Happy Birthday, Fidel!

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 13 09:08:27 MDT 2002

Today is Fidel Castro's 76th birthday.

This Reuters story was naturally timed to
coincide with that date. Boadle's writings
on Cuba for Reuters have often been been
mediocre, but this one's really not too bad.

The leader of the Cuban Revolution is in
fine physical condition. Despite its many
difficulties, Cuban society continues to be
stable and functional. What a contrast to
look at compared to Latin America broadly.

At the same time, support for Washington's
over four-decades long blockade of Cuba is
cracking and slipping. The sooner if falls,
the better things will be.

There are only a few statements here which
are flat-out false. Blackouts are NOT at all
constant feature of Cuban daily life. During
the four months I've spent on the island over
the past twelve months, there were not any
blackouts at all.

During the worst of what the Cubans call the
"special period", the government deliberately
planned blackouts to save energy. That's no
longer done. The few power outages which
occurred during my visits were localized
and reflected more the age and weakness
of the infrastructure. They lasted at times
for a couple of hours. People with those
older refrigerators got a head start on the
defrosting they have to frequently do!

Claiming Cuba "cannot feed its people" is
obviously ridiculous to anyone who has been
there. Cuba cannot GROW everything that
it needs, but hunger and malnutrition, which
poor Cubans - especially the workers in the
sugar cane industry, who received no pay
during off-season (called the "dead time")
is something Cubans read about in books.

Cuba's not a monarchy or dictatorship, so
Fidel Castro's birthday isn't celebrated as
a public event. I've no idea if he celebrates
it at home, or if he celebrates it at all. My
guess is it'll be just another work day.

People sometimes ask me what will happen
when Fidel dies. I tell them: don't waste a
lot of time pondering this as it's not likely to
happen anytime toon. Fidel's father lived up
into his eighties and had a notably rougher
environment than did his son. A veritable
cottage industry has been built by people
underestimating the longevity of Fidel and
of the Cuban Revolution. I tell people not
to hold their breath. Frankly, I hope Fidel
lives to be a hundred, as long as he's able
to keep his wits about him, which he quite
obviously is, as Reuters' report indicates.

Anyone who has seen him in the flesh
as I have (no, I didn't speak to him, yes:
I was fifteen or twenty feet from him in a
meeting room for several hours) will confirm
this is a man of immense energy, erudition,
vision and stamina. He literally wears out
his translators. I wish I had half his energy.

Feliz cumpleaños, Fidel!

Walter Lippmann

Posted on Mon, Aug. 12, 2002
Miami Herald

Castro Turns 76, Set to Outlast U.S. Sanctions

HAVANA - Cuban President Fidel Castro celebrates his 76th
birthday on Tuesday, apparently enjoying good health and in
full political control after 43 years in power, Cuba experts
and diplomats said on Monday.

Economic crisis and a recent dissident challenge have not
weakened his grip over one of the world's last communist
societies, born of a guerrilla uprising he led in the 1950s,
they said.

The bearded revolutionary has outlasted nine U.S.
presidents, and looks set to survive four-decade-old U.S.
economic sanctions that were designed to oust him but have
lost political backing in the United States.

A year after he fainted briefly during a speech, raising
questions about his political succession, Castro keeps up an
active public life, giving two to three-hour speeches at
rallies and opening social works projects, even at midnight.

Recent American visitors to Havana say the Cuban leader is
slower but in good shape for his age, and remains a striking
and charismatic figure.

"He does not walk fast, but he seems to be in fine health,"
said Phil Peters, of the Lexington Institute, a Washington
think tank. "If I make it to 76 and was in that kind of
shape, I would be very happy."

Peters accompanied a group of U.S legislators and
academics who met with Castro for three hours on
July 30. "He conducted a very lively conversation
for all that time," Peters said.

"He is very much in control," Peters added.

"There will not be any political change while he is alive,"
said a European diplomat.

The major challenge faced by the ruling Communist Party has
been the economic difficulties the Caribbean island has
faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union over a decade

Fuel shortages and power blackouts remain a constant of
daily life in Cuba, whose population of 11 million endure
economic hardship and growing social disparity between
those who have access to dollars and those who do not.

But analysts such as Peters say the economic crisis
has not translated into a political challenge to Castro's
government, though an embryonic opposition movement
has begun to emerge.

In May, dissidents presented a petition for a popular vote
on moderate reforms to allow freedom of expression, free
political prisoners and open up Cuba to private businesses.

Their Varela project --backed by 11,000 signatures that took
a year to gather-- was given unprecedented publicity by
former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in a live address to
Cubans over the state-controlled media.

The government quickly moved to squash the initiative and in
three days marshaled over 8 million signatures to push
through constitutional amendments ruling out changes to
Cuba's socialist workers state.


With growing pressure from American big business wanting
trade with Cuba, analysts now expect changes in U.S. policy
to come well before a change in Cuban leadership.

President Bush, backed by anti-Castro Cubans exiled in
Florida, has vowed to veto the lifting of a ban on Americans
traveling to Cuba passed by the House of Representatives
last month.

But even Republican Congressional leaders who have blocked
moves to ease the embargo for three years see its end in

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican, last
week said he did not expect the economic sanctions against
Cuba to last more than a year.

Cuba, which cannot feed its people, is banking on Washington
allowing private financing of U.S. farm product exports that
began in December. Havana is also looking to Americans to
boost its tourism industry, the island's main source of hard

Meanwhile, since the fainting scare in June 2001, the Cuban
government has begun to contemplate its future beyond

The first clear signal of this came last month when Foreign
Minister Felipe Perez Roque, the youngest cabinet minister,
said at a convention on the constitutional reforms that the
key issue was the survival of socialism after Castro and his
designated political successor and brother, Raul Castro,
were gone.

Another sign of the times confirmed earlier this month was
the expulsion in May from the Communist Party of former
foreign minister Roberto Robaina, once a rising star who
fancied himself as Castro's successor.

Analysts said it was a message to party members and foreign
governments that the Castro government would not tolerate
the rise of "Gorbachevs" intent on dismantling the communist

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