Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clearly, there was nothing new to say

Posted on Thursday, 07.29.10
Clearly, there was nothing new to say

It was a memorable July 26 after all. For the first time ever, neither
Fidel nor Raúl Castro addressed the nation. The nondescript José Ramón
Machado Ventura -- Raúl's second in command -- delivered the main
speech, reminding Cubans that the ``economic battle'' is the ``principal

Machado echoed Raúl's words in April and also his call to proceed
cautiously, step by step, without rush.

So went the 57th anniversary of the Moncada Barracks assault that marked
Fidel Castro's debut into national politics. On July 26, 2007, Raúl had
raised expectations by calling for structural changes. Three years
later, Cubans are still waiting.

What's unforgettable is the leadership's blind spot on the economy.
Fidel never had anything but disdain for markets and the right of
ordinary Cubans to make a living. On economic matters, Raúl has always
been more pragmatic but shunned confronting his brother when push came
to shove.

Prior to July 26, Havana had been awash in rumors that a big
announcement would be made.

Raúl, alas, acted like a politician by letting Machado deliver the bad
news. All the same, speculation continues that the president will make a
major speech before the end of the year on the economy.

Fidel is back

On July 7, the Comandante made his first public appearance in four
years. More followed. Whether or not he's in charge, he's back.

While his columns reminded Cubans that he is still alive, it's doubtful
these were read by many outside the political elite. Seeing him in the
flesh is another matter altogether.

Even if he hasn't railed against markets, Castro is sending a clear
message about his legacy. Be wary of the United States even when it puts
on a pleasant face. The Obama administration and Israel are planning a
nuclear strike against Iran anytime now. If it hasn't happened, it's
because the BP disaster turned Washington's attention elsewhere. Even
under Obama the United States is humanity's greatest enemy.

At the same time, Fidel is focusing on the armed struggle against
Batista in the late 1950s. On July 27, he wrote a column on ``the
strategic victory,'' that is, the Rebel Army's defeat of Batista's army.
His book bearing the same title will appear in August and a sequel
titled The Final Counteroffensive Strategy soon thereafter.

Castro has a military understanding of politics. Consequently, Havana is
always ready to face down an invasion but needs ever more time to enact
the economic reforms that would allow ordinary Cubans to improve their
lives. Cubans are ``masses,'' not citizens, and have historic destinies
defined for them. Citizens have inalienable rights to be exercised here
and now as each sees fit under the rule of law.

Youth speak out

As official Cuba wades through in slow motion, Cuba's youth is on the
move. More than 70 percent of today's population was either a child in
1959 or born after the revolution.

In The Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution, a documentary directed by
Carlos Montaner and produced by George Plinio Montalván, we meet a group
of young women and men, some of them well known like the blogger Yoani
Sánchez and the Catholic intellectual Dagoberto Valdés.

What's striking are the underlying themes expressed in different ways by
all interviewees: the need for change even if most don't hold out hope
that it will come any time soon; their wish to travel abroad; their
longing for freedom; and, especially, their yearning to be able to plan
their lives to find personal and professional fulfillment.

I was particularly impressed by lawyer Laritza Diversent, whose blog
( comments on Cuban laws. In a
recent posting, Diversent calls on the government to recognize the Cuban
Juridical Association (AJC) as a registered association, which it has
not. The AJC has sued the justice minister.

Whether rappers, punk rockers, lawyers, bloggers or students, the Cubans
in this documentary are lost to official Cuba.

The longer the leadership delays meaningful economic reforms, the more
young Cubans it loses. The male seniors who are in charge are running
out of time, though rushing is a no-no.

In the meantime, Cubans under 35 can't dream as young people everywhere
do or dream only of leaving.

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