On July 12, following an outburst of protest by Cubans responding to a raft of ills that plague the island, the White House issued US President Joe Biden’s message of apparent solidarity. “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
The sound of a high-pitched trumpet calling troops to battle in the 14th century or, when evoked by a politician in the 21st century, the sound of a high-pitched ideologue pretending (but not necessarily intending) to go to battle in the name of a claimed ideal
Whenever an American politician evokes the question of Cuba, one can be sure that clichés will abound. The Oxford Dictionary defines “clarion” as “A shrill-sounding trumpet with a narrow tube, formerly much used as a signal in war.” This sounds like an apt description of today’s US politicians. They know that to win elections they must always sound shrill and ready for war, in their intentions if not in their tone.
Biden uses the cliché of promising to “stand with the Cuban people.” He then invokes “the tragic grip of the pandemic,” but somehow forgets to mention the far more serious and tragic grip of a 60-year US blockade of Cuba that cut off the nation and its people from the global economy, forcing the regime to improvise a form of near autarchy in an increasingly interconnected world. For much of that time, Cubans depended for their survival on a lifeline from the Soviet Union (later Russia) and various assorted US enemies, such as Venezuela.
Like Lewis Carrol’s Walrus about to eat the oysters he has befriended, Biden explains how he “deeply sympathizes” with the Cuban people. He offers Cuba’s leaders this advice: “The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.” Does he seriously expect them to take on board his wise counsel? Can the president of a nation that made 638 attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro pretend to be someone who can be trusted to “hear their people and serve their needs?”
The statement’s litany of clichés continues with the claim that this is a “vital moment.” Biden optimistically envisions a counterrevolution provoked by the intense suffering imposed on the Cuban people as a result of the combined force of a pandemic, an endless embargo and US sanctions. These have created a situation beyond any government’s control. Biden’s irony then intensifies with the implicit reproach, “rather than enriching themselves.” Spoken by the president of a recognized plutocracy and the father of Hunter Biden, this remark merits some serious laughs.
Biden clearly knows something about politicians enriching themselves and their families. A growing trove of evidence reveals that, during the years of Joe Biden’s vice presidency, his son Hunter demonstrated exceptional skill trading on his father’s name, apparently with dad’s complicity. Hunter Biden’s lifestyle alone bears witness to the moral vision of a family and a class culture with few scruples about pushing ethical and legal limits in the interest of “enriching themselves.”
Forbes states that Joe Biden’s net worth is “only an estimated $8 million.” That puts him above the poverty line but, in the eyes of most of the billionaire elite, classifies him as a loser. To maintain his image of “middle-class Joe,” Biden may have been motivated to seek ways of enriching his son, perhaps as a ploy to dodge inheritance tax. He even apparently relied on his son’s generosity to cover some of the domestic costs his $8 million fortune didn’t permit him to cover. Hunter’s net worth is unknown, but Newsweek says it “could be millions.” Such a paltry fortune for someone with his surname and admittedly illustrious career (drug addiction and adultery apart) may help to explain Hunter’s sudden need to sell his artwork at exorbitant prices.
CNN reports that “the White House has been forced to deal with ethics questions about people buying the artwork for huge sums as a way to curry favor with President Joe Biden.” That is not only a fair description of the context but fits with the whole pattern of Hunter Biden’s career. Wondering whether his art had value, CNN interviewed art critic Sebastian Smee, who judged that Biden’s “work has the feeling of an afterthought.” It didn’t need “to be made, except perhaps as a therapeutic exercise.” His work is now expected to command “prices ranging from $75,000 to $500,000.”
So how does this compare with Cuban politicians’ enriching themselves? The website Celebsblurb weighed in on the question of current president Miguel Diaz Canel’s fortune without providing a figure. “Being active in the political field since 1993, Miguel has earned a handsome amount of salary” the site claims. He enjoys “a lavish lifestyle with the aid of his enormous net worth.” Fidel Castro’s fortune was evaluated at under “about $900 million,” which is impressive, but he fell short of becoming a billionaire. According to the website Wealthy Persons, Fidel’s brother, Raul, who reigned for several years, reached $150 million, nearly 20 times that of Joe Biden.
Could Biden be expressing his jealousy when talking about Cuban leaders enriching themselves? They have certainly outpaced the American president. Running a communist country pays, especially if you’re good at preserving a precarious stability in the face of a permanent assault by a neighboring superpower. If you think of the Cuban people as the board of directors of Cuba Inc., their compensation scheme reflects their CEO’s performance. Another way of calculating Fidel’s claim to such a fortune could be by putting a price of $1.4 million on each foiled CIA assassination attempt. As ransoms of national leaders go, that is a very modest figure.
“Working-class Joe” seems to have secured a comfortable situation for his family, even if he can’t compete with “revolutionary Fidel.” But Castro’s fortune may have had less to do with personal greed than with a trend that affects all fragile developing nations — the need their leaders feel to secure the degree of financial autonomy that allows them to counter the inevitable initiatives of hostile superpowers to unseat them. In contrast with Cuba, US plutocracy has refined the art of spreading wealth around the entire oligarchic class. Politicians merit the millions they receive from the billionaires. That’s enough to ensure their loyal obedience. On the US political chessboard, the politicians are the pawns.
In the past week, US media outlets have expressed their hope that Cuba’s economic disaster may provoke the always desired outcome known as regime change. The current crisis in Cuba is attributable to the combined effects of a decades-long embargo, supplementary punitive sanctions imposed by Donald Trump and maintained by Biden, and a government with limited influence on the international stage and insufficient management skills. The overthrow of the current government thanks to pressure and assistance from the US would simply produce chaos and possibly a civil war on a scale similar to what Libya has experienced for the past 10 years.
Therein lies the biggest mystery concerning Biden’s Cuba policy: With all his experience dating back to the Vietnam War, including decades of sanctions, invasions and assassinations, Biden has seen enough history to understand that US wars and sanctions have produced mountains of tragedy and absolutely nothing to rejoice about other than pleasuring the military-industrial complex. The much younger Barack Obama seemed at least to have partially learned the lesson of history when he sought to open the dialogue with Cuba.
US democracy fatally and repeatedly produces the same consistent effect. In 2008, Americans elected Obama in the hope (his word) of ending the Bush administration’s wars. Obama maintained those wars and expanded them to at least three other nations. In 2020, the electorate voted to overturn Trump’s radical reengineering of US foreign policy (supposedly dictated by Russia). Americans voted in Biden to overturn Trump’s legacy. What has their champion done so far? He has prolonged it and, in some cases, intensified it. This is bad news for Cuba, but possibly even worse news for the US.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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