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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The end of Cold War dictators?

    On Tuesday, Fidel Castro’s resignation filled the headlines of newspapers across the world: “”I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.””

    When these words were released to the public, pundits and democratic stalwarts around the globe cheered in jubilee. But beside a few quiet clinks of Cuba Libres behind closed doors, the shouts of joy were not echoed in Cuba. There were no mass demonstrations, no call for democratic reform, no public celebrations. Cubans seem to care very little that Castro stepped down – and the United States could learn a lesson from this silence.

    Cubans have known for years of Castro’s impending exit. Fidel’s brother, Raul, will likely be voted into office on Sunday, mirroring his brother’s repressive economic and political policies until Castro has fully departed. Elizardo Sánchez, a leading dissident in Cuba, said in an interview with The New York Times, “”It was expected and it does nothing to change the human rights situation … There’s no reason to celebrate.”” The move on Tuesday was a calculated political transition that indicates very little real reform.

    But to Americans, Castro’s resignation feels like we just successfully captured the Bay of Pigs. At long last, El Comandante is no longer in power! This long-awaited change deserves, if not a new constitution, at least some empanadas and balloons. But what we aren’t willing to recognize is that autocratic leaders like Castro are now functioning within an institutionalized political system. Unlike the Cold War dictators of old, the end of iconic political leadership does not mean a turnover of the system.

    The American response to Castro’s resignation shows that Americans still like to view dictators through outdated Cold War glasses. But we’re not totally to blame. The Cold War brought 40 years of media war-mongering, training the public to evaluate foreign leaders in divisive good vs. evil terms: Either supportive of U.S. policies or an evil communist dictator. During the Cold War, we tolerated autocratic tyrants such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Augusto Pinochet in Chile in order to prevent hypothetical communist take-over. During the Bush administration, foreign policy has sought the same allegiances and iron-fisted stability Cold War politics bought.

    Take Pakistan. During the last six years, the U.S. has bought the military dictator’s allegiance by sending more than $4.6 billion in aid. In response, Musharraf, who assumed power in a military coup, has cracked down on extremists and suppressed democratic elections. On Monday, President Musharraf’s party was soundly routed in parliamentary elections. Many U.S. administrators, including President Bush, indicated disappointment with the elections. That’s because America doesn’t support democratically elected leaders. It supports leaders who align themselves with American interests.

    One lesson we can learn from this past week is that while many leaders today are authoritarian, few are absolutely totalitarian.

    When Musharraf’s political defeat is juxtaposed with Castro’s resignation, the contradictions in American foreign policy become glaring. The U.S.’s obstinate rejection of trade relations with Cuba no longer makes sense in a globalized world. We frequently trade with countries with oppressive political systems, such as China and Russia, and send billions of dollars in aid to autocratic regimes to fight the war on terror. But in Cuba, a nation that poses virtually no military threat and is not a known incubator of terrorists, a decades-long embargo is punishment for communist ideology. If Bush’s goal is to help Cuba transition to a democracy, he would be well advised to begin encouraging democratic and cultural exchange between the two countries, rather than clinging to Cold War-like rejection.

    With oil prices once again topping $100, regardless of political obstinacy, America may soon be forced to take a second look at the possibilities of Cuba’s sugarcane ethanol market. We have a lot more to gain from working with quasi-democratic authoritarians, especially those off the coast Florida, than we like to think.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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