Thursday, July 4, 2019

A July 4th Reflection: Betsy Ross, American flags, Cuban flags, and meeting dictators

Was it worth it?

Castro shake hands with President Obama and Jong-un shakes hands with President Trump
This July 4th arrives amid controversies over Betsy Ross, a revolutionary era flag accredited to her, and charges of hypocrisy over reactions to President Obama's handshake with Raul Castro versus President Trump's with Kim Jong-un. It is important to recall that North Korea and Cuba share a lot in common and are ideological and military allies. For the record, I have been critical of engaging with both.

Revolutionary era flag now considered controversial was featured prominently during Obama's 2009 inaugural address.
However, there is a difference between the two. North Korea has nuclear weapons and is developing the ballistic missile technology to reach the U.S. mainland and has repeatedly threatened to attack the United States. Officially, we can continue to be in a state of war with that country. This reality has led previous Administrations to attempt to appease the regime with money and technology, but have failed to improve relations or curtail their ambitions. The possibility of a hot war between two countries with nuclear weapons is serious business. This is the pressing need to negotiate with this loathsome regime.

What existential threat drove the need to normalize Raul Castro and his 60 year old dictatorship?

On July 4th it is fair to recall that President Obama on March 22, 2016 addressed the Cuban people in a nationwide television broadcast during his visit to Cuba and falsely equated the American and Cuban revolutions as both being liberation movements and democratic:
"The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution -- America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world -- those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy." 
The American revolution ended British rule and established a new and more democratic order with the creation of the United States. Contrast this with the Castro revolution in Cuba that lied itself into power, claimed to be democratic, only to install a communist dictatorship that 60 years later remains in power through terror and repression enslaving an entire people.

This false equivalency between an independence movement that in its first sixty years elected 11 different presidents from different political parties versus the second that saw one dictator hand over power to his younger brother who remains in power today with a puppet president is what outrages many.

The fruits of the normalization drive in Cuba: increasing repression, murdered opposition leaders, a shuttered embassy, and collapsing US exports point to failure not progress.

Violence against Cubans escalated with the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.Worse yet the message delivered to Cubans by President Obama not only legitimized the dictatorship, but undermined objective international human rights standards, reducing them to an opinion in his March 22, 2016 address to Cubans.

When analyzing a historical event such as the American or Cuban revolutions it is important to look at the historical context and not merely judge by present standards.  The evils of slavery and racism were endemic to the colonial American experience. Slavery persisted during the first 82 years of the American republic, but was ended by civil war. Racial segregation and purity laws long continued into the 1960s, but were ended by Supreme Court decisions and the civil rights movement.  It was the events of 1776 that ushered in a system that recognized certain rights as inalienable and over time corrected and continues to correct the pre-existing wrongs.

Cuba had been a democracy with an international track record in human rights promotion that back slid into an authoritarian dictatorship in 1952, and the Castro brothers promised to restore the pre-existing democracy and constitutional order established in 1940. They lied and in 1959 erected a totalitarian regime using televised executions and terror to rule Cuba with an iron fist over sixty years. The length and brutality of this dictatorship had not seen before in Cuban history.  This was a massive step backwards.

Cuban exiles celebrate the death of Fidel Castro waving the Cuban flag
Betsy Ross, and the revolutionary era flag continue to represent a tradition of liberty in the same way that the Cuban flag that dates back to the Cuban war of independence continues to be a symbol of freedom, despite efforts of the Castro regime to co-opt it over the past sixty years.  The claim that some extremists wish to make the flag their own is not cause to abandon the symbol but to embrace it and its true meaning.

Do not allow political extremists to take your historic symbols away from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment