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Tilting at Windmills

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February 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BYE BYE, FIDEL....Well, "Fidel Castro Retires" sure isn't the headline I expected to see when I woke up this morning. But I guess that's why they call it news, right?

Anyway, good riddance Fidel, and a warm norteamericano welcome to Raul Castro. Or something. Meet the new boss, etc. I can't say that I have any idea what changes this will bring to Cuba itself, but speaking from a purely parochial perspective it would certainly be nice if we could use this as a fig leaf to justify ending our insane Cuba policy of the past 50 years. Steve Clemons is right when he says:

Of all the low cost opportunities to demonstrate a new and different US style of engagement with the world, Cuba is at the top of the list. Opening family travel — and frankly all travel — between Cuba and the US, and ending the economic embargo will provide new encounters, new impressions, and the kind of people-to-people diplomacy that George W. Bush, John Bolton, Richard Cheney, and Jesse Helms run scared of.

This is a huge potential pivot point in US-Cuba relations. Will Hillary Clinton step up to the plate — and will Obama move beyond the somewhat timid proposals he offered previously and go to the gold standard in US-Cuba relations articulated by Senator Chris Dodd?

And will John McCain just ignore history's offered up opportunity or will he continue to paw the dirt and blow steam at the island nation just off the Florida coast?

The accession of Raul Castro is unlikely to appease the electorally important (but less important all the time) Cuban exile community in Florida, but why not try pandering to the nation's cigar smokers instead? "Vote for me and Montecristo #2s will be legal again!" I've heard worse campaign slogans.

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

Is it a coincidence that his retirement takes place in time for Spring Training?

Posted by: jerry on February 19, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Will Hillary Clinton... and will Obama move

No. Every national-level American population is scared shitless of the Cuban exile population in Florida.

Posted by: thersites on February 19, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

The BBC this morning explained the timing of Fidel's retirement as being part of a regular process of reappointing offices, so I'm afraid it's not spring training jerry!

FWIW, Raoul Castro has already said he won't talk with the Bush administration, but will wait until the next President is in office. Which may or may not be John McCain, who isn't very well disposed towards Cuba, IIRC.

Posted by: David W. on February 19, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Truly the end of an era. It's too bad Fidel and Raul haven't tried to do a Cuban version of Glasnost and Perestroika to ease the Cuban people toward self-government and democracy. Otherwise if the regime collapses, anarchy will break out, and guess who will "intervene" to "restore order" and install a government "friendly to our interests"?

Posted by: Speed on February 19, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

And will John McCain just ignore history's offered up opportunity or will he continue to paw the dirt and blow steam at the island nation just off the Florida coast?

Hillary Clinton has exactly the same position as McCain's.

So why don't you ask:

Will John McCain step up to the plate...

Or are they both too timid to even dare to be timid?

Posted by: neoliberal on February 19, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that our policy of banning travel and trade with Cuba is a political sop to the Cuban exiles. That's no way to make foreign policy.

However, I don't know whether opening up travel and ending the economic embargo will lead to success in what I think our goals for Cuba should be. I think our policy should be to somehow move Cuba toward freedom and democracy.

Incidentally, some believed that when Fidel died or gave up power Cuban communism would then disintegrate and be repplaced by democracy. I hope that happens, but so far see no sign that it will.

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 19, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Let's see how well banning trade and travel has done so far. Oh wait, not a fucking thing has changed in more than 40 years. No retarded child would continue to do something ineffective for 40+ years.

"America's Cuba Policy, worse than what you would expect from a retarded child"

Posted by: heavy on February 19, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Of all the low cost opportunities to demonstrate a new and different US style of engagement with the world, Cuba is at the top of the list. Opening family travel — and frankly all travel — between Cuba and the US, and ending the economic embargo will provide new encounters, new impressions, and the kind of people-to-people diplomacy that George W. Bush, John Bolton, Richard Cheney, and Jesse Helms run scared of.

Wait, but then how will the conservatives pretend they were right all along for the past few decades? Screw all those people who want to see their families... their are delicate white-guy egos and reputations to protect, here.

