Still Pondering U.S.-Cuba Relations, Fidel Castro Responds
OCT. 14, 2014
By ERNESTO LONDOÑO
Fidel Castro, who was once omnipresent in state media and notorious for
delivering hourslong speeches in packed halls, has largely vanished from
public view in Cuba. But the 88-year-old former president has not
altogether abandoned the business of telling Cubans what to think since
he handed the reins of power in 2008 to his brother, Raúl.
Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, regularly publishes columns under
the byline of the former president that tackle current events and seek
to burnish the fading allure of the Cuban revolution that brought him to
power in 1959.
On Tuesday, Mr. Castro dedicated a column to an editorial published in
The Times on Sunday that called on the Obama administration to restore
diplomatic ties with the Cuban government and end the counterproductive
embargo the United States has imposed on the island for decades. His
take was remarkable for one main reason: by quoting nearly every
paragraph in the editorial, he amplified the reach of an article that
included significant criticism of the Cuban government. Cuba has one of
the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, which keeps critical
views of the government from circulating widely.
Hosts of state-run radio stations read Mr. Castro’s column and discussed
its content, which was a rare instance of the government’s leaders
allowing the state’s tightly controlled media to discuss sensitive
subjects, including political prisoners and the suspicious death of a
Mr. Castro’s column was published on page 2 of Tuesday’s print edition
of Granma, its importance flagged by a large front-page headline
promoting the column. He appeared to endorse the thrust of the
editorial, comparing it to an interview he gave in 1957 as a young rebel
leader to a Times foreign correspondent at the time, Herbert Matthews,
to refute claims that he had been killed in action.
It is unclear the extent to which Mr. Castro, who has been in failing
health for years, still calls the shots in Cuba. There are hard-liners
in the country who view rapprochement with the United States as a
dangerous gamble that should be undertaken only gradually. But by
presenting the argument to a wide audience, Mr. Castro seemed eager to
telegraph the message that lower-level Cuban officials have been
conveying to their American counterparts in recent years: let’s talk.
Mr. Castro excerpted without comment portions of the editorial that
described the dismal state of the Cuban economy and the recent, halting
economic reforms the government undertook to wean the nation from
dependence on its troubled benefactor, Venezuela. Remarkably, Mr. Castro
also included criticism of the Castro regime as an “authoritarian
government” that harasses and detains dissidents.
He took strong exception to one point about Cuba’s failure to explain
the suspicious death of the political activist Oswaldo Payá. Many
suspect Mr. Payá was killed by security forces. Mr. Castro called the
reference in the editorial “slanderous and gratuitous.”
Still, Mr. Castro seemed quite pleased to note that deeper engagement
with the United States could unlock the potential of one of the
hemisphere’s most educated societies (using four exclamation marks).
Cuba’s state-run universities have produced one of the most literate
societies in the region and the country routinely dispatches its doctors
to assist in global crises. “This is indeed recognition,” Mr. Castro said.
Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, said the
column appeared to represent an effort by the government to show that it
has become more open to criticism and introspection. “They’re trying to
show that they’re more liberal,” he said, arguing that the gesture
should be seen with skepticism.
The website of Yoani Sánchez, a popular Cuban blogger, who is among the
government’s most high-profile critics, published a lengthy article on
the issue on Tuesday. It argued that a closer relationship with the
United States would likely help and empower Cubans. Interestingly, the
article portrayed Mr. Castro as the leader of the old guard that has
been holding back his brother from improving relations with the United
Mr. Castro suggested that the United States could benefit from expanded
cooperation with Cuba particularly in areas like climate change,
commerce and arms control. He also made a reference to the global effort
to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading further, in which Cuban
doctors are playing a leading role.
His closing line noted that the United Nations will soon vote on whether
the United States embargo on Cuba is a sound policy. The annual,
nonbinding vote is always an embarrassment for Washington. Last year,
only Israel voted with the United States.
Source: Still Pondering U.S.-Cuba Relations, Fidel Castro Responds –