the wall street journal and peggy noonan stick it to fidel
The Fabulous Castro Boys All about Raúl, ruthless and reformer? Wednesday, August 2, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
To outlive one's enemies is said to be a kind of revenge. This would explain the big, noisy party on Calle Ocho in Miami Monday night when Cuba announced that Fidel Castro was undergoing emergency intestinal surgery for hemorrhaging and had passed power to his 75-year-old brother Raúl.
Whether Fidel is sick, dead or only merely testing the response of Cuba's military and political elite to the anointing of Raúl is still not clear. El Maximo Lider did qualify the power transfer as "temporary." But the old man turns 80 on August 13 and even he won't live forever. The most likely scenario is that we are now watching preparations for a transition of Cuban power not seen for 47 years.
Fidel is not only the longest-reigning dictator in the history of the modern world; he is also the archetype of the paranoid communist micromanager. He is known to be ruthless, insecure and distrustful, to the point of executing ideological allies suspected of disloyalty. He has also been obsessed with anti-Americanism for more than a half-century. If Cubans are malnourished and the country resembles a rundown 1950s' museum, so be it. Fidel has been more interested in his legacy as the revolutionary who stood up to the imperialists. The odd admiration for his handiwork among many on the U.S. left--he may be a dictator but the health care is good!--is a mystery of our time.
Enter Raúl, five years younger than Fidel, and, historically, every bit as dedicated to the revolution. During their exile in Mexico in the 1950s, Raúl was the brother who befriended Che Guevara and he encouraged the adoption of a communist hard-line in 1960. Beginning in Mexico and especially when consolidating power after they overthrew Batista in 1959, Raúl did the bulk of Fidel's political dirty work.
And yet, despite this brutal past, Raúl is now widely thought to be the reformer. Some of this is relative, given the harshness of his narcissistic older brother. But Cuba watchers say that Raúl has been known to express concern for the suffering of the Cuban people under the current system and has been a consistent voice for economic change.
As minister of defense, Raúl has also been in charge of the military which owns and profits from the most lucrative businesses in Cuba, particularly tourism. He has undoubtedly noticed how China's military has prospered from creeping market liberalization. Should the U.S. trade embargo be lifted, he knows that he and his cadre of raulistas would be the immediate beneficiaries.
Raúl has already successfully won one internal round for economic reform. Back in the early 1990s, when Soviet support ended and the Cuban economy sank ever lower, he pushed to allow at least some private economic activity, as well as more foreign investment, to alleviate the scarcities. Small farmers' markets, "restaurants" in private homes and taxi services permitted to carry tourists popped up around the country. Along with Spanish hoteliers putting capital down on Cuban beaches, these changes helped reverse a desperate slide.
Those same reforms also began to threaten Fidel's power, however. And he quickly closed the tiny space for Cuba's private sector, creating a system of economic apartheid in which foreigners and the military have prospered but ordinary Cubans have been shut out. Many of the revolutionary faithful are believed to be exceedingly dissatisfied with the resulting inequalities.
Raúl is aware of the political risks of creating more private economic space, and we would expect political repression to continue as he tried to consolidate his own control once his brother dies. Yet, as the world saw after the collapse of Communism in Europe, freedom movements are hard to contain once unleashed. Ask Mikhail Gorbachev. Raúl would probably attempt to imitate the Chinese model of opening up to foreign investment and private Cuban business while keeping strict political control.
If Raúl wants to go in that direction he may also make some conciliatory gestures to the U.S., shelving his brother's anti-American rhetoric and offering cooperation on bilateral issues. The U.S. will have to be ready to respond, and in ways that use American influence to leverage more freedom. One helpful step to take now would be to repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which stipulates that a U.S. President may not lift the trade embargo as long as Fidel, Raúl or anyone they have appointed are in power. This denies the President important discretion and reduces the possibility that the U.S. could promote peaceful change through economic engagement with a post-Fidel Cuba.
Whether it comes sooner or later, Fidel Castro's death will be a moment of hope for the liberation of an island that was once a jewel of the Americas. If Raúl wants to go there, the U.S. ought to help show him the way.
No Más Castro may be dead. It's time to kill Castroism.
PEGGY NOONANThursday, August 3, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
It has long been my bitter hunch that the man I can't help think of as the last monster of the 20th century, Fidel Castro, creator and warden of the floating prison to our south, would die of old age in a big brass bed, a snifter of brandy in one hand and a good cigar in the other. No firing squad, no prison. He'd leave thinking he got away with it all. He had that kind of luck. The devil takes care of his own.
I hated that hunch.
