Open thread on Castro’s resignation

I’m terrifically busy with page-proofs of my book and many other things. But surely we should all discuss the news from Havana.
Ther NYT seems to have good coverage, here. That news page has links to a number of related items including the text of Fidel’s announcement, here.
Some of the best material on the US reaction to Fidel’s resignation can be found on Steve Clemon’s blog, The Washington Note. Look in particular at this comment he put up this afternoon:

    There is always a sense of leverage that the US thinks it has — but that leverage is now mostly fictional — as Cuba has found other thoroughfares for growth.
    We need to stop thinking that we have “leverage.” The whole point of Anya Landau French’s article is that US policy failed and that the embargo has failed — so let’s drop the fiction about the US having leverage in the embargo.
    The only leverage America has on lifting or maintaining the embargo is with an aging, Castro-obsessed, reactionary population in Miami that thankfully is being taken over by a more rational contingent of Cuban-Americans who have either rethought their views or who just don’t carry the same views as their elders in their younger portfolios of experience.

We could note the many similarities between the US’s decades-long campaign to starve the Cubans into submission and Israel’s younger campaign against the people of Gaza. One big difference being that Cuba has at least been able to maintain normal economic relations with all the other states of the world, while Israel has until now steadfastly sought to maintain its own occupation-derived chokehold on all of Gaza’s external links.

25 thoughts on “Open thread on Castro’s resignation”

  1. It’s hard to comment on Castro without opening the door to the capitalism-versus-communism debate. I think he’s been a great leader, particularly when you consider his contemporaries. I rank him with Nelson Mandela.
    (Before we start the ‘he’s a whore, and we’re virgins’ criticisms based on Cuba’s political system, review the relationship of the Western ‘democracies’ with places like Brunei, Kuwait and the other well-head monarchies. Don’t forget the dozens of military strongmen like Mubarak, Musharraf, and especially, Fulgencio Batista. And consider campaign financing, pay-to-play, and the Cheney surveillance state in the USA.)

  2. Maybe we do not deal with Cuba because they know what actually happened to JFK, and have some other dirt on us. They are probably better off not having relations with us, we have ruined every other country south of our borders with our policies, interventions, usury loans, etc.

  3. Watson, what does the relationships with those other nations you listed have to do with the Cuban communist government itself. I agree that it’s a scandal for the U.S. to pursue friendly relations with those dictatorships. There is a double standard: Those countries you listed should be treated the same way the government treats Cuba.
    I’m against the ban as well, because the ban has been helping prop up Castro instead of breaking him. Castro could always point to the ban as his excuse for all of Cuba’s problems, the same way the Bush administration could point to terrorists. The embargo allowed for Castro to shut Cuba away from the rest of reality. I want the embargo lifted immediately. So that the Cuban economy can be integrated with the rest of the world, and communication can be opened to Cuba. I firmly believe that the lifting of the embargo is the key to bringing down the Communists once and for all.

  4. Steve Eckardt on Counterpunch reminds us among other things that Comrade Fidel, President Fidel Castro Ruz, the Commander in Chief, “is so popular [around the world] that he’s almost universally and uniquely referred to by his first name.
    That’s at: .
    Coming from outside the USA it is impossible not to feel a shock of cruel rudeness at the constant use of the stark “Castro”, even here on JWN, in Helena’s headline. Everywhere else it is wall to wall terms of endearment and respect for this beloved man.
    Steve Bell’s got a great cartoon (“Dream of Freem”) in the Guardian at:,,337484,00.html .
    You can read SACP General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande’s nice tribute to Fidel, published today at:
    You can read my blog about it (with link to Fidel’s own statement at:

  5. Steve Eckardt at:
    Steve Bell at:
    SACP General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande at:
    Me at:
    I lost a big post to JWN. I made the mistake of not storing it on an MS-Word doc.
    The gist of it was the shock of seeing in US stuff the constant usage “Castro”, when everywhere else this beloved man is known simply as “Fidel”, or else his name is surrounded with elaborate terms of endearment and/or respect.

