There is an old Russian evaluation of a foolish participant in a dispute: he is the kind of man if you spit in his face, he will say it is raining. That could well describe the recent visit of Pres. Barack Obama to Cuba. Raul Castro, the current Communist dictator, did just about everything but that to make Obama’s U.S. look like a groveling supplicant for the regime’s affections.
The irony, of course, is that the Castro regime is on the ropes. Bankruptcy is too kind a word for the economy. Its traditional sugar industry is all but destroyed, from cropland to refinery to marketing. The last straw for Havana has been the near collapse of Hugo Chavez’ heirs in Venezuela. With some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and even though Caracas was unable to meet its own domestic energy needs, it was handing out largesse to its leftwing Latin American friends. But that has come to an abrupt end.. Helping the Cubans stay afloat which it did out of ideological solidarity has gone by the boards.
When he visited a month ago, despite a series of petty insults from Raul, Obama pretended he had made one of his “transformations” of misbegotten American policy.Raul did not meet him on the American president’s arrival at the airport, a normal protocol courtesy for a chief of government or state. At one point, Raul rather crudely grabbed Obama’s arm and showed him how to wave to the cheering crowd assembled by Castro’s henchmen. And so it went. Setting up formal diplomatic relations with Havana – on Cuban terms in numbers and personnel – was still being presented as a great victory of the Obama strategy which would prove a bounty American business.
And like a pied piper of old, Obama was able to drag along in his great new adventure not only the usual suspects on the left but some self-interested businessmen. Cuba, it was said, was ready to receive American capitalism with open arms. The regime was going to open up, take at least a few people off the government all-inclusive payroll. And there would be blossoming of the well known Cuban entrepreneurial spirit in small businesses allied to the enthusiastic foreigner investors and traders.
Of course, a part of the Cuban enthusiasts were American business interests who always live on our food subsidies and other government assisted programs. They are clambering that the Congressional embargo on business activities with Cuba be lifted. What they can’t explain is why the Canadians and the Europeans who have tried assiduously to do business in the Castros’ Cuba for 50 years have simply ended up with big fat loans going into default.
A great and glorious Cuban-American trade bonanza just isn’t going to materialize. At the end of a four-day session of the Cuban Communist Party just ended, even the possibility new, younger faces might appear was squashed. Ramond Marcha Ventura, another octogenarian, a notorious hard-liner, was reelected to the second top Party post after Raul. There had been speculation that he would be replaced as one minor concession to a new era. Castro did say he wants term limits, an age ceiling of 70 years for senior party leaders. He also criticized the slow pace of economic reform, such as allowing small private businesses, which he hadannounced five years ago. To top it all off, Fidel turned up/ “I will be 90 years old soon,” he said. “But the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain.”
Whether Cuba will now drift into a more traditional Latin American “caudillo” regime is still a possibilkity but a big question. Obama’s attempt to intervene – and Castro has spent the last month denouncing it as such – is unlikely to have had any effect. That could well mean that a violent ending may await the Castros and present Washington with a crisis on its very doorstep.