Friday, September 10, 2010

Fidel: "The Cuban model doesn't work for us anymore"

by Joel Wendland

Inspired by a new article at People's World on Fidel Castro's first major public appearance in about four years, I am now catching up on my reading of Jeffrey Goldberg's recent trip to Cuba where he met with former President Fidel Castro over a three day period. In addition to talking about Middle East politics and anti-Semitism, Castro expressed to Goldberg some regrets about his role in the Cuban missile crisis.

Here is some of Goldberg's account:

There were many odd things about my recent Havana stopover (apart from the dolphin show, which I'll get to shortly), but one of the most unusual was Fidel Castro's level of self-reflection. I only have limited experience with Communist autocrats (I have more experience with non-Communist autocrats) but it seemed truly striking that Castro was willing to admit that he misplayed his hand at a crucial moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis (you can read about what he said toward the end of my previous post - but he said, in so many words, that he regrets asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.).

Goldberg then turned to the question of socialism in Cuba:

Even more striking was something he said at lunch on the day of our first meeting. We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn't say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat - it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). 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.

Fidel's response:

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

Goldberg did a double take:

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state's hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government's hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We'll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

And then they all went to see the dolphins at Havana's aquarium.


Royall said...

"He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution."

"He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate."

Sounds like he's gone senile!

peaceapplause said...

This flippant remark-which will impress some,no doubt- does not deal with the real question of humanity solving its problems in a non-violent way,which is a main part of Fidel's statement and all its implications.
Also,according to People's World,Goldberg misunderstood Fidel on this issue.It is capitalism not socialism which is dangerously uncompromising in and on the gamut of issues,whether militarily hot,or socially cold,showing true senility as a out-molded system-Fidel is no more senile than W.E.B. Du Bois was when he joined the CPUSA in 1961(in his eighties,while Du Bois was in his nineties,many use this to explain away Du Bois's embracing the CP and socialism).
Many of our "Communists"have adopted the "throw-away the elderly model",speaking of models,a hallmark of capitalist societies as they cannot easily "buy and sell" old age.
Why would we mimic capitalists,calling ourselves socialists and communist?

Joel said...

IMHO, the "Cuban model" isn't equivalent to "communism," no "model" has been or could be in a global system dominated by capitalism or at this point in human history. So for Fidel to say the "Cuban model" doesn't work, whether he wants to walk back the comment or not, isn't the same as saying "communism" or "socialism" doesn't work.

Further, it is unclear what was meant by the "Cuban model." Does he mean the centralized planned economy heavily subsidized by the Soviets before 1991, or does he mean the state of emergency, or does he mean the renovations undertaken in the recent years.

Regardless, OUR big job isn't to fret and worry over what the Cubans choose to do or not do, or try to inappropriately impose another "model" on our own thinking, just as we'd never try to impose our strategic policy on them.

Instead, our goal should be to continue pressure our government to break down the barriers imposed in the past and maintained by the politics of inertia and ideology that keeps exchanges and trade with Cuba to a minimum – especially at a time when they seem closest to be broken down. And in the larger picture work to transform U.S. foreign policy into a non-imperialist one.

Anonymous said...

So much fuss over an informal comment!

Look at the context. Fidel was asked about "exporting" the "Cuban model." I take Fidel's response in the same way as the comment by Marx that "I am not a Marxist." Not rejecting the essence of Marxism (or Cuban socialism) but rejecting mechanical adherence to a dogma whether expounded by enemies or "friends."

-- Art