You might want to pick your comfiest chair. Last week, former Cuban President Fidel Castro unveiled his new memoir, “Time Guerrilla,” a 1,000-plus page, two-volume set based on conversations with journalist Katiuska Blanco. Oh, and it stops just as his revolution r
eally gets rolling, in 1959.
At one point in this book, Castro tells his co-author: "I prefer an old clock, old eyeglasses, old boots and in politics, everything new."
I’m not sure how “new” anything is in Cuban politics these days, but it is high time for a new American policy toward this tiny country, which has long been burdened by our anachronistic trade embargo.
Early last year, President Obama did lift travel and finance bans that had been in place since 1959. Yet at a moment when one of the brightest young stars of the political right is Florida Senator and Cuban American Marco Rubio, we need to expedite things.
Rubio staunchly opposes lifting the embargo until both Castro brothers are gone and the island has restored a host of political freedoms. But a repeal of the Cuba trade embargo is long overdue for a host of political, economic and strategic reasons.
Stated simply: If we really want democratic political reform in Cuba, we should be expediting the end of the embargo, not postponing it.
It was in 1959 that Castro and his revolutionary movement wrested control from the U.S.-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and installed a communist government supported by the Soviet Union.
Castro — now 85 and retired from politics since 2006, when his brother Raúl took over as president — hasn’t been seen in public since last April. He was known to be quite ill a few years back and many speculated that he suffered from cancer.
But if you look at this BBC video of his book launch (audio was not made available by state-controlled television in Cuba), he sure looks to be in fine fettle. We see him animated, laughing and gesturing vigorously for emphasis.
The news conference lasted six hours. According to a BBC journalist who was there at the launch, the director of the Cuban Writers’ Union said that the memoirs were as “vivid as a 3-D film.”
Why settle in for this lengthy look at an elderly dictator? Castro is indisputably one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. He came within inches of provoking nuclear war between the super powers, somehow managed — James Bond-like — to elude numerous attempts on his life, and stubbornly presided over the first communist state in the Western hemisphere for 40-odd years. Before his retirement in 2006, he was the world’s longest-serving leader.
Understanding Castro’s life is also key to understanding Latin American ideas about sovereignty. To this day, Castro’s Cuba retains a sort of hallowed place in Latin America’s David vs. Goliath mentality — the tiny island that stood up to its hegemonic neighbor. I recently took a tour of the presidential palace in Argentina, which holds, on its first floor, a gallery of portraits of influential Latin American heroes.
And there, among predictable historical figures like Argentina’s Eva Peron, Brazil’s Lula and the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a portrait of Castro.
My 11-year-old, who is American enough to know that Castro isn’t usually considered a “hero” back in the U.S., was shocked to see him in this pantheon.
But it isn’t only in American politics that his influence is still a force. When countries like Argentina rattle their sabers at countries like England – as they are doing right now over who rightfully owns the Falkland Islands — their temerity is due in no small measure to Castro’s ongoing willingness to go toe-to-toe with the United States and challenge its imperial impulses in its “back yard.”