Just What Is Happening in Cuba?
Comrade and General RaÃƒÂºl Castro Ruz has now, it seems, taken full control of the reins of government in Cuba and el commandante y jefe, Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â€who for nearly half a century successfully defied nine (not counting Ike, who knew better) American presidentsÃ¢â‚¬â€has receded more and more into the background noise of a slowly changing Cuba. But what does this successful and now almost complete transition portend for the 11 million Cubans who deserve a better life?
Well, that is the question on everyone's mind who follows Cuban affairs. From a very cynical viewpoint like that of Patrick Symmes in the most recent edition of Harper's Magazine ("The Battle of Ideas"), to the very realpolitik views of U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, to the yammering of strident right-wingers like Roger Noriega, we receive frequent prognoses, plans, or pronunciamientos.
But what is really going on?Ã¢â‚¬â€apart from the carefully contrived rhetoric of Dade County spinmeisters, Administration hacks, or even on-island government mouthpieces. It's hard to tell, really.
Cellphone use, limited property rights, incentives for farmers, moves toward shaped privatization, increases in salaries, and other initiatives reach our ears and entice but it's very hard to tell what they mean for average Cubans. And, as with most situations of rising expectations, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know if the situation will get out of hand, as viewed by the leadership, and a severe backlash result, or further openings will occur, or what.
Whether Symmes knows it or not is debatable, but the central theme of his very film noire-like article is that Cuban dissidents are few and far between, ill-equipped, ill-resourced, and compose an inchoate group of ne'r-do-wells. Irony of ironies, but they appear in Symmes' descriptions to be much like those who tried to wade ashore at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and whose remnants, aged but still defiant, now occupy a decrepit training camp in southern Florida.
On the other hand, if there is a sound statement of strategy with regard to how the U.S., el coloso del norte (and, under George W. Bush, el coloso sin una cabeza!), ought to be responding to all this ferment and creeping change in Cuba, it is without mistake that of Senator Dodd's:
Our Cuba policy has been agonizingly static for almost fifty years.
It has neither served AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interests nor brought democracy to the island.
When Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul, we reached a critical moment.
We all now have a choice -- either we engage the Cuban people and leadership to help shape the landscape for the next fifty years, or we remain on the sidelines to no one's benefit.
I believe we must dramatically alter our posture towards Cuba, by ending the trade embargo, lifting travel restrictions and caps on remittances to the struggling Cuban people, and by engaging in bilateral and multilateral talks on issues of mutual interest.
The only certainty guaranteed by our Cuba policy over the past forty years has been the continuation of Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grip on power.
Once we embark on this road to reform, I am confident that it will be nearly impossible for the Cuban government and its people to turn back.
And the same will be true for us.
I'll take Dodd's prescriptions even further:
If the U.S. does not change its policy toward CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€and change it more or less along the lines Dodd proposesÃ¢â‚¬â€then regardless of the outcome of the changes now taking place on the island, plus those changes undoubtedly to come, the United States will be on the outside peering in, not on the inside helping to shape change. Indeed, not even on the outside ready to assist change. We will be, as we have so often been under the feckless leadership of Richard Cheney and George W. Bush, out in the coldÃ¢â‚¬â€with no influence, no weight, and no friends.
If only our presidential election were tomorrow morning!
- Lawrence Wilkerson