Dear Straw [Hat] Man: Ni Tu Te Lo Cres

The straw man argument defined:

An informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

A specific example from a generic political debate:

Person A: The war in Iraq is wrong!
Person B: You cannot convince me that liberty is a bad thing.

(B has equated A’s opposition to the war as an opposition to liberty which is easier to defeat).

The straw [hat] man fallacy regarding the U.S. economic embargo towards Cuba, would go like this:

Person A: Cuba must moderate its behavior to benefit from direct trade and tourism with the U.S.
Person B: The Castro’s are still in power after 50 years, the embargo has failed.

(B has equated A’s support of incentives to moderate Cuba’s behavior with active efforts to overthrow a foreign government).

Those of us who have supported the embargo as the best available U.S. foreign policy option to oppose the Castro regime, are in the process of being moved to the ideological front lines of revisionism for target practice. In the case of Cuban-Americans with those views, once again our supreme good fortune is on display. As opposed to many in past and present ideological debates, who have suffered real deprivations as a result of their beliefs, in our case, we merely have to deal with seeing the complicated relationship between our adopted country and Cuba mischaracterized by our ideological opponents. Piece of cake.

Speaking of cake. Think of how the cake slicing scene in Godfather II served as a history lesson for those inclined to anti-Americanism in their interpretation of foreign policy events. No amount of real data about GDP’s in the region could dissuade those with the Michael Corleone Cliffs Notes from their James Lipton-type worship of left-wing iconography. To attempt to inform those who are willfully ignorant qualifies as masochism, so I propose that we decline that phony debate with a simple phrase; Ni tu te lo cres. Roughly translated, ‘Dude, not even you believe what you’re saying.’

Over the next year, the limited U.S. economic embargo will effectively be dismantled. Such is the price for losing elections here, and not having them there. More serious debates will focus on whether it is the right time to have changed tactics, from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy. That’s a legitimate debate to have and I am open to a good argument there.

But that is not what I am referring to here. The straw hat man fallacy I am referring to is that which attempts to characterize the entirety of the U.S. foreign policy response to a 50-year dictatorship as a mistake or a failure because the Castro’s survived. There is a real and important difference between what a country, even a super-power, would like to see happen as opposed to what it will act to ensure happens. The 12 years of sanctions leading up to the Iraq war and the actual Iraq war in 2003 embodies that difference. Cuba, for very good reasons which I agree with, never rose to the level of Iraq in 2003 from a U.S. national security perspective.

The Revisionists are Coming

They won’t be hard to spot. For example, be on the lookout for references to never-enacted CIA plots over four decades old–as in 45 years or two generations or half a Chicago Cubs championship cycle–which are trotted out for their Manchurian pity-inducing potential as opposed to having any relevance to the Cuba debate since the mid-1960s. When the straw hat man cometh, his rap will include any or all of the following buzzwords or phrases:

  • Failed embargo
  • Miami exile community is changing
  • The Cuban people have nothing against …
  • Failed U.S. policy
  • 10 U.S. presidents have failed
  • Exiles dominated U.S. foreign policy
  • Failed CIA plots

Think of ‘Ni tu te lo cres’ as a great productivity tool. It will save us much time, while at the same time treating our ideological foes in the dismissive manner they have richly earned with their straw hat man arguments. With that extra time, I plan to perfect my Castro tombstone doormat, coming to a late-night infomercial near you. [Currently in the design phase, we are stuck on whether the doormat sound effects should be either be a perpetual whimper about the embargo or having John Moschitta read portions of Castro speeches].

An excerpt from a recent Miami Herald editorial on the recent policy changes and meetings.

But, surely, measuring progress in promoting freedom and democracy in the region extends beyond the U.S. relationship with Cuba. How about ensuring fair elections in countries like Nicaragua? Where were the courageous Latin American voices willing to speak out on behalf of beleaguered domestic opponents of Mr. Chávez’s bullying tactics? Don’t such things count in determining how well democracy is doing in our part of the world, and isn’t it up to the region’s leaders to make it so?

It is all well and good to push for the reincorporation of Cuba into the inter-American system, but what about Cuba’s political prisoners? Who speaks for them? Should freedom of the press be overlooked in the rush to invite Raúl Castro to attend the next summit?

There can be no “equal partnership” in the hemisphere until achieving political freedom — as opposed to trading with a dictatorship — becomes the true measure of progress.

