[Marxism] Cuba Stays Calm With Castro on Sidelines (NYT article and blog

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 14 15:31:03 MDT 2006

Washington's blockade of Cuba has failed. That was the message which
came out of the New York Times editorial on Thursday August 10th and
the editors of that publication were compelled to admit that the US
had no leverage and no way to learn about, not to speak of any way to
influence events in Cuba. Washington's self-isolation policy turned
out to have succeeded, but not as planned. Instead of isolating Cuba,
Washington and the United States have ended up completely isolated.
Now, the New York Times, which has played its own pernicious role in
Washington's Cuba blockade finds it must open up some space for a bit
of discussion in hopes of pursuading Washington to change course on
Cuba, though only for tactical reasons. Nevertheless, the fact that
they NYT has been compelled to admit that the Cuban Revolution and
the government which defends the social system it represents marks
an important, and positive, change in the political situation, and
one which those who support Cuban sovereignty should participate in
as effectively as possible.

The New York Times wants to encourage the Bush administration today
to change its course toward Cuba. They think that the island could
be better influenced by a different tactical course. The fact of the
matter is that Cuba has survived many previous radical changes by its
own combination of stubborness when it comes to principles as well as
great tactical flexibility. At bottom, its goal has always remained
the same: to maintain as much independence as it possibly can in a
world where national independence is more often violated than it is
respected. Cuba has done very, very well in this respect.

There is a fascinating blog been established to discusss this NYT 
article, whose link is provided here. I strongly urge everyone who
reads this to go to the NY Times website and add your thoughts and
suggestions. Don't write a book, but above all urge recognation of
Cuba's right to determine its own destiny. Included here are two of 
the many comments made on the blog so far. (5:00PM)

"Cuba Stays Calm With Castro on Sidelines":

"90 Miles and Light Years Away"
Two comments from among the over seven hundred posted so far:

MARGARET RANDALL (Author, Cuban Woman Now and other books):
That this is even a question asked by a major newspaper shows how far
we have moved towards accepting that the United States attempt to
shape other countries to its ends. Cuba is a free and sovereign
nation. Despite the discontent of those who have emigrated, most
Cubans still appreciate the revolution that almost half a century ago
raised their standard of living, improved their education and social
services, and showed the world what a nation interested in equality
might look like. Sure there have been problems, big ones. But it is
up to the Cubans to address those problems, not the United States.
Whatever happens with Fidel, Raul, or whoever ends up at the helm of
Cuban politics, the United States should adopt a hands-off policy,
stop the embargo that has shown itself to be such a failure (from
everyone’s point of view), and treat Cuba with respect. Many
countries favor governments different from our own; the world would
be a better–and safer–place if the U.S. could learn to live with
difference. For dramatic examples of what happens when the United
States interferes in other countries, we have only to look at the
ongoing debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan. posted on August 14th, 2006
at 12:53 pm


Walter Lippmann, Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews:

Thanks for opening up this forum to discussion of US policy toward
Cuba. It’s obvious that our two countries are closely linked. As
Wayne Smith so well described it, it’s that of “The Closest of
Enemies”. That needs to and can change, if the United States would
simply decide to allow Cuba the right to solve its own problems
without further intervention.

Cuba is completely unique on the planet in that it’s the only country
on earth where a military base exists which belongs to a hostile
foreign power which is committed by its national legislation to the
overthrow of the Cuban government. Not only that, but Washington has
propounded a nearly 500-page plan for what should happen to Cuba
should the Cuban government somehow collapse.

As an independent journalist who lives and works in Cuba for extended
periods of time (I’ve been here ten weeks on this visit), I can
assure you that there is nothing going on here among ordinary Cubans
about any kind of “regime change” in this country. Fidel is
essentially out on sick leave and his brother, as indicated in the
island’s constitution, is minding the store.

When I say nothing going on, I really mean NOTHING. Naturally, people
are concerned about the health of their president, but they know he
has the best doctors on the island and so ordinary people are simply
going on about their business.

