Havana from Habana Libre, courtesy Caribbean Free Photo
The buzz in the regional blogosphere for the last twenty-four hours has undoubtedly been the retirement of Cuban leader Fidel Castro after nearly 50 years at the helm of the socialist republic. The announcement hardly came as a surprise, what with the last couple of years of anti-Castro bloggers closely following reports of the leader's deteriorating health and speculating as to whether or not he was even alive. This is probably not the way the blogosphere expected him to go out – The Latin Americanist, in linking to a variety of mainstream media sources and public reactions to the news, observes that The Guardian article was “reminiscent of an obit” – and most bloggers appear to be skeptical as to whether the move precedes any significant change for Cuba…
According to Babalu Blog:
If there is, as the international media conglomerate seems to think, real change coming to Cuba now that fidel has stepped aside, does that mean:
Cuban high school students are free to wear white plastic bracelets embossed with the word CAMBIO without fear of arrest? Does it mean that state security thugs will no longer assault dissidents because they ask for human rights? I didn't think so.
26th Parallel explains:
After all, it's another castro in charge now. It's still the same regime that's been in control for 5 decades. There's not much optimism contained in those facts.
On the other hand, this will likely be the first test of fidel's “cult of personality” image and its hold on the Cuban people. Actually, it's more of a quiz, because the real test will be when he finally kicks the bucket.
Juan Antonio Blanco writes in his blog (ES)Cambio de Época:
Algunas de las primeras reacciones a la noticia de la renuncia de Fidel Castro a ser reelecto por la nueva Asamblea parecen discurrir entre quienes consideran que el hecho es irrelevante y aquellos que son dados a magnificar su alcance. Hay una distinción entre la certeza de que la elite intentará, en lo adelante, cambiar todo lo que pueda para mantener su monopolio de poder y la pretensión de minimizar lo ocurrido. Suponer que, salvo el cambio de nombres en la cima del poder, todo permanecerá igual es una apuesta arriesgada.
Lo cierto es que la renuncia del Comandante en Jefe, permite que la nueva Asamblea Nacional respete la Constitución y sus propios reglamentos que exigen traspasos formales de esos cargos por razones de salud. Continuamos atravesando un periodo bisagra entre dos épocas. Parafraseando a Galileo diré que Cuba se mueve. ¿Hacia dónde? Esa es otra discusión.
What is certain is that the Commander-in-Chief's resignation allows the new National Assembly to respect the Constitution and its own rules that demand a formal transfer of public office for health reasons. We are still going through a decisive period between two eras. Paraphrasing Galileo I'll say that Cuba is moving. To where? That's another discussion.
There is, in fact, a lot of discussion taking place – at least online. The Cuban Triangle says:
The meaning for Cuban policy is not clear. Fidel plans “to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas,” and he will continue to write his newspaper commentaries. But the force of his orthodox ideas will probably wane in a government that is seeking solutions to deep-seated economic problems created by excessive centralization and planning, not to mention lack of economic freedom.
As for American policy, change is unlikely, given U.S. law and the Bush Administration’s approach. Any shift in policy or exploration for opportunities will likely come in a new Administration next year.
In the meantime, Fidel Castro is leaving on his own terms, at a time of his choosing. Neither invasion, nor covert operations, nor embargo, nor a steady strengthening of U.S. sanctions since 1992, nor the current Administration’s myriad efforts have forced him from office.
“Castro's supporters admired his ability to provide a high level of health care and education for citizens while remaining fully independent of the United States,” writes 1Click2Cuba, adding: “Castro's detractors called him a dictator whose totalitarian government systematically denied individual freedoms and civil liberties such as speech, movement and assembly.”
The latter group appears to be the more vocal on the issue. Marc Masferrer at Uncommon Sense writes:
An unfortunate consequence of that hand-over, reinforced by Fidel's “retirement,” is that the dictatorship survives. A face, presumably Raúl's — I haven't seen the script — will be placed at the top of the flow chart, come Sunday. But the dictatorship survives.
