[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: What Part of Democratic...

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Part of Democratic...

do you NOT understand?

That's my reaction to a comment Ana Menendez made in her latest piece on an art exhibit in Miami featuring works by castro-supporter Wilfredo Lam. The comment in question refers to Miami's "maturation" (read: less cigar-chomping old folks protesting):

Pockets of anti-democratic resistance remain, of course. But they are small and shrinking.

In the last years, Miami has made immeasurable progress toward building a civil and tolerant society here at home.

It's been an often-painful process and the results are not always easy to measure. But they are there for anyone who wants to see them. They are there in the challenges to the old political order.

And they are there in the startling and beautiful images on display today in downtown Miami.

Since when did protesting a controversial artist become "anti-democratic"? Only in Ana's Miami, of course. Protest Posada's "freedom"? Surely that's a bellwether of democracy in her view.

Ana, you can't pick sides here. It's a good thing when a controversial Cuban artist can present his works in town without being harassed. I agree with Ana there. But since when was it "anti-democratic" to protest against that same artist? Democracy applies to all. That's a trap that I see too many Cuban-American liberals fall into. Not all, or even most...but too many in my opinion.

And I love the "challenges to the old political order" comment. Ooooooooh. Imagine that! The Big Three Miami Republican congress-people are facing challengers in this year's elections. Earth to Ana: it's not the first time these people have run a campaign. Thought I'd let you know. Besides, when all 3 sweep their opponents in November, what will your excuse be this time? Miami's regressing because we vote for backwards-thinking Republicans who are responsible for Cubans being held hostage in their own country?

Spare us the agony, please.

16 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

Just an observation, Robert. Both you and Ana Menendez are wrong by calling Wifredo (there's no "l") Lam a Castro supporter. It's true that Lam was in favor of the revolution during the sixties, which was the prevalent attitude among the intellectuality of the era, including the nucleus around "Lunes de Revolucion" many of which ended up in exile as outspoken critics of the regime (Cabrera Infante, Carlos Franqui). Lam's son says in the NYT "his participation in or his enthusiasm for the Cuban Revolution was definitely one from the 1960s, for a movement of emancipation of liberation more than as an ideological communist venture." But it's also known, although Lam was a very private person that gave few interviews, that by the 70s his support had vaned and he made critical references to the repression of the arts including the Padilla case and to the forced exile of many Cuban artists. The regime answered in kind and stopped talking about Cuba's most famous painter, living in apolitical exile in Italy. Like other inconvenient artists such as Lezama Lima, he became a pariah, a representative of a socially decadent and unconmitted art. The regime preferred instead other Cuban masters such as Portocarrero or Mariano Rodriguez, who remained in Cuba and were vocal supporters of the revolution.

It's also true that an old, infirm, wheelchair-bound Lam visited Cuba in 1980 after many years of exile, and was paraded around by the regime, including a demonstration in from of the Peruvian Embassy. Zoe Valdes, who was there, wrote about the spectacle and the manipulation to which Lam was subjected in his vulnerable state. Lam wanted to remain connected to Cuba beyond any political considerations and he wanted to be buried there. To what extent he accepted a sad compromise is debatable. But to characterize him as a supporter is definitely an exaggeration if not an outright misrepresentation of what Lam actually said and believed.

It would be sad if we (and I believe when it comes to Cuban culture there's a "we" that emcompasses all sides and will endure many years after Castro's regime becomes history) cede a figure of Lam's importance to the regime. Just like Benny More is no less important and loved than Celia Cruz, even though one stayed among su gente and the other left. I don't care if there's a Wifredo Lam Center in Havana or if they have exploited his legacy posthumously. Lam belongs to all Cubans and we have to claim him as ours.

1:15 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Alex Cabrera said...

You don't get what's anti-democratic about using the protections afforded by living in a democratic system to violently oppress the free expression of another individual? Protesting is fine. Stealing paintings, burning them in the street, and then using your grip on political power to restrict a facility's ability to operate because you don't like the speech it's engaged in? Not so much.

Cubans in Miami have no place to play the democracy card; as we've proven time and time again, we're more interest in promoting some sort of Cuban agenda than actually taking away any sort of lesson in political philosophy from the mess we created in our own country.