Again, thanks for opening up this important discussion.


August 14, 2006
Cuba Stays Calm With Castro on Sidelines
By GINGER THOMPSON [with one very nice photo at the top, too]

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 13 — The decline of Fidel Castro, who turned 80 
on Sunday and appeared in photographs for the first time since his
unspecified intestinal surgery last month, was supposed to be a 
kind of second Cuban revolution. The notion, put forward by Cuba
specialists for years, was that the entire system hung on one man.

But in the last two weeks, with Mr. Castro turning over power to his
brother Raúl, at least for now, a different reality has emerged on
the island. There was calm and normalcy, not chaos and hysteria that
was predicted. Instead of an intervention by the United States, the
Bush administration called on the Cuban people to take their future
in their own hands. And rather than upheaval within the Cuban
government, it appears that the political system may not change much
at all.

“American policy toward Cuba has always been based on the fragility
of the Cuban system,” said Philip Peters, an expert on Cuba at the
Lexington Institute, a policy group based in Virginia that promotes
free-market economics. “There is this predicate in our policies that
the Cuban system is one that can be pushed over with one finger, and
that has not been the case.”

If Mr. Castro dies, the country’s stability may be more overtly
shaken. But so far it appears that Mr. Castro, who has governed Cuba
for 47 years, may once again defy the experts and prove his
influence, some call it control, over the government and its people,
whether he survives or not.

Photos published Sunday by the state-run youth newspaper, Juventud
Rebelde, showed Mr. Castro looking alert. A message signed by the
president, however, made it clear that his recovery would be long,
and might not be successful.

“I suggest to everyone to be optimistic,” Mr. Castro’s letter said,
“and at the same time to be ready always to face any adverse news.”

The four photos showed Mr. Castro from the waist up, wearing an
Adidas sweat-suit jacket, rather than his signature army fatigues. In
two of the photographs, Mr. Castro was speaking on the telephone. In
another, he held a copy of a special supplement, published on
Saturday by the state-run newspaper Granma, in honor of his birthday.

“For all those who care about my health,” Mr. Castro wrote, “I
promise to fight for it.”

Upon the announcement that Mr. Castro was temporarily stepping down
from power to have surgery, this reporter traveled to Cuba on a
tourist visa, and was expelled a week later. Neither during that
time, nor since then, has Mr. Castro vowed to return to office. Aides
to Mr. Castro have suggested that he might not ever be able to fully
reassume his responsibilities. But Julia E. Sweig, the director of
the Latin American program at the Council on Foreign Relations, a
nonpartisan organization, predicted he would not.

“I think they are signaling to domestic and international publics
that the duration of Fidel’s absence may be much longer than the
provisional nature he initially stated,” Ms. Sweig said. “The
transfer is under way.”

She added that in stepping down from power two weeks ago, even if
only temporarily, Mr. Castro did more than elevate his brother Raúl.
She said he also delegated control of government sectors, including
energy, education and health care, to other close aides.

“It was a promotion for the people who have been running the country
with Fidel,” she said. “Now they are preparing to run the country
without him.”

Thoughts of a future without Fidel Castro have consumed public
attention on the island since the ailing Mr. Castro announced that he
had handed interim power to his brother 14 days ago.

Rather than making an abrupt departure from power, however, Ms. Sweig
said that Mr. Castro had begun a drawn-out campaign aimed at keeping
the country stable while his aides quietly worked out the details of
the nation’s first permanent transition in recent history. On Sunday,
Raúl Castro made his first appearance as Cuba’s temporary president
when he greeted Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, at the airport.

Meanwhile, people across Havana pored over the photos and seemed to
see different things in their president’s unremarkable expressions.
At a Coppelia ice cream shop that draws lines around the block, one
man said that Mr. Castro’s beard looked freshly dyed. It was a sign,
the man said, of recovery.

A woman in the same line commented on Mr. Castro’s eyes, and said,
“He looks so tired.”

