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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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]


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• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.


South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.



In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.


Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️


"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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