Colombo, International, Politics and Governance

Echoes of Cuba


Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg, via Bloomberg

I walk the hills rising from an azure blue Caribbean sea, and try to envision the history that I have been told, a history of an island, green, tropical, rich in resources that fell into a despotic military aided rule. The consequence of a power drunk ruler who made it easy for his cronies to move money across its borders and legalized gambling to facilitate the Mafia to launder its ill-gotten money from the US. The underworld became the lords and the land went out of reach for ordinary citizens. This history spoke of a small group of dedicated people, who struggled through incredible odds and fuelled by a shining love for their country, won the nation back from the underworld.  Their actions confirming the observation of the Qu’ran that,  ‘ the love of country is the love of faith’.

It was an impossibly small boat that arrived on the shores of Cuba with its cargo of committed revolutionaries in 1956 ‘more dead than alive’ as Che recounted, loosing over half of their comrades, in battles, yet they went on to win their nation back from the underworld. By this action the amazing ability of the human spirit to rise to the ‘love of country’ is clearly demonstrated.  Cuba was embroiled in corruption, its dictator Batista was supported by gangsters, thugs and killers.  The huge inflow of money through their money laundering operations created a massive disparity of income and Cuban society descended into a situation of economic colonization.  The corruption was so bad that the US president John F. Kennedy once stated:

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation, which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”

The history of Cuba haunted me on my return to Sri Lanka; one of the first actions of Batista on gaining power was to facilitate the flow of external money through its economy and to legalize gambling, which facilitated the entry of the mafia into the country to launder its ill-gotten wealth from the US.  One of the first actions of the new government of Sri Lanka was to liberalize the flow of money through our nation and legalize gambling. Was this to be the creation of our own Batistas and the surrendering of our nation to the underworld elements, local and of Asia, Russia etc? As pointed out in the parliamentary speech by Mangala Samaraweera MP It is the activity of the underworld and their laundering of money though our economy that now contributes to our ‘economic growth’, but is this something to crow about?

Such ‘misdirected growth’ is often promoted to enrich the people with power to amass capital but it creates a class of ‘super rich’ which rapidly widens the inequality gap between rich and poor.  The reason as to why we should all be vigilant about the phenomenon of a widening inequality gap between the rich and the poor is very lucidly explained in the informative and eye opening book ‘The Spirit Level’ by two Epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Their data shows that the consequence of a widening ‘inequality gap’ degrades the health and well being of the people, this phenomenon applies to all countries from the so-called ‘rich’ to the  so-called ‘poor’.

So, by all measures it seems that we are descending into a mafia controlled sate, rife with corruption, nepotism and cronyism. This process, like a cancer will eat into our society, destroy our culture and enslave our children. Time will come when decent people will yearn for justice and especially to rid the nation of corruption. But where will we find our champions?

For us, this struggle will be hard. It has been commented that this nation twice removed from its genepool, the genes for activism and bravery. In 1971 the government ‘removed ‘up to 20,000 or more of the educated, poor. Those who attended university or demonstrated interest in radical politics were young or unemployed were singled out for liquidation.  The next pogrom was in the late 1980’s when over 60,000 were ‘removed’ without a word being uttered in protest on any international stage. These people never passed their genes on. Genetically speaking, we removed from our race a large percentage of the traits for high intellectual potential and activism. Metaphorically, It has become the time of the bottom feeders in our gene pool to manifest themselves as the intellectuals and leaders.

Bottom feeders or ‘lowlife’ have a peculiar trait of myopia or short sightedness, that does not allow them to consider anything other than objects of their greed. Consider the recent reports from World Bank, Price Waterhouse Coopers etc that warns of the global temperature rise by 4-6 degrees due to the burning of fossil fuel and the use of cement.  Such a jump in global temperatures will exacerbate global poverty, trigger severe heat waves, sudden floods and droughts, and cause sea levels to rise by three feet, it will ravage food supplies. These reports warn us of the immediate need to reduce emitting fossil carbon and to prepare for the oncoming crises.  Given such a global scenario a responsible action would be to try and reduce our carbon footprint, but Sri Lanka’s  ‘economic development’ model does the exact opposite. We are made to accept the burning of fossil fuel, the construction of mega projects with a huge carbon debt in cement and increased fossil fuel use, as ‘peoples development’. Which people? We may well ask.  The promotion of irresponsible carbon emitting sports such as motorcar racing, as development processes in the face of a population struggling with the rise of fuel prices is grotesque to say the least, almost as if we were living on a different planet. The wonder of Asia may soon become the blunder of Asia.

We have won the war with a horrendous loss of lives of both combatants and innocents. But neither this loss nor the loss of our youth is ever addressed publicly to date. To a nation that values giving merit to the departed, no action to remember or give merit to the dead is encouraged, in fact such activities are violently discouraged. We have become the ghouls that we accuse everyone else of being.  All of the killers, torturers and those who reveled in that horror past, still stalk the corridors of power.  No amount of propaganda can ever wash this blood from our hands. Only an honest and truthful reconciliation process with full accountability can!

Until then, it will be ‘Back to Batista’ for us.