Regarding David W's comment, I'm sure Raoul will talk to us if we're actually talking about giving his people stuff they want a lot- it would make him terrible unpopular if he ignored that just to make a point.

http://www.swanpoliticsblog.blogspot.com

Posted by: Swan on February 19, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

ex-lax: what I think our goals for Cuba should be

There in a nutshell is why they don't fucking like us. By what right do we have goals for Cuba?

Posted by: thersites on February 19, 2008 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

To an American, Fidel Castro's long leadership of Cuba seems undemocratic. It was undemocratic, but Cuba's socialism has done more for the quality of life for most people of Cuba than the previous two-hundred years of rule by the elites. Without Castro, Cuba would not have lower infant mortality rates than the US and would not have first world literacy rates. These accomplishments are not considered in the US by politicos or the media, but they were more than anyone ever expected.

Posted by: Brojo on February 19, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Canadians can visit Cuba, and of my many friends that have visited (I'm not Canadian, but seem to attract them), they all say its really wonderful down there. I think some idea that it's like the Soviet Union under Stalin is really not representative of the facts as they are now. Small businesses reign, and because of our long standing embargo, it's one of the most environmentally sustainable cultures nearby. ("Reuse" is not just a lifestyle choice.) It's probably better off without contact from us, and being flooded with American-owned resorts and chain restaurants.

Posted by: Christopher on February 19, 2008 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Brojo and thersites, you've raised the key points. If communism has been good for the Cuban people, then we have no basis for trying to change their system.

However, I don't trust the statistics quoted by Brojo. Communist governments have been notorious for lying. I think communism has been a disaster for the Cuban people. My evidence is the massive emigration. Not only have Cubans fled to the United States, they have also fled throughout Latin America. I have read that 25% of the Cuban population left.

Fleeing meant leaving most of their belongings, friends and families behind and risking their lives. Many Cubans died trying to escape Castro's Cuba. I believe the actions of millions of Cuban people more than the words of Castro's government.

IMHO communism in Cuba has been comparable to natural disaster. I thnk we have moral obligation to help Cuba recover from communism, just as we would help if they were hit by a devastating hurricane.

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 19, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

What has been the natural disaster for Cuba? America's insistence on banning trade. The purpose of the trade embargo was to make Cuba worse, and it worked. Lucky for them they had a leader who cared about them enough to overcome the disaster that is American foreign policy.

Posted by: heavy on February 19, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

No one's asking the obvious question, which is what happens after Raoul? He's only a few years younger than Fidel. Unless there's a third brother I don't know about (Harpo?) this method of succession has limited potential.

Posted by: ArkPanda on February 19, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin's attitude of 'good riddance' is the kind of thinking that has made our large nation small minded.

Where has the US achieved the success of the Cubans? In Haiti? The Dominican Republic? Even in Florida workers are still held in slavery today.

Don't expect relations to improve any time soon. For example, the Castro regime was always willing to issue exit visas for Cubans who wished to leave. The US, however, would not issue entrance visas, and Cubans who wished to come here would not use them, because if they "escaped" they were (are) allowed to enter the country and stay as long as they want in any numbers, with no conditions.

This policy alone has created a patronage system in south Florida that the Italian padrones of a century ago would have envied. From this flows the poisoning of the Everglades, the sugar subsidies, the corruption of the Port of Miami, the continuing slavery in the farmlands of Florida, the nurturing of young terrorists and the retirement homes of old terrorists, and, yes, the Florida balloting of 2000.

Move over, Ralph Nader, you've got a little company in the 'steal the election' department in Florida.

Kevin is probably cheerfully unaware that, for most of the 19th century, the Southerners wanted to make Cuba a state. He probably doesn't know that the Spanish government had already agreed to Cuban independence when the US decided to attack Spain and seize Cuba. Of course, in the modern world it is much easier to simply attack any leader, like Aristede, who threatens the 'failed state' model we use to keep small countries barefoot and pregnant.

