Cuban Altar Boys, the Pope, and Occupy

Pope Benedict has called for political reform in Cuba. The Cuban government has refused the request.  It continues to insist on one party rule.

Ninety miles away, here in the U.S., we have Occupy because an oligarchy has stolen the rule of the people. (“They may squirm in hearings, but Wall Street oligarchs know who has the power“.) The Supreme Court’s ruling has given the green light for some of the people (i.e. corporations) to rule the airwaves with the unlimited spending that buys elections “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Which people? Follow the money and you will see the illusion that America is a democracy. We have hoods over our heads.

We’re an oligarchic society. For all intents and purposes we live under the rule of the few, for the sake of the few. Fewer and fewer of the crumbs in Jesus’ parable of the poor man Lazarus are falling from the rich man’s table.

Why would Raul and Fidel Castro, two former altar boys, and the Cuban Communist Party refuse to open up the Cuban political system?

One need only review the history of Cuba prior to the revolution for their reasoning. I’ve had this conversation. I had it in 1979 in Cuba, and I had it in 1966 in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain. See yesterday’s post (The Wafer and th Loaf: the Pope and Raul Castro)

The Iron Curtain was altogether different from the Cuban embargo. The Iron Curtain was raised from the other side of the fence. It was put up by what we then called the Eastern Bloc, not by us in the West, while the Cuban embargo, the Iron Curtain meant to strangle the success of the socialist experiment, was built by the U.S.  Against all odds, Cuba has survived without access to the world’s largest market 90 miles to the north.  Somehow or other, against all odds, Cuba defended itself successfully against the giant to the north’s invasion at Playa Giron, “the Bay of Pigs”. It has lived ever since in fear of its northern neighbor, especially its ex-patriot Cuban business class in Florida that led the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Now Pope Benedict is urging the Cuban government to open up the political process, to expand political freedom.

Partly it’s a matter of perception.

Here in the West we decried the Iron Curtain as the means of dictatorial regimes to keep people in East Germany from fleeing to West Germany. To us the Berlin Wall was a prison wall intended to keep people from fleeing to freedom.  As seen by the Czechoslovakian family with whom I lived during the summer of 1966 and by the students at the university in Bratislava, the Iron Curtain served an altogether different purpose. It wasn’t to keep them in. It was to keep us out. They believed in the egalitarian society they were hoping to create. The Wall had been raised to wall out the corrosive influences of Western materialism, the power of money that is capitalism, the culture of greed, the survival of the fittest, the culture of selfishness.

Today Cuba is poor. Or is it? How do we measure poverty…or wealth?

Prior to the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, two former altar boys, Cuba was the U.S.’s source of sugar. The sugar came from sugar plantations owned by American Sugarwhose American elites and their Cuban partners gathered for lavish vacations on the white sands of Varadero Beach.  The American one-percent was reaping the profits and lying on the beach with their Cuban corporate friends at Varadero. It made no difference to them that the literacy rate of the Cuban people was among the lowest in the world.  The vast majority of the people could neither read nor write. It didn’t seem to matter to the elites or to Batista, the Cuban dictator whose government they had bought and paid for.  The vast majority of Cubans – those who spent their days cutting sugar cane on the large plantations, peasants who scratched out a living with a few chickens and pigs, and those who worked in the tourist industry in Havana and at Varadero Beach – had no health care, no dental care, and no safety net other than the Church’s charity. It was an island of economic injustice relieved by episodic acts of religious charity.

In short, Cuba was an oligarchy.

If Cuba “opens up” the way the Pope and most Americans believe they should, Cuba will very quickly become again the place it was before the former altar boys came down from the mountains to ousted Batista and American Sugar.

Is Cuba poor? Is America poor?  Cuba has had universal health care for longer than the US. Has had the Civil Rights Act. No one goes without seeing a doctor.  Its literacy rate is one of the highest in the world because of its government’s commitment to education and literacy for all its citizens.  Here at home a conservative U.S. Supreme Court is weighing arguments that could turn back America’s closest thing to universal health care, and the literacy rate is dropping, the prison population is mushrooming with school dropouts who can’t read or write. Those who can afford it, move their children out of the public schools into private schools.  The gap between the haves and have-nots widens every day. And the people on Wall Street who keep the rest of us living in the illusion that our future security rests with the interests of the oligarchy is as tall and thick as it ever was.

During his trip to Cuba Pope Benedict not only called for reforms in Cuba. His words also pointed north to the U.S. and the system that enshrines private capital and greed rather than God as the central principle around which Western societies are organized.  Pope Benedict denounced the ills of capitalism, as he has done repeatedly.

Benedict bemoaned a ‘profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenseless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families.’” (Nicole Winfield and Andrea Rodriguez, Huffington Post, 3/27/12).

The calls to open up the political system, on the one hand, and to end the ills of capitalism, on the other, are twin calls that echo 90 miles to the north as well as across Cuba.  We live in a closed system where the ills of capitalism turn the Constitutional rights and freedoms of a representative people’s democracy into a money game, a single-party oligarchy in which the one-percenters put hoods over our heads while they look forward to the installation of another Batista, the day when the can join their friends again on the white sands of Varadero Beach.