  6. Do you know Fidel Castro Ruz on a personal basis? If you don’t, then I don’t see what justification you have to call Mr. Castro, “Fidel”. The act of calling Castro “Fidel” has a brainwashing effect, deluding you into think he’s some kind of close friend of yours. And your close friend can’t hurt you with his dictatorial rule, can he?
    I then make a very important effort to only call Castro by “Castro”. The same as I say “Bush”, or “Brown”, or “Chavez” or “Karzai”. The practice of calling him “Fidel” strikes me as an Orwellian tool of swallowing people into Castro’s personality cult. Nothing personifies zombie behavior as much as this practice of calling Castro “Fidel”, a practice apparently praised by the lunatic fringe behind CounterPunch. For this same reason, I only refer to Ernesto Guevara as Ernesto Guevara. The “Che” word is a pure symbol of sheeple behavior. It is a strong moral stance with me to defy the pod people praised by Counterpunch and use “Castro” and “Guevara”. If this is rudeness, it is rudeness in the same style of burning the U.S. Flag. DARE to defy the deification of these symbols!
    And that Steve Bell cartoon is a condemnation of US Guantanamo Bay policy, not a praise of Cuba. Stalin opposed Hitler, that doesn’t mean Stalin was good.
    For the record, I was informed years back that in Latin America, the political culture is for politicians to get people to call them by their first names. You see that on political posters, it was never just Castro. That appears to be the attitude LA politicians want constituents to have with them. In that context, I would then not fault anyone with using a politician’s first name. But that is a practice I choose not to follow for my own life. And the context Dominic was describing sounds nothing like this Latin American context.

  7. Dominic said: I lost a big post to JWN. I made the mistake of not storing it on an MS-Word doc.
    Oh! So that is the key? Same thing (presumably) happened to me. Mine is history, ’cause I ain’t writing it again…

  8. Inkan, does it not occur to you that there is nothing particularly contrarian or courageous about your views of Castro, Cuba or Counterpunch, for that matter? The idea that those of us who find Fidel a rather sympathetic figure are brainwashed or subject to groupthink is, quite frankly, ludicrous. I live in a country in which the abuse of Cuba and Castro is so routine that those who engage in it have probably forgotten that it is abuse.
    For my mind the great achievement of Castro and Cuba in foreign policy was to save Angola from the fate that the USA and South Africa had in mind for it. In doing so Cubans did more to expose the weakness of Apartheid and undermine that terrible regime than any other country. Castro’s name will be honoured for generations after the names of the last ten US presidents have been forgotten by all but a few.
    Oh, and Stalin’s opposition to Hitler, that was a very good thing, and to the Georgian’s credit.

  9. What I had posted (and got lost somewhere in cyberspace; …by the way this only happens when I post here at JWN!) was an extract of what can be read at my blog (click my name to read it if interested). I haven’t the time to rewrite it.

  10. Inkan, I think we disagree over whether the US and capitalism are forces for good in the world.
    That the US has always had good relations with numerous authoritarian governments, but not with Cuba, is not accidental, it’s structural. Those governments, the oil monarchies are prototypical, are compradors, mediating exploitative relationships that could not be ratified in free and fair elections. Cuba’s stance on property and profit protects its people and resources from exploitation. Even more, Cuba is an insistent voice against exploitation. Cuba can’t conduct free and fair elections because Uncle Sam would put its thumb on the scales. Reagan and Negroponte’s contra war against Nicaragua is the model.
    The monopoly on political power is always ‘bad’, but in the case of the Cuban CP it’s arguably not ‘wrong’, because that power has been used to mobilize economic resources for human development and solidarity with the least of our brethren. Consider what Enron, Exxon, Halliburton, Blackwater, and Citibank have done with their power. Democracy is a non-negotiable goal, but it’s just a misleading word without universal electoral norms, and social and economic equality.
    Cuba has certainly suffered during the embargo, but it doesn’t follow that Cuba’s economic theories are inferior. If the good guys with the superior system had won the Cold War, a lot more peace and prosperity should have broken out worldwide by now. The trends aren’t good. The ‘free’ market is accessed by cash, and half the world has no money or virtually none. Billions are un- or under-employed, and slogging along without the benefit of labor-saving technology. Have the Wall Street frat boys provided a satisfactory explanation for the causes of and cures for the housing/credit/solvency bubbles?
    Capitalism is neither optimal nor humane, and given the scale of today’s weaponry, economic competition is no longer practical even for the winners. The way to go is communism, or to be gentler to today’s ear: economic sharing and cooperation via a robust public sector.

