Obama, Raúl Castro and South Africa

13 December 2013


By Carlos Alberto Montaner*


Granma did not print Barack Obama's speech in South Africa. It was humiliating for Raúl Castro. After the formal handshake, Obama explained that Mandela's name should not be invoked in vain. It wasn't acceptable to celebrate the life and work of the late leader while persecuting those who hold ideas different from the official views. That's called hypocrisy.


While reading his speech, Raúl unwittingly proved Obama right. Without a blush, he celebrated diversity as if he presided over the Helvetic Federation. While he spoke, repression hardened in Cuba against the democrats, in the form of blows, kicks and jail cells. The spectacle embodied the platonic idea of hypocrisy.


To understand Cuba, it is reasonable to take a close look at South Africa. There are many similarities between the late apartheid and the Castros' dictatorship. The two systems were erected on harebrained theories that led to abuse and authoritarianism.


The South African apartheid fed from the shameful U.S. tradition of racial segregation, built on the sophism of “two equal but separate societies,” a model that originated in the alleged superiority of whites and was forged in the abundant “Jim Crow” legislation. When the National Party of South Africa adopted that philosophy in 1948 and later fragmented the country into bantustans, it poured the foundations for horror. 


The Cuban dictatorship, in turn, feeds from the superstitions of Marxism-Leninism. The communists have the exclusive privilege of organizing Cuban coexistence. Even the Constitution says that. The island's rulers are backed by the certainty of “scientific” superiority. No other voices may exist because they, through the Party, are the vanguard of the proletariat, that class on which depends – no one knows why – the outcome of history. 


That infamous South Africa, happily gone, was basically divided into two racial castes: on one hand, the whites, with all the rights and privileges; on the other, the blacks and half-castes, second-rate subjects (they weren't even citizens.)  


Cuba is divided into two ideological castes: the communists and their “revolutionary” sympathizers, who enjoy all the rights, and the indifferent citizens and the oppositionists, branded as worms or scum and treated and maltreated with the greatest contempt. They're even barred from university studies because of the insistent proclamations that “the university is for the revolutionists.”


The defenders of racial segregation and apartheid in South Africa legislated on the feelings of persons. No one could love a person of another race. Couldn't have sexual relations with him or her. Interracial marriage was not possible. Not even caresses and kisses.


The defenders of the dictatorship in Cuba decreed that no one could have affectionate ties with exiles, political prisoners or oppositionists. The  ties between parents and children, siblings and friends were broken. Sometimes, couples were broken up. Marriage with foreigners was frowned upon.


The odd category of “disaffected” people was created. The political police watched the wives of the communist leaders, civilian or military, to notify the husbands of any adulterous relationship. The revolution owned women's pudenda.


Facing the horror of apartheid, numerous countries began to pressure for a change of regime. It had to be done. It was the decent thing to do, to end that viscous rot and replace it peacefully with a pluralistic system based on consensus, democracy and equality before the law. To achieve this, an economic embargo was instituted, sponsored by the United Nations.


Besieged by other nations, the white government of Pretoria screamed in protest and invoked its peculiar laws and Constitution. It exercised its sovereign right to self-determination but to no avail. Above that vile “nationalistic” alibi rose decency. White rulers could not maltreat the black population with impunity as if it were composed of animals.


The United States, which hesitated cowardly during the international embargo against South Africa (in the end, it joined it), is one of the few countries that -- in the case of Cuba -- puts pressure on the economic sector to replace a totalitarian and unjust regime with a democratic, pluralistic and inclusive government.


That is the coherent thing to do: to contribute to Cuba's self-liberation, as happened in South Africa. I suppose that, according to Obama, that's the best way to honor Mandela. 


*Journalist and writer. His latest book is the novel “Goodbye Again.”