“Castro’s Last Battle”

Jon Lee Anderson posted a feature article on Cuba’s Castro in my July 31 New Yorker, also currently available online as Castro’s Last Battle. For anyone who occasionally tries to follow the ups and downs of this 50-year old communist regime anchored within rowboat distance of Miami, the article is timely. Castro recently turned 80, and his health is failing.

Anderson is one journalist in a very small elite of well rounded human beings who can rub shoulders with the ruling class or the very poor, with equal understanding and grace, in any trouble spot in the world: Baghdad, Kabul, Palestine, or Havana, to name a few.

It seems Washington has had grand plans for post-Castro Cuba for fifty years – not that this should be any surprise. The idea is simple: when Castro goes, “export” democracy to Cuba, and back it up with think-tank plans to shore up the decrepit infrastructure with tons of money and democratic institutions.

We have a Cuban Policy. We even have a Paul Bremer, by the name of Caleb McCarry, to make sure the Cuba transition team works as smoothly, presumably, as Bremer’s did in Iraq.  It is not clear whether we would consider the use of troops to force Cubans to be free, or just wait them out with folded arms, for them to beg us to wade ashore our salvation legions and save them.

The truth is, and this surprised me, many Cubans like Castro. Oh sure, troublesome people are beaten, occasionally disappear, and periodically are purged or executed depending on the current mood swings of the regime. Don’t kid yourself; Cuban communists there are not nice people. Most of those who don’t like Castro, respect him – warts and all. After all, he’s their Castro.

And this dictator is not your typical syphilitic Idi Amin, psychotic Kim Il Sung, or mood-altered megalomaniac Khadafy Duck. Modest Cuban social experiments to relax persecution of sex workers, or even to legitimatize gay partnerships, are sponsored by the wife of one leading official and are mostly tolerated by the regime. For better and for worse, Castro cares about Cuba and Cubans. In his own mind, most people think he thinks he is doing the right thing, even though they no longer listen to him. Cuba is an island dictatorship, but it is run like a mom and pop grocery store. Apart from the Hotel Nacionale, just look at Cuba today.

Cuba remains dirt poor. Even without US intervention, the infrastructure is perpetually on the verge of collapse. The Dutch Boy with his finger in the hole in the dike is an inadequate conjuring of the situation. The Cuban economy is more like a rotten beaver dam: no matter how forcefully you flood the pond, the water can only rise a few inches, and everything else is lost downstream. The holes just get bigger and bigger.

Cuba will not be fixed until Cubans make up their minds to roll up their own shirt-sleeves and fix it. It has become embarrassingly clear the same will be true of Iraq, if it ever happens at all.

To talk of us having learned any lessons from Viet Nam or Iraq is crazy. Cubans don’t want us in Cuba (and no wonder), but there will be a hue and cry for us to go anyway, no matter what they think they want. Fidel Castro has outlasted nine American Presidents. For their sake, and for ours, let us hope he outlasts this administration too.

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