Cuba on alert

Posted in Politics + Diplomacy by expresscheckout on 22 August, 2006

Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba 1 May 2006

Cuba raised military readiness, Raul Castro says in first interview
TDS News
August 18, 2006

Havana (dpa) – Cuba’s interim leader Raul Castro said he had mobilized Cuban troops and increased military readiness, in the face of “threats” from the United States, on the day his ailing brother Fidel handed over power almost three weeks ago. In his first interview since taking over as leader of Cuba, Raul Castro told the Communist Party’s newspaper Granma that he had raised the troops’ readiness and called up “tens of thousands” of reservists.

“We could not rule out the risk of somebody going crazy, or even crazier, within the US government,” Castro, who is also the country’s defence minister, said in the interview. Castro said he began augmenting the force on August 1 – the day it was announced that he would take over from Fidel Castro to allow the long-time Cuban leader to undergo surgery to stop intestinal bleeding.

Raul Castro also said his 80-year-old brother, who had never before surrendered power during his 47-year rule, was on his way to recovery, and thanked the Cuban people for the thousands of goodwill messages he said Fidel had received. Raul Castro said the US could not influence any change in Cuba, but said he was willing to normalize diplomatic relations with its long-time enemy.

“At this juncture, they should be very clear that it is not possible to achieve anything in Cuba with impositions and threats,” Castro said. “On the contrary, we have always been disposed to normalize relations on an equal plane. What we do not accept is the arrogant and interventionist policy frequently assumed by the current administration of that country.”

The United States dismissed Castro’s remarks.

“What do we think of them? I guess, not much is the answer,” US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. “We’re not particularly fond, as you know, of the government of Cuba as run by Fidel,” Casey said. “I can’t say that we’re particularly enamoured of the first words we’ve heard from “Fidel light’.”

The United States has sought to step up pressure on the Castro regime and called for a transition to democratic rule since the temporary handover of power was announced.

Cuban pupils with flag

So You Say You Want a Revolución?
By Saul Landau
August 4, 2006

Editor’s note: President Bush may be offering Cuba the chance to refashion itself in America’s image, but Cubans aren’t buying what Bush is selling. Wonder why?

Saul Landau, an award-winning American filmmaker and journalist who has worked extensively in Cuba over the last 40 years, lays out the answers.

On July 26, five days before Fidel Castro entered the hospital for intestinal surgery, he led a celebration of the 53rd anniversary of his attack on Fort Moncada, which kick-started the Cuban Revolution. Earlier in July, George W. Bush had made his own inroads, of sorts, into Cuba: a government commission he had handpicked delivered its transition plan for a post-Castro Cuba.

Taking as its starting point a refusal to recognize either Fidel or his brother, Raul, as legitimate leaders, the commission recommended remaking Cuba in America’s image: privatizing its economy; setting up free elections; revamping its educational system; and even making its agricultural industry more efficient. Fidel Castro, unsurprisingly, called this plan a new Platt Amendment—the clause Washington inserted in Cuba’s constitution in 1903 that allowed the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it decided to do so.

And though Castro may be laid low due to intestinal surgery—from which he appears to be recovering—there’s no reason to expect that illness will moderate the Cuban leader’s stance: Before entering the operating room, Fidel delegated his powers to Raul, on whom he could count to follow the same course. Indeed, for both Castro brothers and the politburo that rules Cuba, their entire raison d’etre is predicated upon independence from the United States. The same holds true even among Cuba’s most economically and politically disadvantaged: the Cuban people themselves, who have demonstrated only a paltry amount enthusiasm for America’s economically and politically ‘liberating’ vision for its neighbor 90 miles to the south.

Why should this be?
First of all, poor as their nation may be, Cubans actually live quite well compared with neighboring capitalist countries in the Caribbean or Central America. And, speaking as someone who’s made scores of trips to the island since the 1960s, I can tell you that Cuba looks poorer and more dilapidated than it is. Buildings need paint, but its 13 medical schools and 13 universities turn out well-prepared citizens; its applauded healthcare system claims an infant mortality rate lower than that of Washington, D.C. 

Cubans who listen to Miami radio or Radio Marti (Voice of America) know of George Bush’s disinclination to spend money on public service, an attitude very unlike that of Castro’s government. And if U.S.-style capitalism should return to Cuba, many on the island know they would have to start paying for medical services and education that they now receive gratis.

Further, should the floodgates to America open, many islanders believe that the influx of land-hungry Miami-based Cubans will result in their losing title to their homes or having to pay exorbitant rents as their parents and grandparents did in the pre-revolutionary era.

Right now, for better or worse, many Cubans have a very laissez faire attitude toward work and official responsibilities. It’s not hard for them to imagine how difficult and grating their lives might become once their labor goes toward enriching a true parasite class.
Cuba’s doctor-patient ratio is similar to that of Beverly Hills.


