Thursday, August 03, 2006

Castro in the Garden

Marc Cooper reflects on communist Cuba's tortured dreams:

When I first met my recently departed pal, Cuban writer Justo Vasco, in his crowded, hot-box Havana apartment almost 20 years ago, he described Fidel Castro as the spoiled son of a plantation ownwer. "Fidel runs this island the same way his daddy ran the sugar farm," Justo said. "As if all of Cuba were his personal hacienda, and as if all we Cubans were his peons."

Justo, whose father was a founder of the Cuban Communist Party, Justo who was Cuba's leading Russian literary translator, Justo who had married a Russian woman while studying in Moscow and who had an adult son who was a major in the Red Army, said all this --obviously-- with great, torturous pain.

I asked him why he, and the other revolutionary-generation Cuban writers I knew, were so obsessively bitter about the way things turned out? One could certainly criticize Cuba for many things, I agreed, but it still compared quite favorably with other, much more oppressive regimes: Iran under the Shah or Khomeini, Egypt, Chile under Pinochet etc.

"Yes, Marc, all that is true," he said. "But with one difference. We Cubans bit the apple. The Egyptians don't claim to be building a new society, they've made no claim on humanity as we have. That's why our sins are of such greater magnitude."

Justo's thoughts seem quite timely in the light of today's news from Cuba. We wouldn't bat an eyelash to read that the King or Emir of some corrupt gulf sheikdom had turned over power to his next of kin. But, I think, there's an added dimension when we see Castro do the same. It's not a surprise, by any means. We have all long known that kid brother Raul was his favored successor.

As we watch it actually happen in real time, however, there's a certain special squalor to it all. Castro has been in power for a staggering 47 years. Two-and-a-half generations of Cubans have been formed in "the revolution." But funny thing, it turns out the only Cuban fit to succeed him is his own brother. After a half-century of supposed socialist transformation, after churning out millions of "new socialist men" (and women) there isn't a single other Cuban who is capable of leading his country? Only Fidel's brother? That's quite a striking coincidence, wouldn't you say?

Snapping into the apple was an exhilirating, liberating experience when a bearded young idealist promised freedom, equality and a new way of life. But how very sour the aftertaste has, indeed, become.