In 1997, a Cuban friend told me, “Fidel is a dictator, yet not a tyrant.” We were in a province of Mozambique, where he was working as a doctor and I as an architect. That afternoon, in that red‑soiled African courtyard, I did not understand his idea. It seemed contradictory. But for some reason, I could never forget about it. Some years after that, while reviewing some declassified documents, a thought came to my mind: The United States was not a dictatorship, but a tyranny.
It was not the apparent contradiction in my friend’s words, but the usual deception that comes with the use of ideolexicon, for example, when words like “democracy” and “dictatorship” are used as if they were the sun and the moon, that is, two clearly different bodies — while not being the only moon nor the only sun in the universe.
In this way, a hegemonic country like the U.S., which imposes its will outside its borders and does not represent the interests of many of its citizens, particularly those who are not millionaires; a paramilitary regime, like Colombia; or a neoliberalist regime like Chile, imposed at the cost of the blood of the people; or the political systems found in Norway and Iceland — are all called “democracies.”
Moreover, and for strategic reasons, the word “capitalism” is not used to talk about Haiti and Honduras, despite their being more capitalist than the United States. The power and material wealth of a country is not defined by capitalism, but by hegemony.
Theodore Roosevelt, among many others, put it clearly: “Democracy in this century needs no further justification but the fact that it has been organized for white people to acquire the best lands in the New World.”* That democracy has adapted over time to serve a minority, not a white minority, as back in the day, but an economically and financially hegemonic minority.
In formal democracies, the ruling class does not practice direct censorship as in traditional dictatorships. Instead, critics are overshadowed by the hegemonic media, and, when critics are somehow able to overcome that obstacle, they are as demonized as critics were during the Inquisition.
In formal democracies, it is enough for the 1% most powerful to convince half the voters plus one to remain in power politically. This task is not at all difficult, especially when they name God as justification for their values and principles. However, those who are really at the top of the pyramid — the micro-elites, the economic powers — do not depend on those below to perpetuate their power.
When this power starts to be questioned, they replace formal democracies with fascist dictatorships, such as those that have been supported by the United States and multinational corporations. Until the mid-19th century, slaveholders had been able to make the majority (including slaves) believe that slavery was the best system to spread freedom and civilization. When democracy became inevitable, they changed the words, but the idea was similar: The rich being rich is the best way to spread the well-being and freedom of the working class.
Despite all this, the vague and contradictory idea we call democracy is the best utopia and the best resource for those at the bottom of the pyramid. But I want to make one thing clear: No democracy, no matter how twisted, exists because of those at the top. It exists in spite of them. The same happens with individual and collective rights and liberties: All are the product of the endless and often demonized struggles of those at the bottom.
In the United States, classist and racist principles, flags of the defeated Confederacy, consolidated within American borders and spread to Latin America where they imposed countless dictatorships — always plotting with Latin American ruling classes — before the excuse of communism even existed.
Since then, the United States and the megacorporations have been the main promoters of communism and other left-leaning movements on our continent. One of the first cases dates back to the massacres of Native Americans and farmers in the1930s in El Salvador. But escalation intensified after World War II, when the Soviet Union, the United States’ most important ally, became a possible inspiration for developing countries and the only real opposition to the old Anglo Saxon tyranny. At that time, the Central Intelligence Office was created (1947), and, some time later, they created, among many others and without knowing it, Che Guevara.
In 1954, when the CIA and the United Fruit Company managed to destroy the “communist regime” of Jacobo Árbenz, one of the first signs of democracy in the region, young doctor Ernesto Guevara had to flee to Mexico, where he met two fellow exiles: brothers Raúl and Fidel Castro. When the Cuban Revolution was victorious in 1959, Guevara warned that it would not be another Guatemala. That is to say, independence from the American empire would not be boycotted by the media, nor would there be mobilizations and military actions instigated by them, as in Iran or Guatemala. Four months after that, Fidel Castro visited the White House to establish commercial and diplomatic relations with the United States. But Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower and the CIA already had another invasion in mind.
The tradition of overthrowing independence movements was so old, and arrogance because of enormous military and mass media capabilities made them so blind, that they could foresee neither a shameful defeat nor an insurmountable disaster in the Bay of Pigs. The CIA agent in charge of operations in Guatemala and Cuba, David Atlee Philips, wrote that one of the reasons for American failure was that Guevara and Castro had learned from history while the United States had not.
However, Guevara is described as a murderer for having ordered the execution of 200 criminals from Fulgencio Batista’s regime (the CIA reported that it did not even come close to the number of executions of the previous regime). Yet Cuban terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, among others, who planted bombs on planes, ships, hotels and diplomatic cars — like that of Orlando Letelier — and who collaborated with genocidal organized criminal groups, such as Operation Condor, were protected by the United States.
In just a few decades, in Central America alone, hundreds were killed under the watch of the United States and the CIA with the excuse of bringing peace, democracy and freedom to those countries. (After Joseph Stalin, political assassinations in Latin America surpassed by far the figures found in communist countries under the influence of the Soviet Union.)
The same practices, interests and discourse as slaveholders from past centuries, but with new ideolexicons. According to historical logic, Castro and Augusto Pinochet are not the same, although it seems easy to label both as dictators. Cuba and Guevara are also the direct consequence of American imperialism, but for opposite reasons.
Because of this, even though we can say that Cuba is a dictatorship according to all Western standards, we have to remember that the United States is the brutal, 200-years-long tyranny that created it. Cuba was the first big defeat of American arrogance and, for some reason, it has managed to resist for 60 years.
Do we need a reverse dictatorship to defeat a tyranny spanning two centuries? The answer that history gives us does not sound good, but it is clear. Although or because we are radical democrats, we will not throw rocks at an island that is being choked in the name of freedom. We could never be on the side of the mercenaries.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted passage could not be independently verified.