Deciphering Cuba’s Fidel Castro

Fernando Ravsberg

Fidel Castro in July, 2010. photo: estudios revolucion

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 16 — To guess why Fidel Castro began a period of self-criticism is complex.  He’s now raising issues that he’s dealt with little in the past, without going into them in too much depth, especially because he’s famed for being a skilled and astute politician.

In a short span of time, he assumed responsibility for repression against gays in Cuba, questioned his having recommended the Soviets launch a nuclear attack against the US, and finally accepted the fact that the “model” —which he established in Cuba— doesn’t work.

It’s true that a few days later, at the University of Havana, he did some explaining that confused people even more, causing quite varied interpretations, since he corrected what he meant while confirming what he said.

I’m one of those people who believe that Fidel Castro doesn’t have the least doubt when he said “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” immediately confirming that he expressed this “without bitterness or worry.”

Then there came the statement in which Castro asserted that journalists had misinterpreted what he said as the opposite of what he meant.  It seems a contradiction, but in the subsequent paragraph he made a categorical differentiation.

He stopped speaking of a “model” and referred to the “system,” maintaining that “the capitalist system no longer works for the US or the world.”  From there he ended up asking, “How could a similar system be good for a socialist country like Cuba?”

An intellectual member of the Communist Party explained to me that for them there exist only two “systems”: the socialist and the capitalist.  However, there are different “models” for building socialism; for example, the Chinese, Soviet, Yugoslavian, etc.

In Cuba, since 1968 —the moment when all companies, commerce and even street vendors were placed under State control— the Soviet model was set in place and Cuba was able to survive under the umbrella of the greatest communist power of the epoch.

That model and its maze of laws and resolutions are so inefficient today that the economists of the Communist Party and those of the opposition agree in affirming that it’s the main obstacle for the development of the country’s productive forces.

Support for Raul Castro to act

Fidel Castro didn’t make a great discovery with his statement; in fact he may have been the last Cuban to recognize it.  However, when it involves a politician like himself, such statements almost always have undertones.

Raul Castro

When assuring that the model no longer works, the Commandant facilitated the path being pursued by General Raul Castro so that he can change everything that he judges necessary to change, without other political leaders being able to oppose him, shielded behind the flag of “Fidelism.”

I don’t believe I’m being overly perceptive by relating Fidel Castro’s statements and the changes to the model announced barely a few days later, in which the number of cuentapropistas (self-employed workers) will skyrocket and authorization will be given to small private companies, prohibited for more than 40 years.

It appears that some people think it’s impossible for the socialist revolution and the Soviet model to survive at the same time.  Fidel Castro seems to have chosen to save the revolution, though in some aspects he seems to imply rolling it back to its origins.

The situation reached its limits when it was realized that continuing with this economically inefficient model could lead to the “achievements of the revolution” (in health care, education, sports and culture) disappearing from their being unaffordable.)

At the political level, Fidel accepted the full blame for repressing gays, in this way exonerating the active leadership of any responsibility in those acts of discrimination, so hate filled and abusive that these have even been criticized by the international left itself.

He also extended an olive branch to Washington to facilitate the warming of relations demanded by his brother ever since he assumed control.  Few things could have had more of an effect than recognizing that he let things get out of hand in 1962 when he proposed a nuclear attack against the United States.

In that same sense, he sent a message to the influential Jewish lobby in Washington through two journalists close to it.  He wound up criticizing Iran for “defaming” Israel and recognized the persecution to which the Hebrew people have been subjected.

He then improved his image by now seeming to be resolved to struggling against a possible nuclear war.  He had hardly begun to take that stand when his enemies began to highlight the Cuban Missile Crisis; therefore, his self-criticism was indispensable to gain credibility.

The support given to his brother should be of no surprise to anyone.  It was the Commandant who proposed him as his replacement from the very beginning; he held onto Raul as “second in command” for 50 years; and when he became ill, he turned over his positions to his junior.

Perhaps I too am interpreting “exactly the opposite” of what Fidel meant with his expressions and words. In any case, I’ll run the risk; making a mistake will always be better than underestimating a politician such as Fidel Castro.

Havana Times translation of the Spanish original authorized by BBC Mundo.

One thought on “Deciphering Cuba’s Fidel Castro

  • Don’t look to the Western ‘Left’, uncritically, for support: the Western Left is chock full of petit-bourgeois thinking — even amongst those who consciously declare themselves to be marxist or socialist. To appeal to the Left outside Cuba without differentiation as to what they really are or represent, is an error on the scale of the cuban state historically having ‘de facto’ uncritically accepted the soviet economic model holus bolus: “nationalizing” everything in sight, like the stalinists did kulak and other private means of production in the `30s — with almost equally disastrous results.

    It is also wrong to look to the Western bourgeoisie for ‘friendship’ of any kind. Such acts will *certainly* be taken as weakness — if not by all factions of the bourgeoisie, then certainly by the most fascistic ones. The indians found that fact out the hard way; marxists, OTOH, are supposed to be more aware and scientific about these matters… So it is proper instead for marxists to simply deal with the class enemy AS an enemy. Which means that trade, etc., can only be seen as being on an almost ‘ad hoc’ basis — and very temporary, in the longer run of Worldwide class struggle.

    The continuity of Raul Castro succeeding his brother is as the ‘continuity’ of Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev succeeding Leonid Brezhnev. Raul Castro has actually been “in power” for 50+ years, alongside his brother. There was no need to make him president — other than the requirements of vanity and self-interest: because a truly functioning socialist democracy would have replaced the current leadership some time ago.

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