Goodbye, Fidel

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It looks like time is finally doing what the CIA couldn't: Fidel Castro is stepping down. Sort of. He'll still be a member of Cuba's parliament, and First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party; he'll remain an influential policy leader (and, I suspect, continue to protect Cuban children from the depredations of Walt Disney's head).

The United States was on the wrong side of the Cuban revolution. Batista was a corrupt bastard, but he was our corrupt bastard, and we backed him long past the point of reason. And then, when he was rightfully removed from power, instead of trying to engage Cuba, we acted like prize assholes. We bought into the lousy myth of the communist monolith--partly because we managed to purge nearly all of the State Department's Russia experts during the McCarthy years--and missed opportunities in our own hemisphere in much the same way we missed opportunities to engage China and Vietnam. It was stupid, perpetrated by leaders from both parties for a variety of reasons that often had very little to do with America's long-term interests and a lot to do with the exigencies of the next election cycle.

Maybe Castro's retirement will allow some of those blockheads from both parties to engage Cuba without losing face or overly antagonizing the dwindling pool of Cuban expatriates in Florida who are still fighting a battle they lost half a century ago. One can hope. But sanity often appears to be in short supply.

None of this is to minimize Castro's human rights abuses or to glorify a regime that was only prosperous as long as someone could afford to pour money into annoying the United States as a key element of foreign policy (it's very strange: for twenty years or so, the Cuban economy thrived, their healthcare system was renowned, they were able to send military advisors abroad, and then the Cuban economy abruptly and mysteriously crashed sometime around 1991--and we may never know the reason why). But our Cuban policy never even had the potential to repair those harms. We took Castro's continued rule as a personal affront to our nation's dignity and took on a personal vendetta against Castro the man without ever even considering any alternatives, or the possibility that we might have made things worse if we'd actually succeeded in murdering the man. (There are far worse dictators than Castro in the world.)

In closing, I'd like to include this clip from a 1971 documentary (courtesy, as usual, of YouTube) in which we see how Castro's success influenced a generation of bold Latin American leaders. Watch, and learn:


Wellsian,  Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 3:03:00 PM EST  

The failure in Cuba has always struck me as emblematic of a fundamental political problem of our time: finding a livable place between unfettered and amoral capitalism (Cuba, prior to Castro, which was quite well and thoroughly raped economically - that revolution was a long time coming) and an ultimately illiberal and dehumanizing socialism/communism (Cuba under Castro). It doesn't have to be either/or, but it too often ends up that way.

Eric Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 9:10:00 PM EST  

That's an interesting point. I hadn't thought of framing it like that--Cuba as an example of two extremes between dehumanizing capitalism and dehumanizing communism.

It would be nice if a third path emerged. It might take Raul Castro's demise (preferably of natural causes, seriously) to make that possible. I think it's going to require a new generation that has some space from the Batista and Castro regimes.

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