The Marshall Islands Journal should leave furniture building to the carpenters!

A Four Legged Stool is More Stable

Many MIJ readers were appalled by a MIJ editorial arguing that the RMI should adopt a development model based on Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.   Incredibly, the MIJ cited Castro’s progress in education and health care as a standard of success to which the RMI should aspire, and implicitly criticized the U.S. for failing to conduct business as usual with Castro in order to support the economic success of his regime.

The metaphor adopted by the MIJ to make this argument was that of a three legged stool, with health care and education based on the Castro model as two legs supporting the stool, while the third leg of the stool should have been economic assistance the MIJ argues the U.S. should have provided at levels adequate to sustain social development for Cuba.

Comparing the state of social, political and economic development in the RMI and Cuba was wrong in more ways than one can count.   Where to begin?

First, the MIJ suggests to its readers that Castro’s oppressive rule in Cuba can be judged in some sort of neutral sociological vacuum, based on whatever the accomplishments of state run education and health care programs may have been, without any reference to his regime’s totalitarian atrocities against his own people.   This seems to be a case of self-inflicted moral and intellectual blindness.  

It is like saying Hitler can be judged by the success of German industry that produced the Messerschmitt airplane and the Volkswagen car during the Third Reich, or that Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy was a success because he made the trains run on time.

Then there is the astonishing assertion by the MIJ that U.S. subsidized middle class prosperity is required for “true democracy” to succeed in Cuba and other developing countires, including the RMI.  Does anyone really believe this kind of social doctrine?   Between 1970 and 2000, the number of countries in the world classified as democracies went from 40 to 120.   In most cases, it was real democracy that produced economic progress leading to real sustainable prosperity, not the other way around.  

The MIJ call for the U.S. or RMI to somehow make tourism and other economic growth just materialize ignores the need for private investment and individual entrepreneurial initiative, and reminds me of the same old bureaucratic mentality about economic policy that prevailed in the TTPI era.     

As Ronald Regan correctly pointed out in his 1987 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, prosperity is not a right, it is a product of rights.   That is, prosperity comes when each individual has the freedom to use their God-given talents to speak freely, to compete in the marketplace, and live without undue government inference, including unpredictable regulations and taxation. 

Another weird idea in the MIJ editorial is that U.S. economic sanctions prevented Cuba from achieving a greater level of wealth to which it was somehow entitled and had a right to demand.   The USA does not do business as usual with former allies who turn against U.S. interests, or against freedom and democracy.   That is America’s sovereign right.   Under Castro the government of Cuba took sides with America’s enemies, and there are consequences for doing that.    

As a favor to the MIJ, we will not send the editorial down to any newspapers that serve the Cuban community in Miami, which fled Castro’s tyranny, sometimes leaving their loved ones behind, only to learn they had been tortured and murdered.  The exiled Cubans who came to America and started with nothing found freedom and prosperity here, but they remember having the farms and homes that had been in their families for hundreds of years confiscated, and many of those privately owned properties were stolen by Castro for use as schools and hospital in the health care system the MIJ praises.

The history of the Caribbean region shows that the reforms which may have been needed in Cuba could have been accomplsiehd without dictatorship.   The U.S. conquered the Spanish colonial regime in Cuba in 1898, but never exercised sovereignty over Cuba as a U.S. territory, and instead granted it independence in 1903.  After that Cuba began to develop economically under a series of corrupt puppet regimes, but at least it had the same opportunity for democratic reform as other developing nations in the region.   

It was Castro who chose Soviet style economic development over an economic and strategic alliance with the USA and the other democracies of the Caribbean and Latin America.   The corruption under Castro is state sponsored, and hopefully the RMI will not go down that road, because that is the worst corruption of all.

Castro clamped down and turned Cuba into an imprisoned island, based on a socialist model in which the economy of the nation, subsidized by the USSR, was controlled by the government, and schools and hospitals became part of the all-powerful dictatorship.   As such, the schools and health care system thrived at the expense of a free society, and the MIJ sees that as a good model for the RMI?

