The Difference Between A Democrat And An Autocrat / 14ymedio, Raul Fernandez Rivero

The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, in a joint press conference in Havana. (White House)
The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, in a joint press conference in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Raul Fernandez Rivero, Caracas, 28 March 2016 — I’m a little confused. Many analysts, commentators and journalists claimed that Barack Obama would visit Fidel Castro. That did not seem logical. And it did not happen. Others said he would not speak with dissidents. Even some opponents said they would not go if they were invited. He spoke with a few well-known dissidents, and those who were not going to go went.

The first thing that happened on the United States president’s trip to Cuba was that many people said Raul Castro had snubbed him by not going to meet him at the airport. But they do not know that diplomacy has unchanging protocols, which are reciprocal.

And that diplomatic norm (with the exception of the visit of Pope Francis) is reciprocated by the nations visited. Or does anyone think that Argentina’s President Macri treated Obama badly by not receiving him at the airport in Buenos Aires?

The prophets of disaster argued that the United States president would legitimize the Castros by meeting with them, and that confuses me, because it means that Richard Nixon legitimized none other than Mao Zedong, the greatest murderer of the 20th Century, when he shook hands with him in 1972 and, incidentally, removed Taiwan from the United Nations.

In addition, in July 1995, the United States legitimized nothing less than Vietnam, the nation that defeated it in a war and that also tortured and killed American soldiers. The legitimization of a government is not done by a particular country, it is done by a set of nations, history, international organizations or acceptance in the United Nations.

Neither China, nor Vietnam, nor Cuba were legitimized by the United States, it only “normalizes” relations with them. “Normalize” is a euphemism. Having or not having relations with Washington does not legitimize or delegitimize a country.

In the press conference after the chat between the two leaders, the 4-star general – and many others seeing stars – was wrong several times in his speech. He was nervous and jittery. In contrast, the US president spoke flawlessly. Then came the disaster, the ridicule. The international journalists were allowed to ask each president only two questions. And the fear began. Would Raul Castro be prepared? Had his advisors, helpers, assistants, the grandson – who sticks his nose in where he doesn’t belong – and the rest of the sycophants of the state apparatus prepared El Jefe for the occasion? Had they rehearsed with him the possible questions expected from the journalists?

In Cuba no one dares to ask a question that is not on the program, but those who were there were not submissives and were not inclined to be obedient puppies before El Jefe. Everything suggests, however, that no one prepared him or that Raul is dumber than I remember. His headphones fell off, his hands trembled, he couldn’t remember how many cursed human rights there are, if there are 25 or 61; he looked at the clock and couldn’t make out the time but said, “It’s late and we have to finish!”

Faced with a gentleman president of the United States, calm and smiling, clear in his statements and answers, we saw the raw Cuban reality: the president of Cuba is a helpless and miserable autocrat, who was standing there because he is the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, an inherited family position, and not because the people chose him. He holds this position in a party that has 700,000 members, less than 10% of the population, making Raul Castro president of Cuba. And this they call democratic socialism and Revolution.

A day later the US president gave several speeches. With entrepreneurs he spoke about the needs of today’s world and of making a leap forward because we are in the era of knowledge and technology; he told them how important their contribution and inventiveness was for their country, about opening doors, about helping them to access the internet, communication, information, he encouraged them and valued their efforts. And he was very clear in saying, “If something hasn’t worked for 50 years, we have to change it. This applies to what the United States is doing, but also to Cuba.”

In other words, he does what the Cuban president has never done: listen to people, give them answers and encourage them. This is not done on the island. For this there are slogans, propaganda on TV and enormous billboards on the street. If you have doubts, you respond: “Fatherland or Death. We shall triumph!” although you feel defeated by the Party machinery that is suffocating you, that encircles you, that keeps you from growing. That is the difference between a democrat and an autocrat.

Cubans are still shaken by the visit, but I hope that when they start to review what happened – not the flags, nor “The Beast” nor Air Force One – those who think back over the events, will compare and begin to see that they have some rights that don’t appear in Cuban books.

In the Gran Teatro, the regime had deployed an immense army of functionaries facing the guest orator, who developed his ideas with a great mastery. A firm voice, measured gestures, well dressed, without flailing arms or apocalyptic shouting. That is, the exact opposite of Fidel.

“The future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people,” he said in Spanish. The lapidary phrase. It does not depend on the United States, nor on international communism. Obama told Cubans that the future was theirs, that they are going to build it with their material and human resources, with their courage, their work, their dignity, their hearts, their hands. Young people must assume their enormous responsibility in this enterprise because they are an essential part of the strength of a society.

The Cuban people have the inescapable right to choose their destiny over a party, starting from their own decisions. Obama summed it up this way: “I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”

There were the two different systems, face to face. A democracy, which is the result of the independence of the British colonies in North America, beginning with a declaration of rights that crossed the seas and set off the French Revolution, but that in the United States was refined over the years, always marching forward, opening paths into their interior and proposing their actions abroad.

On the other side, a family and hereditary autocracy, uncompromising, intransigent, static and repressive to the point that, while the president of the United States was visiting the island, the official thugs demonstrated how much the execrable system was willing to allow. But this repression has injured not only those who received the blows, but also those who delivered them.

It doesn’t matter what US president spoke to the Cuban people. It is the nation in the voice of its current president, who cannot be reelected more than one time, nor inherit his mandate, which defends pluralism and which has given itself the luxury of primaries, where this year two sons of Cubans, one woman, and one black man have competed. He spoke democracy, and he spoke hard.