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Cuba, Cubans still stuck

POSTED: July 5, 2007 5:02 a.m.
You’d have to be a masochist, a journalist or a CIA analyst to sit through more than 30 seconds of the latest Fidel Castro video appearance.
In an interview for Cuban TV, the guy meandered as he wished and spent interminable minutes reading out loud factoids from a book about Vietnam.
Did you know that, as of three years ago, 45 percent of Vietnam’s rural population had access to “modern sanitary installations”? They hope to make it 85 percent by 2010, Castro said, because economic development in Vietnam is geared toward “the people.”
Castro seemed more rested and healthier than he did a few months ago in a clip in which he looked like a cadaver trying to appear alive by doing an exercise routine designed for the undead. Still, he spoke slowly, sometimes pausing for several seconds at a time to regain his train of thought.
He no longer looks like a man on the verge of death. But neither does he look like he will ever have the energy and sharpness to regain power. Fidel Castro is history.
His regime is not, but Cuba is not freer or more prosperous since his brother Raul took power after Castro became too ill to govern. That happened last summer, almost one year ago, and there is still zero sign of reform.
Is there anything the United States, Europe and those Latin American democracies so inclined can do to help Cuba become a country where people do not go to jail for disagreeing with the government?
In a quick visit to Madrid a few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Cuba policy.
“I think democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, to support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that it is just going to be transition from one dictatorship to another,” she said.
She is right. There can be a healthy debate about the effects of loosening parts of the U.S. embargo. Could allowing more Cuban-Americans to visit strengthen reformist elements in Cuba, or would it give the regime a boost? It’s a legitimate question.
What is unforgivable is the kind of uncritical diplomacy in which the Zapatero government is engaging, premised on the naive notion that if you are nice to Havana, maybe someday Havana will start acting nice. It is a policy that props up the regime while weakening the opposition — certainly no way to promote democracy.
The problem is there is nobody in the international community who can help move Cuba in a positive direction. Zapatero will forever remain Bambi, as one columnist in Spain called him, “an innocent and idealist fawn.” The rest of Europe does not care. Latin America likes having a Castro or two to prove it is gloriously independent of U.S. policy. And the United States, after six years of incompetence, obliviousness and bullying, has never been more impotent on the international stage.
So managing the transition will be up to Cubans themselves. When it comes to politics, that has never been a good thing.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
 

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