8:40 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Alex #1,

Your comments on Lam are well taken. I was going along with Ana Menendez's characterization more from the perspective of him being a controversial figure to a good portion of the Cuban exile community, which doesn't automatically imply any current favor with castro.

Alex Cabrera,

Ana was very proud of the fact that there were NO protesters period. I bet you if there would have been 5 people outside holding signs, she would have looked down on them just the same as if they would have been burning paintings. That's what I meant.

A comment to your comment:

Cubans in Miami have no place to play the democracy card; as we've proven time and time again, we're more interest in promoting some sort of Cuban agenda than actually taking away any sort of lesson in political philosophy from the mess we created in our own country.

Could you please explain what the agenda Cubans in Miami promote, and why they don't have a place in a democracy?

10:51 PM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Alex said...

I'd be more than happy to explain.

For the most part, the Cuban elite have absolutely no interest in trying to work towards a freer culture in our city. Instead, they are more interested in how much they can build and what step they can take to "make the city better". The arrogance that those in government somehow have a better idea on how to make our city better is diametrically opposed to the concepts of liberty and democracy. Instead, the idea that our Commission can make us better is one of elitist state rule. The idea that to progress as a community some of us must be designated as more powerful than the others. The zeal to which our local government pursues the necessary evil of the centralization of governance is in direct opposition to the lessons we should have learned from 1959.

When you couple this thirst for control with the emotions that are behind the Cuban-American experience, you end up with a dangerously blind allegiance that promotes power over liberty. It is the same thing we've seen with the religious right's influence in the Republican party and therefore its impact in national policy. It is the same kind of immorality that has turned the Black community into slaves of a welfare state, one in which their continual survival depends on their allegiance to a power broker of the state regardless of the long-term impact it has on their liberties.

The danger of democracy is in the ease that the system allows for those that seek power for its own sake to pit majority against majority (which can easily happen when policy decisions are boiled down to single-issue decisions such as electing someone because of their heritage or what they will "do" about Cuba). From this point, it's simple game theory and leads, inevitably, to put it in academic terms, to a Pareto sub-optimal result.

Except, of course, that in this case we're not talking about theory, but rather the continual erosion of our liberty and property by the local government because people feel the need to vote porque es un cubiche.

12:44 AM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger nonee moose said...

HM, while I don't disagree with anything you've said from the POV of simple lamentation, but, dude, Pareto optimality??!?? This is exactly why economists are rarely let out of their cages. Better a good judo class, if you ask me.

I'm sure there's some really good history books, pre-SouthPark, which might confirm that the imperfections of real-life democracy have existed since Stanley Kubrick threw that bone in that movie. Ug wasn't a cubiche. He was Scotch-Irish. On his mother's side.

And, the whole premise of a representative democracy is that "some of us must be designated as more powerful than the others." I think you may have public trust issues, and on that, join the club.

I look forward to your campaign for public office. I would trust you with my vote. Until I can't any longer.

10:28 AM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Carlos Miller said...

Robert,

I don't think the issue is protests.

I think the issue is how they used to pelt people with eggs and batteries who would dare attend these functions.

That's not very democratic.

7:30 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger theCardinal said...

Ana is not worth debating about. She would love for the Che Cuban flag to be flying over Freedom Tower and people cheering. She's a moron not worth contemplating.

We have our faults but we have the rule of law. As long as we have that we live in a democracy. Did crowds intimidate - yes. Did crowds get unruly - yes. Ultimately though people were free to attend events and did. Los Van Van even played Miami. Would Fidel have let Celia do the same?

8:26 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Alex said...

@thecardinal

That's exactly my problem with you people. You don't want to debate it. You don't want to engage in discussion. You rather just say someone isn't worth discussing, hurl insults their way, and gloat as if you won the debate.

All you did was show your inability to engage in discussion.

9:03 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Alex said...

And I actually laughed out loud, a actual LOL, when I read that we have the rule of law.

We have a rule of the majority, not a rule of law. The two are very very different.

9:05 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Jonathan said...

We have a rule of the majority, not a rule of law. The two are very very different.

"Imperfect" is not the same as "nonexistent."