Expecting the US to step up to the plate at this stage of the game and do something right is about like expecting Al Capone, in his last syphilitic years, to wisely distribute his remaining money in acts of enlightened philanthropy. We've made our bed and now, volens nolens will lie in it.

Posted by: serial catowner on February 19, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

I believe the winning campaign slogan has already been market tested and it is "What this country needs is a good five cent cigar." An ambitious goal even with no embargo, but isn't that what the audacity of hope is all about ?

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on February 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Ex Lib You know at some point in time parts of the human lineage becomes extinct mainly through a lack of ability to adjust to the circumstances that exist. Cuba exists. We're not going to change that.
In additon to that a light examination of Cuban history points out that in spite of all preconceived notions about communism or socialism the vast majority of Cubans are light years better off than they were under their corporate and criminal masters.
Let's add the common sense to the equation that pretty much all issues with Cuba would disappear almost instantly if we opened up to them. Our culture such as it is would overwhelm them.

Posted by: Gandaalf on February 19, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

ArkPanda,

Unless there's a third brother I don't know about (Harpo?) this method of succession has limited potential.

Being a communist government Cuba is indeed ruled by the Marx brothers. As you guessed there is Harpo waiting in the wings and also the little known Gummo and Zeppo as well.

Posted by: Tripp on February 19, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

See? Saint Reagan does it again - and this time, from the grave! Fidel, knock down this wall!

Posted by: craigie on February 19, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

I think our policy should be to somehow move Cuba toward freedom and democracy.

-ex-lib

Good idea. Let's send Karl Rove right over to teach them about those things.

Posted by: craigie on February 19, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

craigie,

Correct as usual. Check out google Earth right now. St. Reagan has appeared and is parting the Bermuda Triangle between Cuba and Florida! Oh the HUMANITY!

Posted by: Tripp on February 19, 2008 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting how the subject of Cuba brings the perennially dishonest neocon "ex-liberal" out of the shadows.

Posted by: Gregory on February 19, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK
However, I don't trust the statistics quoted by Brojo.

For starters, ex-liberal, he didn't quote any statistics. Your lack of comprehension is one of the few things that keeps me unsure if you are a dishonest hack, or merely stubbornly stupid.

For what it's worth, Brojo's information almost certainly came from the CIA World Factbook.
You can go there yourself, and compare Cuba and the USA for infant mortality and literacy. Brojo's assertions are in fact robustly supported by those Castro-lovers in Langley.

USA: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html
Cuba: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cu.html

Posted by: kenga on February 19, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory, I shouldn't need to remind you to not attribute to malicious dishonesty that which can be explained by stupidity.
I suppose I should admit that they aren't mutually exclusive.

Drat!

Posted by: kenga on February 19, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK
I think our policy should be to somehow move Cuba toward freedom and democracy and a pony.

ex-lib, I fixed this for you.

Posted by: kenga on February 19, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Let's see how well banning trade and travel has done so far. Oh wait, not a fucking thing has changed in more than 40 years."

Wait! wait! but what about the other two countries we have tried this policy (well, no travel bans) on... oh yea... they are North Korea and Iran. Bummer.


I have a commie friend from high school, he visited Cuba a few years ago and bicycled across the island. Saw lots of cool stuff, met lots of local people. One of the more amusing things that happened on his trip (amusing to me, he seemed to have double-thought his way out of it) was how his trip corrupted the communist system. He stayed with a family in Havana, paying a small to him large to them government mandated amount. This family needed a special permit to be allowed to host foreigners. The woman of the house also happened to be the building party leader (gee, I wonder how she got the permit). The family also had him pay them directly rather than going through the government (which would take a cut).

Heh. Even actual communist revolutionary tourists are breaking down their system by their presence. I think he had been there more briefly before and lamented the booming tourist industry in Havana and subsequent westernization.

BTW he is an American. The risk of prosecution for going to Cuba is reportedly quite low. Just don't make a documentary on health care there unless you can afford to pay the fine.


