From Cuba to Palestine, when revolutionaries end up as dictators, the people pay the price | Simon tisdall
Wwho betrayed the revolution? This is a question that worries Cubans after the regime’s harsh crackdown last week on street protesters marching for freedom. It is also an enigma for other former liberation movements now wielding power in places as far apart as South Africa, Nicaragua and Palestine. Too often, it seems, the new bosses behave little better than the old bosses they toppled.
Those on the progressive left face an obvious dilemma when the revolution causes a backfire. True to a simplistic American tradition, US President Joe Biden is busy dividing the world into good guys and bad guys, Democrats and autocrats. Much of the attention has been focused on authoritarian right-wing rulers, as in Brazil, Belarus, Russia and Myanmar.
But what about leftist dictatorships? China does not easily fit this definition, as it has long since swapped communist theory for capitalist practice – although the CCP does not admit it. In contrast, Cuba’s top executives, self-proclaimed heirs to Fidel Castro, remain loyal to old-school Marxist ideology and rhetoric. Like a textbook, the Cuban president called the protests a Yanqui plot.
Miguel DÃaz-Canel has abandoned the hackneyed story of a Bay of Pigs putsch concocted by mercenaries and subversives in Miami. “They will have to go through our bodies if they want to face the revolution,” said the 61-year-old party bureaucrat, ignoring his lack of Che Guevara expertise. The protesters were “confused revolutionaries,” he said – a term more apt to himself.
It would have been far more honest to recognize that any “confusion” among Cubans stems from the hardships caused by a declining economy, poor governance, Covid-19, U.S. sanctions, and shortages of subsidized Venezuelan oil – and by the failure of an illegitimate and corrupt democratic regime to remedy it. Locking up protesters and journalists is not a solution.
So is it fair to say that the Communists in Cuba betrayed their own revolution? Not entirely. Castro’s Cuba after 1959 suffered decades of US-led manipulation and interference. Efforts to build a more just society have been sabotaged from the outside.
Biden is less overtly hostile. But a fundamental shift in U.S. politics seems unlikely, given the importance of Florida’s Republican-leaning Latin American vote in next year’s midterm elections. Knowing this, the Cuban leadership will not change willingly either. So the siege – and the struggle – continues.
Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, a veteran of the 1981-90 war with the right-wing US-funded Contra rebels, similarly argues that the 1979 revolution in the country is relentlessly betrayed and subverted from abroad – well that at its peak, its Sandinista front enjoyed support abroad, especially in Brittany.
What a disappointment, then, that Ortega has become a modern version of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator he toppled. Like another socialist hero, Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, and his sinister successor, Nicolas Maduro, he eviscerated opposition parties, abolished mandates, surrounded the judiciary and the media, and detained opponents. It was like the good old days when Washington imposed sanctions last week.
In a very real sense, the Nicaraguan revolution never stood a chance. Global geopolitical, financial and trade systems opposed it. More than 40 years later, the country remains among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Yet that is not how Ortega puts it. He and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, cling, with a strange incongruity, to the mantle of successful revolutionaries and revolutionaries. In the mutual betrayal debate, who is laughing at whom?
Entrenched poverty, a history of colonial exploitation, and the legacy of war were also challenges facing 20th century African freedom fighters. But once in charge, they have too often failed because the power has eaten away at the principle.
In energy-rich Angola and Mozambique, where money trumps the collective, the so-called left liberators are the new elites while the people remain poor. Robert Mugabe’s post-independence Zimbabwe was a disaster in a league of its own.
But how can one explain the turmoil that is currently shaking South Africa, which, when the African National Congress took the reins in 1994, was the richest economy on the continent? These latest riots and looting do not ultimately concern the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma but the imprisoned dream of a post-apartheid era of shared prosperity and equal opportunity.
Circumstances unquestionably conspired against South Africa. The economic devastation of Covid, now in a third wave, has been particularly severe. Unemployment in the first three months of 2021 was over 32%. Youth unemployment is the highest in the world. Yet all of this does not fully explain the collapse.
The bottom line is that the ANC, weakened by endless power struggles and corruption scandals, has clearly failed to fulfill the hopes invested in Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation – and the people of it. pays the price. A once inspiring movement has clearly lost its way. Its deployment of troops against desperate civilians bears disturbing echoes of the past.
For those worried about the rise of authoritarianism on the left, the dictatorial behavior of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is particularly disturbing. The unpopular 85-year-old Fatah leader has not faced a general election since 2006. His administration is seen as selfish, confrontational and inefficient. The recent death in custody of a critic, Nizar Banat, sparked howls of protest across the West Bank which have been harshly suppressed.
The Palestinian state is an extremely symbolic leftist cause. But under the dead hand of the ruler of Ramallah, the vision fades as foreign interests diminish and Israel shamelessly usurps its land. Palestinians are in dire need of fresh, unifying, democratically elected leaders who can curb the violence of hardline Hamas supporters, avoid Israeli, Saudi and Iranian political traps, and rekindle active international support for a solution. viable to two states.
To win, the conditions under which this and other battles are fought must change. The old lessons of freedom must be learned anew, the slide to authoritarianism has resisted. It is time for a revolution on the left.