More on Ireland

Danielle Ni Dhighe nidhighe at irsm.org
Tue Dec 25 18:50:05 MST 2001


More on the Irish subject being discussed last week.

Sunday Tribune
23 December 2001

Adams' Cuba trip reassures base that nothing has changed
by Ed Moloney

Needless to say if you wanted to discern the reason for Gerry
Adams' trip to Havana for a handshake and chat with Fidel last week
then the last place to look was the Provo leader's own column in the
Irish Voice published in New York. The trip has caused anxiety
amongst Sinn Fein's corporate and conservative political backers in
the United States but not even they, despite their years of financial
largesse to the IRA's political wing, were treated to the real
explanation for his journey

Fascinating though that puzzle is, people may in fact be asking the
wrong question. Rather than wondering why Adams went to Castro and
risked irritating a powerful US lobby already made uneasy by the
IRA's summer antics in Colombia, the really interesting question
is why Castro, still the global icon of resistance to Western
ambition, has reached out to welcome Adams, the former revolutionary
who has abandoned the path of armed struggle for parliamentary
respectability.

The answer may lie in the role, albeit a minor one, that slowly but
surely Adams is carving out for himself on the international stage,
the role of the repentant, reformed revolutionary who can cleanse
other former radicals of their past sins by his presence and act as a
guarantor of their new bona fides. Just as Adams once sought out John
Hume's company to show sceptics that he was changing ­ a fit
person to mix with in other words - so other would-be ex-
revolutionaries may now seek out Adams to perform that role for them.

The truth as well is that Castro can do with help from just about
anyone right now, even second-ranking revolutionary apostates. Cuba
desperately needs the US to lift the trade embargo imposed nearly
forty years ago after the missile crisis of 1963. Ever since, Cuba
has lived in an economic straitjacket which worsened after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. But this summer the country was
devastated by a particularly destructive hurricane and now there are
shortages of basics.

In November, Castro finally buckled to US pressure and agreed to a
Bill Clinton-brokered deal in which the US offered to sell Cuba wheat
and other essentials but refused to give her credit, insisting on
payment in hard cash instead. Castro initially rejected the deal,
demanding the same financial terms as other US trading partners but
then, in the face of economic disaster he relented. Last week, a few
days before Adams arrived, the first American ships docked in Havana
and began unloading their precious cargoes.

The presence of Gerry Adams sends out a subtle message from the Cuban
regime. It says that here is Castro embracing a former leader of
violent revolution, someone who once believed, as did Castro, in
resisting "imperialism" with the gun and bomb but has now adopted
instead peaceful, constitutional methods and threatens no government;
a man who once counted radicals and bombers as his friends now
solicits Wall Street currency speculators and right-wing Washington
politicians for political company.

Castro is following a not dissimilar path from that trodden by Adams
­ as the sight of the US ships in Havana harbour attests ­ and
although he is only beginning his trek when he dies Cuba's trip
down that road will undoubtedly accelerate. Rubbing shoulders with
Gerry Adams is Castro's way of signalling Cuba's future direction
to the West even if he personally can't or won't complete the
journey. Castro got all that from Adams and a bonus - obligingly the
Sinn Fein leader called for the trade embargo to be lifted.

None of this is to say that Adams himself got nothing out of the
journey except a little boost to his putative role as point man for
reforming revolutionaries. The given reasons for the trip ­ to
thank Cuba for its support for the ten dead hunger strikers and to
applaud Castro's support for the peace process ­ disguise a more
subtle motive and it has all to do with the way the SF leadership
handles internal opposition to the peace process.

To understand that requires asking a simple question and
understanding - really understanding - what the answer would have
been. The question is simple and it is this: what do you think would
have happened if back at the start of the peace process Gerry Adams
had gone to the IRA rank and file and said that within a few years
their Northern Commander would be sitting in government at Stormont,
Sinn Fein would be ensconced in a Northern Assembly, Articles 2 and 3
would be history, the principle of Unionist consent would have been,
de facto, conceded, the armed struggle would be dead, a start made to
the decommissioning of IRA weapons and Sinn Fein MP's on the
verge of taking seats in the House of Commons? How long would it have
been before RTE would have been reporting the sighting of hooded
bodies lying on some lonely South Armagh roadside? Not very long, one
suspects.

But this of course was the predetermined terminii of the journey
taken by the Sinn Fein leadership and everyone involved in charting
the course knew that and knew as well how dangerous was the
enterprise they were embarking upon. Which is why to understand the
peace process it is necessary to understand that it was above all
else an exercise in internal management, specifically an exercise in
which the SF leadership persuaded their base to accept something that
otherwise they would have instantly and even violently rejected.

Which brings us back to Cuba and Castro. Travelling to the Caribbean
island has the goal and the effect of re-assuring the base that no
matter how bad things look, no matter about IRA decommissioning or
Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun implementing neo-Thatcherite
social policy it is all just a tactic, a ruse, a deception and a
clever one at that. The only people being told the truth, says the
message, are the Republican rank and file and going to Cuba, or
sending representatives to Colombia or smuggling revolvers from
Florida, is intended to convince the base that really, all is well,
nothing has changed and if necessary the old revolutionary ways,
well, they haven't gone away, you know.

For the tactic to work most efficiently it is necessary for moves
like these to be greeted with howls of outrage from predictable
quarters. So in the US people like Republican Congressman Peter King
­ who incidentally leads the "English-only", anti-Spanish language
movement on Long Island ­ growl their disapproval at Adams and
Irish-America shudders with horror. With every snarl the base back in
Belfast, Derry or South Armagh smiles re-assuringly to themselves.

In the same way the Sinn Fein leadership would never have got away as
easily as they have with their recent decision to establish a base
camp at the foothills of Westminster unless the Tory leadership and
backbench in Britain had reacted as violently as they did. Those
familiar with the way that Adams does these things, how in particular
he always crosses the river at its shallowest and safest point - even
if that means having to travel miles upstream - know precisely what
is coming next. Just as dropping abstentionism in the Dail safely
paved the way for entering Stormont and allowing inspectors to peer
into IRA dumps led smoothly and peacefully to decommissioning so the
next stage to taking office room in the House of Commons will be to
declare the oath of allegiance, like the Mitchell Principles, a mere
piece of paper. The Tories, like Peter King and Irish-America, threw
a rope across the river for Adams last week.

The tactic has worked and it has worked brilliantly. It is the reason
why this weekend Yassir Arafat's policemen are battling their own
people while Gerry Adams and his senior colleagues are relaxing at
home and their Republican foes are languishing in jail. It is the
reason also that when the history of this period is written and
comparisons are made with other Republican compromises, Gerry Adams
will tower above Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. 


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