The hot topic on the international scene today is about Libya and the developments over there, because of its crucial relevance for countries such as Sri Lanka. In the aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi, the opposition in every country groaning under an autocrat is salivating at the prospect of foreign intervention.
In Lanka, the Tamil minority is convinced and explicit in pronouncing that unless India and the international community get in on the act, nothing will persuade the Rajapakse regime to embark on a new constitutional dispensation.The Libyan case is a new turn and an antidote to the pessimism of the last decade when it was thought nothing could be done to control rogue regimes. In Libya the role of foreign military power in tipping the balance was crucial.
Though China’s global economic role has grown dramatically, the cutting edge of Western power is military. China is focused on mega-economic projects in infrastructure and raw materials extraction, but the Arab Spring proved that both China and Russia lack the military clout to intervene or ship military assistance to their friends. In addition the international community was quick to deploy financial muscle and freeze Libyan assets. The lesson that comes across is that in matters military, or in flouting asset lock-downs, we are a far cry from the days of the Soviet Union, or Vietnam and Cuba defying imperialism.
The monster that needs to be thrown out next is Bashir el-Assad of Syria whose regime is at war with the masses. However, Syria is a far harder nut to crack than Libya because of its sensitive geo-political location, the great reluctance of foreign powers to get involved and t the ruthless firepower of the military. There are, of course, things of value in Syria such as secularism, women’s rights and reasonable social welfare that need to be salvaged when the old order is overthrown. This brings me to the rest of my story.
Cuba is a repressive regime. At the same time the achievements of the Cuban Revolution on behalf of its people are gigantic. With all its defects, compared with the Batista years, or compared with what might have been if US Imperialism had its way and overthrown Castro as it often tried to do, Cuba can boast splendid accomplishments. The successes need to be protected and taken forward for posterity. Of highest importance are education, medical services and research, housing for the poor, equality for women and some achievements in agriculture and food.
I don’t want to sound as though there have been no grievous errors on the socioeconomic front and that Cuba’s crisis today is only politico-constitutional, but no one can deny that the services Cuba provides, universally, for its people (education, medical care, housing) are better than what the ‘greatest nation on earth’ just two hundred miles to the north offers, universally, for its population.
In the post-Arab Spring world, no regime that denies its people a high degree of democracy can survive. The one-party, no opposition, no media freedom, pretty overcrowded with political prisoners, system of governance, cannot last. It will face challenges that will eventually terminate it. The Cuban Communist Party must face up to political and economic reforms before changes that imperial the core the social triumphs of the revolution are forced upon it. Economic reforms have started, but the process is too slow; the Cuban leaders have learnt some lessons from China but are cautious for good reasons.
China has grown into an economic superpower but the benefits have been distributed with gross inequity between social classes and between the rich eastern costal belt and the deep hinterland. Corruption has become a cancer in party and state, and China, a powerful state, does not face the same threats to stability that Cuba will confront when it liberalises as it eventually must.
Raul Castro and his comrades must face the music that democracy will syncopate, they must face and win free and fair elections (they can win if Putin can) and they must relax restrictions on the freedom of expression.
Hugo Chavez has been born into the lap of democracy; that is the luxury that Venezuela enjoys. There are those who cry foul, but Chavez has got as bad as he has given in the tussle to cut corners in Venezuelan democracy. Even if Chavez is pushed out of power, it will not be possible to liquidate the populist and social triumphs that eight years of his reforms have put in place.
The socially less privileged have been empowered; when Chavez goes, the basic achievements of his social programmes won’t.However inflation and economic mismanagement remain staggering problems. Venezuela has a 27 per cent inflation rate and wages have risen only at less than half this rate.
I am more sanguine about the long-term prospects for Venezuela than Cuba not only because the former is resource rich with oil (the Orinoco belt is one of the richest shale oil reserves in the world) but also because with democratic structures, even if somewhat frayed, in situ, and populist public consciousness high, I think the country will muddle along with a social democratic ethos even after changes of leadership and government.
The writer filed this analysis from Colombo