Back to the Past in Cuba
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
TULUM, MEXICO — Out with the old, in with the old. Last week, Cuba officially replaced 81-year old leader, Fidel Castro, with his 76-year old "baby" brother, Raul. Promoted to positions just below Raul were two of his closest supporters and political cronies, 77-year old Ramon Machado Ventura and 72-year old Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, both Stalinist hardliners.
Not since the 1980’s era Soviet Politburo and post-Mao China have we seen such political gerontocracy. Being of certain years myself, I have high regard for maturity, but what we’ve just seen in Cuba, a vibrant, peppery nation filled with youngsters, appears more like old timer’s nostalgia than a plan to lead the island nation into the future.
I’ve been just across the water from Cuba these recent days, and busy reading Fidel Castro’s daily commentaries with high interest. El Maximo Leader has retired to become El Maximo Commentator. Columnists of the world, unite!
The next generation of Communist leaders who almost everyone believed would succeed Fidel was put on hold. But the current gerontocracy won’t last long. Keep you eyes on VP Carlos Lage, foreign minister Felipe Roque, and National Assembly president, Ricardo Alarcon. They are likely to soon replace Raul’s Old Guard and start dismantling the Stalinist economy that has largely broken down.
So what next for 11 million long-suffering Cubans? Slow speed ahead, for the present, with modest reforms. The army has assumed more power. The economy will remain on life support, kept going by free oil from Venezuela and tourism. Cuba will remain a tropical police state with a clapped out Marxist economy.
Foreign visitors enthuse over Cuba’s laudable achievements in public health, education and science, but hardly ever see the ubiquitous apparatus of apartment, neighborhood, office and factory informers and secret police that keeps the Communist regime in power.
French intelligence sources tell me there is a growing risk of major street violence by poor blacks, who make up 60% of the population and live in slums ringing Havana. Army units have been deployed around the capitol.
As for Fidel, this writer, who remembers boisterous Cuba in pre-Castro days, believes he will still pull strings from the background, much as China’s Deng Xiaoping did during his last years of infirmity. Interestingly, Deng’s only official title was Chairman of the Chinese Bridge Assn., but everyone knew who was boss.
Ditto Fidel, who is adored and respected in Cuba as the national father figure. As I previously reported from Cuba, major change, including a move towards Chinese-style reforms, is unlikely to occur until after Fidel’s death. To do so while he lives would be an insult, and show lack of respect to the man who defeated scores of attempts by the United States to assassinate him and force Cuba back into the US orbit. I don’t think Cuba will really change until Papa Fidel is gone from the scene.
Cubans are a proud, highly capable people. I have faced their soldiers in Angola and can certainly attest to their bravery. They have always been the aristocrats of the West Indies since Havana was founded in 1519. By contrast, "Johnny come lately" New York City was not founded until 1625, nearly a century later.
Washington’s power brokers would do well to understand that Cuba is not a little banana republic that can be ordered about by US multinationals or Washington Congressmen in the pay of the Florida sugar lobby.
The nearly half-century US blockade of Cuba is incredibly stupid and must be ended. It probably will be if the Democrats win the White House, in spite of rightwing Cuban exile voters in south Florida who keep the embargo alive.
If Americans really want to help long-suffering Cubans, they must engage politically and economically with Havana and end the embargo.
But the Bush Administration insists it won’t even talk to Cuba until Havana releases political prisoners and begins recognizing human rights.
The US is right to call for freedom and democracy in Cuba. But most people outside the US see this policy as highly hypocritical.
Cuba’s human rights violations are deplorable, but certainly no worse, and in fact less severe, than those of China and Vietnam, not to mention Egypt, Iraq or ally Israel. Washington sponsors dictatorships across the Mideast, Central Asia and, until lately, Pakistan. It has good relations with Communist Vietnam and China, and backs the bloody-handed Afghan Communist Party. Washington can just as well deal with Havana’s Marxists.
Candidate Barack Obama is being realistic when he offers to sit down with Raul Castro. He is acting the statesman and realist. Hillary Clinton and John McCain should be ashamed of themselves for loudly criticizing this sensible proposal.
Cuba will change, but more slowly than we would like. Washington must also change, ending its foolish, unseemly fifty-year vendetta against this small but proud nation. The US should extend the hand of friendship rather than trying to make Cuba crawl. That’s acting like a true great power.