Saturday, November 26, 2016

Castro Is Dead. Cuba Can Live On If the Right People Do The Right Thing

One of the things I teach about writing in Microsoft Word class is how publishers work with Font Size. Normal reading text is 11 or 12 point font. Book publishers have chapter titles usually between the 24 to 32 point font sizes. Newspapers and magazines usually go between 24 to 36 point sizes for their minor stories under the fold or inside the pages. Anything over 42 point font size is for major news stories.

Anything Earth-shattering - the start of a war, landing on the moon, Hillary getting a replacement server for her email account - and we're talking 72 point at the least. Sometimes the headline banner will take the entire front page.

So when one of history's more pivotal players on the global stage of the last 60 years passes away - a person who was the target of hatred on a scale comparable to Hitler, Stalin, and that guy cutting you off at the McDonald's drive thru - it's gonna be headline news at the largest possible font you'll ever see. I guarantee you the front page of this morning's Miami Herald had to be printed on extra-sized paper to handle this:

Fidel Castro is dead.

You can't begin to imagine, even if you've lived in South Florida for nine or more years, just how hated Fidel was down in Miami-Dade. It was a passion, more fiery than a thousand suns and more dark than a thousand nights. I met anti-Castro Cubans from time to time back when I was a registered Republican at some of the party gatherings - most memorably at a rally for John McCain's Presidential campaign in 2000 - and those guys were rabid about Commies and Fidel.

To quote the Herald:

Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.
Few national leaders have inspired such intense loyalty — or such a wrenching feeling of betrayal. Few fired the hearts of the world’s restless youth as Castro did when he was young, and few seemed so irrelevant as Castro when he was old — the last Communist, railing on the empty, decrepit street corner that Cuba became under his rule.
He held a unique place among the world’s leaders of the past century. Others had greater impact or won more respect. But none combined his dynamic personality, his decades in power, his profound effect on his own country and his provocative role in international affairs...

Castro rose to control Cuba by wrenching power from a corrupt regime, promising major reforms and an end to that corruption. But he also delved whole-hearted into Communism and alienated Cuba from their closest neighbors, above all a United States that did not enjoy the idea of a Commie nation just ninety miles away from Key West.

Whatever benefits Castro brought to Cuba, he also brought major civil liberties violations - his record of homophobia in particular was deplorable - and essentially quashed dissent or differing views. He held onto his Communist ideals even after the fall of the Soviet Union by 1991, unable to find enough allies to share that ideology to keep his nation fiscally afloat. By the time he retired in 2011, all he had left was pretty much Venezuela, and that nation is in worse shape (that nation is one bad day away from food riots that could topple everything).

The only thing that kept Castro and his party in power was his open defiance of a United States government that could never abide his Communist ways. To a Latin American culture that never enjoyed the dominant - sometimes arrogant - behavior of the United States, Castro was a quaint middle finger aimed at Washington DC.

What happens next with Cuba, and with the United States, is anyone's guess. But the last four/eight years had seen encouraging signs that relations between the neighboring nations were finally opening.

Trapped in the reality that the global economy can no longer let nations isolate themselves, Cuba under Raul Castro began undergoing various economic reforms aimed at lifting US sanctions. Obama, sensing the opportunity of being the President who ended 50-60 years of Cold War hostilities with Cuba, did lift enough sanctions to signal approval. Both sides made outreach efforts to open up Cuba to travel, which is supposed to allow air travel with regular flights to Cuba and back (there are still some restrictions on who goes and why, but the rules have so many loopholes involved that if you can give the State Dept. a decent excuse they'll let you go). And as of last March, Obama promised that the whole embargo on Cuba will end (although arrangements haven't actually finalized yet).

This could be a huge coup for Obama if he could, within the last two months of his Presidency, work out a final deal with Cuba that would see an end to this sorry and painful split between two neighboring nations. He doesn't have much time, because with Trump entering the Oval Office in January there's no telling how this could go FUBAR. The Republicans, left to their own agenda of petty grievance and bullying habits, could easily refuse sensible compromises and push for even harsher sanctions to try and break the Communists still in control in Cuba.

If Raul cares for his brother's legacy - that some semblance of an independent Cuba still stands apart from the United States even as they reconcile into a partnership that could benefit both nations - he should deal with Obama as soon as possible. If they can get something figured out by Christmas, that would help.

Any deal with Trump would likely involve terrible Trump-owned casinos and massive corruption on a scale even Batista never signed off on. And waiting on a wingnut-led Republican Congress to do anything sane or legal is a bad idea no matter what.

It's turning out 2016 is a historic year all right. Sliding into outright horror if the right people in charge of things don't do what makes the most sense. Just saying, Raul, you'll get a better deal from Obama than anybody else. And Obama wants to get this deal made, he wants to leave office on a high note. Whatever the sticking point is, take a step back and recognize what can be done to fix it, and get the deal done.

History is waiting. The year isn't over yet.


dinthebeast said...

I had a friend who was originally from Cuba, who fled the island under threat of imprisonment or worse. He was a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte and a very unique character. After his death in 2000 from cancer, his mom and sister smuggled his ashes back into Cuba, as a sort of final "fuck you" to the Castro regime.

-Doug in Oakland

Paul said...

It's the little things that live on, Doug. :)

I never agreed with Castro's ideology but I understood the defiance, having read enough history to know how the United States really hasn't done well by most of Central America and the Caribbean. I'm just hopeful that with Castro gone, a big-sized ego has been taken out of the equation and that some genuine freedom - as long as their cultural and political integrity remains intact - for the Cubans can come about.