Fidel Castro

Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis: A Rashomon Exercise


“When I saw the rockets being fired at Mario’s house, I swore to myself that the Americans would pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over a much wider and bigger war will begin for me: The war that I am going to wage against them. I know that this is my real destiny.”

Fidel Castro wrote these words in 1958, the decisive year of his guerrilla war against Dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mario was a peasant from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountain range whose house was bombarded by the regime’s U.S.-equipped air force. Although Fidel Castro had expressed an adolescent admiration for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by 1958, he was acutely aware that a clash with Washington was probable if not inevitable. In Latin America, Washington’s support for dictators such as Batista was the norm, not the exception. No matter how terrible they were with their people, dictators were considered a safeguard against communist penetration in the hemisphere. Following this logic, not only communism but most types of nationalism were considered anathema to Eisenhower Washington.

Cuba and Fidel Castro: Beyond his 86th Birthday.


Regardless of how long he lives, Fidel Castro has an influential role in shaping the political discourse in Cuba. Fidel skillfully mixed Marxism and nationalism and made a revolution that changed the history not only of Cuba but also of the whole Western hemisphere. He was the most popular leader in a generation of Cubans, a political giant who reached world dimensions during the Cold War. As professor Jorge Dominguez from Harvard University said, If there have been competitive elections in the early 1960’s, Castro could have won them all. He didn't have the chance. In the most difficult moments of the Cold War, the United States, as the hegemonic power in the Americas, didn't have tolerance for a nationalist leader who aspired to an independent neutralist course not to mention a socialist one, no matter how popular Castro was among his people.

No Man is an Island (Fidel Castro turned 85)

Fidel Castro-No man is an island.

Five years after Fidel Castro’s separation from power, it is essential to examine the role that the former revolutionary leader has played in the current Cuban political system from his convalescence and retirement, and the consequences of this evolution.

The fundamental role of Fidel Castro in the Cuban political system today is two-fold: 1) In terms of government, Fidel Castro is the great counselor, to be consulted on strategic decisions or with respect to the appointment or removal of central leaders, as was the case in the termination of the political careers of his former associates Felipe Perez and Carlos Lage and in the constitution of the new Central Committee at the Sixth Congress, 2) In terms of ideology and international projection, particularly in Latin America, he is a Patriarch of the radical left, advising the new leaders, especially Hugo Chavez, and reflecting on some of the past mistakes made by this political sector (in his Reflections and interviews he has criticized discrimination against homosexuals, hostility toward the market, and Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism that has been repeated in many of the anti-Israeli condemnations by the radical Latin American left).

Cuba News Roundup: Airports, Party Leadership and Trial of Alan Gross

It figures that just as I get ready to take an extended leave for the next two months (during which I'll be unable to blog here as much as I'd like), U.S.-Cuban affairs would get to their most interesting - and critical - point in some time. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Xenimus86's photostreamIn recent days we've learned that April's Communist Party Congress in Cuba may not just clarify and embrace the ongoing economic overhaul, but now it will include election of new leadership - which offers the prospect that Fidel Castro will step down as party head, Raul Castro will presumably take his place, and someone else will step into the number 2 spot.  Any readers want to take a gander at that one in the comments section?

And then there's what fate awaits Alan Gross, the American contractor the Wall Street Journal editorial board today suggests went on trial in Cuba for "bringing computer equipment to the island to help Cuban Jews communicate with the disapora"?  It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is, even, and especially perhaps, for the media to ignore the parts of reality it cares to.  Gross was allegedly delivering highly advanced and unregulated satellite communications equipment (added emphasis is mine) on behalf of a foreign, and let's face it, hostile, power.  That's a big difference, particularly when we know that droves of American Jews visit the island every year to connect and make generous donations, resulting in community amenities like a computer lab.

The WSJ may in fact be absolutely right that the Cuban government is "terrified of the internet," but questioning the motives behind the application of a law in another country doesn't give you the right to expect that law to be disregarded because you believe your motives to be on a higher order.

Ileana Chides Netanyahu over Cuba

Politico's Ben Smith reports that incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen worked to shut down a potential warming of Cuban-Israeli relations after Fidel Castro made a surprise defense of the Jewish people earlier this year.  (Castro questioned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his failure to recognize the holocaust, and said that "no one has been more slandered than the Jews.")

According to Smith, Israeli officials saw Castro's uncharacteristic remarks as an opportunity. 

Israeli leaders reacted warmly to an unexpected defense of Jews and Israel, and criticism of Iran, from Cuban leader Fidel Castro in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Castro's "deep understanding" and President Shimon Peres wrote in a warm letter to Castro that the comments were "a surprising bridge between the hard reality and a new horizon." Israeli officials, I'm told, saw the moment as an opportunity to widen a fissure in the hostility of the global left for Israel.