The secret police. The Committees in Defense of the Revolution. The gulag…
Fidel's “retirement” is not a moment to celebrate. Unfortuntely, his legacy will survive his life's work, and his life. It is a historical moment to note but nothing more.
Ernesto Hernández Busto writes in (ES) Penúltimos Días:
Por mucha expectativa que provoque en una prensa sedienta de sucesos simbólicos, la renuncia voluntaria de Fidel Castro tras 49 años de férreo mandato es, para decirlo con pocas palabras, uno de los grandes fracasos de nuestra historia política, visiblemente encapsulada en el arbitrio de un líder octogenario y su visión dinástica del mando. Resulta comprensible que, por el momento, ni en Cuba ni en el exilio sobren las ganas de celebrar. Pues, en cualquier caso, lo único que podría festejarse es que todo está saliendo según el guión dictado desde el Palacio de la Revolución.
No matter how many expectations are raised by the press, thirsty of symbolic events, Fidel Castro's voluntary resignation after 49 years of fierce mandate is, put in just a few words, one of the biggest failures of our political history, visibly encapsulated in the will of an eighty-year-old leader and his dynastic vision of the command. It is understandable that, for the time being, in Cuba or in exile, the mood to celebrate is lacking. In any case, the only thing to celebrate would be that everything is happening according to the script dictated from the Palacio de la Revolución.
Whatever he has been since his physical and mental decline, Castro will continue to be. Nothing has changed for him or Cuba. Nevertheless, he will be praised and congratulated for his decision by friends and enemies alike. Much will be made of Castro's “retirement” by the world media: “the end of an era” and such.
I hope sincerely that my countrymen in Miami will not be fooled by this empty gesture and celebrate this event as some kind of opening or hopeful sign. It is not. When a hole is finally dug in the ground for him, celebrate then, although that will not mean the end of Communist tyranny either, at least it will mean the end of the tyrant.
The criticism is not confined to Cuban bloggers either. Barbados Free Press posts a photograph of Castro and former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur in an embrace, with the words: “Remembering the executed, the disappeared, the imprisoned…”, while Bahamian blogger Dan Schweissing says:
Given the rise of numerous strong populist movements and governments in Latin America while the United States has spent most of this decade quigmired in the War on Terror, it is certainly possible that Cuba will have a lot more latitude to shape its own future than it would have, say, even ten or fifteen years ago. Regardless of where Cuba is headed though, the reality is that things are changing and those changes–whatever they may be–will be big enough to significantly impact the rest of us throughout the Caribbean.
But those that are probably impacted most strongly by Castro's resignation are those who still live in Cuba. Yoani Sánchez writes from Havana in her blog (ES) Generación Y:
Toda mi vida la he pasado con el mismo presidente. No sólo yo, sino que mi mamá y mi papá –nacidos en el 57 y en el 54, respectivamente- tampoco recuerdan a otro, que no sea el que hoy se ha despedido de sus cargos. Varias generaciones de cubanos no se han hecho nunca la pregunta de quién los gobernará. Tampoco ahora tenemos muchas dudas de cuál persona ocupará el máximo puesto, pero al menos hay alguien que parece definitivamente descartado. Como en esos filmes de Alfred Hitchcock nos hemos enterado, sólo cinco días antes de las elecciones, que nuestros disciplinados parlamentarios se enfrentarán a una boleta diferente; que no tendrán que marcar al lado del “mismo” candidato.
I have lived all my life under the same president. Not only me, but also my mom and my dad -born in 57 and 54, respectively- don't remember another one either, except for the one that today said farewell to public office. Several generations of Cubans have never asked themselves about who is going to govern them. We don't have many doubts about who will now take the main seat, but at least there's someone that seems definitely ruled out. As in a Hitchock film we have learnt only 5 days before the elections that our disciplined MPs will be facing a different ballot this time; that they will not have to mark the “same” candidate.