justice Party). Besides, the insignificant 2% or 4% totals for which my vote will be cast will make little–or no–difference, (unless, of course, as in 2000, it could make the difference betixt an Al Gore and a George W. Bush. If that is the case, so be it)!
    At a certain point empires become overextended. Perhaps it is best–though this will cause a tremendous amount of suffering–to allow this process to unfold, even to the point of “speeding the plow.” As a leading member of the German Communist Party said in the early 1930′s, a propos to the Party’s rejection of cooperation with the German Social Democratic Party: “After Hitler, the Revolution!” Unfortunately, history did not quite turn out the way he expected. Perhaps this time round, “After W.W.III, the Revolution (which, most likely, will start in the Middle East) will succeed!”

    • Lawrence W

      Good on you, ‘Michael’. It’s a difficult, fasten-your-seat-belts there’s a rough ride ahead decision. I’ve made it several times in choosing who to vote for. Despite the pain, there are immediate benefits. Bush was no doubt responsible for more reality based awareness around the world as to the true nature of the US Empire than if Gore was elected.

      Romney will be as well if elected. If we want a peaceful revolution, then we need to be aware and prepared for the bumpy ride. It’s better than seeking a violent one.