by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
February 23, 2008
FIDEL RETIRES: NOW THE COLD WAR IS REALLY OVER
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Maybe now, we can finally say the Cold War is over.
When Cuban president Fidel Castro announced Monday that he would not seek another five-year term as president when the Cuban National Assembly meets tomorrow, the curtain came down on one of the longest running foreign policy beefs in our history.
It's astonishing when you think about it. Castro outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, one U.S. invasion, numerous CIA assassination attempts and a nearly five decades-long U.S. economic embargo. He outlasted the collapse of his greatest ally, the Soviet Union. He outlasted the rise and fall of the right-wing dictatorships in Latin America and lived to see a new generation of leaders rise to carry on the vision of a hemisphere free from U.S. domination.
The only thing that could stop the 81-year-old Castro - as nearly everyone in the world figured, apart from the Cuban exiles in Florida and the right-wingers who still think the Cold War isn't over - was old age. Since being stricken with intestinal problems requiring multiple surgeries in July 2006, Castro's health has been shaky. He has largely ceded official power to his younger brother, Raul.
Since taking power in 1959, Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba as a hard-line communist state. While Castro drew admirers for transforming one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere into a nation with one of the highest literacy rates and best health care systems in the world -despite having almost no resources, the reality is that Cuba remains a totalitarian state with limited individual freedoms or civil liberties.
Cuba's economy has been largely dependent on commodities such as sugar, tobacco and nickel. The country never really industrialized and the U.S. trade embargo has crippled Cuba's economy for years.
Internationally, the U.S. embargo has no support. It would have been lifted years ago had it not been for the 1.5 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans in Florida who have made the embargo a precondition for their political support.
But the embargo has become a Cold War-era relic that doesn't fit in with the current realities of globalization. After all, the United States' biggest trading partner is a communist dictatorship that imprisons dissidents, limits freedom of speech and assembly and has among the worst human rights records in the world. That's right, China. But because China was willing to add capitalism to its communism and Cuba was not, China is acceptable and Cuba remains a pariah.
And when we hear President Bush and other American politicians talk about "freedom and democracy" in Cuba, it's code for returning the nearly 6,000 American-owned properties that were confiscated by Castro during the revolution as well as returning Cuba to its former status as a playground for the elite. But there is virtually no chance that Cuba will return to the way it was under right-wing dictator Fulgenico Batista, the man Castro overthrew in 1959.
Despite the grinding poverty and lack of freedoms, many Cubans still admire Castro for standing up to U.S. power and putting the interests of the people ahead of business leaders. And the new generation of left-leaning leaders in Latin America - Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, among them - take their inspiration from Castro, except with more democracy and less totalitarianism.
Perhaps with a new leader, Cuba will gradually shift to state-sponsored capitalism like China and loosen some of the restrictions on civil society. A younger generation of leaders may rise to lead Cuba to a new future that still rejects the heavy hand of the United States, but does so in a democratic way - the way that Chavez, Morales and da Silva govern their respective countries. Cuba won't be the free-market paradise that so many conservatives hope for, but we can easily envision a freer, more open Cuba in the coming years.
Now that Fidel Castro is retiring, this would be a good opportunity to end the U.S. embargo as a good faith gesture toward helping Cuba restore its economy. After all, if this country has no problem dealing with a communist dictatorship in China, why do we maintain an embargo with a country that has far less power and influence over the U.S. than China does? With Castro's retirement, there are no more excuses.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.