‘Capitalists, communists, socialists… just decide what works’ – Obama
The comment came during a question and answer session with Argentinians who are participating in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, a White House program aiming to expand opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and civil society activists.
In his response to a question about the responsibility of government to change rules to help social entrepreneurial businesses thrive, Obama said a new trend in the US is the blending of profit and nonprofit businesses, where profits go toward financing social programs and giving people opportunities.
“[In] the past there's been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that's been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you're a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you're some crazy communist that's going to take away everybody's property,” President Obama told the town hall audience of young Argentines on Thursday.
“Those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don't have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory – you should just decide what works.”
The remarks were made on the same day thousands of Argentines marched to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the US-backed military coup. The seven-year repressive regime is accused of killing up to 30,000 citizens accused of being leftists, union leaders or Marxist rebels.
Ironically, Obama then went on to praise Cuba’s socialist system under Raúl Castro, touting the country’s free access to basic education and Cuba’s health care of comparable quality to the United States.
“I said this to President Castro in Cuba… you've made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education, that's a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care, the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That's a huge achievement. They should be congratulated,” said Obama.
“But you drive around Havana and you say this economy is not working. It looks like it did in the 1950s. And so you have to be practical in asking yourself how can you achieve the goals of equality and inclusion, but also recognize that the market system produces a lot of wealth and goods and services. And it also gives individuals freedom because they have initiative.”
Obama's trip to Cuba this week was the first time a US president has visited the country in 88 years. Washington broke off relations with Cuba in 1961 and imposed a blockade in 1962, following a Communist revolution that overthrew a pro-US regime on the island. The US has accused Cuba of widespread political repression, while Havana blames the US blockade for many of the island’s economic hardships.