Saturday, August 05, 2006

After Fidel: not until W. leaves the White House, please!

Today, the world is anxiously awaiting the appearance of Raul Castro, who hasn't been seen in public since the news broke that Fidel had turned power over to him while he recuperates from his stomach surgery. The shock of the news and the silence from the Cuban government has spawned all kinds of speculation as to what is coming next if Fidel doesn't wind up coming back. It is a pretty good bet that even if Raul were to inherit Fidel's position as maximum leader he wouldn't last very long. Besides being nothing like his brother in the charisma department, he's 75-year old and is known to be a serious lush.

Apparently, Fidel has been giving some thought to a Cuba run by Raul and has decided he'd rather hedge his bets. The AP reports that in his statement announcing his illness also spelled out how he wants things to be run in his absence. He has spread power out among six of his closest comrades to rule along with Raul and he says the Communist Party is to be his real successor. Clearly he wants his revolution to continue and has according to the AP story given his vice-president, Carlos Lage, 51, "the heaviest responsibilities . . . charging his with overseeing his ongoing 'energy revolution' -- a huge renovation of Cuba's antiquated electrical grid." Lage was the one who led the reform of the economy after the Soviet Union fell. And despite the decades long US embargo, he seems to have done a pretty decent job. The Cuban economy is humming right along with a rate of growth of 8%, according to the CIA. (So let's tighten the screws on that embargo!)

For those in the media and in Miami's "exile" community puzzled as to why Cubans haven't already overthrown the government, the reason might be that Cuba really isn't really doing that badly economically. Not surprisingly, they're probably not so keen on the idea of the Americans marching in to give them a market economy. Of course, Cuba is no socialist paradise and there is real poverty there. But then again, Cubans have always been dirt poor and they've never really had any experience with democracy to begin with. Yes, Castro is a despot and no one should have to stand out in the sun for 4 hours and listen to his boring speeches, but he's no better or worse than the colonial rule of the Spanish or any of the US sponsored dictators that that ruled Cuba prior to the revolution.

Surely, they must be weighing the relative gains they've achieved under Castro's regime: free healthcare, free education, woman's rights and the dignity that comes with being a sovereign nation for the first time in their history, with the prospect of giving all that up for W.'s brand of democracy. If I was a Cuban and I heard W. say, "we will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy," I'd take one look at Iraq and say 'thanks, but no thanks.' To paraphrase Vlad Putin, ' we don't want that type of democracy.' (It's bad enough when W. is saying it, but when Condi goes out of her way to tape a message of support -- on TV Marti which no one sees at a cost of $10 million a year-- you know you're in the cross-hairs!)

It would be great if the Cubans could once and for all be a free nation and make their own decisions about how they want to run their country. Sadly, however, they may not get the chance; the vultures are already planning to descend on Cuba from Miami. The World had a story about Miami car dealer Lombardo Perez talking about the business model he's already got set up to sell new cars to the Cubans. On Friday morning Market Place reported that, "Already the US government's certified nearly 6,000 claims of confiscated property in Cuba. Including interest, they're worth an estimated $6 billion."

You can already read the writing on the wall. I agree totally with a fellow letter writer, Presley R. Brown, who writes in the letters section of the Inquirer yesterday: "displaced Cuban-Americans will flood Havana under the cloak of freeing Cuba from communism and installing American-style democracy. It will be done in the name of righteous property repatriation. These events will bring a smile to U.S. businesses. These events could also bring a smile to the Pentagon because it might be able to start yet another military conflict."

Hopefully, it won't come to that. As fond as we Americans are for a trumped up Caribbean military adventure, the pictures of US fighter planes flattening Havana might not go over well in the Cuban-American community. The FT had an interesting article today on this subject. They interviewed Luis Martinez Fernandez, professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Central Florida, who pointed out that younger Cuban-Americans were in favor of loosening the embargo and engaging diplomatically with the Cuban regime. Fernandez says, "Cuban-Americans can not longer be taken for granted by the Republicans." Brian Latell, a former Cuba specialist for the CIA and author of the book After Fidel says: "There is a widespread misconception that the Cuban-American community is homogeneous. There are still some vocal harliners but the majority is increasingly moderate." (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Michael Caputo!)

Unfortunety, the big mouth hardliners are the ones who get all the attention in the media. All they have to do is ban a book from the public schools and BAM! the media flocks like lemmings. I was probably a little too harsh on the younger Cuban-Americans in my last post, it's not just the Cuban-Americans in Miami who are politically disengaged; everyone down there is. It would be nice, though, if they were a little more interested in public affairs and would work towards putting their numbers behind shutting up the whackos who have been dominating the debate on Cuba for the past 47 years. Getting rid of Illeana Ros-Lehtinen -- the dumbest member of Congress -- would be a good start.

Let's all hope the Cuban people are able to navigate this "transition" in a peaceful way and everything turns out alright. It may sound heartless (because I know they're suffering) but if Fidel could hang on until W. & Co. is out of office everyone would be a lot better off. One important point Luis Martinez Fernandez makes is that regardless of the anti-Castro rhetoric from the past nine American administrations, Fidel has provided stability in our backyard. Fernandez says, "before Castro the island had been a source of instability in the region and it could become so again after he goes." Sending the marines in to "liberate" the Cuban people could engender another insurgency that could go on for years.


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