Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fidel Castro's Turn?

Fidel Castro's last column, appearing online in what is the closest thing to a blog since his illness, Reflections of the Commander in Chief, last appeared on February 22, 2008. See Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump?, Feb. 22, 2008 (in the original Spanish). The last contribution is worth a review, and, perhaps more importantly, the silence that follows is increasingly noteworthy.

Castro is well known for a kind of cagey reminiscence. He will delve deeply into an old memory, but usually to make or emphasize a point he is seeking to underline. Sometimes these forays into the past are meant to "reorient" history, or to explain or exculpate past actions. Castro has always been extremely meticulous with th care and maintenance of the legacy of his ideas--something he values as much as he values the state and his role in it.

With this last column, Castro focuses on old wounds and old enemies. He starts with a reminder of Cuba's pariah status within the Organization of American States system.
Yesterday, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, dismissed the possibility of immediately re-admitting Cuba into this multilateral organization because there is no consensus on the matter among its members, among other reasons. In this connection, Insulza remarked that, for full re-admission into the OAS, one of the requisites Cuba would have to meet is adhering to the norms of the organization, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Convention on Human Rights.
Id. For all the bluster, though, it is clear that Cuba's sad relationship with the OAS still stings, and stings badly. And, of course, there is irony here tinged with anger. No other state has been the object of similar treatment within the OAS family--no matter how dysfunctional or wicked it government. Still, it is not for Fidel Castro, or for the current American administration, to mend that wound.

The OAS memory sparked another and more important one for Castro--Cuba's long connection with the Saladrigas family, first in the Cuban homeland and now from the Cuban beach head in Florida. The memory was sparked after reading an article in El Pais by Antonio Caño. Antonio Caño, "El aislamiento de la isla sólo sirve para perpetuar la agonía del régimen" El Pais, February 21, 2008. The article is quoted extensively. Its principal message was articulated through an interview with Carlos Saladrigas, described in that article as "One of the most respected voices among Cuban exiles" ("Una de las voces más autorizadas del exilio cubano"). Caño, supra. It suggested that there might be a relaxation of the traditional antics between the United States and Cuba now that Fidel Castro was exiting the scene. But what Saladrigras says is perhaps less important than who he is and how much he has spent on his project.
Saladrigas, que preside una pequeña organización llamada Grupo de Estudios Cubanos, integrada en un colectivo de otras asociaciones políticas y de derechos humanos conocido como Consenso Cubano, ha gastado en los últimos años millones de su fortuna particular para poner en marcha un embrión de alternativa moderada y centrista a los viejos dirigentes radicales que dominaban la comunidad cubana en EE UU. En el páramo de liderazgo en que quedó Miami tras la muerte de Jorge Mas Canosa, Saladrigas es una voz respetada entre los círculos intelectuales, y escuchada por los medios de comunicación y los diplomáticos extranjeros.

Caño, supra. (Translated in Castro's quotation as: “Saladrigas, who is President of a small organization known as the Cuba Study Group, which is composed by other political associations and human rights organizations known as Consenso Cubano, has spent millions of his private funds in the last few years in order to plant the seeds for a modern and centrist alternative to the radical leadership that used to dominate the Cuban exile community in the U.S. In the leadership vacuum in which Miami found itself after the death of Jorge Mas Canosa, Saladrigas is a respected voice in intellectual circles and listened by the media and foreign diplomats.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump?

And more still, perhaps, is what additional funds are intended to acquire:
"Hay que conseguir", añade Saladrigas, "que el régimen le pierda el miedo al exilio; cuanto menos miedo tenga, más rápido va a ir todo". El cambio, en su opinión, es imparable, pero puede tardar más y ser más doloroso si no se consigue la reconciliación entre los cubanos de la isla y los del exterior. En Florida vive un millón de cubanos con recursos suficientes como para revitalizar la maquinaria económica de la isla en muy poco tiempo si se dan las condiciones adecuadas, que deben de ser creadas tanto por EE UU como por Cuba. El primero, levantando las restricciones a los ciudadanos norteamericanos para invertir en la isla, y el segundo, legalizando la propiedad privada y la actividad económica extranjera.

Caño, supra. (translated in Castro's quotation as "It is important”, says Saladrigas, “that the regimen loose its fear of the exile community, because the lesser the fear, the faster things will move along”. Change, in his opinion, is unstoppable (…)” “There are a million Cubans in Florida with sufficient resources to revitalize the economy of the Island in very little time, given adequate conditions, which must be created both by the U.S. and in Cuba: by the U.S. lifting restrictions to U.S. citizens wishing to invest in Cuba, and by Cuba, legalizing private property and foreign economic activity.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump?

