Monday, August 14, 2006

Reports of Fidel Castro's Death are Still Exaggerated: On the Failing Health of the Commandante and the State of the Repubic of Cuba

Fidel Castro recently had published a Mennsaje del comandante en jefe al pueblo de Cuba y a los amigos del mundo ("Message From the Commander in Chief to the Cuban People and Friends Around the World"). The message is interesting on several levels. This short essay is meant to highlight soem of the less obvious but more interesting points of the message.

The message reads in full as follows:

Yo no puedo inventar noticias buenas, porque no sería ético, y si las noticias fueran malas, el único que va a sacar provecho es el enemigo. En la situación específica de Cuba, debido a los planes del imperio, mi estado de salud se convierte en un secreto de Estado que no puede estar divulgándose constantemente; y los compatriotas deben comprender eso. No puedo caer en el círculo vicioso de los parámetros de salud que constantemente, a lo largo del día, se mueven.

Puedo decir que es una situación estable, pero una evolución real del estado de salud necesita el transcurso del tiempo.

Lo más que podría decir es que la situación se mantendrá estable durante muchos días, antes de poder dar un veredicto.

Estoy muy agradecido por todos los mensajes de nuestros compatriotas y de muchas personas en el mundo.

Lamento haberles causado tanta preocupación y molestia a los amigos en el mundo.

De ánimo me encuentro perfectamente bien.

Lo importante es que en el país todo marcha y marchará perfectamente bien.

El país está preparado para su defensa por las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias y el pueblo.

Nuestros compatriotas lo conocerán todo a su debido tiempo, como pasó cuando mi caída en Villa Clara.

Hay que luchar y trabajar.

Most Western media attention was focused on the firsat several paragraphs. The great issue was the state of Castro's health. And this provided a rare moment when the Western media could exercise now rusty skills in reading Soviet style prose. But there is little mystery here, and lots of self conscious playing Castro has always been a master at deploying Western media for his own purposes. Many insurgent groups have learned much from his fifty year of school of media relations--from the leader of Hezbollah to the Irish Republican Army. Castro starts by admitting that he will play games with respect to the state of his health. And it comes as little surprize that he lays the blame for this squarely on American policy, and plans for a post-Castro Cuba. And he reveals little. His state of health is stable and his condition is evolving (but then again, whose health is not always in exactly that same state!). But he drops enough hints to suggest either that his health is bad, or that it is not. The irony wrapped in ambiguity of the Spanish used to deliver both the usual jab at the Americans and to obscure the meassage for the benefit of endless discussions by Western media suggests both that the message was written by Castro, and that his mental state is quite up to its usual standards. And that is where the analysis of the Western press usually ends.

I find the last part of the massage much more interesting than the beginning, as delightful as the lesson in elegant writing as the opening of the message may be. Let us examen each of the last four statements one at a time.

Lo importante es que en el país todo marcha y marchará perfectamente bien.

Castro here suggests that his health has not changed or otherwise affected the operations of the state, nor would the condition of his health affect it. The country continues to operate perfectly well. I suspect that the thrust of the message is actually its opposite. The sentence suggests that nothing has changed and that things are progressing well. My sense is that this sort of declarartion in the past has generally suggested that plans, long in the making, have been triggered. These plans, and the changes they envision, are designed to ensure that the country continues to operate "perfectly well" within the parameters of a Marxist Leninist froundations ovberseen by the dictatorship of a particlar segment of the proletariat.

El país está preparado para su defensa por las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias y el pueblo.

That suggestion appears to be confirmed by this statement. The country is preparing for its defense by FAR and the people. The plans that have been activated clearly call for the supreme leadership role to be assumed by the military. While the West focuses on the cult of the Castro family, debating the charisma of Raúl Castro, they fail to understand that Raúl hhas spent the last several decades cultivating a vigourous and tight knit military command struicture that operates like its Chinese counterpart. The big bang for this transformation was the purges of 1989 and the reconstitution of the military therafter. While the West focuses on Raúl, the collegial rulting body of the military will be reconstituting the political and economic organization of the state to meet the demands of a post-Fidel Cuba that preserves their position and is consonant with their ideology.

Nuestros compatriotas lo conocerán todo a su debido tiempo, como pasó cuando mi caída en Villa Clara.

Castro reminds his readers that he is not bluffing. These plans have a lonmg genesis and were first tried on a very small scale, apparently to Catro's satisfaction, whern he recently fell from a speaker's platform in Villa Clara.

Hay que luchar y trabajar.

Castro makes the usual call here for work and defense. The suggestion, of course, is that while there will be (great) changes, nothing fundamental will have changed. The Americans will continue to try to subvert the regime, the regime will continue to adhere to the normative basis of its social, political and economic norms. And it will remain the duty of the people to continue to work and defend as they have been expected to do this since 1959.

Together these last four sentences were meant, I believe, to serve as a message and a warning. Plans long in the works have now been put in place. The elements of the military and civil elites on the Island will be deploying over the next several weeks. Very much like those Japanese transformer toys that start as a car and can be twisted into another form, the Cuban state apparatus is now starting its transformation. Whether or not the plan will work remains to be seen. Indeed, the transformation itself will likely be invisible to the West unless its security apparatus look carefully. But in the end, the leadership hopes that the structure of the political apparatus of the state will be transformed to make possible a more collegial leadership structure, led by the military. The economic structure of the state will be prepared for a Western style reorganization--essentially a spin off of state enterprises with ultimate ownership and control to be retained by the state, but more indirectly.

For Americans, so resolutely focused on the political regime, and so wed to an analysis based on personality cults, the message, correctly read, is not good news. A prudent America would be watching very carefully to determine what exactly the Cubans began doing in the weeks leading to the hospitalization of Fidel Castro (surely the planning was begun, and the orders for change given, weeks before the hospitalization, with the so-called public delegations coming weeks after the official delegations actually took place). And a prudent America would be monitoring Chinese communications with FAR much more intently than the polls revealing the “feelings” of the Cuban people for Raúl Castro. Sadly, for American interests, little of this will be done. The Cubans are counting on that.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Backer,

Saludos. I agree with your thoughts in this blog. In my opinion, the US is too concerned with Fidel's health instead of watching his actions. I think Chávez's recent visit was not pure coincidence, but part of Fidel's whole plan for Cuba's future. Also, Raúl Castro recently mentioned that his government style wouldn't be just like Fidel's. So that makes me believe that Raúl is saying that to set up the economical changes Cuba might go through fairly soon.

It will definitely be interesting to see what happens in Cuba once Fidel passes away. But I think, contrary to what the Cuban population in Miami wants, Fidel's death is not close at all. Perhaps Fidel is merely making a lot of 'chess moves' from his hospital bed.

More than anything, I'm interested in Cuba's situation because Fidel's death could cause some problems in Puerto Rico as well. The whole Caribbean would face changes based on what happens in Cuba.

Larry Catá Backer said...

You are right, of course, Puerto Rico remains the forgotten player in the Cuban drama. I suspect that Puerto Rico will likely find itself affected (and not likely for the better) whichever way Cuba goes. If Cuba integrates into the global economy, the competitive pressures oin Puerto Rico will be intense, especially since the Americans and Puerto Ricans have not done as good a job as might have with the Puerto Rican educational system. If Cuba remains aloof, it will be affected by whatever policies the United States chooses to adopt with respect to the Cuban 'problem." And more importantly, perhaps, is the unknown role that the large Cuban expatriot community resident in Puerto Rico will play in developments.