Saturday, November 26, 2016

So long, Fidel

In the end it seemed the Republicans stole a page from the Castro Guide to Political Resistance by defying Obama the past eight years and getting away with it.  Of course, Fidel had been defying the US for very nearly 60 years, having outlived 10 presidents and very nearly an 11th president despite worst-laid efforts to eliminate him.  It's almost sad to see him go.

For decades Castro had served as the poster image for conservative nightmares in the Caribbean rim.  It all stemmed from the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the  Cuban missile crisis, which effectively put Cuba in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.  It didn't have to be that way.  Castro had actively courted American support after his revolution, but it seems Ike didn't like what he saw and went to the golf course instead.  No one could have imagined Fidel would turn out to be the worst thorn in the side that America ever had, surviving numerous assassination attempts and an embargo that has lasted 56 years.

You would think the door is open to a better relationship between the US and Cuba now that Fidel is completely out of the way, but there are those who won't give an inch until every last Castro is gone, insisting on a meaningless blockade that has done much more harm to US-Latin American relations than it has to Cuba, who long ago figured out how to skirt the economic barriers and survive just fine on its own.

His brother Raul has been running the country since 2008, as Fidel didn't consider himself fit enough to lead anymore, but you figure Raul pretty much kept to his elder brother's playbook, even if he took a kinder, gentler approach.  This resulted in the most amicable relationship yet between the US and Cuba when Raul and Obama exchanged greetings at the Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa, 2013.  That much derided handshake led to a formal opening of relations at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, 2015.

Republicans bemoaned each step of this rapprochement, having thought they had rendered Obama irrelevant after the 2014 midterms.  They stuck to their defiance, much like Fidel, who similarly expressed his displeasure from his hospital bed.  Little brother had moved out of his shadow and was trying to forge new relationships on his own.

Fidel probably worried about the long term prospects of such a relationship having gone through something similar himself nearly 20 years before when Pope John Paul II pushed for closer ties in 1998, essentially shaming the US for its long-standing blockade.  All this led to was a renewal of the Helms-Burton Act when George Bush came to Washington.

However, there is little to suggest Trump will be so harsh on Cuba.  He seems to bear no grudge against the Cuban people and the mood has changed significantly over the years in regard to Cuba, with many conservative leaders now pushing for normalization of relationships with the island state.  Of course, you still have guys like Little Marco, who wants to reimpose harsh measures, but he speaks for the minority, even in his own Cuban-American community.

Cuba has long been moving toward a managed national economy like China, in which it can still retain the basic tenants of Communism but without all the ideological restrictions.  For years Cuba has been a vacation destination for Europeans, and happily supplies cigars, rum, coffee, sugar and other products to Europe and other countries.  It also has trade ties with Canada, which is helping to find oil reserves within its territorial waters and open up relationships with US refineries.  Cuba is not like North Korea, cut off from the rest of the world, although that is the image many Republicans have of the country.

Fidel's legacy is inextricably tied with this new economic climate.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, he had to forge new ties and did so with relish.  Brazil and Venezuela helped buoy his government during the worst of times, but as the economy slowly began to improve he courted European and Asian trade ties and even managed to reach out to Canada.

I think this is what galled conservatives the most.  They thought they finally had Fidel on the ropes and here he was backing himself out of the corner again, looking to be stronger than ever with the Pope on his side.  Bill Clinton gave in as much as he could, providing badly needed humanitarian aid in the late 90s, but that generosity dried up quickly with George Bush.   I'm sure the conservative hardliners will push Trump to do the same.

However, Fidel's death changes things considerably.  Other than citing the obvious that Castro was a brutal dictator, Trump seemed open to better relations with Cuba in his early morning tweets.  It's not like the anti-Castro community helped him win Florida.  The Cuban-American vote was split and so he has very little need to placate Cuban-American hardliners, much less Little Marco, by rolling back Obama's executive orders.

Nevertheless, Fidel will be missed, not just by his own people who very much revered him, but by others who saw him as the defiant face of resistance to US imperialism in Latin America.  There is no one left of that symbolic power.  It only remains to be seen what will happen to Cuba as the country opens up to greater investment from other countries, hopefully not going back to the days of Fulgencio Batista, which is what led to the revolution in the first place.

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