  11. Oh, and Stalin’s opposition to Hitler, that was a very good thing, and to the Georgian’s credit.
    Hmmm. I think that much of Stalin’s opposition to Hitler had to do with the fact that, by the time he responded to the German invasion, the Wehrmacht was just outside of Moscow. This in fact was due in no small measure to several factors.
    First is the fact that Stalin remained incapacitated and isolated for nearly a week following the German invasion, which had already crushed the Soviet forces in a matter of days.
    This, in turn, was largely a result of the fact that Stalin had purged his entire officer corps over the previous six years, replacing competent commanders and planners with incompetent cronies.
    But above all there’s the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement which had made Stalin and Hitler allies until June 21, 1941 and enabled the Germans to invade and occupy Poland and the Baltics without opposition.
    None of this puts Josef Vasserianovich in what I would call a positive light or is much to Koba’s credit.
    Perhaps your positive appraisal of Fidel and his role in one of the longest civil wars in history equally misses the target?

  12. I can agree that Fidel was an effective leader immediately after the revolution (which I still clearly remember). I also think that 50 years is a bit much, and that if he had been a “great” leader, he probably could have stepped down, say, a quarter of a century earlier.
    The embargo has been pretty much of a joke. All it’s really done is to make Cuban cigars an attractive and highly over-priced status symbol for what Watson refers to as “Wall Street frat boys”. Let’s face it, today Cuba doesn’t really have much to exploit, either in resources or population. The Soviet Union exploited Cuba’s only resources – sugar purchased at inflated prices and ideological fervor to their fullest. Today no one really needs Cuban sugar.
    When Fidel took over, Batista had been running the Cuban economy on tourists, casinos and prostitution for years. Since the end of the cold war, Fidel has been running the economy on… tourists and prostitution – along with more recent subsidies from Hugo Chavez. The majority of the people were poor in 1959, and the majority is poor today as well. The main difference is that today they can read. Pity they haven’t been allowed to use that litarcy to choose the type of government and leaders they want.
    As I recall, Nicaragua had free elections – certified, I believe, by Jimmy Carter himself – following the fall of the Sandinistas, and that Danny (if we’re being informal here) was only able to regain power through the electoral process quite recently. So apparently, the “have nots” are fully capable of making fairly complex decisions by themselves without being shown the direction by the “haves”.
    As to communist economies in general, I wonder if Watson has had the chance to meet many former Soviet citizens. The “robust public sector” led mainly to a bunch of very well educated people going to their state-funded jobs in the morning, placing their coats over the backs of their chairs to give the appearance of attendance, and then going off to their khaltura to earn money. They needed this money because others working in the “robust public sector” all took money under the table as their khaltura. So if, for example, you needed a bit more from your surgery than what the “robust public sector” had to offer (for example, getting it done before you died and actually having a chance of recovering from the surgery itself), then you had to pay the surgeon, because that was his khaltura.
    And, of course, the state planning ensured that there was always a defitzitna of something (although, generally neither of sugar or Cuban cigars). So, when Khrushchev decided that the Soviet Union must grow corn, Ukranian farmers had to plant corn. And when they failed to produce a harvest, the USSR had to turn to the capitalist economies in the US and Canada to feed its population.
    I don’t think that communism is such a prize, and I don’t expect it to last far beyond Fidel’s passing from power in Cuba.

  13. JES, your recollections concerning Nicaragua are not too clear. After gaining power in a revolution, the Sandinistas won an election, generally described as free and fair (except by the US government and press, what a surprise.). Throughout their time in power, they faced US hostility and terrorism. This was the major cause of economic problems after a very successful start, and was a major factor in their defeat in the polls at the next election – which was “the fall of the Sandinistas” rather than a subsequent event. So there’s a strong argument that illegal intervention was the means by which the haves, the US, “showed the direction to” the have-nots, the Nicaraguans. .

  14. Although Castro mesmerized many as a revolutionary, he failed as a leader. The fact that he had to remain in power for 49 years is evidence of that by himself. A true leader can build the political and social structure that allows others to carry the torch forward.
    Originally he wrapped himself in the language as a patriot, but later adopted the now discredited ideology of Communism, much to the detriment of the country and the people. His “internationalist” philosophy would normally be decried as imperialism, but his amen corner somehow supported the concept of a rogue nation prolonging conflicts and disrupting governments.
    Although I never thought the U.S. embargo was productive, make no mistake that Cuba’s wounds were and are largely self inflicted. One can examine certain aspects of the society, such as the educational and medical system. These are vastly overrated but nevertheless have some positive elements. But ultimately Castro left his country poor and unfree.
    And now, at 82, he passes the torch to…his brother. How anyone can praise the man after this is baffling.
    Ben-Gurion and Mandela were examples of how revolutionaries could also become great leaders. But it’s difficult for people to play both roles well. Castro ultimately failed and kept his country immersed in poverty and created a little autocracy. It really is sad how some people who purport to be progressive try to hold this man out as a positive force.

