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Communist WastelandsThe Asian Age India | Balbir K. Punj
The current issue of Reader's Digest (October 2005) has a poignant article titled City of Smoke & Mirrors by Benoit Aubin who recently visited Havana, Cuba.
It is a sombre illustration of how Castro's socialist dictatorship in Cuba and America's resultant trade embargo have reduced beautiful Havana into a cesspool of squalor, poverty and hopelessness. "The Socialist revolution has been a failure," Aubin quotes a political dissident named Raul Rivero, "and everybody knows it, but nobody says so publicly, so we keep pretending." The Cubans are a gagged up and coerced people; they have no right of freedom of speech and expression; no right to interact with foreigners posted in the city or visit hotels.
Political dissidence could earn one 28 years in prison through summary trials. They can't afford to smoke Havana cigar or drink rum-and-mint mojitos popularised by Ernest Hemingway in his books. Most Habaneros smoke cheap cigarettes and rinse their throats with brown rum.
Even Leftists find Castro a case of defending the indefensible. But they will be prompt to point out a quasi-Marxist in Caracas who is doing "wonderful work for his people." He is the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who is following an ambitiously populist agenda and generally enjoys a good press abroad (except the US). But as a Venezuelan who posted his opinion on BBC News website, Chavez's fan-following is amongst foreigners rather than his own countrymen.
Reactions of other Venezuelans seem to agree on the website. His admirers, I found, were mostly Canadians or US leftists. Chavez is a die-hard anti-American. He was recently the only head of state who positively opposed America and supported Iran on its nuclear programme at the International Atomic Energy Agency meet in Vienna recently.
His romance with the Islamic Republic of Iran goes beyond this. A person so inspired by the famous 19th Latin American revolutionary Simon Bolivar (he had prefixed "Bolivarian" to Republic of Venezuela), he strangely finds similarity between ideals of Bolivar and the Islamic revolution in Iran. The truth is that Bolivar (1783-1830), born in Venezuela, was a nationalist, who despite being of elite Spanish ancestry, brought freedom to Venezuela, Columbia, Panama and Ecuador from Spain's imperialist yoke, while bigoted cleric Ayatollah Khomeini disavowed the rich pre-Islamic history of Persia to reaffirm the Arabic yoke of Islam. Chavez brings the latest proof of Marxist-Islamist collusion.
Chavez, unlike Castro, whom he holds in high esteem, is an elected President but yet a demagogue. He is no friend of open and democratic societies, completely marginisaling the middle class and corporate sector promising to benefit the poor. Venezuela being the fifth largest oil producing country in OPEC, has petrodollars as an asset, yet, poverty in Venezuela is actually on the rise as government policy undermines individual initiative and private property. Freedom of speech and expression is curtailed and those opposing his rule are coined as traitors and villains.
I was happily surprised to read that Assocham Eco Pulse study has placed Left-ruled West Bengal in league with performing states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, UP and Tamil Nadu in terms of growth of gross domestic products between in 2001-02 and 2003-04 (Economic Times, October 12). A major reason for this achievement has been the contribution of the service sector that includes banking, insurance, finance, real estate. Mahendra K. Sanghi, the president of Assocham, said, "Globally well known companies like Infosys that are keen to set up software operations in the state, speak volumes about the pace with which West Bengal is moving under the current chief minister."
The Left trenchantly opposes any move towards disinvestment and FDI at the Centre. But the Left Front government is following a more market-friendly and capitalist policy in West Bengal, once India's most industrialised state that they ruined through their dogmatic policies. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee goes from Italy to Japan to woo foreign investment, and has kept the IT sector of Kolkata out of the purview of bandhs and strikes. Thus, while at the national level we are witnessing a climbdown to "shortage economy" of the Congress era, a relative turnaround is discernible in West Bengal.
The revelations by Mitrokhin Archive II titled The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World on India, much to the embarrassment of Congressmen and Communists, are too well known to be repeated here. But the same volume also reveals that the first elected Marxist President of the western hemisphere, who has been portrayed as a martyr in a CIA-backed coup, was actually a KGB agent. Salvador Allende was President of Chile between 1970 and 1973, before he was killed in an Army coup led by Auguste Pinochet that overthrew his government on September 11, 1973. The event got etched into the psyche of Latin America as its "Bloody Tuesday" 9/11, although the CIA never openly acknowledged its support to the coup.
Mitrokhin Archive reveals that the tenure of Allende, who was heavily financed by the KGB in his election campaign, was a boon time for Soviet secret activity in Chile. Under Allende, Chile turned into a jumping-off place for the secret services of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies. Their instructors prepared insurgents of Marxist terrorist groupings from all over Latin America on the Chilean territory. This has been corroborated by John Keller, the veteran CIA man who had worked in Berlin and Bonn (and later assistant and communication director under President Ronald Reagan) who had written the book Stasi: The Untold Story of East German Secret Service Police.
According to John Keller, "Within several days after Allende's coming to power, tens of Stasi experts on sabotage and guerrilla war arrived under diplomatic cover in Santiago. Besides these, experts from other Eastern European states arrived, including officers from Czechoslovakia, which were stationed in a camp near Valparaiso (a city in the central part of the country, West of the capital). Weapons and modular small houses arrived in Chile from the USSR." Stasi employees also helped many Communist leaders, socialist leaders, outstanding figures of Allende government and family members to escape to East Germany after the military coup.
Counterbalanced only by the euphoria over socialism, living standards in Chile had sharply declined under Allende's rule. There was severe deficit of food and other essential commodities. Allende's niece and famous authoress Isabel Allende who now lives in San Francisco has given a humorous description of those days in her memoir My Invented Country (HarperCollins India, 2003): "The shortages were so severe that people spent hours waiting to buy a scrawny chicken or a cup of cooking oil, but who could pay bought anything they wanted on the black market… Soon there was a psychosis of shortages, and as soon as three or more people were together, they automatically started a queue… There were professional line-standers who got tips for holding a place; I understand that my own children rounded their allowance that way" (P. 152). Does this not remind us of days of rationing in India?
She further writes, "One Peruvian artist who arrived for a visit during that period asked, amazed, why Chilean women dressed like lepers, lived in doghouses, and ate like Fakirs." (P.155)
Although Communism professes its belief in distribution of wealth, it ends up distributing poverty. The common historical experience has been that Communism has curbed people's progress and freedom of expression. Seldom in a Communist country have people had adequate means, and hardly ever adequate happiness.
© 2005 The Asian Age