11:47 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Alex,

Thanks for your response.

Here's part of yours, with mine to follow:

For the most part, the Cuban elite have absolutely no interest in trying to work towards a freer culture in our city. Instead, they are more interested in how much they can build and what step they can take to "make the city better". The arrogance that those in government somehow have a better idea on how to make our city better is diametrically opposed to the concepts of liberty and democracy. Instead, the idea that our Commission can make us better is one of elitist state rule. The idea that to progress as a community some of us must be designated as more powerful than the others. The zeal to which our local government pursues the necessary evil of the centralization of governance is in direct opposition to the lessons we should have learned from 1959.

In a representative form of government such as ours, we vote for people who will make the tough decisions. That's the way it works. Your idea suggests some form of anarchy, which does NOT work. Our system isn't perfect, but it's the best we've been able to come up with.

When you couple this thirst for control with the emotions that are behind the Cuban-American experience, you end up with a dangerously blind allegiance that promotes power over liberty. It is the same thing we've seen with the religious right's influence in the Republican party and therefore its impact in national policy. It is the same kind of immorality that has turned the Black community into slaves of a welfare state, one in which their continual survival depends on their allegiance to a power broker of the state regardless of the long-term impact it has on their liberties.

Let's see, Cuban-Americans make up a significant portion of Miami-Dade's population, almost 50% percent I believe. In many parts of the county, Cubans are the majority. Therefore, it makes sense that Cubans will hold high positions in government, business, etc. You mention the County Commission. Of the 13 members, 7 are Cuban-American, 4 are African-American, and 2 are non-Hispanic, non-African American Americans. Kind of matches the demographics of our county, doesn't it?

Why does this have to translate into a "thirst for control"? Just because you don't necessarily agree with their point of view doesn't mean they want to control every aspect of your life. Unless you can give me concrete examples, your suggestion that Cubans want to dominate and control every aspect of society is totally baseless.

Your final statement about Cubans voting for their own because they are "cubiches" happens in every single ethnic group in this country. There are also plenty of examples where it doesn't happen. In my state congressional district, in an area where Cubans outnumber Colombians, a Colombian-American defeated a Cuban-American a few years back.

Finally from my end, your complaint to The Cardinal about his debating style made me laugh, because in a post on your own blog a few days back, you ripped Cuban-American hard liners a new one with all sorts of ad-hominem attacks. I'm sure you must see the irony in this.

10:13 AM, February 16, 2008  
Blogger Alex said...

I think our differences come from an inherent disagreement as to the role of government.

In a representative form of government such as ours, we vote for people who will make the tough decisions. That's the way it works. Your idea suggests some form of anarchy, which does NOT work. Our system isn't perfect, but it's the best we've been able to come up with.

I'm not suggesting anarchy; but I don't feel the role of a representative government is to "make the tough decisions". Rather, the role of a representative or any other form of a just government should be to protect individual liberty from being infringed upon by other individuals and to provide for a common defense.

Let's see, Cuban-Americans make up a significant portion of Miami-Dade's population, almost 50% percent I believe. In many parts of the county, Cubans are the majority. Therefore, it makes sense that Cubans will hold high positions in government, business, etc. You mention the County Commission. Of the 13 members, 7 are Cuban-American, 4 are African-American, and 2 are non-Hispanic, non-African American Americans. Kind of matches the demographics of our county, doesn't it?

I have no problem with Cubans in power as long as they're there for the right reasons. I've never heard a single commissioner speak about how he wants to make sure our rights are protected. All they talk about is what they will do for the city - cleaner streets, more development, etc. They have a top-down view of governance and it's seen through almost every measure they enact.

Your final statement about Cubans voting for their own because they are "cubiches" happens in every single ethnic group in this country. There are also plenty of examples where it doesn't happen. In my state congressional district, in an area where Cubans outnumber Colombians, a Colombian-American defeated a Cuban-American a few years back.

Again, my problem isn't voting for your own; my problem is with voting for your own only because they share the same background. We don't live in Cuba. The rules in the US are different. The ideas behind the founding of this country are different. We've taken advantage of those ideas without internalizing them, and that's why we're in the mess that we're in now.