  15. ‘The Soviet Union exploited Cuba’s only resources – sugar purchased at inflated prices’
    It’s hard to call that exploitation, and it demonstrates that the Soviet Union was subsidizing its satellites; the capitalists exploit theirs. Compare the standard of living in the former USSR with that of Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, etc. Now compare the USA with El Salvador, Haiti, the Philippines or Zaire. Socialism takes on a much more challenging task, that of promoting the general welfare vs. supporting conquest by the ‘fittest’.
    ‘The Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement’
    From 1935 the USSR had called for a united front against nazism and fascism. After the West had ignored the conquest of Ethiopia and abetted the overthrow of Republican Spain, after Stalin offered military help to Czechoslovakia, after Chamberlain went to Munich; the USSR finally concluded a separate peace. Well-placed nazi-sympathizers kept the Greatest Generation on the sidelines until Pearl Harbor. Churchill and Stalin begged Roosevelt to open a western front, but the US didn’t enter Europe until the battles at Stalingrad and Kursk had turned the tide against the White Hope. 90% of German casualties were on the eastern front. Quisling and Vichy are not Russian names.
    I compared Castro to Nelson Mandela. I’ll bet that Mandela agrees.…ISBN=087348729x

  16. I can’t get that link to work. It’s to a book entitled ‘How Far We Slaves Have Come!’ The cover photo is of Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro together at a rally in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991. The book contains their speeches at that event.
    If anyone is not familiar with bevin’s reference above to Angola and Cuba’s role in the struggle against apartheid, google ‘Cuito Cuanavale’.

  17. Jonh R,
    My recollections are quite good. I suggest that you go back an look at what I wrote. I am suggesting that the people should have a right to vote, and that they did remove the Sandinistas from office when they had such a right, and that now they have returned Ortega to office.
    In other words, the Nicaraguans have shown themselves their own direction and are willing to live with their choices, something the Cubans have not been able to do.

  18. You’re are right, Watson. As I said, Cuba had nothing economcially to exploit. Soviet exploitation of Cuba was expressed in Cuba’s use as a proxy.
    I would say that the comparison you suggest is meaningless. If you are going to look at Soviet Settelites such as Bulgaria, Hungary and the Balkans, then you should first compare their situations before they became part of the Soviet Bloc and after they left. The Soviet Union didn’t subsidize its sattelite – they subsidized the failing economy of the USSR.
    As to your touching defence of Stalin, none of this is new, but that doesn’t make it true. You’ve left out a few details, however.
    For example, Stalin’s actions in Spain were not so noble or honest. Tens of thousands responded to the call of the Popular Front and Comintern, only to late be arrested and butchered by Stalinist forces. Orwell provides an interesting eyewitness account in “Homage to Catalonia”. It’s also interesting that Stalin, following the Spanish Civil War, purged every surviving veteran of that conflic he could get his hands on. Artur London’s account of the Prague purges is but one example.
    At the same time Nazi sympathizers (interestingly with slogans such as “No War for Jews”) kept the US on the sidelines, you seem to forget that “well-placed” Soviet sympathizers – particulary within the longshoreman’s union – called for ending support for Britain following Ribbentrop-Molotov and even refused to load Lend-Lease cargos destined for Britain.
    Sure Stalin pressured Roosevelt to open a second front in Europe, however you tend not to take note of the word “second”. The US had already helped remove the Germans and Italians from North Africa, liberated Sicily and was bogged down in Western Italy. There was also the little matter of the Pacific Theater of Operations. The US and Britain staged the invasion of Normany when they were ready, and when they felt they had the best opportunity of success – not when Koba found it most convenient.
    What you still insist on ignoring is the fact that Stalin had almost single-handedly destroyed his own forces during paranoid purges in the six years prior to Soviet entry into WWII on the right side. His cronies had built up cavalry forces instead of armored forces, cut plans for modernizing the Red airforce and even rejected plans for development of new weapons such as sub-machine guns. This meant that, during the sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad, Stalin suddenly became dependent on the very same Lendlease shipments he himself had ordered boycotted two years earlier. (And it’s interesting that, on June 21, 1941, the US Longshoremen and CPUSA all of a sudden became patriotic and anti-fascist again!)
    Your last bit is just disingenuous sleight-of-hand. No one, least of all me, argues one bit with the bravery and suffering of the Soviet people during World War II, or the lack of same by the majority of French under occupation. I lost family in the occupied Ukraine, including a second cousin who fought with the partisans before being captured and executed. I have known many veterans of the “Great War against Fascism”. I only take issue with giving Stalin credit for this, when he did so much to bring the necessity about in the first place and then turned around immediately after the war and began punishing those who had fought valiantly in that war.

