February 19, 2008

Fidel Retires

Forty-nine years after grabbing power in a revolution, Fidel Castro has decided to retire. The 81-year-old dictator is widely believed to be dying and has not been seen at official functions for most of the last year, after he needed European surgeons to save his life. He leaves the Cuban government in the control of his cronies, and most expect his brother Raul to replace him:

Fidel Castro announced early Tuesday morning that he is stepping down as Cuba's president, ending his half-century rule of the island nation.

"I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief," Castro, 81, said in a letter posted on the Web site of the state-run newspaper, Granma.

The announcement ends the formal reign of a man who, after seizing power in a 1959 revolution, not only outlasted nine U.S. presidents but his communist patrons in the former Soviet Union as well. Prior to the Soviet Union's collapse, support from the Kremlin sustained Cuba as a socialist outpost on the doorstep of the U.S., and placed Castro and his country in the middle of events central to the Cold War, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. ...

Cuba's Council of State, a panel comprised of handpicked Castro allies, is scheduled to name the country's next president when it meets on Sunday. In previous years, the selection was always a foregone conclusion, with the council picking Fidel Castro. The council is now widely expected to select Raul Castro.

George Bush gets to be the President that says adios to Fidel, and to strategize about the best way to steer a post-Fidel policy. He has already begun. On travel through Africa, Bush told reporters that Cuba should abandon its Castro rule and have free and fair elections -- "not these elections that the Castro brothers rig." The US, he said, focuses its concerns on the Cuban people, the ones who have borne the brunt of Castro's dictatorship.

Raul Castro will almost certainly take over the family business. If Fidel died, the machinery of the Cuban state might have decided to take another direction, but Fidel remains alive and a threat. No one in the Cuban government will cross the Castros as long as Fidel lives, retired or not. Therefore, the government direction and policy won't change a bit, and the US will face the same issues it always has with Fidel's rule. Cuba will simply be more of the same.

Still, the US will face even more pressure to change its policy towards Cuba with Fidel's retirement -- and it isn't as if our Cuba policy has been a resounding success. It started off as a disaster under John F. Kennedy, who couldn't decide whether he wanted to invade it or not and wound up doing the worst possible thing, invading Cuba and failing to finish the job. In the intervening time, we've gone to war with Vietnam, frozen them out diplomatically and economically, and then reconciled and begun trading with them years ago. The Vietnamese Communists were at least as bad as Fidel, and arguably much worse, as were Red China, the Soviets, and any number of kleptocracies and dictators we engaged.

What makes Cuba so much different? Proximity?

We should press for free elections, liberty, and an end to oppression. We've tried embargoes for almost 50 years. Maybe -- just maybe -- we should try something else and start preparing the ground for the post-Castro era. Raul won't be around much longer either, and when both Castros have thankfully left this mortal coil, the US needs to be in position to help ensure a real democracy in Cuba.


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» Castro Resigns? Officially, Yes. But Can A Dead Man Actually Resign? from The World According To Carl
If you haven’t heard by now, Cuban government officials announced that Fidel Castro has resigned as El Presidente of Cuba and his brother, Bubba…er…Raul will take over the leadership officially. ... [Read More]

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