The news filters out of Nepal that something verging on civil war rages in the western reaches of that geographically isolated, scenic mountain kingdom. Reports indicate hundreds have died, both military and civilian.
The carnage apparently continues, initiated in the name of Maoist communism. The revolutionaries seek to overthrow the monarchy, the tragically unfortunate royal family that suffered a mass slaughter in Kathmandu a year ago carried out by a son of the then-king. (The alleged mass murderer’s uncle, Gyanendra, now sits on the throne.) The ancient kingdom of Nepal, unified and independent since the eighteenth century, can also be described, we note, as a parliamentary democracy, given that in recent years it has had an elected national legislature and prime minister.
On almost exactly the opposite side of the globe, Cuba, that politically isolated, scenic, tropical dictatorship, has received the visit of a former U. S. president, Jimmy Carter. His sojourn in Havana and other locales, accompanied on occasion by Fidel Castro, has served to point up Cuba’s status as one of the last practicing communist nations in the world. One remarks again, with some reluctant—respect, I guess you would call it—the longevity of Fidel Castro in his unelected office of premier. Castro has headed up the nation since ‘way back in 1959. Cuba. unlike Nepal, cannot be described as even partially a parliamentary democracy.
Without doubt both countries, Nepal and Cuba, suffer from economic backwardness, social problems, and in differing degrees a lack of political openness. This is so even though both nations are better off in those respects than they were some thirty-five years ago when this observer was posted in Kathmandu and three decades ago when he was assigned in the Caribbean next door to Cuba. Nonetheless, no question about it—the Nepalese and the Cubans could use a boost up the slippery economic and political slopes.
But the introduction of communism, or its continuation, as the answer? Maoist communism in Nepal, at that. Give me a break!
Communism as a movement has been shown to be ineffective at best; now it reposes largely in the ash bin of twentieth century history, along with Italy’s fascism and Germany’s Naziism. The Maoist form of communism, as contrasted with China’s current free market “capitalist communism,” cannot now be found even in the country of its namesake. Nor does Leninist communism play much of even a subordinate role in Russia except, one hears, in the nostalgic views of some of the more elderly citizens. They are both failed, discredited formulas.
As different as the two nations are, what both Nepal and Cuba need on the economic front are healthy doses of capital and human investment, plus increased trade and added tourism—the usual ingredients of economic progress.
On the political side, there’s no need to try to prescribe democracy for others, even though it has a good track record in the world as the twenty-first century gets underway. Those who have the best interests of Nepal and Cuba in view should confine themselves to applauding democratic institutions when they appear. Nepal already has a start in that direction with its mixture of Panchayat legislative institutions and a monarchy. In order to preserve those institutions, the U. S. government—and others, notably the British and Indian governments—should be willing to entertain official Nepalese requests for military aid to help in the fight against the Maoists rebels. This warrants consideration despite the warning flags that go up whenever Americans, whether government servants or the general public, receive any intimation of another Vietnam.
No openings in the direction of a free political system in Castro’s Cuba are readily apparent. But that nation, as former president Carter has urged, should be freed from the constraints of the decades-old economic embargoes and restrictions on travel by American citizens. Those constraints have never accomplished much of anything and make no sense nowadays. (Castro may even favor the retention of the embargo as a supposed explanation for the stagnation of the economy.) Cuba, an isolated museum-piece of a communist system, arguably is no threat to anybody these days. Notwithstanding the outrage to be expected from the Cuban exile community, and no matter that old expropriations of American property by Castro’s government remain on the books, Cuba should allowed back into the Western Hemisphere.
What Washington and other capitals can do specifically in the two cases remains to be worked out—debated, decided, and agreed upon according to the concerned nations’ overall interests. But the installation of an old-fashioned communist system in Nepal should be headed off, and the existing old-fashioned communism in Cuba should be encouraged just to wither away.
The Editor, May 2002