I first wrote the essay below in 2008. In just reviewing it now 2020, it seems almost more applicable today after our 2016 election and the upcoming 2020 election. Enjoy. Cheers, Richard
“He’ll have you be a Communist before you leave this house,” Vicky’s mother said to me as I entered their house for a weekend stay in Paysandu, Uruguay. She was referring to her husband, who is a member of the Frente Amplio party in Uruguay. He was also tortured.
There are three political parties here in Uruguay: Frente Amplio (the wide front), Blanco, and Colorado. Blanco and Colorado are like our Republicans and Democrats, the two behemoths that exchange power from election to election. Frente Amplio was always the little engine that couldn’t. If Ralph Nader were here, he would certainly be Frente Amplio.
And he might be upset because Frente Amplio won the last elections. Why would he be upset about this? Well, once you become the front-runner, you can’t complain about how others do everything. People now complain about how you do (or don’t do) things.
I once filled out a political questionnaire online. I was young and wanted to be involved in the political process, but it didn’t seem to me that the Republicans or Democrats matched my beliefs. In this questionnaire, you fill out all of your political beliefs and it then tells you what political party you are. Well, after filling in the form, I was told by my computer that I was part of the Natural Law Party.
The Natural Law Party? Who are they? Was my computer making stuff up? I thought we just had Republicans, Democrats, and all those people who follow Ralph Nader. But no, there are many more.
After I was told that I was Natural Law Party by my computer, I found some web sites and read about it. All they seemed to mention was guns, guns, and more guns. Charlton Heston would feel right at home here…and he needs a comfortable place to call home after his interview with Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine.
My computer must have been playing tricks on me. The one thing that I recall saying in the questionnaire was that I was for Gun Control and now it put me into a party where my future friends would have stockpiles of weapons and I would probably have to move to Montana.
So, I decided to forego my Natural Law affiliation and vote for someone who could actually win an election, and that someone would not be Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader has some wonderful ideas but they’re not presented in the best package, which is a shame because I think we need other political parties in the process.
Like Frente Amplio in Uruguay. Frente Amplio, the little engine that couldn’t, kept chugging along, election-after-election, and then they found the right packaging, in the form of a doctor named Tabaré Vasquez. To the surprise of many, they unseated the stodgy two-party system and won the national elections in the 2004.
Vicky’s father, the one who would like me to be a Communist, is a founding member of the Frente Amplio party. And, as mentioned, he was tortured. He was tortured during the dictatorship in Uruguay that lasted between 1973 and 1985. During the dictatorship, anybody who disagreed with the government was rounded up and taken away, and most who were taken away were killed.
I’ve never met anyone who has been tortured and I felt oddly privileged to be able to meet Vicky’s father. He’s very open about his beliefs and his experiences. His words and his wounds tell a similar story, that of a willingness to suffer, if not die, in the pursuit of your beliefs. I think with pride of our forefathers in America who fought a similar fight for the life that we are currently permitted to lead.
But, to no surprise, Vicky’s father is no a great fan of America. (On his refrigerator, he has a poster saying Terrorist #1 with a picture of Osama Bin Laden and Terrorist #2, with a picture of you-know-who.) His ideals tend more toward a shared communist collective than a spirited capitalist environment. However, I liked that, in spite of our vastly divergent views, we were able to have an open discussion of our differences.
I see the life he envisions through his politics. It is a world where everyone has work, healthcare, education, a roof over their heads, food for their families, bar-b-ques with family and friends on the weekends. It’s a world everyone wants but everyone has different ideas for how to achieve it.
When I asked why he thought Communism had failed throughout the world, he mentioned that it still exists in Cuba. “Cuba,” he mentioned, “is an example that other nations should follow.”
“But” I responded “Cuba doesn’t have general elections or allow people to speak freely about their beliefs.” I thought this would be an extremely important issue for him since he had been tortured for speaking his beliefs. But it wasn’t. And I asked him to explain this to me.
“In Uruguay,” he said, “80% of the people were against the dictatorship. If the majority of the people are against the idea, the idea is wrong. But in Cuba, 80% of the people are for Fidel…”
I was fairly stunned, if not completely shocked, that he basically supported the torture and suppression of the opposition in Cuba, given that he himself was tortured. In thinking about this later, it made a little more sense: he was tortured for his belief in Communism and, to not support these ideals now, would not justify the torture he withstood for 2 years.
Tortured for two years. Tortured for two years for his political beliefs.
How does this happen? How does a dictatorship happen in a country that was previously democratic? And how did it come to an end?
Nobody here seems to have an answer for any of this. Apathy? “Maybe”. Complacency? “Probably”. There is no definite answer that I have been given.
I follow the US political news from Uruguay via the Internet. I have watched the CNN coverage of the Republican and Democratic debates. And I have spoken with many Uruguayans about it. Many of them are aware of the candidates (and they all like Barack). In our discussions, we talk about the political process in America.
Almost all of the them are stunned to discover that only 30-40% of Americans vote. “How can that be?”, they ask. “Do people not care? Everybody here votes!”
Everybody in Uruguay votes because its mandatory. You actually receive a fine if you do not vote. And, as people don’t like to part with their money, they vote.
I mistakenly mentioned that “sometimes votes don’t matter and so some people don’t bother.”
“How could a vote not matter?” they plainly ask.
