Friday, September 17, 2010

The world according to Castro

The Boston Globe
The world according to Castro
By Alan Berger
September 17, 2010

THERE ARE two possibilities. Either Fidel Castro has completely lost his
marbles or Cuba's 84-year-old jefe has sailed serenely into a psychic
harbor where a self-critical lucidity suddenly comes easy.

In recent interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the titular
leader of Cuba's Communist Party appears not only to have all his wits
about him but to be intent on teaching political lessons to various
national leaders. Among Castro's intended pupils are his brother Raul
Castro, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, and President Hugo Chávez
of Venezuela. The aged revolutionary seems to be admonishing this select
audience of autocrats that they need to change their ways. Or at least
some of their ways.

In answer to a question about exporting the Cuban economic system,
Castro astonished many when he said: "The Cuban model doesn't even work
for us anymore.'' Apparently, this confession discomfited some
influential personages in Cuba's communist ruling class. So much so that
Castro had to say a few days later that he meant to say "exactly the
opposite'' of what he said.

Even so, the intended message was sent. Cubans heard Castro acknowledge
what everyone knows about an economy that has succeeded in equally
distributing medical care, basic education, and poverty, but not in
creating wealth. In his correction, he tellingly asserted that "the
capitalist system no longer works for the United States or the world.''
Therefore, he asked rhetorically, "how could such a system work for a
socialist country like Cuba?'' What is telling is that Castro's original
disparaging of Cuba's socialist system was an admission that it is too
poor to be exported; his later correction made the very different point
that he and brother Raul are not planning to import US-style capitalism
any time soon.

The crucial background to Castro's seeming incoherence is the declared
intent of Raul's government to implement economic measures that will
remove 500,000 employees from the state's payroll, permit Cubans to hire
workers other than family members for small enterprises, and allow
foreigners to invest in the island's real estate. In his original
answer, he seemed to be issuing a dramatic rationale for Raul's reforms;
in his retraction, he was warning that the coming changes are not to be
equated with a Chinese-style conversion to capitalism.

There was far less ambiguity in Castro's denunciation of Ahmadinejad's
Holocaust denials. Castro had read Goldberg's recent Atlantic article on
the possibility of an American or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites
and invited the reporter to Cuba to discuss a threat he compared to the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Castro's obvious intent was to warn all
concerned parties not to stumble into a catastrophic conflict — as he
and Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy nearly did so long ago. "Men
think they can control themselves,'' Castro reflected, "but Obama could
overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.''

Given Castro's history of opposition to America and Israel, it is all
the more remarkable that he repeatedly castigated Ahmadinejad for
denying the Holocaust and counseled Iran to acknowledge the "unique''
history of anti-Semitism. In a conference call Monday, Goldberg said
"the idea of Holocaust denial seems genuinely to offend'' Castro.

Whatever his personal feelings about the matter, Castro was drawing a
bright line between himself and Ahmadinejad. At the same time, he was
giving a lesson to his foremost student, Chávez, in the putative
difference between progressive and reactionary values. Chávez has
tolerated and even promoted virulent anti-Semitism in Venezuela. But a
day after Castro's condemnation of Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism, Chávez
said he would meet with Jewish community leaders and declared: "We
respect and love the Jewish people.''

Perhaps the clearest sign that Castro has accepted a chastened view of
his own role in power came in his acknowledgment last month to a Mexican
paper of the "great injustice'' done to Cuban homosexuals, who were
thrown into forced labor camps in the 1960s and 1970s. "If anyone is
responsible,'' he admitted, "it's me.''

Castro in 1953 famously prophesied, "History will absolve me.'' Like
others before him, he seems to have come to the conclusion that
history's judgments are rarely that simple.

Alan Berger is a Globe editorial writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment