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On Point

Fidel Castro's Painfully Long Finale


by Austin Bay
February 20, 2008

Anti-Americanism energizes numerous dictatorships. Check the miserable roster. Iran's noxious mullahs have invoked the anti-American liturgy since 1979. Mass murderers despise America, with Cambodia's (thankfully deceased) Pol Pot, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Sudan's genocidal junta as examples.

Three particularly long-lived dictatorships make "America hate" the staple gruel in their propaganda diet: the Assads' Syrian Baathist regime, the Kims' gulag of North Korea and Fidel Castro's communist slum, otherwise known as Cuba.

This week, after suffering another bout of illness, Castro announced he is resigning his presidency. Is the slum getting a new landlord?

Not really. The world has seen little of Fidel since 2006, when he turned the day-to-day task of running Cuba over to his brother, Raul. Get the pattern: Bashir Assad followed his father, and Kim Jong Il got North Korea from his dad. Hereditary fascism and communism -- keep it all in the family, and blame America in the process.

Don't listen to what they say, watch what they do. The America-haters practice the politics of distraction, and the distraction begins with their co-optation of democratic political language. A "presidency" suggests electoral politics and democratic governance. We all know otherwise. Fidel is a dictator, a military monarch with a fatigue cap rather than a crown. He is, however, a consummate spin-meister -- the entire anti-American crowd is, to some degree. Media posturing and word manipulation veil their reigns of terror, corruption and crime.

Fidel and Raul, like their kaput revolution, are old. Combat fatigues don't hide Fidel's paunch. His face sags. He doesn't look like the future he claimed to be in 1959.

In the 1990s, Fidel declared a "Period of Emergency" in Cuba. The emergency still persists. During this long emergency, Cuban agriculture has moved from tractors to oxen; transportation from buses to bicycles. And the Cuban Army (reminiscent of Guatemala?) has become a larger presence in the economy.

Yet in his decline, Castro continues to style himself as The True Believer in communism. More likely, he is the last romantic communist revolutionary, faithful despite the ugly reality of national poverty and fascist repression, his own handiwork.

International "progressives" -- those sad cases -- still venerate Fidel Castro. If Raul does indeed become the face of the regime, we may catch something of a break. Raul Castro lacks his brother's charisma and pizzazz. He isn't a personality capable of jiving mass audiences with the rhetoric of "hope" and utopianism. Raul, in fact, has the dull snake eyes of a secret policeman who gets his jollies with a truncheon.

There's a reason for that. During his brother's five decades of rule, Raul has bossed Cuba's "security apparatus" (i.e., the secret police). Fidel handled the media and manifestoes; Raul commanded the thugs and kept the crumbling jail of an island locked tight.

But back to the "progressives." "Progressive" in this sense is another word damaged by Marxist autocrats and various other political authoritarians. For 50 years, the language of leftist "progressives" dovetailed quite well with Stalinism. They gave Red fascism its international political cover. Bad habit explains some of the international leftists' ludicrous admiration for Fidel.

Castro's real progressive appeal, however, is hatred for America. This is why so many of the old Cold War progressive left quickly became apologists for al-Qaida's mass murder -- Osama Bin Laden has the anti-American bilge down pat.

Now, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a former right-wing military officer, claims Castro's mantle. The anti-Americans love him. Chavez' "Chavismo" combines machismo, socialism, Caudilloism, populism, anti-Americanism and oil money. Chavez, however, doesn't command the podium and television cameras like Fidel in his prime. Castro squandered his charisma and political talent; Chavez is squandering Venezuela's petro-dollars.

And what comes next for the failed state of Cuba? Fidel's painfully long political finale has damaged economic institutions, exacerbated ethnic tensions between "white" Cubans and Afro-Cubans (black and overwhelmingly poor), and created a generation of alienated, disenfranchised youth. Raul's regency could be a time of transition, as the regime attempts a Chinese communist-like economic liberalization without political liberalization. This will enrich the Cuban Army and Communist Party elites, but do damned little for everyone else.

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