Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew

Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew
By George F. Will
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fidel Castro, 84, may have failing eyesight but he has noticed
something: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." So, the
secret is out. And there is no joy among the alumni, if any still live,
of the golden days of Les Deux Magots.

That Paris cafe, now a tourist magnet, was where, before and after World
War II, Jean-Paul Sartre and kindred spirits compared notes on life's
emptiness and the American menace. Of the latter, a major newspaper, Le
Monde, editorialized on March 29, 1950: "Coca-Cola is the Danzig of
European Culture." (Ancient history: Danzig was the Polish -- Germany
thought German -- city that was a flash point in the approach of the war.)

For advanced thinkers, Castro was a happy harbinger of, among much else,
"direct democracy." He came to power on Jan. 1, 1959, and the next year
Sartre arrived to explain, in the manner of Parisian intellectuals, the
Meaning of It.

As everyone attuned to the Zeitgeist then was -- college students who
owned black turtlenecks; aficionados of foreign films (not "movies,"
heaven forfend) -- Sartre was an existentialist. A critic called
existentialism the belief that because life is absurd, philosophy should
be, too. But Sartre's pilgrimage took him, with Castro, into Cuba's
countryside. There they stopped at a roadside stand for lemonade and an

The lemonade was warm, so Castro got hot, telling the waitress that the
inferior drink "reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness." She said
the refrigerator was broken. Castro "growled" (Sartre's approving
description) that she should "tell your people in charge that if they
don't take care of their problems, they will have problems with me."
Instantly Sartre understood "what I called 'direct democracy' ":

"Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate, secret understanding was
established. She let it be seen by her tone, by her smiles, by a shrug
of the shoulders, that she was without illusion."

Half a century later, Castro seems to be catching up with her. He who
proclaimed at his 1953 trial that "History will absolve me" may at last
have lost the most destructive illusion of modern politics, the idea
that History is a proper noun.

The idea was that History is an autonomous thing with an unfolding logic
that, if served by a vanguard of a discerning few who understand its
workings, ends in a planned paradise. Hence, as Czeslaw Milosz wrote in
"The Captive Mind" in 1953, communists believed that the job of
intellectuals was not to think but only to understand.
Click here!

By saying what he recently did about the "Cuban model" (he said it to
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic), Castro seems to have become the last
person outside the North Korean regime to understand how statism
suffocates society. Hence the Cuban government's plan to shed 500,000
public employees.

This follows a few other measures, such as the denationalization of
beauty parlors and barber shops -- if they have no more than three
chairs. With four or more, they remain government enterprises. Such is
"reform" under socialism in a nation that in 1959 was, in a variety of
social and economic indices, one of Latin America's five most advanced
nations, but now has an average monthly wage of about $20. Many hospital
patients must bring their own sheets. Many thousands of Cuban doctors
are working in Venezuela, which is supporting Cuba much as the Soviet
Union did.

After the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 -- perhaps the most
feckless use of American power, ever -- President Kennedy's brother
Robert called Cuba "the top priority in the United States government --
all else is secondary -- no time, money, effort or manpower is to be
spared." Ever since, the rhetoric has been fierce as both parties have
competed for the votes of the 1.6 million-strong Cuban diaspora in
America, especially in Florida, the largest swing state in presidential
voting. For example, in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton promised to "bring
the hammer down" on Castro, who has survived the disapproval of 11 U.S.

Today, the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba by means of economic embargoes
and travel restrictions serves two Castro goals: It provides an alibi
for Cuba's social conditions, and it insulates Cuba from some of the
political and cultural forces that brought down communism in Eastern
Europe. The 11th president, Barack Obama, who was born more than two
years after Castro seized power, might want to rethink this policy, now
that even Castro is having second thoughts about fundamentals.

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