Well, I then explain to them our electoral college system and that it’s possible that someone could win the popular vote but not win the presidency, like the Al Gore/George Bush debacle.
“That’s stupid!” they say. I agree.
I recently got sick. Getting sick in a foreign country is never fun. However, in Uruguay, you don’t need prescriptions for medicine. If you are a prozac/paxil/zoloft pill popper, you would love this place. You just walk into the pharmacy and tell them what you would like.
I didn’t need a pharmacy however, I needed time and 24. Since I had a stomach flu, time was the only cure, but I needed something to do. I needed some good American television. However, unless you have cable (I don’t), you’ll not find any English language television. So, I went to the Internet, and what do you know, I find what I was looking for…24!
My friend Brian at work had introduced to the show 24. I initially resisted because I had a full plate with Entourage, the Sopranos, American Idol, and football on Sundays. I didn’t want to lose another hour each week to TV. But I watched one episode and was addicted. It was my Zoloft.
So, while I was sick in Uruguay, I wanted to watch a little 24. Jack Bauer is an absolutely stud, among the great triumvirate of action heroes: Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, and James Bond. Notice any coincidence with the names? Hmmm…
In season 2 of 24, which takes place just after 9/11 (when we had the good will of the entire civilized world with us), suspected terrorists bring a nuclear bomb into the United States with the intention of setting it off in Los Angeles. Jack, of course, saves the day and diverts the bomb to the Nevada desert where casualties are kept to a minimum.
There is an outcry for revenge. Who would dare do this to us? A recording is discovered that implicates three Islamic countries. This recording suggests that these countries sponsored and paid for this terrorist organization, “Second Wave”, to set off the nuclear bomb.
All is set in motion for a swift, decisive retaliation. The planes are in the air ready to let the bombs fly. But wait. Jack Bauer has discovered that this recording is probably a fake. He is in the process of obtaining evidence to verify this.
The President, who is the first black president, is being pressured from all sides to attack, attack, attack. Nobody wants to wait for more evidence. The recordings have been verified…let’s attack.
The President does not want to start a war, a war which could become World War III, over what could be false information. But, Mr. President, we will lose the element of surprise and more American lives if we don’t attack right away. The President decides to wait for the information from Jack Bauer. He waits to ensure that the information that we have is accurate. He does not want to go to war under false premises; he does not want to attack other countries who did nothing to us.
The President decides to wait, to make the informed decision. And, of course, he was right.
Nobody agreed with the President’s decision to wait for more information. It was not a popular decision. A dissenting political opinion, especially in regard to war, will not win you many reelections. It takes strength, courage, and conviction…and also the ability to read.
Barack Obama voted against the war in Iraq. In spite of all the pressure to vote for it, he voted against it. He believed that it was the wrong thing to do. He believed this for many reasons, but chief among them, he actually read the document that was provided to all those in government. It astounds me that most of the government officials are simply “briefed” on these issues, choosing not to read them in their entirety. They vote “yes” on a war after receiving the cliff-notes version of Why We Should Go To War.
I was against the war in Iraq. I wrote this letter to George Bush before the war. In trying to find out the email address for the Whitehouse, I had a unique experience. I visited whitehouse.com to find the email address but what I found were naked ladies in compromising positions (it has since changed, sorry). After a few hours, I continued my search only to discover that the address is actually whitehouse.gov.
Whatever anybody’s opinion on the war is now-good, bad, or indifferent-one thing is clear: We, the American people, were lied to about the reasons for going to war. There was no imminent threat from Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction, much less a delivery mechanism to get them here.
Do you know what happens when Goliath attacks David? Everybody hates Goliath.
One little David, Cuba, just presented Goliath with a tremendous opportunity, an opportunity to rise above arrogance, presumption, and pride. Fidel Castro’s resignation provided the US with the first opportunity in some 50 years to begin a healing process in our relations with Cuba. His brother, Raul Castro, who took over a few days later, has demonstrated signs of being more socially, economically, and politically open. Could there be a better time to have a discussion?
But Goliath remained steadfast unwilling to even have a conversation.
Goliath: “This is the same system, the same faces and the same policies that led to Cuba’s miseries in the first place. The United States is isolating the Cuban regime. To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States. What needs to change is Cuba.”
We tried to change Cuba in the past, as we did in many countries, with secrecy and subterfuge in the form of the CIA. This didn’t work. It didn’t work in Cuba, the Middle East, nor the regions in South America where I have recently visited.
The person who tortured my friend Vicky’s father. Do you know where he learned his skills? You guessed it…the CIA. They have a long silent history here in South America that supported not only torture but many of the dictatorships.
I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’ character in Charlie Wilson’s War. With the help of the CIA, he had used covert action to successfully avert a Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. However, what started out as a successful campaign to thwart the Soviets, ends many years later with many of the Afghan warriors pointing their guns, guns supplied by us, at us.
In the end, Charlie concludes: “Those things happened and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.”
Which begs the question…is it too late to un-fuck it up?
And the answer is, and has to be, no!
Enough of arrogance and presumption.
When Goliath has to boast that his way is best, it is the first signal that his way may not be the best!
It is time for a change.
The change of leadership in Cuba was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate such a change. With Cuba, we should not have rebuked their new leader right away. We should have talked to him.
On his foreign policy page, Barack says first and foremost he will be “willing to come to the table” and have a conversation.
What an interesting notion…
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