Too often out here in bloggerland, we fail to note the good or what we agree with. The Miami Herald’s recent editorializing on Cuba, in my opinion, has continued to strike the perfect tone about where the focus should remain, the failures of the Cuban government. Given their overall left of center policy positions, those of us on the right need to appreciate the principled position they have taken on this issue. Great job Miami Herald.

The Miami Herald editorial referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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Miami Herald Editorial – Healing the breach in the Americas

Posted on Tue, Apr. 21, 2009

Forget for a moment that the Summit of the Americas produced no final document for all the assembled leaders of 34 countries to sign. Forget also the antics of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and the 50-minute, anti-American tirade of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — surely the most embarrassing event of the summit. Consider instead the genuine progress that was achieved in healing the breach between the United States and its neighbors in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Many unmet goals

By former standards, the summit might be judged a failure. The usual measure of success for such gatherings is that they produce agreements in which all parties promise to work toward mutual goals — like a Free Trade Area of the Americas. But since 1994, when the first summit was held in Miami, hundreds of agreements have been signed, but few goals have been met. The FTAA itself remains an elusive dream.

As for President Chávez and his populist clones, posturing gets you only so far. President Barack Obama rightly refused to be goaded by Mr. Chávez’s cynical ploy in presenting him with a book that is largely an anti-American screed or by Mr. Ortega’s long-winded petulance. As important, he took the wind out of the sails of some U.S. critics by extending an olive branch in the form of words and actions aimed at opening a new chapter with Cuba.

The result was a lessening of the tensions that had been growing between the United States and its neighbors over these last few years, and that alone represents progress and a successful gathering. Mr. Obama’s willingness to take the first step in relation to Cuba was necessary to start a new conversation in the region. This puts the ball squarely in Cuba’s court insofar as showing that it, too, is open to change.

But, surely, measuring progress in promoting freedom and democracy in the region extends beyond the U.S. relationship with Cuba. How about ensuring fair elections in countries like Nicaragua? Where were the courageous Latin American voices willing to speak out on behalf of beleaguered domestic opponents of Mr. Chávez’s bullying tactics? Don’t such things count in determining how well democracy is doing in our part of the world, and isn’t it up to the region’s leaders to make it so?

Freedom a must

It is all well and good to push for the reincorporation of Cuba into the inter-American system, but what about Cuba’s political prisoners? Who speaks for them? Should freedom of the press be overlooked in the rush to invite Raúl Castro to attend the next summit?

There can be no “equal partnership” in the hemisphere until achieving political freedom — as opposed to trading with a dictatorship — becomes the true measure of progress.
———————————————————————————-
‘Lost City’: Halcyon Havana
Andy Garcia’s Take On the Revolution Era

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006; C05

Nobody remembers pre-revolutionary Havana more clearly than those of us who weren’t there. We remember the whores, the gangsters, the dirty movie palace, the spies, the strippers and Havana’s Shanghai Theater (actual magazine line: “A Cuban Has Cracked the G-String Barrier.”) After all, we all saw “Godfather II” or read Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana.”

But Cubans remember it differently. They remember an elegant Spanish city of grand architecture, crashing surf against the sea wall at the Malecon, the palm trees, the broad boulevards, the pulsating music — and the families, their own and others, that formed a dense interrelationship of love and rivalry and angst and fear and pity.

Those actual memories are at the heart of Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City,” a tribute to that time and place, an elegy on what was lost, a little payback for a regime that drove them out, and, best of all, a synthesis of the driving Afro-Cuban rhythms of the extraordinary music.

The big news in the movie will be Garcia’s portrait of the young, ruthless, movie-star handsome Che Guevara (Jsu Garcia), so beloved by the American (and world) left. They should know; after all, they saw “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Andy Garcia — an emigre who fled with his parents when he was 5 1/2 — and the late Cuban novelist-screenwriter G. Cabrera Infante have a different take. They see a punk killer who knows how beautiful he is, how cool, how sexy. He’s Mick Jagger with a .45 automatic and plenty of notches in the grip.

Good Lord, what will this do to the T-shirt sales?

But that’s only a tiny part of the movie, which is really the story of a family. And the truth is, the movie is pretty fair: It also shows the brutality and corruption of the Batista regime in full frontal frankness, and if it laments the direction that history happens to take, it doesn’t question the idea that a change was necessary.

