Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rights are neither bourgeois or socialist they're human

Why the totalitarian temptation denies human rights and objective truth

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles?- Matthew 7:15-16

“It was never the people who complained of the universality of human rights, nor did the people consider human rights as a Western or Northern imposition. It was often their leaders who did so.”
Mr. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

For the past half century the dictatorship in Cuba has carried out a massive campaign that claims that Cuba has a first class public health care system. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the regime and the lack of a free press the ability to investigate and hold accountable the Cuban public health system has been a limited undertaking by a few brave souls. The ongoing events in Cuba with the substandard care given to average Cubans and the cholera outbreaks across the island gives evidence that human rights cannot be divided into separate categories of civil-political and socioeconomic rights or what the Castro regime would describe as bourgeois liberties versus revolutionary liberties. Nevertheless, unless the system in Cuba is changed this latest episode as soon as it passes will also be covered up, ignored and denied, and the attack on human rights and those who dared to speak out on the dangers confronting the Cuban public will continue to be harassed, imprisoned and killed. The rest of this essay aims to explain why.

The 1948 consensus and the totalitarian counter-argument
Following the international consensus achieved on December 10, 1948 and codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there has been an ongoing effort by despots of different ideological stripes to divide, distort and destroy this international standard in order to replace it with one that benefits a particular interest.

Since 1959, Cuba has under the Castro brothers been subjected to a Marxist Leninist dictatorship that does not recognize international human rights standards as outlined in the declaration. Fidel Castro in a 1986 interview spoke plainly on the matter:

"There is revolutionary liberty and there are other liberties which are bourgeois. It's difficult for me to talk about them to Europeans because bourgeois liberties were born there. In England, France, those countries. You talk of equality, liberty, fraternity. I think only our society can truly speak of equality. There's no equality between millionaires and beggars."
What is ironic is that Mr. Castro has a point that with wide disparities of wealth the poor are at a disadvantage in exercising their rights. However, what he fails to mention is that in a society where the rule of law and the concept of equality before the law is exercised a beggar has greater protections that is to say "more equality" than a poor person in Cuba who is entirely subject to the whims of Mr. Castro who also happens to be worth $900 million dollars. In the same interview he went on and expanded his argument:
"Bourgeois liberties, no. We have two different concepts of freedom. Europeans have one, we have another.  Capitalism and socialism are not at all alike. Your political concepts of liberty, equality, justice are very different from ours. You try to measure a country like Cuba with European ideas. And we do not resign ourselves to or accept being measured by those standards."

Empirical and theoretical failure of totalitarian case
The case made by the Cuban despot, as was also made by his Soviet backers, was that what are considered civil and political rights were bourgeois rights and inferior to social and economic rights which they would claim are socialist rights.  The claim that civil-political rights and social-economic rights are mutually exclusive is false. In reality they are mutually reinforcing and are both found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Additionally, the claim by Mr. Castro that bourgeois liberties are alien to the Cuban experience because they emerged in Europe is not correct. The synthesis of civil-political and socioeconomic rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Europeans subscribe to  emerged out of the Latin American experience. Furthermore, it was Latin American diplomats that pushed hard for a human rights charter following World War II and the first international human rights charter was a regional one The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man that was adopted in Bogota, Colombia on May 2, 1948.

What has emerged in Cuba under the Castro brothers is a socio-political model that first emerged in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century and has wreaked havoc wherever it has been applied and that is a totalitarian dictatorship. This kind of regime whether taking power in an advanced industrial country such as Germany or a backward agrarian Russia claimed the lives of tens of millions of its own citizens and impoverished those who remained afterwards.

 Today, in Cuba there is a cholera outbreak underway whose seriousness the dictatorship has hid from the Cuban citizenry and the international community. This may be due to a number of reasons. Cuba has suffered two dictatorships prior to Fidel Castro. In the late 1920s- early 1930s Gerardo Machado who had been elected changed the constitution and ran again unopposed and became a dictator. Between 1952 and 1959 Fulgencio Batista was the dictator of Cuba following the over throw of its last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio Socarras on March 10, 1952. Despite this turbulent political history, Cuba throughout this entire period had not suffered a cholera epidemic because its infrastructure was sound and public health and hygiene prevented it. The fact that Cuba is having troubles with Cholera in the 21st Century means that those socioeconomic "rights" that Castro brothers claim to defend are a fiction and the public health infrastructure is a disaster. However there is a more profound reason for the coverup and why at the root of the totalitarian experiment there is the need for the big lie. George Orwell in his essay, The Prevention of Literature, provided an excellent description of how totalitarian states like Cuba work and thrive:
The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary. Among intelligent Communists there is an underground legend to the effect that although the Russian government is obliged now to deal in lying propaganda, frame-up trials, and so forth, it is secretly recording the true facts and will publish them at some future time. We can, I believe, be quite certain that this is not the case, because the mentality implied by such an action is that of a liberal historian who believes that the past cannot be altered and that a correct knowledge of history is valuable as a matter of course. From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revelation of prominent historical figures. This kind of thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this country usually tend to argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie.
Negative trends in Latin America
Unfortunately, since civil-political rights or what the regime calls "bourgeois liberties" are non-existent in Cuba which means that freedom of expression and an independent press are not there to hold the regime accountable and to inform the public of threats to health and safety that it is facing. An even more disturbing development is that this idea of "bourgeois" and "socialist" freedoms has gained traction in Latin America placing the regional human rights architecture that provided protections for Latin Americans against the military dictatorships of the 1970s in danger, and today thanks to countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Argentina it is being dismantled.


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