September 9 2010

Dictators Say the Darndest Things

Charlotte Hays

The luncheon party everyone is talking about right now is Atlantic correspondent Jeffery Goldberg's recent sit down with Fidel Castro (wherein the ailing dictator emeritus admitted that the Cuban economic model "doesn't even work for us anymore").

No kidding, Sherlock!

But first du côté de chez Fidel:

We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn't say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat - it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

"The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy.  Raul Castro is already loosening the state's hold on the economy.

The reaction to Castro's statement from Julia seemed both realistic (Castro isn't rejecting his disastrous economic theory) and-as a segement of the intelligentsia is wont to be-a tad too hopeful (Raul will make things better!).

What do you bet that Raul won't improve things enough to relieve the suffering of the Cuban people? I'll bet we're in for yet another generation of intellectuals who can't come to terms with the baleful effects of the Castro revolution in Cuba.   

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