There may be some lessons the RMI could learn from Cuba’s experience as a small nation, once closely allied with the USA, that ended its strategic partnership and chose to align itself against America.   But those lessons are very different from the ones the MIJ suggests.  

First, if we compare the wealth of Cubans who ran away when Castro took over and came to America to those who stayed in Cuba, we can begin to realize how important and valuable the right of visa free entry and residence under the Compact is for the people of the RMI.  

As with Cubans who came to the USA, when compared to those who stayed home under Castro, the economic success of RMI citizens in the USA, when compared to those who stay in the RMI, shows that in the RMI only a few lords of poverty get rich, while most Marshallese are losing ground economically.  But in the U.S. the average person from the RMI can provide for family, be free to succeed and maybe prosper, and even have enough to send some home.

Second, if the MIJ really thinks health care funding from the U.S. is important to the RMI’s development, then why was the RMI not supporting U.S. Senate Bill 1756?    After the hearing on nuclear claims issues last year the RMI and Senate supporters of S. 1756 reached an agreement to seek Senate approval of a modified version of S. 1756, with health care funding increased to $4 million annually, and adjustment for inflation, and it expanded coverage from 4 atolls to 10, based on the NCI study of cancers in the RMI.  

The precedent of supplemental nuclear claims compensation in the form of health care funding, and ending the historical U.S. position limiting assistance to 4 atolls, would be a breakthrough.  Yet, the RMI balked.   A period of trnasition is expected when a new governemtn takes over, but not paralysis.   The RMI held field hearing with Eni Falveomavaega when it should have been more focsued on S. 1756, instead of just advocating more funding for Kwajalein.   That may be a worthy cause too, but it mostly benefits the traditional chiefs of one atoll and is not a broad based economic program of the people of the RMI.  

Then again, if no agreement on Kwajalein is reached that could have a broad based economic impact for the RMI as a whole.   The health care funding and other benefits in the modified draft of S. 1756 could add up to $100 million over 15-20 years.   That does not resolve the nuclear legacy, but it is a very important proposal that the RMI should not let die due to inaction, unless it has a better plan.  

Instead of addressing these issues more aggressivley the MIJ was daydreaming about the socialist paradise in Cuba, and misleading the people of the RMI to believe government funding for health care, education and economic benefits is the way to build a three legged stool that will support a successful democracy.  If the RMI wants the socialist/communist model Cuba has, the RMI should end free association with the USA and align itself with a socialist/communist regime.   But it better be careful, because those regimes do not treat territorial subdivisions as well as the USA. 

Before making that decision, the RMI needs to think about whether a four legged stool would be better.  The constitutional government certainly should be one of the legs, including public health care and education programs the nation can afford.  

Marshallese culture would be another leg, including the family, the church, modern faith-based values and social practices, and customary traditions, because the people are the nation – not the government. 

The economic leg will always be weak unless it is supported by private sector led growth that is sustainable without permanent government subsidization or ownership. 

The fourth leg should be a free press playing its real role in a democratic society, by asking the tough questions about real issues facing the nation.  

At this time, one such tough question is why S. 1756 is being allowed to wither on the vine.   Even with active and affirmative RMI support getting it approved this year was going to be a challenge, but with the RMI apparently not making it a priority there may be no way to revive it.  

That means a big loss, unless the RMI can deliver an alternative that is better.  If the RMI has a better plan, the public needs to be allowed to know that as soon as possible.

Yet, the MIJ may be the only source that can tell the truth to the people on this and other important issues in the RMI.   Instead of being a cheerleader for the latest RMI propaganda, the MIJ should challenge the new ruling party as much as it did the last one.   If promoting the Cuban model of social and economic development, along with the Cuban model for conducting relations with the USA, is the MIJ idea of “Rethinking Government”, don’t do us any favors.   If make the Kwajalein lease issue the nation’s highest priority, to get more money for the richest men in the RMI, is the RMI vision of putting “People First”, give us a break.   That helps the few at the expense of the many.

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