October 20, 2011

In Havana, Hugo and Fidel talk politics

By David Paulin

In between cancer treatments, Hugo Chávez is talking up a storm with Fidel Castro on some favorite subjects - the impending collapse of the United States and Venezuela's role as a "revolutionary model" for the world.

That's according to Castro himself, writing on Wednesday in his regular newspaper column, "Reflections of Fidel."

"I had long conversations with him (Chávez) yesterday and today," the 85-year-old Castro wrote in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. "I explained to him the intensity with which I am devoting my remaining energies to dreams of a better and more just world.

"It is not difficult to share dreams with the Bolivarian leader when the empire is already showing the symptoms of a terminal illness." ("Empire" is a reference to the U.S; the name "Granma" is taken from the name of the yacht on which Castro and fellow revolutionaries sailed to Cuba from Mexico in 1956.)

On Sunday, Venezuela's 57-year-old president arrived in Havana for a medical checkup, following four rounds of chemotherapy and surgery on the island to remove a cancerous tumor.

Castro didn't say anything about Chávez's illness, said to be terminal.

Nor did he comment on two interesting immigration trends -- the ongoing flow of Cubans fleeing to the "empire"; and the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who, during Chávez's 12 years as president, have immigrated to the U.S. and overseas. They include Venezuela's most educated citizens, including its best and brightest. They could have played a role in Venezuela's economic development, but Chávez saw them as part of Venezuela's problems. (In Monday's Wall Street Journal, an article by Venezuelan-born Ángel González discussed how the Venezuelan Diaspora has increased dramatically under Chávez'.)

Castro did at various point engage in his usual anti-American frothing, referring to "yankee plunder of oil, natural resources and the sweat of Venezuelans."

But not to worry, he noted, because the "Bolivarian people of Venezuela are organizing and uniting to confront and defeat the nauseating oligarchy in the service of the empire which is once again attempting to take government power in that country.

"Given its exceptional educational, cultural, social development and its immense energy and natural resources, Venezuela is called upon to become a revolutionary model for the world."

Regarding comrade Hugo, Castro wrote:

"I have observed him for 17 years, since he visited Cuba for the first time. He is a supremely humanitarian person and respectful of the law; he has never taken revenge against anyone. The poorest and most forgotten sectors of his country are profoundly grateful to him for responding - for the first time in history - to their dreams of social justice."
On the other hand, human rights groups have regularly criticized Chávez's government for bullying political opponents, harassing the country's media, and attacking democratic institutions.

In Cuba, to be sure, there is no concept of private property. In Venezuela, Chávez has nationalized large swaths of the economy, and he recently pledged to take over private residences, hotels, and yachts on the resort island of Los Roques; the idea is to create a resort for poor Venezuelans.

In his recent book, "Civilization: The West and The Rest," British historian and Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson at various points discusses Hugo Chávez and Latin America. In particular, he focuses on why glaring social inequities pervade Latin American yet are nowhere nearly as evident in the United States. The answer is simple: a lack of respect for private property in Latin America.

Interestingly, in a recent article about Ferguson's book in Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, author Sara Carolina Díaz notes that Ferguson compares "the revolutions of Latin American countries with the U.S. revolution." Understanding the differences between these revolutions, Ferguson contends, is the key to understanding why social inequities pervade Latin American.

As Díaz notes in her paper's English-language edition:

"The main reason behind the differences between both revolutions, Ferguson explains, is that the system created in the United States (from its origin as a nation), deemed a success by the author, is based on property rights. In Latin America, however, land ownership was first claimed by the Spanish royalty and then passed on to an elite minority. This situation gave rise to significant socio-economic differences that, among other things, paved the way for the caudillo phenomenon."

And in Ferguson's view Chávez is simply another strongman or caudillo, according to Díaz's article, "Chávez pins Venezuela under a false democracy."
There is a positive outcome to this tragic phenomena, of course. Members of Cuba's entrepreneurial and business classes, who fled to the U.S. after Castro came to power, have made many positive contributions to this country and, in particular, played a major role in creating the vibrant city of Miami. Today, that city's gleaming skyline stands in dramatic contrast to the grubby skyline of Havana, whose deteriorating buildings and homes are owned by the state.

And today, members of Venezuela's Diaspora in the U.S. are making their own contributions, with their brain power and entrepreneurial skills.

Cuba and Venezuela's losses have been American's gain.

Originally published in The American Thinker

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