It is always so satisfying to watch small countries speak truth to power, especially in the most watched political show of the year – the opening of the UN General Assembly. Cuba really gave it to the Americans at the UN this week – one imagined it was David standing up at the podium, slingshot in hand, ready to whip his stones at the giant in the room. Cuba’s fighting words may not have been as vitriolic against the Americans as say Iran, but they were no less potent, and remarkably thought provoking.
At his opening address to the General Assembly, Trump had singled out Cuba for the usual dose of American condemnation. Trump had equated socialism with a thirst for power in a spectacular display of self-righteousness, but the Cubans were having none of it. In the Cuban address which came a day later, Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel blamed the extraordinary wealth gap in the world today on capitalism – not socialism.
Canel talked about how the richest 0.7% in the world own 46% of the wealth, while 815 million go hungry, and 844 million lack basic services to provide drinking water. He went further to say that capitalism had brought about imperialism and neo-liberalism, it consolidated colonialism, gave birth to fascism and apartheid, and spread war. The Cubans certainly have a valid point when they argue that the root cause of the continuing injustice in the world today reverberates back to the selfishness and exclusion which are inherent in the capitalist system.
Few can argue with the fact that to succeed in a capitalist system one has to operate in a dog-eat-dog world where selfishness and exclusion are the order of the day. There are very few grand capitalists that really did something more than merely symbolic for the good of the masses in their country – it always came down to consuming as much as possible in the shortest possible time.
There are always exceptions, however, and one such exception is said to be South African billionaire Johan Rupert, who received a very prestigious award this week in New York from the head of the IMF for his humanitarian efforts, primarily to honour his major contribution to funding land acquisition in the Cape for farm labourers. But on the whole, the Cubans have a fair point, especially when they say that capitalism has led to the repression of workers, minorities, refugees and migrants.
What is now a given is that capitalism promotes plundering, militarism and violations of human rights. So it was all very well for Trump to start wagging his finger at the Cuban delegation, but as an arch capitalist he and the system he represents has a lot to answer for, and a little bit of naval gazing would serve him well.
Another cogent argument the Cubans made was that a massive amount of money – US$1,74 trillion to be exact – that was wasted on military expenditure last year could have been used to solve the world’s pressing problems had the political will existed. But instead of diverting resources to social development, more and more of the resources of national governments have been allocated to make the world a more dangerous place. Surely the arms race and the massive expenditure on war fighting equipment makes the world a far more dangerous place to live.
So the time has come to listen to what the mouse in the room has to say, for he will have the courage and fortitude to speak truth to power when few others would dare.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.