Fidel at 90. An old parrot can’t learn new tricks

In any case, what’s important is to elucidate what Fidel’s role is in today’s Cuba.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, Fidel Castro marks his 90th birthday. He was severely ill a decade ago, but has survived several complicated intestinal surgeries and the degeneration typical of such an advanced age, including some cerebral deficits, as happens to 93 percent of all nonagenarians.

His older brother Ramón, who Fidel resembled a great deal physically, died last February at the age of 91. For the past three years at least, he was affected by an increasing senile dementia.

In any case, what’s important is to elucidate what Fidel’s role is in today’s Cuba. After all, Fidel has been the only caudillo of the revolution; he managed to create the only communist state in Latin America that has endured and clung to Marxism-Leninism after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and all its European satellites.

I believe that it is important to understand that facet of his personality. Fidel Castro is a person who’s incapable of changing course. Either because he believed blindly in Marxism-Leninism or because his psychological rigidity barred him from assuming another point of view, or because he thought that any change would make him lose power, the fact is that he kept the single party and the control of the important means of production in the hands of the Cuban state.

Still echoing in one’s memory is his oft-repeated cry of battle in those days: “The island will first sink into the sea before we abandon Marxism-Leninism.”

Furthermore, after the disappearance of the USSR, Fidel picked up the remains of the communist and anti-Western world cultivated by Moscow and, together with Lula da Silva, built with them the São Paulo Forum to continue to struggle against the United States, against the market economy and, in the final analysis, against the West.

In his struggle, he managed to recruit Hugo Chávez and, between the two, with the Venezuelan leader’s petrodollars, developed the strategy of 21st-Century socialism and the ALBA, to oppose any integration that wasn’t socialist, in the worst sense of the word.

In summer of 2006, Fidel Castro fell gravely ill; he had to abdicate and surrender to his brother Raúl the baton of command.

What did Raúl do? He reiterated Fidel Castro’s pattern of behavior and committed himself to continuing with the communist model imposed by his brother. At the time he said that he would consult with Fidel on all the important issues that came to his desk (he has) and made it clear that he wasn’t coming to power to surrender the revolution but to strengthen it.

Within that spirit, the emergence of minimal private entrepreneurship and a timid opening, which in no way endanger the core of the communist system, are strategies for the survival of his regime.

The same can be said for the thaw with the United States announced in December 2014. Fidel was consulted and gave his approval but with clear assurances that the communist model would remain in effect.

For that reason, it is naive to expect that U.S. investments (if they ever materialize), the arrival of flocks of American tourists, and the end of the embargo will produce the democratization of Cuba.

Fidel and, consequently, Raúl have decided that, from the thaw with the U.S., they will accept only what benefits them and reject anything that weakens their regime.

They continue to beat up the opposition. They continue to support Chavism. They continue to be allies with Iran and North Korea. They continue to strengthen ties with Syria. They continue to harm Israel every time they can. They continue to back the FARC in Colombia and the 5 percent of Puerto Ricans who seek independence from the United States.

To Fidel and Raúl, the opening of relations with the United States is not the starting point of a democratic change but the rectification of a new Washington that has to learn to coexist with a hostile neighbor who negatively affects the interests of Americans.

At 90, in the darkness of old age, Fidel remains the same as ever; so does Raúl at 85. An old parrot can’t learn new tricks, the Venezuelans say. They’re right.

Published by El Blog de Montaner on August 11th, 2016