Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Chile-Cuba comparison

Jordan, a student in my Latin American Politics class, sent me a link to the story about how the U.S. government is calling for a referendum in Cuba. As I told him, I had been thinking of blogging about it, but what I hadn’t seen was the Chile connection, which made it even more interesting. The quote comparing Chile to Cuba came from the U.S. Secretary of Commerice, a Cuban American:

"They were asked a simple yes or no to dictatorship, very simple, and the people said 'no,'" Gutierrez said.

On the surface, this seems reasonable. In 1988, Chileans did vote “No” to eight more years of President Pinochet, and soon thereafter there were free elections.

Beyond that, there are few similarities. I will highlight some of the contrasts:

--the biggie is that the pressure for the referendum was domestic. Chileans were growing tired of the dictatorship, and had been making that clear.

--plus, there were constitutional stipulations for the referendum to occur. It was not a random event.

--the Chilean government, though definitely criticized (even by the Reagan administration) and denied some military aid for its terrorist acts in Washington DC*, had often been an ally in the “war on communism” as opposed to a long-term enemy.

--in Chile, the leadership of the junta (composed of the Commanders in Chief of each military branch, plus the Carabineros) was split. Air Force commander Matthei confirmed the “No” vote early, thus robbing Pinochet of the ability to announce otherwise. (Hard to see Raúl Castro playing the same role).

The lesson? The idea that the U.S. can make “suggestions” to Cubans about how to proceed is both moronic and counter-productive. The Chilean case is not a good example to use, because it represented the gradual development of events within Chile.

I do agree that a referendum, where voting is free and fair, is long overdue in Cuba. It is time the Cuban people are allowed to speak freely. But if the U.S. government really wants that to happen, it needs to keep its collective mouth shut, because anything condoned by the U.S. government (especially the Bush administration) will automatically be viewed with suspicion.

*in 1976, former Allende cabinet official Orlando Letelier, and an American woman who worked with him, Ronni Moffitt, were murdered just off Dupont Circle on the order of the Chilean government. There is an excellent book on this, Assassination on Embassy Row, by John Dinges (who also recently published a great book on Operation Condor) and Saul Landau. It reads like a thrilller, though you already know the tragedy to come.


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