Again, though, that’s not the movie, which aspires to be more universal. The model is classic and transcends culture. You can see it in such diverse works as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Legends of the Fall” and, I suppose, “The Three Little Pigs.” It tracks the fate of three siblings across a turbulent era and watches each fate as it transpires, leaving, ultimately, a melancholy survivor lamenting what and who have passed.

The film focuses on the Fellove family. Papa (Tomas Milian) is a college professor but a man of means. They live in a hacienda that could easily be confused with paradise, a vast white house with gardens and servants and billowing curtains at the windows. But they know that change will come: It’s 1958 and the Batista government is getting more and more repressive, just as the scruffy rebels are getting more and more bold. Batista had lost the middle class and the aristocrats; he holds only the army. Of course, secret policemen hunt the bad boys in the shadows of the city and the game is played as hard as any revolutionary struggle.

Each brother has a different attitude toward what is happening around them. Fico (Andy Garcia) the eldest, is proprietor of El Tropical, a thinly disguised version of the still extant Tropicana. He is, like so many in show biz, apolitical, as the demands of running the club are so intense they leave him little time for the larger picture. (His profession also gives the movie a platform to offer up almost 40 Cuban songs.) At the same time, he is a traditional Spaniard, who believes in the patriarchal system, and nothing makes him madder than when his two younger brothers disrespect the grave, kind idealist who is their father.

Son No. 2 is Luis (Nestor Carbonell), a pacifist like his father but a man who abhors the politics of now. He yearns for a democratic Cuba but comes to conclude that one man stands between that and reality — Batista. Thus, he joins the March 13, 1958, assault on Batista’s palace by an anti-communist revolutionary group calling itself The Directorio (the details aren’t from the movie, but from Hugh Thomas’s “Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom”). Castro had been approached by the group but refused to pitch in; a veteran of an earlier shootout at Moncada Barracks, he sat this one out in the mountains, a wise decision as the attempt ended in failure and massacre. (Even an American tourist got shot by Batista’s trigger-happy guards!) “The Lost City’s” re-creation of this twisted battle is the most dynamic sequence in the film.

Son No. 3, Ricardo (Enrique Murciano), at least knows which way the wind is blowing. Chastened by the results of that engagement, he joins Castro and soon adds beard and fatigues to his look. Meanwhile, Fico takes it on himself to obey his middle brother’s wish and take care of his wife, Aurora (beautiful Ines Sastre), and soon the older brother and the widow have more on their minds than politics.

Some of the tropes of “The Lost City” are ineffective. Bill Murray plays an unnamed “writer” who befriends and hangs out with Fico, offering a comic subtext to all the revolutionary gloom and doom. Murray is always funny and when someone puts him in that forgotten ’50s outfit of the short-pants suit, he looks particularly hilarious. He says a lot of things, too, but somehow his character, meant to represent the offbeat stylings of G. Cabrera Infante himself, doesn’t quite work.

Then there’s Dustin Hoffman in the movie briefly as the famous Meyer Lansky. His is a different version of the character played by Lee Strasberg in “Godfather II,” the visionary genius fixer (“Hyman Roth” was the nom de guerre), but again the movie’s not about the Cuba of Mafia corruption, sleaze, gangsterism and commercial sex that was at the center of “Godfather II” and more than a few novels. Lansky’s appearance, and that plotline, doesn’t come to much.

What does work is the sense of loss. Infante finds a brilliant device in the love affair between Fico and Aurora, in that Aurora in some way becomes Cuba. She is absorbed by it and the revolution, and though she loves Fico (who doesn’t love a revolution that imparts its discipline on his entertainment enterprise), she cannot tear herself away from a dream of a glorious revolutionary future.

As a director, Garcia’s best skill is in evoking great work from his cast, particularly Milian, Murciano, Sastre and Carbonell. They are the heart of the film, the doomed, damned Felloves, victims of the classic wrong time, wrong place tragedy. The movie makes one thing achingly real: the fact that it isn’t fun to be born in the cross-hairs of history.

The Lost City (143 minutes, at Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row) is rated R for violence.

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in Cuba and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dear Straw [Hat] Man: Ni Tu Te Lo Cres

  1. Robert says:

    Te la comistes, Jorge (in the spirit of throwing out Cuban sayings).

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