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.

Al Kamen Misses the Mark on Alan Gross

At left, poster for Armando Iannucci's comedy film "In the Loop"Who doesn't love Al Kamen's "In the Loop" column in The Washington Post? His scoop is always well researched and substantive, while bringing a little bit of much-needed levity to the news about town. So naturally I chuckled when i read today's bit on Cuba, which began thus:

"He may be the last one to figure it out, but Fidel Castro's recent observation to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that the Cuban economic model "doesn't even work for us anymore'' was nonetheless stunning."

But while Al Kamen keeps us in the loop on so many matters, he was a bit off the mark in the case of Alan Gross, the American who traveled to Cuba on a USAID sub-contract, and, as Kamen writes, remains "imprisoned in Cuba for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba's tiny Jewish community."

To better understand the circumstances around Mr. Gross's plight (he's been in prison since last December), Kamen need have looked no further than the September 3rd edition of the venerable Jewish weekly The Forward (or visit its sister publication, The Daily Forward). In it, Arturo Lopez Levy, a Cuban Jew who immigrated to the United States via Israel several years ago but still maintains close contacts with Cuba's Jewish community, wrote:

"Gross was not arrested because he is Jewish, nor is it likely that he was imprisoned because of his efforts to help Cuba’s Jewish community with communications technology. Rather, Gross appears to be a victim of failed American policy toward Cuba and a paranoid Cuban government that is holding him without trial.

Not Fidel's Cuba Anymore When Los Aldeanos, Silvito el Libre Perform in Miami


As we await news of a potential easing of U.S. travel rules for cultural pursuits in Cuba, it looks like the Cuban government may be loosening things on its end as well. El Nuevo Herald reports that some unlikely Cuban artists will make their way to perform in Miami this fall: rap duo Los Aldeanos, and Silvito el Libre (son of Silvio Rodriguez, who played Carnegie Hall early this summer) will give a concert November 13 at the Miami Dade Auditorium. FundArte and Charity Unlimited are organizing their concert.

Cuban filmaker Alejandro Moya "Iskander", who's in Miami this summer editing a documentary about the two rappers who comprise Los Aldeanos, points out that even though you won't hear the duo on Cuban radio or find their CDs in stores, their underground rap is nonetheless very popular in Havana. Ever Chavez, director of FundArte, describes their lyrics as "honest" and "angry", which he says "reflects their situation. They've been censured, and have seen their shows shut down in their country."

Gisela Hidalgo, from Charity Unlimited, tells El Nuevo Herald, "It's a step forward in the cultural exchange that should exist between the two cities [Miami and Havana], and people-to-people. Five years ago, a grupo like Los Aldeanos wouldn't have been allowed to leave Cuba."

Whether you're a fan of Los Aldeanos or Silvito el Libre or not, this is good news indeed. It shows Havana being pragmatic or fair, or both, and it's just one more indication that we're no longer dealing with Fidel Castro's Cuba. It's time for our policy to reflect that fact, by reaching out to Cubans in and out of government, to build the kind of trust and understanding - including honest disagreement - that we've been missing for decades.

Cuba News Roundup: Fidel Castro, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Laura Pollan

AP Photo/Estudios Revolucion, Cubadebate

Fidel Castro is back indeed, and talking about his near-death experience to La Jornada. And, while taking in a dolphin show at Cuba's national aquarium (he seems pretty fond of the aquarium, doesn't he?), Fidel's undoubtedly been talking about about other life and death subjects - Israel, Iran and what Obama will or won't do in a potential nuclear standoff - with American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, noted Israel expert, and author of a recent article in The Atlantic, The Point of No Return, which Fidel read with intense interest and excerpted for readers in his August 25th reflection. Why they took in the show at the aquarium is frankly beyond me. But I find it interesting that Adela Dworim, president of Cuba's small Hebrew Community, was with them. I'm hoping that Mr. Goldberg might have gained some insight on his trip into the case of Alan Gross that hasn't yet come to light?

Thanks to the tireless new clippers at Cuban Colada for translating this part of the La Jornada interview of Fidel Castro, concerning the internment of gay Cubans in labor camps in the 1960's. Castro called it "a great injustice," and said he assumed the responsibility for it, having not paid attention to what was going on at the time, what with the Cuban missile crisis, bay of pigs, exploding cigars and such on his plate:

"We had so many and such terrible problems of life or death [...] that we didn't pay enough attention to it. [...] It's like when the saint sins, right? It's not the same as when the sinner sins, no?"