About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bush vs. Maradona

You know George W. is really into troubled waters when even Argentina's greatest football (as in soccer) player ever, Diego Maradona, wears a t-shirt saying "Stop Bush!" George is in Argentina to push the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a huge initiative to help US companies complete the take over of Latin American countries, at the same time that they replace US jobs with low-wage alternatives from the south -- just has it happened with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) including Canada and Mexico, shamefully pushed by Bill Clinton.

Although 29 out of the 34 countries involved are apparently willing to go ahead with FTAA (largely out of fear of economic retaliation, or because their quasi-democracies or outright dictatorships have been put up or maintained in place with US dollars), the exceptions are glaring. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is a declared enemy of Bush (or is it the other way around?), and Brazil and Argentina are also opposed to the FTAA -- which (together with Uruguay and Paraguay) takes a large chunk of South America's economy out of the deal.

Could it be that 28 years after the CIA-supported capture and execution of Che Guevara, Latin Americans will find the balls, perhaps helped by "El Nino de Oro" (Maradona), to stand up to US economic imperialism?


  1. I have some issues with this post. First is the phrasing "a huge initiative to help US companies complete the take over of Latin American countries". It smacks of hyperbole and ideology.

    I'm not a fan of the FTAA or its parent NAFTA, but characterizing as you did is inflammatory, which invites inflammatory rebuttal, which generally leads away from any kind of rational debate.

    But mostly I'm trying to understand the Che Guevara reference. This is in-conjunction with the NPR story I just heard where massive anti-U.S. protests lead by Chavez featured large banners Che Guevara. I understand to many his mythology may be overshadowing the realities of his legacy. On the surface he represents the South American fight for social justice in the 1960s, but the reality of his actions speak differently.

    He was a ideologue, a totalitarian and a murderer who suppressed human rights.

    In Cuba as Castro's right hand man, he personally oversaw (fired the shots himself many times) the execution of thousands at Havana's "paredon" - the bloody wall where ordinary citizens were murdered without due process for the simple crime of being suspected hostile to a take over of their country (whether or not Batista was a criminal or not does not justify totalitarian rule).

    If you are rightly appalled by the U.S. detaining prisoners at Guantanamo without the right of counsel, how can you not be appalled by Guevara who once said: "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary... These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is revolution and a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate"? Hmm, doesn't sound very Humanistic to me. Not to be overly sensationalistic, but I should point out that these executions were public to maximize terror and that often times in front of friends and family of the victim.

    Che Guevara also oversaw the creation of prison and labor camps (again without due process) for dissidents and homosexuals and even a special camp for delinquent Cuban youths who liked to listen to rock and roll. Social justice, hardly?

    He was also in favor of massive industrialism on the scale of the Soviet Union -- he was not an environmentalist or anything else that today's Left would agree with.

    As you wrote, the CIA supported Bolivia in his assassination, which is true. But it was Bolivia that wanted him dead. The revolution he was trying to lead in Bolivia did not recruit a single Bolivian peasant. Instead it was supported by tens of thousands ideologically blinded youth who left their Latin American Universities.
    As Paul Berman wrote in Slate, in the end he accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

    In Cuba, his legacy (helped by the inane U.S. embargo) has created nothing but human misery. The state is totalitarian, the people do not have rights. Again, how is that about social justice?

    Che Guevara is the worst of what humans can become, no different than religious extremists. Someone motivated by simple ideals, with an absolute belief in their certainty who is willing to do anything to bring their ideological (and not subject to free inquiry) vision to fruition. He wrote: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become". Again, not to sound repetitive, but I don't understand what that has to do with any humanistic, liberal or progressive ideas.

    I apologize if this has taken a polemic tone (perhaps I am guilty of my own objection of not sounding rational), but the Left's fondness of Guevera is a pet peeve of mine.

  2. One more thought (on a tangent). I often find that there is a sort of racist/ethnic implication that only one type of persons or nations perpetrate historical wrong doings. The overriding thing I try to remember is that all of humanity is potentially equally flawed.

    The reasons that Europeans wreaked so much havoc around the globe is largely due to the fact that they (by whatever accident of history, geographical location, etc.) acquired superior technical and hence military power a few (critical) hundred years before everyone else. (They also created beneficial things like science and democracy).

    I have little doubt (just by looking at history in local conflicts) that if another group had acquired the power, say Native Americans, Africans or Asians, that it would have been them wreaking havoc and misery around the globe.

    Lets not forget that human weaknesses of greed, religious extremism, irrationality, jingoism, thirst for power, etc. exist in all of us. After all, we are all descendents of the same people who left Africa only a relatively short time ago.

    The cure, I hope, is for more of humanity to embrace rational thought and free inquiry and to not tie their identities to nations, peoples or parties, but to seeking objective truth.

  3. I think you have gone over the edge Alan with your rant on Che Guevera. I don't for a moment challange any of your allegations about him, but I take M's reference to Che is merely to put into perspective how long it has been since our imperialistic notions about Latin America have been challenged. I don't see anything in M's piece that in any way set Guevera up as someone who should be revered. He just existed at a particular time in history.

  4. dennis,

    I agree and I apologize. I didn't mean to take it out on Massimo or imply that he revered Guevera.

    It was the near simultaneous mention of him on NPR and in the post that got my aptly characterized "rant" going.

    I think I tried to apologize at the end, however, weakly with my pet peeve excuse.

    Most of the time in history we have a tendency to view things black and white. If one side is good the other must be bad. Usually, as I'm sure are aware its far more complex.

    We should be capable of equal opportunity criticism. With Guevera I could never understand the pop culture appeal given his record.

    But again, like religous figures and overly romanticized heroes, myth often supercedes reality.

  5. Dennis, Alan,

    no need to apologize. If I had thin skin about taking criticisms of my posts I would simply turn off the "comments" option... :) Besides, one of the things I like about blogging is exactly that people are prompt to double check what you say and correct it if necessary.

    For the record, however, I do not in fact worship El Che. As Dennis said, it was a historical reference meant for context only.

  6. I'm a Venezuelan, so I would like to contribute with my perspective on Chavez's Anti-Bush rhetoric.

    It's no secret that, in Latin America, antagonizing the U.S. is not a reasoned stance: it's a populist way to hide the deficiencies of our governments behind the tipical class confict, e.g. its not unusual to hear Chavez say something like "you don't have wealth, not because you don't work hard and abide by the law of the land, but because the evil rich americans have taken all our money with their neo-liberal capitalist stratagems".

    Hugo Chavez, a man that has on repeated instances said that he intends to remain in power until 2021, when he was elected in 1998 and reelected in 2000, and can legally stay in power for a maximum of 12 years (can you say Dictator, Fidel?), has placed himself as an alternative to Bush, not a tough thing to do, given that GWB is not exactly the brightest man to have served the American people.

    In spite of what Chavez yells in his speeches about social equality and progress, he has pauperized his own country, he has attacked freedom of thought and expression, he has created hatreds that did not exist before his arrival and is going towards a self proclaimed twenty-first century socialism, modelled after Cuba, which is not exactly a model of freedom.

    Given these to options, I'll take none, thank you very much. Where to now... Mars maybe? Or GWB has found WMD's there and is preparing to pay a visit with NASA?

  7. Hi physicsvenezuela,

    thanks for your perspective. Again, I agree, I'm a fan of neither Chavez nor El Che. But I am very much in favor of whoever in South America opposes American economic imperialism.

    For that matter, I've never been a fan of Maradona either, not even when he was playing in Italy... :)


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