Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cuba, Castro, and Democracy Now!

I usually enjoy Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! newscasts. Locally, Democracy Now! airs at 8 am and 6 pm on WPFW 89.3. It's an important, alternative source of news in this age of conglomerized, cookie cutter, big business media. Some of the stuff on Democracy Now can be a bit obscure, but in a way that's the point--focusing on individual cases of government abuse in far away lands that aren't named Aruba. They give more attention to Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky than I think is necessary or useful, but other than that, I generally appreciate the show's commentary and that of their guests.

But this morning was just beyond the pale. They had a report concerning Fidel Castro, who's been in the news these last few days because of his health.

The report started off describing "President Castro's" condition and (temporary) transference of power to his brother. Goodman continually refers to the "president of Cuba" and "President Castro", seeming to forget that Castro is dictator, a term Goodman readily ascribes to Castro's predecessor, Batista, who was overthrown by Castro's forces (including Che Guevara) in 1959. Castro has never been elected or stood for re-election. Nor does he apparently take criticism, much less official challenges, very well.

The show was slated to have the "President of the Cuban National Assembly" on, as if this body was a real legislative actor in Cuba, as well as an interview with Peter Bourne, the author of an apparently sympathetic biography of Castro, and a clip from what sounds like a hagiographic movie: Fidel: The Untold Story. Here's the transcript of the movie, and here's the transcript of the interview with the "President of the Cuban National Assembly".

This is just terrible stuff. Yes, talking to someone in Cuba, particularly someone presumably among it's "leadership" is important and unique, but to act as if Cuba's government is just some oppressed, legitimate governing democracy is just nuts. You don't have to favor the almost 50 year U.S. policy of exclusion and embargo. I certainly don't. I'd like to see the embargo ended, it's not a rational or humane policy; it's just pandering to a very small slice of the electorate. And given that short-sighted, prejudiced policy, I wouldn't be surprised that Cuban officials, and probably much of the country's people don't like the U.S. much.

But from what we know of Cuba, the government is a one-man autocracy where information is tightly controlled and state run, there is no self criticism of the government or its dictator, and in which there are no meaningful elections and no political rights; dissidents are imprisoned or worse. That Goodman and Gonzalez (her cohost) didn't feel obliged to confront a representative from Cuba's repressive government on these matters is appalling. That Goodman would also use the interview to give Alarcon (the president of the national assembly) a platform to criticize U.S. actions (or lack thereof in Lebanon) is similarly ridiculous.

Democracy Now! has an admirable record of supporting freedom and democracy across the globe, and speaking on behalf of oppressed minorities, but on Cuba they seem to be either silent or outright supportive of a repressive, albeit left-wing, dictatorship. Right wingers deserve scorn for simultaneously demanding that the nation fight for "freedom and democracy" in the Middle East and against Communist countries while lovingly appeasing right wing dictatorships. But we on the "left" don't need to mimic the right wing's hypocrisies by giving left wing dictators a pass.

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