  19. JES, perhaps your recollections are quite good, but unfortunately your first post – perhaps you should look at it and my response again – contained factual inaccuracies which distorted your argument.
    One can reasonably argue that the Soviet imposition of their system hindered the development of Eastern Europe, but that aside, I don’t think that there is a debate that the Soviets did not subsidize their satellites on a day to day, year to year basis, rather than vice versa.
    Churchill’s take on Molotov-Ribbentrop in his history of the war is interesting and perhaps not often enough cited. He nearly says that the British actions which he opposed at the time of course, consisting of refusing to align with Stalin opposing Hitler, practically pushed Stalin into the pact.
    I disagree with both Watson and JES; calling (early, widespread) American opposition to the war based in Nazi-sympathizing, a minor factor. On the contrary it was based in a widespread, rational and pacific attitude, appropriate for almost all times and places (e.g. right now in the US or Israel) of simply wanting to mind ones own business. A reaction to Wilson’s insane, hypocritical “world-saving” behavior – dragging the US into the first world war and then strangling his own brain-child of the League of Nations, the only positive thing that came out of it. Unfortunately this sane attitude wasn’t right for the insane times that the first war had set the stage for.

  20. On a fundamental level, the establishment in the West preferred the nazis to the communists. It’s been said that the West didn’t ignore Europe’s Jews; it sacrificed them on the altar of anti-communism. There’s an echo in the capitalists’ choice of the wahhabis over the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan.

  21. John R,
    Yes, I should have said that the Sandinistas were voted out in the first elections after the exposure of the Conra Affair. My point still stands, however, the people of Nicaragua – unlike those in Cuba – voted their mind and chose their leaders and economic system.
    Churchill’s take on Molotov-Ribbentrop in his history of the war is interesting and perhaps not often enough cited. He nearly says that the British actions which he opposed at the time of course, consisting of refusing to align with Stalin opposing Hitler, practically pushed Stalin into the pact.
    You’ll have to excuse me, because I haven’t read Churchill’s histor of WWII. What do you mean by he “nearly” says?
    Whatever you mean, however, I think that the point is quite irrelevant. I don’t believe there is any way that you are going to turn Stalin into a hero. Even if Stalin had been pushed (which I don’t thin he was), he allied himself with Hitler and colluded in the invasion of Poland – to the point of occupying territory and carrying out the Katyn Massacre. I say he was a willing participant; you say he was a somewhat reluctant participant. So what?
    On your last point, I tend to agree. I don’t think that people like Lindbergh, Ford or Joe Kennedy were Nazi-sympahthizers (although they admired them). I don’t think that it makes much difference. They were wrong.

  22. On a fundamental level, the establishment in the West preferred the nazis to the communists.
    Thay may be true. That doesn’t make he Nazis any more evil or the Soviets any less so! And it certainly doesn’t make Communism “right” and Capitalism “wrong”.
    BTW, if you want a more meaningful comparison, you might look at the two Germanies before the unification.

  23. Let’s hope we manage to do as well without gasoline. How are those cubans doing with the obesity epedemic? No problem? Ah, then it must be the opposite, surely they are starving. Poor devils, I’m sure if they are sick they won’t have any health insurance, how could such poor people afford it?
    Fidel Castro, as communist dictators go, has easily been the best. As a national leader of the latter half of the 20th century, considering his tenure, he did wrong, or committed crimes against his or other peoples, at an arguably lower rate than at least one US president. He did some good things. Show me “free a and fair elections” and I’ll show you: an angry American who disagrees. Careful with that volume knob!

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