What’s going on in Cuba?
Special to the Appeal
As Cuban dictator-for-life Fidel Castro celebrated his 80th birthday from his Havana sick bed last Sunday, he advised the Cuban people that he faces a long period of recovery from major intestinal surgery and warned them to prepare for “adverse news.” Which raises a provocative question: What’s really going on in the upper echelons of Cuba’s Communist regime?
“I feel very happy,” Castro said in a statement to the youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde. “For those who care about my health, I promise to fight for it.” But he was clearly showing his age in four photographs published by the newspaper. But then, aren’t we all?
Following his late July surgery, Castro named his younger brother Raul to take over temporarily as president and head of the Cuban Communist Party. But neither brother had been seen in public until official Party newspapers last week published photos of a bed-ridden Fidel accompanied by Raul and Venezuelan dictator wannabe Hugo Chavez. The revealing photos have given raise to a tide of speculation about the future of that isolated and long-suffering Caribbean nation among Cuba-watchers inside and outside the U.S. government, including leaders of the politically active CubanÐAmerican community in South Florida.
“So long as Raul is a provisional leader, no one expects anything but the status quo,” wrote Andres Oppenheimer, a knowledgeable Cuba-watcher and veteran Miami Herald Latin America correspondent. “But should Raul eventually become the permanent leader of Cuba … some analysts say the younger brother could ultimately start to build consensus and open up the country’s economy. … Some believe this could also start to ease hostilities with the United States.”
Well maybe, but not in South Florida, where jubilant Cuban-Americans took to the streets to “celebrate” Fidel’s deteriorating health. Oppenheimer warned U.S. government officials and leaders of the Cuban-American community about making aggressive and/or hostile statements about Cuba’s delicate political situation. The Miami journalist interviewed Guillermo Paya, a respected leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, who praised the Bush administration for its “caution” and “prudence,” so far at least. On the other hand, Paya said comments by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) were notably unhelpful.
“The time has come in Cuba for a campaign of civil resistance and civil disobedience,” the Cuban-American politician declared. But Paya countered that “the U.S. message should be to ratify that there is no such thing as a U.S. threat toward Cuba” and that “the Cuban process must be defined exclusively by the Cuban people.” As a former U.S. diplomat in Latin America, I endorse a moderate, conciliatory approach.
There has long been a behind-the-scenes struggle for leadership in post-Castro Cuba between Cuban-Americans and democracy advocates on the island. While I was stationed in Caracas, Venezuela, in the late 1980s the Miami-based Cuban-American Foundation, led by the late Jorge Mas-Canosa, who was very well connected in Washington, tried to take over an influential Cuban exile organization in Venezuela. Although Mas-Canosa obviously envisioned himself as president of a democratic Cuba, many other Cubans inside and outside of the island thought a new leader should come from those who stayed on the island to fight for democracy and human rights.
Washington Post Latin America correspondents Karen DeYoung and Manuel Roig-Franco see the current situation as a “test-drive” for a future transfer of power in Cuba. Brother Raul’s temporary accession to power “marks the beginning of a long-planned transition designed to maintain iron-fisted (Communist Party) control of the island after Fidel Castro’s eventual death,” they wrote last week. “This is an opportunity for them to see how this (the transition to Raul) would work.”
For its part, the Bush administration last month released a 40-page report issued by the Presidential Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban-American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Although the report pledged $80 million in new funding for Cuban opposition and democratic forces, including Miami-based Radio and TV Marti, it offered no new policy initiatives.
Radio and TV Marti, which were in the planning stage when I was at the Voice of America in the late 1970s, have siphoned-off millions of dollars from VOA Spanish-language broadcasts to serve miniscule listening and viewing audiences in Cuba. Most Cubans can’t listen to Radio Marti or view TV Marti because those broadcasts have been jammed for many years. Nevertheless, the Bush administration continues to pour millions of scarce public diplomacy dollars down the Radio/TV Marti rat hole.
In my opinion, most of the scenarios for post-Castro Cuba are pure speculation. No one really knows what will happen when one or both of the Castro brothers depart the political scene but, as democracy advocate Gullermo Paya stated, the future of the island belongs to the Cuban people themselves and not to ambitious Cuban-Americans in Miami or to anti-Castro politicians in Washington.
BURNING MAN Ð I was reminded last week that the annual Burning Man Naked Drug Festival is almost upon us. So if your idea of a good time is to do drugs on public (BLM) lands and take off your clothes in front of young children, the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach is the place to be over the Labor Day weekend. Good luck!
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.