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Why The Castro Turn Is More Mao Than Gorbachev

The Castro regime's about-face to restore ties with the U.S. signals the communist economic system's shameful failure. But politics is another matter.

The Castro brothers in 2011
The Castro brothers in 2011
Darío Acevedo Carmona

BOGOTA — Cuban President Raúl Castro may hold onto his communist dogmas, but the utter failure of the revolutionary model he (and his brother) sought to impose on the island has become entirely, shamefully clear.

Almost since it declared itself to be communist and severed ties with the United States, the dictatorial Castro regime has blamed "Yankee imperialism" and "decadent capitalism" for all the shortfalls — and shortcomings — of its planned economy.

Historical evidence shows that the Castro polity has always needed foreign aid, first provided by the Soviets then by an oil-pumping, spendthrift Venezuela. But the fracking revolution in the United States, which has taken oil to its lowest price in 10 years, and the Castro brothers' descent into old age, both helped pave the way for the recent accord to renew ties.

The Cuban government, faced with an excessively uncertain economic panorama, had no choice but to seek out Goliath.

The agreement between Castro and President Barack Obama doesn't spell the end of the blockade with which the United States sought in vain to bring down the Castro regime, nor will it suddenly impose capitalism. But it will begin a process of capitalist-type investments and business ventures that will breathe life into the island's economy.

Their agreement does not and will not determine the fate of democracy and freedoms in Cuba. The Cuban exile community, which sees Obama's move as a betrayal, must understand that it's not rare in the world of diplomacy for governments with opposed systems to establish ties, as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has pointed out. The ideological and political fight against communism in Cuba will continue to be difficult and even heroic, but it seems irrational to expect change to simply be the fruit of U.S. pressure.

Fidel's silence

The Cuban turn is quite unlike the Glasnost reforms of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. It looks more like the path China's communists rulers chose after Mao, opting for capitalism while firmly maintaining their party's grip on power. It's not clear where Fidel Castro stands in all this. Raúl is neither Cuba's Gorbachev nor a dissident or revisionist acting against his brother. Fidel's silence could mean he is too sick, or if he's lucid, that his immense ego won't permit him to recognize his failure.

Obama in turn has made this decision following a spectacular defeat in congressional elections and as his presidency approaches its dusk. The strong Republican majority doesn't look like it intends to simply back his rapprochement with a dictatorial regime. This could plausibly be seen as a gamble ahead of the 2016 presidential election, hoping to feed a groundswell of support for the next Democratic candidate. If only for electoral reasons, reviving U.S. influence on the American continent is of interest to the Democrats.

Obama will perhaps remind the Republicans that it was a president from their party, Richard Nixon, who normalized ties with China under Mao, and that the U.S. has nothing to lose by establishing ties with Cuba. On the contrary, these will provide economic opportunities without forcing the U.S. to renounce its pressures for democratic change.

Mao and Nixon in 1972. Photo: White House archives

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez aptly describes the situation in terms of a modern David and Goliath relationship, though in this case Goliath takes out his checkbook for David, who is at wits' end.

"Wild West" Yankee capitalism is giving Cuban communism a helping hand.

Yet left-wing intellectuals such as Pablo Gentili and Alfredo Molano, seemingly unable to discard their ideological glasses or end their sycophantic attitude toward the red regime, prefer to declare David's victory over Goliath. They will neither see the calamity of the Cuban economy nor speak about repetitive rights violations there. Wedded to their old communist dogmas, they cannot perceive a simple fact — that communism did not defeat capitalism — and are resorting to verbal and conceptual acrobatics to explain the inexplicable. It may be a consolation for them to observe that the dignity of the weak triumphed over the stronger party.

President Castro gave the continent's most intransigent communists a nasty little Christmas present. Like it or not, the revolutionary lighthouse is fading. Even the puppet government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was left looking foolish when it wasn't even informed of what its great ally was quietly concoting.

As for Colombia, let us not hastily speak of the move's effect on the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, which has shown before that it will not be moved by such events.

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Photo of police during protests in China against covid-19 restrictions

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At the core, protesters are unhappy with President Xi Jinping's three-year-long Zero-COVID strategy that has meant mass testing, harsh lockdowns, and digital tracking. Yet, the general belief about the Chinese people was that they lacked the awareness and experience for mass political action. Even though discontent had been growing about the Zero-COVID strategy, no one expected these protests.

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