I know I am somewhat of a hate figure among local lefties, courtesy of the column I used to write for Mmegi. A bogeyman of sorts. That being the case, I was hardly perturbed by the manner in which Mino Polelo, in his op-ed glorifying the Castro dictatorship, introduced me. (Sunday Standard, March 9-15, 2008). True to form, Polelo wastes little time in getting worked up and branding me “Botswana’s most vociferous neo liberal/neo-con demagogue who parades himself as an independent newspaper columnist”. Now, for those of you who are not conversant with leftist jargon, neocon is shorthand for neoconservative. The label gained currency at the height of the 2003 US led Iraq war. It is used feverishly to refer to a small group of United States President George W. Bush’s advisers comprising Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and John Bolton.
Sometimes, however, things can get murky for those with Jewish sounding surnames like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz as they become easy shoo-ins for the neo conservative label.
One of things that I do when debating lefties is never to let them define me on their own terms. They can only do so if they also define themselves upfront. I also don’t simply accept the premise of their arguments. That is very important because for far too long lefties, recognizing the meaninglessness of the socialist myth, were quick to shut down debate by calling their opponents all sorts of names. This was, in fact, their strategy of choice during my varsity days. All they had to do was sneer at rivals and call them “reactionaries” or “petty bourgeois elements”.
It is, therefore, instructive that Polelo is quick to tag me neo conservative ÔÇô which coincidentally, I don’t mind ÔÇô but does not take the trouble to describe himself. He is simply content with passing himself off as “a PhD candidate studying in Australia”.
He is not a lefty PhD candidate studying in capitalist Australia.
So, for the benefit of Mino Polelo and his ideological soul mates, this is how I define myself: a believer in free enterprise, limited government and individual liberty. These are obviously conservative principles. Free enterprise means that the job of creating economic growth, wealth and jobs is first and foremost, the responsibility of private individuals, not governments. Governments – including Polelo’s mythical Cuba – are notoriously inept whenever they try their hand at business. The best that they do is to sap the people’s entrepreneurial energy, stunt innovation, leading to inertia and stagnation. Sometimes when I write this stuff, I feel embarrassed because I sound as if I am hell bent on insulting the readers’ intelligence. So please bear with me because we are dealing with a group of academics that doesn’t “embarrass easy” despite the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s. Empirical evidence means nothing to these people because it spoils their Utopia.
Limited government means that governments should not insert themselves into the private life of individuals and their families. They govern best when they leave individuals to raise their families in the manner they see fit. The dictum that government is best that governs least is apt here because whenever it is applied it consistently produces positive results.
Individual liberty, on the other hand, means that the best society to live in is one that recognizes individuals’ ability to make rational decisions without the state constantly breathing heavily down their necks.
Castro and Che Guevara simply do not cover themselves in glory in as far as free enterprise, limited government and individual liberty are concerned. Only Mino Polelo knows why I should be the cheerleader of the Useful Idiots who idolize Castro and Che Guevara. For me, these men represent the worst form of human rights violation.
Those who glorify Che Guevara are free to wear Che T shirts, but I do not dignify a man who killed many Cubans in cold blood. These men presided over a system that violates the individual’s God-given right to choose. It is a pity that Polelo simply tries to gloss over these principles over by saying, “For many in the left though, Cuba, despite it being a one party state and a closed system that is analogous to those in the former Eastern bloc”. I am sorry, Cuba is not going to be held to a different standard and any attempt by its apologists to downplay the debilitating effects of a one party state system is ridiculous. After all , this goes to the very heart of individual liberty because a one party state denies people the right to choose their leaders. And what about Polelo’s meek attempt to sanitize the excesses of the East European murderous and repressive communist system by calling it “a closed system”. A closed system? Eric Honaker merely operated a closed system? Is that all? This would be ludicrous were it not that sad. Is that how Polelo describes a system where people were shot dead for climbing over the Berlin Wall? What would be Polelo‘s reaction if Botswana sealed the border and shot those who attempted to leave the country. Would he just call that “a closed system”?
If Botswana introduced a one party state, would Polelo simply gloss over that undemocratic system and insist that the people have free health care? Obviously Polelo would be outraged.
Polelo makes much about the fact that therealcuba.com, a web site dedicated to exposing Cuba’s health care propaganda, is anti-Castro. Why is that a problem if, as Polelo claims, Castro wants to encourage the “Battle of Ideas”? Surely that cannot be the reason for deeming the web site as inappropriate. Polelo must do much better than that and start to rebutt the veracity of the website’s contents on its merits.
Surely Polelo does not expect me to engage- as some commentator once said, “in the endless praise of the [Cuba] revolution’s twin pillars of health and education”. That is his job, not mine. If he cannot dispute the contents of alternative new sources like therealcuba.com that again is his problem, not mine.
Ignazio Silone once famously remarked that “Revolutions, like trees, must be judged by their fruit”.
With respect to the Cuba’s education sector, Polelo is free to tout Martin or whoever but a cursory comparison of education indicators during the pre-Castro and Castro periods is helpful. Cuba was already among the most literate countries before Castro came to power. Its literacy rose from 76 to 96 under Castro but Chile and Costa Rica also boast the same rates. Argentina is the top dog. So other than for propaganda purposes, why not mention Chile and Costa Rica? In terms of increase in the rate of literacy growth, countries such as Panama, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Haiti recorded equal or higher growth rates.
We can make the same comparisons for health and other sectors such as consumption, production, exports, balance of payments, teledensity, media freedom etc but for lack of space lets stick with health care. Again, it is important to remember that Cuba’s health sector was already advanced before Castro took over. In 1957, Cuba’s mortality rate of 32 per 100 live births was Latin America’s lowest and 13th in the world. It put the likes of France, Italy, Belgium, former West Germany, Israel, Japan, Australia and Spain to shame. All those have now surpassed Cuba under Castro. It is also important to note that these mortality figures do not take Cuba’s high abortion rate of 77.7 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44, into account.
And again, if Cuba’s health care is the world’s gold standard, why then did the authorities fly in a Spanish doctor to operate on the Commandant?
Great education systems produce skilled people who go on to produce great products. We have seen that with American software, vibrant Japanese and Korean electronic industry and Germany automobile sector. Cuba is yet to arrive.
Let me conclude by apologizing for subjecting you to stale arguments about socialism/communism. I recognize that you leave in the real world.
However, we have to engage the people who cling to this utterly failed system because they happen to be university professors. So imagine the young and impressionable campus kid being taught by people who have some kind of socialist death wish and want to take the rest of us over the cliff with them. At the bottom of this cliff lies a cesspool of failed Marxist states of Eastern Europe, Russia China, Angola, and Mozambique etc.