Of course, the picture in Cuba is far from rosy. A healthcare worker told me how, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, she grew accustomed to severe food shortages and routine power outages, often during the intense summer heat. “Hemos sufrido” (we have suffered), she said. The disappearance of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites cost Cuba 35% of its trade and most of the aid it received.  Its GDP dropped almost 40% after 1991.

In the 21st century, however, other countries began filling the vacuum left by the breakup of the Soviet empire. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela began delivering sharply discounted oil to Cuba. In turn, Venezuela imports Cuban doctors, nurses and medical technicians. Venezuela and China have both invested hundreds of millions in Cuban mineral resources and in newly discovered oil reserves.

“So,” the healthcare worker continued, “life began to improve. This year there were fewer blackouts and more food.” She, like most Cubans I’ve met over four decades, retains a sense of pride about the revolution’s accomplishments.

Cuba, an informal U.S. economic colony until 1958, has become a nation whose citizens have acted on the stage of history. In 1993, at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration after the demise of the apartheid system, the new South African president embraced Fidel Castro. “You made this possible,” Mandela whispered audibly to Castro, referring to Cuba’s assistance in defeating apartheid South African forces at the battles of Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, in 1987-1988.

Cuban doctors have helped earthquake and other disaster victims in Honduras and Pakistan. Cuba has more doctors abroad than the World Health Organization. Its own doctor-patient ratio is similar to that of Beverly Hills.

Cuban artists, intellectuals, writers, athletes and scientists also have engraved their works and feats in the annals of many countries throughout the world.
The Cuban Revolution was, in many ways, a success: It achieved substantive human rights for the Cuban people.

Still, there is reason for concern.
Cubans deserve the right to participate in the policies that guide their nation.

Even before the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Cuba had begun to lose revolutionary purity. Heroic guerrilla warriors often turned into ineffective ministers and even worse politicians. They did not build system by which power could be transferred evenly to the next generation of worthy heirs. Instead, leaders who enjoyed certain material privileges began to lose close contact with the people. Paternalism, inherited from centuries of Spanish culture, also began to erode the spontaneous rapport and enthusiasm of the early years.

In 1968, while I was filming “Fidel,” a PBS documentary, the elder Castro told me that “socialist democracy should assure everyone’s constant participation in political activity.” However laudable that theory may have been in theory, in practice Castro’s paternalism sapped initiative from Cuban society. By “giving” people what they needed instead of asking Cubans to take responsibility for their own decisions, and by maintaining control of virtually all civic projects, the Communist Party helped depoliticize the very people it had hoped to educate.


Castro’s illness didn’t throw Cuba into crisis, no matter what the Miami Herald would have you believe. The buses run, electricity and water flow, and people go to work as they have every day. But the fading of a charismatic leader raises a natural question: What will happen after…?

There’s little chance that Bush will succeed in re-colonizing the island. That much seems assured, at least with Raul in power. But Raul and his successors appear to lack the outside-the-box thinking that would inject new life into the Cuban experiment. And that is what is sorely needed. Cuba’s citizens have endured their share of hard knocks over the last 40 years—nuclear brinkmanship with the U.S., a strangling embargo, and the absence of many freedoms – all without revolting, mind you.

They deserve the right to participate in the policies that guide their nation. They have earned that much by now. Perhaps Raul’s very lack of charisma—and his advanced age—is just what Cuba needs: breathing room for a populist-driven reinvigoration of the revolutionary spirit that Fidel once sparked. But this time, the revolution would draw its energy not just from one man, but rather from all Cubans.

It would put renewed meaning, at least, into Castro’s slogan, Patria o muerte.

Saul Landau, an internationally known scholar, author, commentator and filmmaker, is the director of digital media programs at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is known for his work on foreign and domestic policy issues, Native American and South American cultures, and science and technology.

Landau’s most widely praised achievements are the more than 40 films he has produced on social, political and historical issues and worldwide human rights. He has won the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, the George Polk Award for Investigative Reporting, and the First Amendment Award, as well as an Emmy for “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang.” Landau has written over 10 books, plus short stories and poems. He received an Edgar Allen Poe Award for “Assassination on Embassy Row,” a report on the 1976 murders of Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt.

His next book, “A Bush and Botox World,” will be published in September by Counterpunch.

Mr. Fish - Bush as Che 

By Mr. Fish

See also: ‘Cuba insists Raul Castro in control, Fidel recovering‘ (Yahoo! News, August 4, 2006) 

Castro recovering well, says brother Raúl‘ (The Guardian, August 19, 2006)

Castro supporter: “I oppose US aggression”‘ (BBC NEWS, August 7, 2006)

CNN hires Fidel Castro’s estranged daughter as contributor‘ (USATODAY, August 4, 2006)

US heckles Castro’s “baby brother”‘ (, August 19, 2006)

Speculation on U.S. invasion of Cuba is “far-fetched,” Rice says‘ (STLToday, August 7, 2006)

Battle for the Future of Cuba After Castro‘ (Mostly Water, August 20, 2006)

‘US ‘paid anti-Cuba journalists” (BBC NEWS, September 8, 2006)


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