Given the restrictions on political expression in Cuba, it can be
hard to know peoples’ true thoughts. Still, whether people said they
felt relieved or skeptical, they continued on with their normal
activities. If there was something unusual happening inside the
government, there was hardly any way to tell it on the streets.

Annual carnival celebrations scheduled for earlier this month were
canceled, and the official celebrations of Mr. Castro’s birthday were
postponed until December, both because of his illness. But
neighborhood Revolutionary Defense Committees called residents
together for “reaffirmation ceremonies” to spread the message that
the government was in good hands while Mr. Castro struggled to

There were occasional light infantry exercises along the seaside
boulevard, known as the Malecón, but they seemed much less
spectacular than the everyday rush-hour blitz in which workers cram
themselves onto decrepit public buses to get home.

Booksellers hawked used texts the way they always do in plazas at the
heart of the city’s colonial center. Children on summer vacation
squealed as dolphins at the National Aquarium balanced balls on their
noses and leaped through hoops. Foreign tourists sang along with
salsa bands in bars that were once Ernest Hemingway’s hangouts.

All in all, the days after Fidel Castro left power seemed a lot like
any other.

“We were ill-prepared for the eventuality of continuity rather than
change,” said Damián Fernández, director of the Cuban Research
Institute at Florida International University, referring to policy
makers in Washington and Miami. “All our policies have been built on
a foundation of wishful thinking. Now we are confronted with reality,
and it’s not what we had hoped it would be.”

A stroll through a working-class neighborhood on the eastern
outskirts of Havana, called Alamar, offers a glimpse of that reality.
It was built in the early 1970’s, the heyday of Mr. Castro’s
government, first for Eastern European technicians working on the
island and then for the masses of Cuban workers moving from the
countryside to the capital in search of a better life.

The money and utilitarian design for the project was provided by the
former Soviet Union. The politics of the place, home to more than
140,000 people, is pure Castro.

There is free health care, but so little new housing that young
couples often decide against getting married or having children
because they have no places of their own. There is free education,
but the government restricts access to the Internet and satellite
television. Individuals are free to complain about shortages of food
and fuel. But more than three residents complaining around a kitchen
table can be run out of their homes as “counterrevolutionaries,” and
charged with treason.

It was not the police or the military that watched what people said
and did, said a retired port worker and his wife. It was the people

An architect who could not be identified for his own safety stopped
to talk after walking his wife and 2-year-old daughter to a park in
Alamar last week. Like other Cubans interviewed there, the architect
described himself as a “Fidelista,” saying he respected Mr. Castro as
a “person with incredible vision.”

Still, he complained at length about the Cuban economy, which runs on
two currencies: one for Cubans and one for foreigners.

He said that although he had helped the Cuban military design some of
the elegant resorts that had attracted millions of tourists to the
island, he did not dream on his $36-a-month salary of spending a
night in one of them.

The bulk of the architect’s earnings were in Cuban pesos, good only
at state stores with limited stocks. Hotels like the ones he designed
accept only “convertible pesos,” available to those with foreign
currency. The same is true for most supermarkets and clothing stores.

Although almost everyone has a state job, no one is able to support
their families on them, the architect said. Most people, he added,
illegally “invent” jobs on the side to earn foreign currency. He said
he made ends meet with the $100 his father sent him monthly from

“Foreigners live as if it was a paradise,” the architect said.
“Cubans do not have access to it. Our money is no good in those
places. It has generated a long chain of frustration.”

When asked how it was that frustration had not boiled over into
unrest after Mr. Castro stepped down from power, the architect said
Cubans had already lived through several waves of uncertainty, from
the Bay of Pigs to the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Each time, he said, predictions that their government would collapse
proved premature. Instead of getting weaker, he said, Mr. Castro’s
grip on the island seemed to get stronger.

“Children who live in countries at war get used to the sounds of
bombs,” he said. “We are accustomed to living with threats.”

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