Fidel Castro must feel that he has returned to his golden age. Latin America’s tilt to the left has left the Cuban dictator in a position he could only dream of a decade or two ago. Thanks in large part to the oil wealth from Venezuela fueling socialist policies throughout the region, Castro is once again in the position to actually play a considerable role in shaping events in Latin America and beyond.
The prevailing sentiment in Havana’s propaganda machine is that the revolution is alive and well. In fact, so much so that Cuba’s official news service Prensa Latina entitled a recent piece “Latin America Winning 7-0.” The work proclaims: “The United States, the European Union and the international financial institutions are watching their economic order being bashed in Latin America, where popular sectors are having their demands met for the first time.” The report goes on to state that Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are leading a continental revolution against the unjust fiscal policies of the United States. Naturally, “great strides” have been made and “social justice” has emerged in the absence of any of the usual interference from the Northern Colossus.
The economic performance of Cuba, however, remains dependent on foreign subsidies. Take, for example, the words of Cuba’s official news agency’s optimism for a prosperous 2006: “Cubans celebrated the arrival of the New Year … hoping the recovery of the national economy and overall boost given by Venezuela and China to the island make their lives better.” Isn’t it anomalous that after nearly half a century of socialist rule that the Castro regime still relies on outside actors to bailout its stagnant planned economy?
Nevertheless, too a degree, Castro’s nostalgic ambitions to reclaim the clout attained after the Cuban Revolution – and the subsequent realization of the communist bridgehead in the Western Hemisphere – are being fulfilled. Whereas just a few years ago Castro was tumbling off stages following his irrelevant tirades, he now appears to be in firm command of an ambitious agenda. The “Maximum Leader” is pulling no punches.
In a recent speech in Cuba’s Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Plaza, the Cuban dictator proclaimed George W. Bush to be “an out-of-control lunatic” more sinister than Hitler. “Hitler looked for pretexts,” Castro announced, “but Bush attacks with more audacity and a far greater arsenal; he is a nut and the world is running a real risk. Only truth will save this species.”
But is it truth that Castro is looking for? Fine, perhaps he can start saving the species by allowing a minimal degree of freedom of expression in his own revolutionary paradise. Let’s just examine a few recent examples from the last week or so.
Late last month the United States Interest Section in Cuba devised an innovative plan to facilitate open debate. They decided to erect a news ticker on their building in Havana that would provide an alternative source of news to the citizens of Cuba. The U.S. Interest Section made it a point that the United States does not censor news as even stories critical or unflattering of American actions made their presence on the wire. However, messages of human freedom have also been frequently displayed. Abraham Lincoln, Lech Walesa, and Jose Marti – the Cuban hero who was martyred in 1895 during Cuba’s War for Independence against the Spanish – are just some of the examples of the originators of quotes furthering liberty that were featured.
However, Castro did not seem interested in the truth in this instance and called the news ticker an “outrageous act.” An American diplomat correctly identified to ABC News that “[o]nly a dictator would be upset.” This dictator was more than upset. As a Washington Times editorial noted, the Maximum Leader promptly ordered the obstruction of the news with Cuban flags littering the view of the ticker. By February 7, 138 black flags with white stars were flying in front of the ticker with the number chosen to match that of the Cubans supposedly by the United States since the 1959 revolution.
Another attempt to bring truth and transparency to Cuba resulted in the arrest of two foreign supermodels who happened to shoot a few photos of Cuban slums. Czech model Helena Houdova and psychologist – also a model – Mariana Kroftova were detained by the Cuban secret police without access to Czech embassy officials in the county. As Cuba’s Charge d’ Affaires Aymee Hernandez explained, the two were arrested for cooperating with Cuban dissidents in waging a campaign against the Cuban government. According to the Czech News Agency, the two women “were released after they pledged in writing that they would not join any ‘counter-revolutionary activities’ in the country.” Nonetheless, the secret police maintained surveillance on the women until they left the island.
These examples of the duplicity of Castro’s government are only the latest. In this instance, the past need not be reexamined as the nefarious nature of the Castro regime has been more than adequately illustrated on these pages in the past. However, Cuba’s reemergence as a hemispheric player, and indeed a word player, cannot go unnoticed.
On February 3, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Cuba to receive his International Jose Marti Award. Whether it should be a surprise or not depends on one’s already existing view of the United Nations, but this award was in fact created by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 1994 at the request of Havana. The verity that Fidel Castro is honoring Hugo Chavez with this award probably matters little to many within the UN. Nevertheless, this does more than illustrate the strategic geopolitical difficulties the United States faces at a time of moral relativism and international consensus – i.e. the containment of the United States – in the global community.
At a recent gathering of many of those in the international community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had to make a choice of whether to refer the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Security Council. The only three countries to vote in opposition to the referral were two of the three members of Latin America’s Axis of Socialism in Cuba and Venezuela, and the state sponsor of terror in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.
As was noted by the British Broadcasting Corporation, shortly following the vote, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad thanked Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque – who happened to be visiting Tehran at the time – for displaying that “there is no consensus about Western states allegations against Iran.” The Cuban foreign minister reciprocated by proclaiming that “Cuba admires Iranian strong determination to defend its rights” and defended his country’s choice to support the Iranian nuclear program. Perez Roque also invited Ahmadinejad to attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit set to be hosted by the Cubans in September.
Castro is once again finding that rogue regimes across the world with substandard relations with the United States are prime candidates to extend his influence. And his government’s support of Iran is only one example. Prior to arriving in Tehran, Perez Roque’s trip to gain support for the NAM summit also landed him in the failed and repressive state of Zimbabwe. Accompanying the foreign minister was a personal note from Castro to President Robert Mugabe inviting the horrid leader to attend the NAM summit in Cuba. An additional item topping the agenda in Harare was the possible gifting to President Mugabe of an advisory role in the organization.
Although Malaysia – the current chair of NAM – has sought to reassure concerned parties that it sees no cause for alarm that Havana will assume chairmanship in September, their reasoning is less than persuasive. The Malaysian analysis is that countries such as the United States should rest assured that the Cuban leadership will be responsible as it has held the post once before, beginning in 1979. The problem is that it was at exactly this time that Castro became reenergized about his standing in the global arena and optimistic over possibilities for the revolution to spread throughout Central America.
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, the authors of the recent book The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, note in that comprehensive work: “For Fidel Castro 1979 was a year of both economic failure and international triumph.” Despite Cuba’s struggling economy – vastly supported by the Soviet Union – the Maximum Leader “seemed more interested by increasing international recognition of his role on the world stage, newly signaled by his election as Chairman of the Non-Alignment Movement.” Successes in Angola and Ethiopia in Africa and Granada and Nicaragua in Latin America emboldened Castro to reach for further socialist victories in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It is hard not to notice similarities to recent events with Venezuela and Bolivia firmly in the Cuban camp, socialists winning in places such as Chile, and Havana back in the driver’s seat of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Cuba’s communist dictatorship yearns for nothing more than the return to their glory days where their longtime identity was that of the thorn in the side to the United States. The political situation in Latin America has provided Fidel Castro with hope. The regime is just as repressive as ever and its ambitions are equally as bold. The last time Castro was flying this high the United States was forced to send troops to Granada and the Iran-Contra Affair emerged to embarrass the Reagan administration. Here’s to hoping our current leadership will be just as adept at handling Cuba and the situation in Latin America as the Reagan administration turned out to be.
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