September 09, 2010

Fidel in the news

A really interesting interview of Fidel Castro by Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

Fidel to Ahmadinejad: 'Stop Slandering the Jews'

(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.

I quickly departed the People's Republic of Martha's Vineyard for Fidel's more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel's people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.

A bit more:

Castro's message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

Some more:

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis - and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel's right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally).

And on to part two — Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Emphasis mine — something Obama needs to hear…

A long and fascinating read. In the first part, Julia mentions that Castro may be trying to reinvent himself as a senior statesman on the world stage. I am looking forward to part three.

The last time I was in Mexico was about ten years ago with my Mom and Dad. We were staying a few days in Merida (gorgeous old town BTW) before renting a car and driving the 70 miles out to Chichen Itza and getting a hotel room there. The airport had flight information to Cuba — it was so tempting to go over to Havana for a few days and flying through Mexico, I could have done it with minimal problems. I would love to see Cuba opened to Americans again.

Posted by DaveH at September 9, 2010 07:20 PM | TrackBack
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