For Castro, this springs the trap--connecting past and present, old and new enemies, and pointing to the character of future threats to the Revolutionary government.
The name Carlos Saladrigas rings a bell; it is a name I heard many times when, at 18 years old I was concluding my fifth and last year of high school. He was the candidate Batista had chosen at the close of the last year of his constitutional term. Before, he had been his Prime Minister. The Second World War was coming to an end. The new Carlos Saladrigas now wants to buy us for peanuts! With the money in Miami, “the biggest support fund that any political transition has ever known throughout history.” This is something the United States has never achieved, not even with all of the money in the world.
Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump? Castro then devotes the remainder of the work to a quotation from the work of another American, David Brooks, for the proposition that neither the Americans, nor the new Cuban Americans will be any position to interfere with Cuban affairs, except as spectators. To get there, of course, he spins David Brooks, EU, relegado a simple espectador de la transición en Cuba, La Jornanda (Mex.), Feb. 21, 2008, in a way that might not have been intended by its author, but then, the implications read into the work by Castro are fair. ("Al parecer, la transición en Cuba podría provocar una transición dentro de Estados Unidos. Pero tal vez Washington (y Miami) son más renuentes al cambio que La Habana." David Brooks, supra; translated in Castro's quote as “Apparently, the transition in Cuba could cause a transition within the United States, according to the article. But perhaps Washington and Miami are more opposed to change than Havana.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump?).

This is a special, and very subtle, work. At one level it works the obvious--his enmity towards the OAS, his reminder of old enemies, and his anger/amusement at the antics of his favorite playmate, the United States and its allies. But that is hardly the message that counts. I suspect that there is fear here, and a message for his successors. He reminds Raul and the FAR establishment, that the children of old enemies continue to play as important a role as their fore bearers did. The reference to Saladrigas was deliberate, the reminder of the connection of that family to Batista (however attenuated), the dominance of that family in the Caribbean and the transformation of the Miami Cuban-American community into the coming generation of "ugly Americans" that seek to buy Cuba the way their predecessors bought Batista. The reference to the OAS a reminder of Cuba's pariah status and the costs to Cuba of rejoining at this juncture--the loss of its independence. Though it may be a price that Cuba will ultimately have to pay as it seeks re-engagement, it is a reminder that in the modern world system, globalization will require the loss of a measure of sovereignty that Cubans fought for so long to achieve, and that they achieved--reluctantly, only on the evaporation of their last imperial patron, the Soviet Union (the last a reality that Castro has studiously avoided since the early 1990s).

These suggestions are ironic and important. For all their bluster, it is likely that the exile community in Miami--or rather the exile community through its instrumentalities and agents elsewhere in Latin America--have already begun the process of "purchasing" Cuba, as Fidel suggests. The exile community would not be acting rationally if it did not have plans already well in place for a substantial re-engagement with the homeland. And they would be engaging in these activities with the connivance of the current regime. Yet it is the form of the engagement rather than its existence that matters. Cuba has enough expertise to work through this relationship the way that the Chinese work with the Taiwanese. There is a way for economic and social relationships without substantially threatening the power of the current regime. The Chinese have been showing the Cubans the way. Castro, from his hospital bed, is the most reluctant actor to see its potential--and inevitability. Lots of bluster for the local masses (in Miami and Cuba) and lots of dealings in Caracas, Mexico City, the Dominican Republic, Panama, etc.

But the most important part of this essay might well be the last line: "As the readers will appreciate, I have done some work as I await the historical decision of the 24th. Now, I will go several days without putting pen to paper." Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections By Comrade Fidel Who Wants To Be In The Garbage Dump?) (in the original: Como pueden apreciar los lectores, he trabajado poco mientras espero la decisión trascendente del 24. Ahora sí estaré varios días sin usar la pluma."). It seems that Castro was to undergo treatment. The extensive quotes and lack of rhetorical fill suggest a hurried approach to this essay, and an uncharacteristic concentration of prose. Since that time, at least through the date of this essay, Castro's columns have returned but in a more modest form in Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. The essays, now known as Reflections of Comrade Fidel, are distinguished from the Reflections of the Commander in Chief, to reflect Castro's current status as pater patrias without portfolio. One wonders whether Castro will be back in bigger form. The apotheosis is complete. Castro has become an idea.

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