What About “Real” Elections?

March 24, 2016

La Alborada, EDITORIAL

la alboradaPresident Obama has recommended to the Cuban people that they stage elections, like in the US. The suggestion may not draw much support.

In the history of US-Cuba relations, the general rule concerning elections has been this: The US has never cared and does not care for elections except when it is convenient for the US; and, when elections are held in other countries, the US reserves the right to overthrow governments not to its liking.

A corollary is this: Dictatorships are OK when they are convenient to the US.

That was the case during the dictatorships of Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista. The US never insisted on elections then (nor was there any concern for human rights). When the Cuban Revolution took power, however, the same government and media that thought highly of Batista evidenced a powerful need to call for elections immediately. Or else.

In 1954, Guatemala had an elected president who had won by a very large margin. The US, through the CIA, brought him down and destroyed Guatemalan democracy, imposing a military junta that led to a series of more juntas for about 35 years. The same year, Alfredo Stroessnner took power in Paraguay without elections. He stayed for about as long as the Guatemala juntas, decades of bloody and corrupt rule, but the US never even asked him to step aside for fair elections.

In Nicaragua, the Somoza dynasty was already in power (since 1936), and so was the one-man dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (for 31 years) in the Dominican Republic. Both the first Somoza and Trujillo got to the highest levels with the help of the US. They would be joined by the Duvalier père et fils in Haiti, although the US knew of their atrocities.

Trujillo’s death led to elections (finally!) in the Dominican Republic. Juan Bosch was chosen by the people, but within months an ultra-right sector of the army took over in a coup. The rest of the armed forces (the Constitutionalists) fought back. The US invaded the country to stop the Constitutionalists and make sure that Bosch was not re-elected in a second round. It was assisted by the Brazilian military junta, which had taken over in 1964 with the full support of LBJ, who had ordered the invasion.

It was the same story in Bolivia, where Gen. Hugo Banzer became the supreme ruler, but with the support of Richard Nixon. Soon afterwards, in the 1970s, Chile’s government was overthrown at the direction and with the help of the US. Uruguay and Argentina followed. Most of the southern continent, from Central America to the tip of South America, was governed by dictatorships supported by, or even installed by, the US. That was not a concern for the US until the smell of blood and fascism became overpowering in the late 1980s. During all that time, the US did not so much as ask the dictators to hold elections.

The Sandinistas, having overthrown the Somozas (finally!) held elections in 1984. They won handily. The US refused to accept the results and instead launched a surreptitious CIA war against Nicaragua.

By then, the Cubans had confirmed what they could foresee by 1952 or earlier: elections were held when convenient to the US, and their results could be ignored when not acceptable.

In this new century, popular governments came to power through elections. The results were not acceptable to the US, so there followed coup attempts in Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras, and Paraguay (only the latter two succeeded). The leaders of all of these reached the presidency through elections.

It’s not a comforting history of elections in Latin America. The US, however, the self-declared indispensable country, still holds itself out as a model to follow. Most people here or abroad have little idea of the workings of gerrymandering, caucuses, rules that vary by state and within parties, the Electoral College, and so on. Nor do they understand the powerful influence of huge amounts of money in US elections. Somehow, many people look to the US as indeed a model.

And this is in an election year that is probably the worst in living memory. The leading Republican candidate is so scary that the power sectors in his own party have declared openly that in the convention they will invalidate the vote for him. The minor GOP candidates have shown little concept of international affairs, science, or the separation of church and state. The leading Democrat candidate was involved in the coups in Honduras and Paraguay, achievements of which she is proud, along with the destruction of at least two countries under her watch and other wars she supported as a Senator. The other parties (“third party”) are ignored, and figure only as decoration.

Elections are good as expressions of collective or popular opinion, from social clubs to national governments. Cuba itself has elections, albeit in a context different from those in other countries. But the devil is in the details, and the details of the history noted above do not place the US in the position to advise Cuba on the matter.

Source: La Alborada