Friday, September 10, 2010

Fidel, vivito y coleando

Fidel Castro should have been long departed by now, according to (among so many others) U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. “Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer . . . months, not years” before Castro would die, Negroponte told the Washington Post. That was December 14, 2006.

Nearly four years later, it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

For a long time, while remaining out of public view, Fidel eased back into the public discussion with his newspaper commentaries, which certainly sound like him but were never enough to convince about the state of his health.

Then the public appearances started picking up. Most recently, there was an interview with the editor of Mexico’s La Jornada where he explained his trip to the brink and back. (AP summarizes here.)

Then there are the interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who was invited by the big guy himself on the strength of his article about the possibility that Israel might attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Goldberg’s initial accounts are here and here.

Coming late to the discussion, I’ll just say a few things.

Fidel Castro’s ability to draw media attention remains formidable as ever, as does his knack for exasperating his opponents.

In his recent appearances he has continued to focus on big-picture global affairs, now emphasizing the Mideast. He continues to stay away from domestic policy; not one word on the prisoner releases or economic policies. So intense is the curiosity about his views on those issues that one remark to Goldberg set off tons of speculation and analysis; here’s how Goldberg wrote it up:

But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore,” he said.

This has been interpreted as a green light for economic reform, as a signal to the European Union, and more. This essay on Fidel’s return says it’s all “an act of desperation by a ruling clique unable to control a fast-moving chain of events and looking to shore up a wobbling regime facing unprecedented threats.” Well, why not?

For my part, I find it hard to read much of anything into such a short quip.

If you want to go out on an optimistic limb, you can assume he is talking about Cuba’s economic model, which isn’t clear from those nine words. Regardless, you can go on and interpret that Fidel agrees with everyone else that the Cuban economy needs fixing, which he has said before. Further, you can take it as a sign of support for changing the model itself – which would be progress, because Fidel’s prescriptions in the past have centered not on changing structures and incentives, but rather on the government enforcing the law and the people working harder.

What counts, as always, are policies rather than words.

Cuban media, to date, have not reported on Fidel’s remark.


alongthemalecon said...

I agree with you that a lot of folks are reading too much into Fidel Castro's comment. I don't think he should be throwing out such a stunning remark without explaining it. But then, he is, as you say, the big guy. He's Fidel Castro.
The pro-government blog Cambios en Cuba claims that the foreign press is taking the quote out of context. But the blog doesn't say what the context was.

Anonymous said...

Phil, welcome back! Looking forward to more of your valuable analysis. I'm with you on not reading too much on those 9 words. I suspect that Fidel will shed some light on these remarks, and he certainly could back track.

El Yuma said...

Phil, Tracey and Anon,

Yes - welcome back Phil!

First I thought that the words would undercut Raul. then I read Goldberg's full article and thought it would actually help Raul get ore support for necessary economic changes - given Sweig's adept explanation.

Now I've just talked with an old friend from Cuba who now lives in Spain. She calls it more of the same "cara dura - tomandonos el pelo - paternalista" kind of statement from Fidel that Cubans are long used to over the past 10-15 years. In short - our economic system does not really wor that well - so we're going to require you to work more, be more disciplined, we'll continue to pay you the same miserable salaries, and my the way, we remain in absolute power. That's the gist she gave it and her take - while depressing - seems to me to fit best. In other words, it was not an accident but calculated paternalism and control. Another step toward family, military dynasty and state-capitalism.

Whacha think?

bjmack said...

Phil, It's great having you around again. I've checked religiously
to see if you're site has been updated. Truly the best of its
kind whether I'm viewing info on
Cuba or any other worthwhile blog.
I believe we're about to see some
major changes in Cuba. Great times
to be around to witness that.
Stay well!