PS does anybody else laugh every time some idiot on TV talks about Castro as one of the most brutal/tyranical/otherbadwordal dictators? I mean sure he has his prisons and political prisoners but really if you lined up all the dictators and rated them I am quite sure he would come out well into the bottom half as far as brutality, tyranny, otherbadwordy.

Posted by: jefff on February 19, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK
I mean sure he has his prisons and political prisoners but really if you lined up all the dictators and rated them I am quite sure he would come out well into the bottom half as far as brutality, tyranny, otherbadwordy.

I wonder how Castro would "score" against Fulgencio Batista?

Posted by: kenga on February 19, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

kenga, actually I did quote a statistic. Over 25% of Cuba's population fled Cuba to get get away from Castro's regime. Think about that figure. There has been massive emigration from Iraq due to the horrors of the current war, the terrorist attacks on civilians, the civil war between Sunnis and Shias. etc.

Yet, the total emigration is far below 25% of Iraq's population. Nor does Iraq make emigration illegal. Iraq doesn't attempt to kill people who are in the process of fleeing, as Cuba has done.

The emigration pattern indicates that Cuba under communism is far worse than Iraq in the midst of war.

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 19, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Not a chance on your U.S. policy pipe dream, Kev. Early this morning, Señor Death Squad, John Negroponte, said "no dice."

Ex-lib, make sure you're not counting the people who fled immediately after the Castro takeover. They fled because their expropriation of sweat equity got expropriated back. Also make sure you're not quoting the Mariel boatlift and other "dumps" of people by Castro. Not that that makes Castro look so great either.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 19, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly, my source is "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot" by Mendoza/Montaner/Llosa

http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Perfect-Latin-American-Idiot/dp/1568331347/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203448663&sr=8-1

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 19, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

kenga, actually I did quote a statistic. Over 25% of Cuba's population fled Cuba to get get away from Castro's regime.

No, you didn't, "ex-liberal." You claimed that you had read that figure, without supplying which bogus, discredited wingnut source you got it fron, and now you -- in a typical display of bad faith -- are citing it as established fact.

(Not to mention the dishonesty inherent in comparing four years of war in Iraq with more than 40 under Castro....nor failing to note the immigration to the US from other Latin American countries...)

Your word isn't worth a bucket of piss, "ex-liberal." If you're going to claim that statistic, you'll need to back it up. But then, you aren't here for good-faith debate, but to spew your insulting neocon bullshit. Why the moderator(s) tolerate your pissing on the floor in here is a mystery.

Posted by: Gregory on February 19, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

my source is "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot"

Why, "ex-liberal" -- are you planning on moving your perfect idiocy to Latin America?

Note that "ex-liberal" doesn't provide any concrete sourcing -- just waves his hands vaguely at a book and leaves it to his interlocutors to figure out what the hell he's talking about and whether the statistic 1) exists and b) proves what he claims.

That dog won't hunt, "ex-liberal." You haven't backed up your claim at all. But you know that -- it's just another example of your insultingly bad faith posting. We get it. Why the moderator(s) don't is a mystery.

Posted by: Gregory on February 19, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK
actually I did quote a statistic.
There you go again, ex-lib, with that reading incomprehension thing you do so well. I didn't mention, much less give a flying fig about, what you quoted. I told you that Brojo didn't quote any statistics in the specific comment referred to. Posted by: kenga on February 19, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

For a good book that doesn’t spare either side, read “Cuba Confidential” by Bardach. One of the many ironies of the U.S./Cuban situation is that while the Miami exiles claim to be the champions of freedom, they haven’t hesitated to use violence to shut up those they disagree with.

The next president will be in a position to redefine U.S. Cuban relations. The kids and grandkids of the émigrés consider tend to consider themselves assimilated Americans and have no desire to move back to Cuba to take over Grandpa’s cigar factory. Meanwhile the original émigrés are involved in internecine feuding even while their numbers are dwindling.

