Raul Castro and Why he should have Negotiated the TPP For NZ.

 

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Cuban President Raul Castro.

“Democracy and the Free Market,” Obama beamed to his Cuban audience outlining the path to prosperity.

“Free Health Care, University and gender pay equality,” Cuban President Raul Castro shot back reminding America before it starts telling Cuba what to do it needs to gets its own house in order first.

The context was Obama’s recent and historic visit to Communist Cuba who have been on America’s blacklist since the early 1960’s when a plan to host Soviet nuclear missiles and point them at Washington didn’t go down as well as everyone on the ‘yes’ side might have hoped. With the world only moments away from nuclear war the Soviets backed down but it has taken this long for the US and Cuba to start properly speaking again.

While Cuba is certainly no great model of democratic freedom Castro had a point, taking America to task as he did about social equity. To his credit Obama acknowledged this gracefully responding, “America is not above criticism.” A nicely played piece of diplomacy where he suggested ever so subtly that America is, in certain areas of social development, behind the main thrust of developed nations and really needs to start getting in on the game.

America’s evangelical mission to democratise the world belies the fact that its own Democracy rates down the scale for effectiveness and transparency. It is a system whose integrity has latterly been undermined by a vast industry of lobbyists who spend some nine billion US dollars a year buying influence from elected representatives, a practice outlawed or severely constrained by most other mature democracies.

American law considers lobbying to be fully in line with the nations constitutional right of free speech and despite the myriad regulations aimed at keeping lobbying above board, politicians and special interests are forever finding new ways of subverting the rules. The money is just too good to ignore and as we all know, money can be a terribly corrupting influence when mixed into a political cocktail.

As for the Free Market, that shinning brass ring of a world where business is conducted on a level playing field across international borders and where goods and services flow unimpeded from farm and factory to consumer without trade barriers and subsidises distorting competitive value……. America’s rhetoric belies the actuality.

America is still home to some of the most restrictive trade barriers in place anywhere and the nation supports a bewildering array of manufacturing, farming and other subsidies that make a mockery of the so called ‘Free Market Purity’ of the American business model. America is a nation who encourages one and all to open their doors to American business without properly reciprocating. This ‘Do as I say not as I do’ position grates but it is impossible to argue with a nation as immersed in it’s own mythology as America is.

Americas’ central vanity is that it is world’s greatest country in every conceivable way and if your country is not like America then it is somehow wrong. “This great country,” “This great city,” “This great State,” the words that preface every American introduction to all things America. Yet America at times seems like the fervent Evangelical Christian Preacher who stands and decries immoral lifestyles to his rapturous audience while entertaining rent boys in clandestine motel rooms. America’s problem is that it talks the talk without fully committing to its own idealism.

If all this sounds Anti-American, then I apologise. There is much to admire about this democratic collective and it’s manyfold positive contributions to the world but its tendency to wave the flag of superiority in defence of its position does not stand up to rational scrutiny. The now infamous scene from the opening episode of the US TV series ‘Newsroom’ (2012-14) underscores this point. The star anchor of a fictional network Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is asked during a public Q&A: “Why is America the greatest country in the World?” His answer was so astonishing it became actual news and perhaps the first time someone fictional or otherwise actually said what many Americans already suspected but were reluctant to articulate least they be perceived as unpatriotic:

Will: There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labour force, and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defence spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined. 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period, so when you ask, “what makes us the greatest country in the world?” I dunno know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite? It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons, we waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbours. We put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election, and we didn’t we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.  Enough?

 

The advent of the TPP ( an American led international free trade deal between Pacific nations including New Zealand) has bought New Zealand closer to the American method than ever before and perhaps the time has come for this little trading nation to examine its heart with the goal of confirming our place in the world. NZ is a robust and pioneering Socialist Democracy with a long tradition of human rights focused public organisation. We are secular, progressive, caring, generous and commercially sharp, having traded our way to first world prosperity despite our distance from often-hostile international markets. Our problem lies with the deference we tend to bestow toward other nations while failing to acknowledge our own strength as an international leader, opinion maker and all round positive influence, one who indeed walks the walk while talking the talk when it comes to human rights, commitment to democratic values, freedom of expression and free trade.

We are in danger of selling aspects of our soul for a slice of the American pie, that while a tasty enough tends toward empty calories and second-rate pastry fat. While we grapple with the supposed promise of the TPP we are forgetting the potential of our existing free trade deals, ones we have negotiated off our own bat and all without the caveats that come with US style horse-trading. America not only wants our business, it wants our hearts and souls as well and the concessions we have agreed to, aka Pharmac, underline the potential dangers ahead as regards our rights to democratic self-determination.

While I may not be fully in tune with Raul Castro’s politics (Cuba’s treatment of dissidents is questionable) I certainly admire his balls: ‘you wasn’t to trade with us America? Fine, just none of your bullshit please. We go into this as equals or not at all’. Sadly, NZ has erred toward the ‘bend over and pick up the soap’ route, afraid that if we don’t do as we are told we will end up excluded from the holy grail of markets, Club USA.

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