The wakes for Fidel Castro
By Manuel Alberto Ramy
Many years ago, in school, I
learned the story of El Cid Campeador, Ruy Díaz de Vivar, who waged bloody
battles against the Arabs in Spain in the 11th Century. A symbol of the struggle
against occupation, he is buried in the Cathedral at Burgos.
Legend has it that after El Cid
died, his lieutenants tied him to his horse, sitting upright, and that the sight
of him leading his troops frightened the enemy away. Thus, even in death, Ruy
Díaz de Vivar continued to win battles.
Fidel Castro has been killed
more than once. The first time was when The Associated Press declared him dead
after the landing in Cuba of the yacht Granma, on Dec. 2, 1956. Yet, "the dead
one" won the war and entered Havana in triumph 25 months later.
Today, as he marks his 80th
birthday and convalesces from a delicate intestinal operation, his "death" has
been celebrated in Miami with cheers and street dancing. To celebrate the death
of a leader reveals, first, a total lack of analysis and the mistaken confusion
between an image and the profound content of a process that shows virtues and
errors -- as well as aspects that could be criticized -- but that is planted
deep within Cuban society, even though society rightfully questions that process
and demands new satisfactions from it.
In sum, the joyful "wake" was
not for Castro but for the Cuban project, which reminds me of the story about
the funeral director who died while preparing the funeral for a client and ended
up occupying his client's coffin.
Seen from another point of
view, the festive wakes that exist in several cultures imply recognition of
another form of life, including the eternal life of the believers. Of course,
that wasn't the intention of the attendees to the Cuban president's "wake," but
one's unconscious is often deceiving and many close to Fidel Castro know that he
already is in the eternity of Marxist-Leninists: in history.
Castro is not El Cid Campeador
but, from the guerrilla skirmishes on the Sierra Maestra to the conventional
wars in Africa, he has won military battles and altered the landscape of more
than one continent. If someone doubts this, he should cast an eye on the
southern region of Africa and on current events in Latin America. Today, sitting
upright on his hospital bed, Castro seems to be winning a crucial political
battle, one that transcends the small enemies he has at home.
It so happens that deep within
the dissident movement on the island, the sectors that are most servile to the
Empire and that until recently supported the blockade, the restrictions on the
humanitarian visits of Cuban-Americans and Americans, and the sending of
remittances, and who would even support a military action to "rescue" Cuba,
recently called upon the government of the United States to reconsider part of
its policy toward the island.
At once, across the Strait of
Florida, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported that the Miami-based
group Cuban Consensus, which claims to encompass about 20 opposition groups,
asked the Bush administration to relax the restrictions on visits to the island
and on trade with Cuba.
"The decisions made by the
administration of President George W. Bush in 2004 must be reverted," declared
Francisco "Pepe" Hernández, president of the once-powerful Cuban American
National Foundation, to the French agency. Havana knows that there are Miami
ties to the acts of violence against tourist centers in Cuba during the second
half of the 1990s, and that those acts were engineered by Luis Posada Carriles.
"It is necessary to loosen up
certain elements of U.S. policy that are fundamentally related to humanitarian
aid to the Cuban people during this period, when we might be heading toward a
transition," Hernández said.
Simply phrased, the extremist
exiles are beginning to reconsider "their" policy and, by making such requests,
they negate some aspects of the plan of "Assistance to a Free Cuba," approved in
2004 and hardened with a 64-page document issued last summer.
In the cases of both the
internal and the external opposition, we witness a move of great political
opportunism, derived from the noisy collapse of the Bush administration in the
recent elections, caused by the failure in its foreign policy, especially in
Iraq and the Middle East. We must understand that the policies established in
those areas are neither isolated nor unusual; they are expressions of the whole
concept of foreign policy, as seen by the Bush administration.
The exiles -- who, after all,
are annexationists -- are dependent, and the annexationists have a better sense
of smell than Grenouille, the central character of Patrick Susskind's famous
While this happened in the camp
of Cuban oppositionists, inside and outside the island, U.S. Congressmen Jeff
Flake and Bill Delahunt (the former, a Republican; the latter, a Democrat)
managed to get the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of
Congress, to question the use of $65 million allocated by the U.S. Agency for
International Development to subversion on the island. Ninety-five percent of
that money was misdirected in the U.S., so Flake and Delahunt will again call
for a lifting of the blockade and the facilitation of travel to Cuba when
Congress reopens in January.
This time, however, things are
different. Both the House and the Senate have a Democratic majority and a number
of Republicans will vote (as they did in the past) in favor of the
Flake-Delahunt proposal. If that happens, it will be up to a crestfallen Bush to
decide whether or not to veto that bill.