If you are an American, be careful about traveling to Cuba. Under Bush the ban on travel is enforced and the fines run over $10,000. You might get away with it if you go through Grand Cayman or Mexico and don’t have them stamp your pass port. A couple I know went on an organized trip through Canada and ended up paying around $20,000 in fines and legal fees.

Posted by: fafner1 on February 19, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

"The emigration pattern indicates that Cuba under communism is far worse than Iraq in the midst of war."

Iraq isn't 90 miles from Miami Beach. You can practically see the beacon of freedom that is the Tamiami Mall from there.

Posted by: cazart on February 19, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Interestingly, I find this news about Fidel Castro to be relatively unimportant, doesn't really trigger anything in me, not even a twitch.

Funny how such a grandiose dude would fade into obscurity before handing over the reigns (or dying).

Posted by: Jimm on February 19, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

In the US we got a little peek at Cuba during the Elian Gonzalez fracas.

When the incident ended one of the TV networks stayed on Castro awhile. Castro was speaking at some sort of celebration or something in a sports stadium.

He was droning on and on about how during the revolution "he took his men to this town and then they went over to that town . . ." and it went on and on and on. Everyone cheered at the correct times like a good little audience.

I would hate to live in a place where I would have to stand and cheer while "Grandpa" rambles on and on about the glories of the past.

I have no doubt there was corruption before Castro and I have no doubt the people of Cuba are good people but dictatorships suck!

Posted by: Tripp on February 19, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Estimated net migration (2006): minus 1.57 people per 1,000.

Posted by: Brojo on February 19, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

I would hate to live in a place where I would have to stand and cheer while "Grandpa" rambles on and on about the glories of the past.

Explains why you never accepted my gracious invitations to a shortstop family Christmas.

Posted by: shortstop on February 19, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Iraq isn't 90 miles from Miami Beach.

90 miles from Key West. Miami Beach is another ~100 miles further on.

Posted by: Thlayli on February 19, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Chritopher @ 10:57PM - "...lots of small businesses..."
Sounds as if the Castro brothers are familiar with Lenin's New Economic Policy.
I have no statistics to quote, but if Cuba is anything like the former Soviet Union, there is still a lot of graft and corruption, much of it connected, of course, with the Party. Hopefully, if reforms are introduced, they can manage better than the Soviets did.

Posted by: Doug on February 19, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo.... thanks for the REAL stat. Over 40 years, if the whole population were static, that would still be just 6 percent, not 25. And, of course, new people are being born all the time.

Nice try, ex-lib. Your 25 percent isn't even close.

Oh, Kevin, on your "Vote for me and Montecristo #2s will be legal again!" pander-line, people like your own Gov. Ahhhnold don't need to pander, they just go got Canada for their Cuban stogies, then flaunt bringing them back in the face of federal law.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 19, 2008 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly, one doesn't have to extrapolate the current rate of emigration, because Brojo's source gives their estimate of the total emigration during Castro's regime. It's 12.5%.

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 19, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, I wonder what Fidel's going to do with the $200 million+ that he has stashed away? Forbes reported a year or two ago that Fidel had "profited" from his dictatorship by this amount, making him one of the world's wealthiest men. Fidel didn't deny he had this much wealth socked away. He just said that the money "really" belonged to the people of Cuba. Riiiggghhhttt.

Anyway, if one can't "profit" from being a dictator, then what good is it being a dictator? Just look at Dick Cheney. He selected himself to be Vice President, puts his Halliburton stock in a "blind trust," then once VP he starts immediately awarding lucrative no-bid government contracts to his pals at Halliburton, which raises the value of his "blind trust" Halliburton stock, which he will assuredly cash-in on once he leaves office.

Reportedly, when Cheney bacame VP he was worth only about $20 million, but through these multiple no-bid contracts awarded Halliburton, his net worth is now well over $100 million. Yep, it pays to be a dictator. Just ask Cheney and Castro, two peas from the same pod, I'd say. And just as paranoid secretive, too.

Posted by: The Oracle on February 20, 2008 at 6:58 AM | PERMALINK
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