Monday, September 13, 2010

Cuba looking for a "reset" with the U.S.?

by Joel Wendland

After Fidel Castro stirred up some controversy last week with an offhand comment he made to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Coldberg about ineffectiveness of Cuba's socialist "model," Goldberg thinks the former Cuban president may have sought to alleviate some controversy within Cuba's leading institutions by "walking back" his comment.

During a several hours long interview over the course of three days in Havana, Goldberg asked Fidel Castro about Cuba's economy in the context of a larger discussion of Latin America and trade. In a manner that Goldberg described as almost a "throw away remark," Castro said, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

Adopting a literal interpretation of the remark and borrowing insights from his friend Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba with the Council on Foreign Relations, who traveled with him and listened to the conversation, Goldberg interpreted the president's comments as suggesting the need for big changes in Cuba's political and economic system, changes that have been underway for several years now. In his original post, Goldberg went on to describe some of those changes and even hinted at the silliness of the ongoing U.S. policy toward Cuba as "hypocritical" and "stupidly self-defeating."

After publishing these remarks at The Atlantic's website, President Castro wrote in one of his "Reflections" that Goldberg had dramatically misinterpreted his comment, though insisting that he had been quoted accurately and praising Goldberg's skills and professionalism.

In a teleconference with reporters Sept. 13, in which both Goldberg and Sweig sought to clarify the situation, Goldberg reiterated Castro's reply to the quote and to the article not as a misquote but as a misinterpretation. "He said that the quote was correct," Goldberg said, "but he said the meaning was the opposite of what I took it to be."

"I don't know how you can interpret [the quote] as its opposite," Goldberg said in defense of his reporting. Goldberg went on to note that Castro has said similar things before and that important changes have already taken place in Cuba, facts which caused him to be surprised at Fidel's response to his article.

Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that Castro's "clarification was intended to signal to certain domestic constituents that although, it's not even an open secret, it's common knowledge, widely discussed, in terms of how they're going to fix the model and where they're going to go in terms of economic liberalization, what he wanted to say is that although we're changing our model, that doesn't mean that we're importing U.S.-style capitalism."

More on this a little later...

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