For their part, the lobbyists
for the farmers and other sectors of U.S. industry probably will redouble their
efforts for a broader and more-encompassing aperture. Behind the scenes, the
powerful American oil corporations are watching and -- why not -- making their
presence felt. The temptation is strong: Cuba's oil fields have as much
potential as the reserves in Alaska, and Cuba's deposits of natural gas approach
10 trillion cubic meters, according to official estimates by U.S. researchers.
Powerful senator Christopher
Dodd (D-Conn.) -- who is seriously weighing a run for the White House in 2008 --
recently told columnist Andrés Oppenheimer: "We are entering a transition period
in Cuba, and we are on the sidelines because of the Helms-Burton legislation,
which bars any meaningful contacts with the Cuban government unless you have a
Jeffersonian democracy in Cuba. If they had that language in Eastern Europe, we
would still have communist governments there."
And José Miguel Insulza,
Secretary General of the Organization of American States, told the Spanish news
agency EFE that "I have always been in favor of a relaxation of the blockade and
I have even thought that that would substantially favor the cause of democracy
in Cuba. I think this is the moment to open bridges to a rapprochement and a
Clearly, from one end of the
political spectrum to the other, and independent of shadings and intentions, a
coincidence exists: the United States' policy toward Cuba is a monument to
failure. And Castro's illness, added to the discombobulation of the Bush
administration overseas, is a pretext that facilitates turnarounds and new
Some would like to start a game
of give-and-take, but Havana won't begin any dialogue with the government of the
United States -- or any other government -- under those rules. Raúl Castro
already has emphasized that the Cuban government is willing to sit down at the
table, but without any conditions. If Havana did not surrender to a
carrot-and-stick approach in the 1990s, when it was going through the worst
crisis in its history, why should it do so now?
The only possible dialogue, and
the most profitable for all, should follow the example of the dialogue cleanly
established during the administration of Jimmy Carter, but it should not be an
exact copy of it.
Cuba has serious internal
problems to solve -- basically economic and social problems -- but it is not
with its back to the wall. On the contrary, foreign institutions estimate that
Cuba's gross domestic product will grow between 8 and 9 percent this year,
according to internationally accepted standards.
In the field of foreign
relations (obviously, its relations with China, Russia and Iran, and mainly with
all Latin American countries), Cuba maintains relations of all kinds with almost
all the governments in the region. Its foreign policy toward them has been
successful. It is based not on pressures or ideological conditions but on
medical and educational solidarity.
The outlook in Latin America is
extremely favorable to Cuba. Chávez was reelected with probably the largest vote
in Venezuelan history; Rafael Correa, who describes himself as a Christian
socialist, and who is attuned to the Venezuelan president's policies, left the
neoliberal Noboa way behind.
In Bolivia, Evo Morales sails
past the obstacles to his transformational policies with skill and popular
support; in Brazil, a reelected Lula, moving in a complex reality, is better
prepared to carry out his social policies thanks to the support he received from
the dispossessed sectors. On a regional level, Brazil supports an integration
that includes Cuba.
In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner
has kept the economy afloat and, with Venezuela's help, paid the country's debt
to the International Monetary Fund. Venezuela and Argentina are establishing
links of various kinds, inside and outside the Mercosur. In Central America,
Daniel Ortega's triumph at the polls sends a sign.
I mention these countries
following the pattern of the Miami media, which describe some of them as
"leftist," others as "center-leftist." But the current situation in Latin
America goes beyond labels. We are witnessing a process that is defined by the
defense of national sovereignties, the defense of their fundamental patrimonies,
the implementation of policies that tend to eradicate poverty and inequity in
the distribution of wealth, and a growing integrationist consciousness that will
enable those nations to survive in a globalized world.
These projects, which are truly
basic for any self-respecting country, are enough to create contradictions with
the policies implemented by successive U.S. administrations. And these
contradictions take parallel roads: on one hand, they favor regional
integration; on the other, they tend to radicalize the processes in the each
The role of the Cuban
government and Fidel Castro has been to remain unshaken, to show that
steadfastness is possible even at a high domestic cost.
A Latin American leader once
said that if Latin America is now a little more independent and free, it's
thanks to Cuba. Maybe that impact will bounce back into Cuba today, not to
liquidate the revolution but to enrich its process, to open perspectives for the
island and enable it to fully integrate into a Latin America that speaks with a
Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana
bureau chief for Radio Progreso Alternativa and editor of Progreso Semanal, the
Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.