Finally from my end, your complaint to The Cardinal about his debating style made me laugh, because in a post on your own blog a few days back, you ripped Cuban-American hard liners a new one with all sorts of ad-hominem attacks. I'm sure you must see the irony in this.

Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they're engaged in ad hominem attacks. That post was based on reason and the founding philosophy on this country, not some personal vendetta I have to rip on Cubans just because they're Cubans. What's senseless is someone who can't see past the blatant disregard for the rule of law simply because those in power may share a common heritage.

11:19 AM, February 16, 2008  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Again, my problem isn't voting for your own; my problem is with voting for your own only because they share the same background.

You seem to be conflicted. You like elected govt in principle but you don't like the choices voters actually make. But given that 1) it's the nature of elections that the losers are always dissatisfied and 2) the likely alternative to imperfect elected govt is dictatorship, I think that it's a mistake to focus on the flaws of elected govt. Those flaws are going to be with us, to some extent, no matter what. Instead it might be better to accept that elected govt, no matter how we tweak the rules, is going to be imperfect, and that the best course of action is to limit govt's size and power as much as possible.

12:20 PM, February 16, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Alex,

Our form of government attempts to ensure that we keep our basic rights as outlined in the Constitution. We have the right to have our voices heard, whether it's through attending a Commission meeting or voting at the polls. In the end, SOMEONE has to be in charge and make decisions that affect all of us. If we don't like those decisions, then we vote them out of office.

In an ideal sense, the pyramid of influence would be flipped upside down, with us at the top and the politicians at the bottom, serving and representing us. Of course, many people abuse their positions, but in the end democracy keeps us at the top because we have the final say as to who gets to make the tough decisions for us.

10:28 AM, February 17, 2008  
Blogger Alex said...

@Robert

Our form of government attempts to ensure that we keep our basic rights as outlined in the Constitution. We have the right to have our voices heard, whether it's through attending a Commission meeting or voting at the polls. In the end, SOMEONE has to be in charge and make decisions that affect all of us. If we don't like those decisions, then we vote them out of office.

Try actually reading the Constitution sometime. It does not "outline our basic rights", rather it limits what rights the government has. That comes from the country being founded on the idea of positive liberty. When government becomes used to usurping the Constitution, the state we find ourselves in today, it doesn't matter who is in power because the leviathan has taken over.

We shouldn't look towards the government to make "tough decisions". All we have to do is elect leaders that will follow our constitution and we would never be put in the position where our elected officials have to make those calls.

In an ideal sense, the pyramid of influence would be flipped upside down, with us at the top and the politicians at the bottom, serving and representing us. Of course, many people abuse their positions, but in the end democracy keeps us at the top because we have the final say as to who gets to make the tough decisions for us.

It's exactly that type of thinking that allows for the system to become corrupt. I understand where it comes from; our background is one of caudillos, not enlightenment thinkers, and thus we have a tendency to accept orders from "the top". It's not right, and it should not be the basis for a free society.

I think you and I just have a fundamental difference on what liberty means.

12:34 PM, February 17, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Alex,

I'm going to rephrase part of what I wrote:

Our leaders' main responsibility is to serve the people they represent. Can we agree on that? That's the upside down pyramid I'm talking about. The conventional wisdom is that people serve their leaders, which puts the leaders at the top and us at the bottom. If you flip that around, you end up with leaders serving us, in other words, servant leadership as opposed to dictatorial rule.

As a strict Constitutionalist, I believe you're having a hard time seeing the forest from the trees here. It's not that you're wrong, but that you're losing sight of the fact that the Bill of RIGHTS (funny how the word "rights" slipped in there, huh?) is based on servant leadership principles. Our founders fathers had something that is lacking these days: common sense. The Constitution is based on those principles, which respects and acknowledges the rights and freedoms we enjoy. It provide us with our needs, not necessarily our wants or desires.

I also think you're hung up on this "caudillo heritage" concept. You still haven't given me an example of how this applies to local government. It's easy to throw the caudillo term around and apply it to Cuban-Americans, since it fits quite neatly into the stereotypes that many have of us, but are in many cases totally unfounded and unrepresentative of today's world.

1:24 PM, February 17, 2008  

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