Saturday, November 26, 2016

EXTRA: Castro step-down a let-down

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary was originally published Feb. 19, 2008 by The South Chicagoan, a sister weblog to this site that focuses on issues of concern to the growing Latin American population in this country. The fact that long-time Cuba dictator Fidel Castro finally departed this realm of existence Friday at age 90 and is likely to have his remains cremated later Saturday makes it semi-relevant again, particularly since a part of me wishes I were in Havana now to report the reaction.


Fidel Castro, from back in the days when we'd let him openly enter this country. Photograph from Library of Congress collection
Every news reporter who is worth anything has a “dream story,” a realistic event that would be of historic proportions that they would like to be present at, so as to take a crack at writing news copy for posterity.

For me, any chance I ever had at covering my “dream” died early Tuesday when Fidel Castro officially stepped down as leader of the communist government in Cuba – bringing to an end a 49-year reign that had frustrated the will of so many U.S. presidents.

MY DREAM WOULD have been to be in Havana at the moment that the Cuban people learned that Fidel was no longer in control. I would have settled for being anyplace where people would have a special interest in the passing of Castro.

But now that Fidel Castro is officially no longer in charge for the record on the Caribbean island nation, I have to admit the reality turned out to be so far removed from any dream story I could have wanted.

Castro played his resignation to make it sound as uneventful as possible. The departure last year of Alberto Gonzales as U.S. attorney general occurred with more political drama than the departure of Fidel.

Making the announcement on the website of the Cuban government newspaper “Granma” in the early hours of the day ensured that most Cuban people knew little of the event, since Internet access in Cuba is so heavily restricted.

BUT THE SIMPLE fact is that Castro still looms over the government. His brother, Raul, who has been Fidel’s number two man since the days of the revolution against the Batista regime, is now officially in charge.

Raul Castro is not the dominant personality that his older brother, Fidel, is. A Raul Castro-led revolution back in the late 1950s likely would have ended with some hard-core, long-forgotten Communists rotting away in a Cuban prison, instead of being swayed by the cult of personality that is Fidel Castro.

That personality is going to ensure that the Castro ideals will remain in place. Nothing of significance has changed.

In fact, all this really means is that Fidel Castro is finally conceding he’s not a young man and his intestinal problems are so severe that he can’t even pretend to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of Cuba’s financially-strapped government.

HE WILL GET to spend his final years of life (although I understand that genetics indicate Castro could still have several more years to live – there are a few centenarians in his family tree) living in as much luxury as Cuba can offer.

He won’t be living out the wildest fantasy of many a hard-core exile in the U.S. Cuban community that uses Miami as its spiritual capital – those people wanted him overthrown, put on trial and dangling from the end of a rope (just like Saddam Hussein).

Castro, when he finally dies, will get the ceremonial funeral and will be forever remembered as a hero to official Cuba, while exiles will have to suffer with the knowledge that there’s no way they can spin history – Castro’s revolution won control.

They lost.

THAT IS PROBABLY why the initial reaction out of Miami was subdued.

Aside from a few Cuban flags dangling from Florida palm trees, there isn’t much in the way of celebration. Cuban exiles realize significant change has not occurred.

It was even good to hear President Bush NOT gloat. Castro has had control of his country since the days of President Dwight Eisenhower, and eight other men oversaw the U.S. government and had to “deal” with Fidel.

Bush the younger will be the president who will get credit, so to speak, of presiding over the downfall of Fidel in the same way his father gets credit for "bringing down" the Soviet Union. He will be the Leader of the Free World who will have to set policies that try to sway the Cuban people to think of the United States as a potential ally (instead of the source of all their country’s financial problems, as the Castro government spins it).

AN EASING OF the trade embargo that has hurt the Cuban economy while also cutting off U.S. businesses from what could be a desirable market for U.S.-manufactured and –produced goods would be a step in the right direction.

It might be the incentive that gets Castro the younger (Fidel’s kid brother is 76 Now 84) to seriously think about improvements to his country – instead of early signs that say he views Cuba as a potential China (easing the economic restraints of Communism while maintaining the rigid social controls of a totalitarian state).

How should we remember Fidel Castro?

The Cuban government is pushing the notion that the revolution against the Batista government resulted in free public education and health care for all the Cuban people.

THAT IS TRUE, to a point. The reality is that the quality of health care in Cuba is so poor and so scarce. Many Cubans can’t get needed health care – because it’s not available to anybody, not because of its cost.

And as far as education is concerned, yes, minimal literacy is higher in Cuba than in many other poor nations. There are statistics that can be twisted to make it appear to be better than impoverished neighborhoods in the United States.

But in today’s world, bare literacy is not going to get anyone ahead in life. Advanced education is needed, and for many Cubans, that is a dream often discouraged by a government that still wants to talk about the nobility of the “workers of the world” over all else.

And when it comes to Castro’s human rights record, it stinks just as much as many other third-rate dictators around the world. The sad fact of the Castro regime is that it overthrew one totalitarian dictatorship run by Fulgencio Batista and replaced it with one run by “los Hermanos Castro” (not the Mexican singing group).

BUT I HAVE a hard time singling out Castro as some sort of tyrannical demon (as the Cuban exile community of Miami is quick to do), because I know full well there are many other government “leaders” who run their countries with as much of a strong-arm demeanor as Fidel.

But since they are willing to denounce the label of Communism, the United States has been willing to look the other way. Heck, if Castro hadn’t declared himself to be a Communist after one year in power, the U.S. would never have dreamed of embargoing the Cuban economy. We’d be willing to make excuses for Castro’s overcrowded jails.

The past 49 years of U.S. policy toward Cuba have not accomplished much of anything. The United States did NOT drive Fidel Castro from power. He got to leave on his own terms, and name his successor.

PEOPLE WHO ARE insistent on having history record the Castro regime as illegitimate are going to have to accept failure, and move on for the best.

It’s not that I ever expect a sudden rush of exiles seeking to return to Cuba – so many decades in the United States have caused them to change permanently, and in the process become an important part of the larger Latino community in this country.


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