Fidel Castro Adds 2+2 and Gets 5

Can someone out there in cyberspace please explain to me (as if I were a little child) the logic behind Fidel’s most recent statement last Friday?  According to him, although he did in fact say, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” when the Atlantic’s intrepid journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asked if the “Cuban model” should still be exported abroad, what he REALLY meant was that the capitalist model doesn’t work.

I've heard a few theories that attempt to explain his first statement - some quite plausible, others more humorous.  Was it an illumination provoked by the dolphins of the Aquarium, involuntary cynicism, a miracle of the Virgin of Charity, a new political transition strategy that makes space for reforms, or a burst of sincerity.  You can go here to vote for your favorite theory or add your own.  But no one has yet explained to my satisfaction how saying that Cuban socialism doesn’t work was meant to convey that capitalism is bankrupt.

In other words, how does 2 + 2 = 5?

Goldberg offers his own succinct explanation here, which ends with the words: “I’m not sure how this statement –accurately quoted, according to Fidel– could mean anything other than what it means.”  To this, I say – Amen, brotha!  You can rule a country, even invent your own rules of economix, but not invent your system of logic.

My favorite explanation of Fidel’s initial statement was simply that he is helping Raul prepare Cubans for a world of more work with the same pay and less protections, under the same paternalistic political system.  A Kremlinologist might call it “state capitalism” or “socialist privatization.”  On the positive side, Phil Peters reports here on the major expansion of private enterprise announced today in Granma, kicked off interestingly enough by plans to lay off 500,000 state workers.  (Is that good news or bad? – I guess it depends on who you are and where you work).

At first I thought that Fidel’s words would undercut Raul.  Raul insists that socialism will stay, while Fidel says, in effect, never mind.  But after reading Goldberg’s full article (along with Julia Sweig’s adept interpretation) I thought Fidel’s frank words could actually help Raul get more support for necessary economic changes as he pushes back against hard line ideologues (like Fidel himself used to be?).  And as Phil Peters likes to say, words are nice, but it is actions that count.

Now, after talking with an old friend from Cuba who now lives in Spain, I’m more convinced that Fidel’s words are merely more of the same paternalist, “cara dura, tomandonos el pelo” kind of statement that Cubans are long used to hearing from El Abuelo Mayor over the past 10-15 years.  In short - our economic system does not really work that well - so we’re going to require you to work more and be more disciplined.  We’ll continue to pay you the same miserable salaries, and by the way, we remain in absolute power.  That’s the gist she gave it and her take - while depressing and cynical - seems to me to fit the facts best.  In other words, it was not an accident or slip of the tongue but a case of calculated paternalism and control.  Another step to perpetuate the family, military dynasty and set the foundations of state-capitalism.  Let’s see how just how far they allow private enterprise and self-employment to grow.  (Note that this Cuban friend know of that which she speaks since she did her senior thesis analyzing Cuba’s experiments with self-employment during the 1990s.)

At the same time, I think Fidel is also desperately trying to burnish his global image (note that all his interviews are given to the FOREIGN press) as he nears his inevitable demise.  Remember, of his thousands of speeches, the most famous boldly declared, “History Will Absolve Me.”  It looks like he is trying to make sure that it does.

Gays are OK, Jews are great, the US ain't so bad (I’m sorry I was in favor of nuking them), and, yes, I know that this socialist economics mumbo jumbo was never gonna work.

But, will Cubans absolve Fidel?

To me, his catering to foreign journalists and foreign public opinion is quite insulting to Cubans themselves.  Who cares what WE think of him and his legacy.  His apologies, explanations, and justifications should be directed to his own people.  And, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, as far as the Cuban people are concerned, Fidel’s got lots of “splainin’” to do.


You can go here (Part I; Part II; and Part III) to read Goldberg’s posts at the Atlantic Monthly blog.  H/T to Penultimos Diasfor the Goldberg citation.