Now Cuban authorities say Castro has temporarily stepped down due to ill health. And it is possible this is true. It is just as possible that Castro is dead, and that what we are witnessing is not the graceful and temporary relinquishing of power--that would be unlike our Fidel, whose frozen fingers would more likely have to be peeled off the steering wheel with the back of a hammer--but the spinning of the death of a monster whose sudden departure might shock the people of Cuba into something like movement toward progress. And so Fidel is "sick" and his brother "stepping in." One suspects that in the coming weeks Castro will "take a turn for the worse," and that Raul Castro will take to hurried midnight visits to an empty hospital room, offering afterward to the waiting media both color coverage and play by play: "The tubes have been taken out. He mouthed the words, 'Tell the people I love them, and leave them in good hands.' "
Then, once the spontaneous mourning demonstrations have been arranged, will come word of his passing.
The pre-positioning of Raul solves a potential struggle for succession and inhibits competitors. The world gets used to him. Things continue as they were. Forty-seven years becomes 48, and 49 . . .
What to do now?
How about this: Treat it as an opportunity. Use the change of facts to announce a change of course. Declare the old way over. Declare a new U.S.-Cuban relationship, blow open the doors of commerce and human interaction, allow American investment and tourism, mix it up, reach out one by one and person by person to the people of Cuba. "Flood the zone." Flood it with incipient prosperity and the insinuation of democratic values. Let Castroism drown in it.
The American economic embargo of Cuba is 40 years old. It has been called ineffective--it did not produce Fidel's downfall. It has been called effective--it kept the squeeze on, demonstrated what communism reaped and reaps. In any case it was right to deny a monstrous regime contact with, and implicit encouragement from, the American democracy.
All fair enough. But the monster may be dead and is surely dying. In any case, what remains of Cuban communism dies with him. Cubans don't know what they are economically except one thing: poor.
Castro survived the ruin of his economy--he had the guns--and he used his resistance to isolation to enhance his mystique. Fearless Fidel faced down the yanqui. Still, he was forced to swerve and pivot. In 1994, after Soviet cash supports had ended, he was forced to allow some modest individual self-employment.
With Castro gone, why not seize the moment for some wise, judicious, free-market love-bombing?
As in: Allow Americans to go to Cuba. Allow U.S. private money into Cuba. Let hotels, homes, restaurants, stores be developed, bought, opened, reopened. Use Fidel's death to reintroduce Cubans on the ground to Americans, American ways, American money and American freedom. Remind them of what they wanted, what they thought they were getting when the bearded one came down from the Sierra Maestre. Use his death/illness/collapse/disappearing act as an excuse to turn the past 40 years of policy on its head. Declare him over. Create new ties. Ignore the dictator, make partnerships with the people.
Yes give more money to Radio Marti and all Western government efforts to communicate with the people of Cuba. But also allow American media companies in. Make a jumble, shake it up, allow the conditions that can help create economic vibrancy and let that reinspire democratic thinking. The Cuban government, hit on all fronts by dynamism for the first time in half a century, will not be able to control it all.
That is how to undo Fidel, and Fidelism. That's how to give him, on the chance he's alive, a last and lingering headache. That's how to puncture his mystique. Let his people profit as he dies.
If he is actually ill, why not arrange it so that the last sounds he hears on earth are a great racket from the streets? What, he will ask the nurse, is that? "Oh," she can explain, "they are rebuilding Havana. It's the Hilton Corp. Except for the drills. That's Steve Wynn. The jackhammer is Ave Maria University, building an extension campus."
Imagine him hearing this. It would, finally, be the exploding cigar. That's the way to make his beard fall off.
What is the reason we don't do this--open Cuba as far as we can, retake it with soft, individual, and corporate power, let the marketplace do the heavy lifting? Tradition, habit, prevailing concepts. Politics. As all but children know, Florida is a swing state, and Cubans forced to flee Castro--and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren--justly and rightly hate Fidel, dictatorship, all dictatorships. Their vote is significant and can swing the swing state. Cuban Americans know how to cohere and to show loyalty and antipathy within the democratic drama. Good. But I hope they are thinking about how to defeat Castroism now, today, with today's conditions. They're in the right war, but all good fighters know to shift troops, weapons and tactics when the landscape changes.
There is little President Bush can do, which, considering the politics of the matter, would be a relief to the White House. The president's hands are pretty much tied by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which keeps the U.S. government from lifting sanctions on Cuba or changing current arrangements until Castro frees his political prisoners and announces authentic elections.
Assuming he's too dead to do that, it won't happen. It wouldn't happen anyway, as he never admitted he had political prisoners or didn't hold real elections.
Congress could repeal Helms-Burton, and the administration could flood the zone, drowning Castroism in it. This could yield a great public good not only for the people of Cuba, and America, but the world.