Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After 50 Years of Castro's Cuba, an End to the Cold War?

After 50 Years of Castro's Cuba, an End to the Cold War?
By Tim Padgett Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

It's good that the Cuban Revolution's 50th anniversary falls on Jan. 1.
That's the day for New Year's resolutions, and it's time for Washington
and Havana to make some big ones.

They can start by acknowledging that after 50 years of communist
revolution in Cuba, and counter-revolution from the U.S., both sides can
claim only partial victories. Washington and Miami's Cuban exiles can
say they kept the U.S. trade embargo against Havana intact. Yet they
failed to dislodge Fidel Castro and his government and instead succeeded
in alienating the entire hemisphere. Congratulations! The Castro regime
can say it stood up to a half-century of yanqui aggression while proving
that quality universal education and health care are doable. But the
price — a basket-case economy and a bleak human rights record —
overshadowed those achievements. Felicidades!

So, fittingly, don't expect much of a charged observance on either side
of the Florida Straits this week. It looks unlikely that the ailing,
82-year-old Fidel, who ceded Cuba's presidency to his younger brother
Raul this year, will even be fit enough to attend the celebration in
Santiago de Cuba. In Miami, exile hardliners are wrestling with a new
Florida International University poll showing that a majority of
Cuban-Americans there think the embargo should end. The question now is
whether Washington and Havana can smell the cafe cubano, leave their
cold-war time warp, enter the 21st century — and cease being an
impediment to a hemisphere that's trying to do the same. (See the Top 10
News Stories of 2008.)

Fortunately, the signs are looking better as U.S. President-elect Barack
Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration nears. Obama, who has said he's willing to
talk with Raul Castro, is poised to end the Bush Administration's
restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba. That
could (and should) be the first step toward dismantling the
ill-conceived, 46-year-old embargo (which Obama surely knows is also the
aim of many pro-business Republicans in Washington). Either way, such
gestures make it harder for the Castros to rail against gringo
imperialism. For his part, Raul Castro recently told actor Sean Penn in
an interview for The Nation magazine that he and Obama "must meet" in a
neutral place "and begin to solve our problems."

A big problem, of course, is the scores of jailed dissidents in Cuba and
the island's lack of free speech. Raul said this month he would consider
releasing some of those prisoners as a prelude to talks with Obama. He
wants U.S. reciprocation, however — like freedom for the "Cuban Five."
They are Cuban agents convicted in Miami in 2001 for espionage, but who
Havana insists were only in the U.S. to monitor exile groups that had
allegedly aided the bombings of Cuba tourist hotels. A "swap" release of
the Five isn't likely. (A U.S. appellate panel did rule that their trial
had not been fair; but another panel affirmed their convictions this
year.) But Obama could respond by prosecuting Luis Posada Carriles, an
exile militant who allegedly took part in the hotel attacks as well as
the 1976 bombing of a Cuba jetliner that killed 73 people. FBI evidence
links Posada to the crimes, but the Bush Administration has let him
remain free in Miami — inviting charges of a double standard on terrorism.

The point is that both sides have got to learn to give a little. Last
year, when TIME put Raul Castro on its list of the world's 100 most
influential people — because he had taken over for Fidel as interim
president and looked to be moving Cuba in a more pragmatic direction —
the magazine got scorn from U.S. officials. This year, when TIME put
Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez on the list — for the impact she's had on
political blogging around the world — Cuban officials complained in
turn. They're entitled to their opinion; but both camps' responses point
up how tiresome U.S.-Cuba intolerance has gotten. If Washington and
Miami are as serious as they claim about democratizing Cuba, they'll
find more creative ways than a globally condemned embargo to engage the
island. If Raul and the aging generals around him are as serious as they
say about working to end the embargo and revive Cuba's moribund economy,
they'll loosen the island's political leash. (See pictures of music in

If all parties don't act soon they risk making the same hemispheric
muddle of the first half of the 21st century that they made of the last
half of the 20th. They could also spend this century on the hemisphere's
sidelines. The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko just visited Havana for five
days — the first Russian warship to dock there since the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991 — and it symbolized to many how low U.S. influence has
sunk in the Caribbean. Cuba, meanwhile, was invited this month to a
regional summit in Brazil from which the U.S. was excluded — a reminder
that Latin Americans still see U.S. treatment of Cuba as a reflection of
how the U.S. treats them.

But at the same time, Raul had to notice that his Brazilian host,
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who is supposedly the Castros'
leftist soulmate and head of Brazil's Workers Party — is arguably Latin
America's most acclaimed capitalist leader today. Capitalism's excesses
get deservedly excoriated for causing today's global catastrophe. But
even Venezuela, which helps prop up Cuba's economy with cut-rate oil,
has made it clear in recent elections that it's not the socialist hotbed
that its own left-wing president, Hugo Chavez, dreams of. Yes, the
hypocritical drill among Latin leaders is that they censure Washington
publicly but Havana privately. Still, most of them believe Cuba is as
out of step with the rest of the Americas as the U.S. is.

Which isn't to say that the Cuban Revolution doesn't deserve its due. It
overthrew one of Latin America's most putrid dictators, championed the
poor (still a rare thing to do in Latin America) and showed the U.S.
that its worst Monroe Doctrine impulses (not to mention the Mafia that
was overrunning Cuba then) could be thwarted. People do buy Che Guevara
T-shirts for more than just the lefty chic. The Miami exiles (many of
whom actually backed Fidel before he went communist) deserve their props
too, despite the Elian Gonzalez mess. Most were not corrupt oligarchs
and gusanos (worms, as Fidel called them) but an industrious working and
middle class that helped build modern Miami. In December, the Miami
Herald unveiled an online database that gives the exiles an Ellis
Island-style history of their arrivals in the U.S.

No one should begrudge respect for Cubans on either side of the Straits
— not those who died in prisons fighting Batista nor those who died on
rafts escaping Castro. But after 50 years it's time to stop reliving the
Bay of Pigs.,8599,1868928,00.html?xid=rss-world

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