Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Caring About Cuba’s Future Means Caring About Fidel’s

Fidel Castro has had to (perhaps temporarily, perhaps not) hand over the reigns of the Cuban government to his brother, Raul, and the resident’s of Miami’s “Little Havana” are singin’ and swingin’ and getting’ merry like Christmas. Castro may or may not die in the very near future, but any person who loves Cuba—any smart person, anyway—should send Fidel a get well card and sign it with sincerest wishes for a full recovery.

That’s because the current political climate in Cuba’s great big neighbor would make sure to manage any political instability in the island nation in the worst way possible. Just imagine what the good folks who brought you “de-Baathification,” and the dual nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran would do with a Cuba in transition.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. The Council on Foreign Relations has taken a look at the Bush Administration’s post-Castro policy and found it. . . uh, actually, they didn’t find it. Citing their refusal to deal with Syria and Iran during the current Mideast crisis as a prime example of the administration’s failed isolationist strategy, Julia Sweig, Senior Fellow and Director of Latin American Studies at CFR (speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show), sees White House Cuba policy this way: “I don’t expect them to do anything particularly intelligent. I don’t think they’re prepared.”

Even though Fidel Castro is about to turn 80, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. This, of course, is the Presidency that doesn’t do policy—just PR—so attention and money are being spent on appeasing a few thousand rabid Cuban Americans in Florida rather than looking for ways to stimulate a friendly and productive relationship with an evolving Cuba. Bush endorsed a call by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (yes, this is a US government organ—chaired by Bloody Condi, by the way) to spend $80 Million to promote democratic succession, a move the Council on Foreign Relations compared to current administration efforts to spur democratic change in Iran—and neither gets a favorable review. In fact, the Lexington Institute says that, tough talk aside, the Bush Administration’s Cuba policies “seem to have no prospect of being politically decisive.”

I’ll go a bit further: the Free Cuba Commission’s recommendations are a prescription for disaster. In language that sounds unpleasantly familiar, the report (in keeping with the requirements of the Helms-Burton Act) stipulates that in order to meet the requirements of what Bush calls “true democracy,” Cuba would have to turn out practically all of its political elite and its experienced bureaucrats. Is this good policy? If you are interested in a peaceful transition to a relatively prosperous and free Cuba, hell no. Is this good politics? If you owe your election (and that of your brother’s) to the anti-Castro vote, well, I suppose it is.

Which brings me back to those dancing in Miami’s streets. I am fascinated by 60-year-olds who have spent their entire adult lives here claiming that they are Cubans and not Americans, and by their 16-year-old grandchildren, who have never set foot on Cuban soil, insisting that they look forward to the day when they can walk the streets of their “home.” And that would be Havana. In a year where the better part of the Republican majority has resisted creating a legal path to citizenship for Central American immigrants while calling for all of them to rounded up and shipped south, and at a time when English as a Second Language programs are under attack, I wonder, how is it that Republicans can justify allowing three generations of Cuban immigrants and Cuban Americans to flourish while angrily refusing to assimilate?

These nominal Cubans aside, I would advise the rest of us, regardless of how we feel about Fidel’s legacy, to pray this time that he pull through. And I think we should all wish Castro a happy 80th birthday. . . and many more. . . or at least three more. . . so that he might outlive his ninth US administration, and that Cuba might thrive during a tenth.

(Cross-posted on Daily Kos)


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