Thursday, December 07, 2006

Twilight of the patriarchs? - Pinochet & the Castros (Marc Cooper)

More than three decades ago, the democratic-left journalist Marc Cooper worked in the press office of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown and killed in a 1973 military coup led by Augusto Pinochet. Today he finds an intriguing juxtaposition in what looks like the terminal illnesses of two figures who, in different ways, have already outlived their era--Pinochet and Fidel Castro.
Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet underwent emergency surgery Sunday after suffering a heart attack. The 91 year old former general is currently facing myriad murder, torture and human rights violations charges. Having been given last rites, he might wind up dying just in time to avoid a trial. [....]
Ailing octogenerian Fidel Castro, on the other hand, has already been lavished with the first of what promises to be numerous, public spectacles of a Roman scope to take place immediately before and after his coming demise. [....] This is merely the first in a number of such state-sponsored street operas aimed at slowly preparing for the death of Castro. After all, the Cuban ruling elite have to be scared stiff by what will come after Fidel proves he is, alas, a mortal. [....] I find it fascinating--and quite revealing--that the Cuban state continues to treat Castro's medical condition as a state secret.
Fidel's kid brother, Raul, barely a spry 75 year old and effectively exercising power, meanwhile, has repeated a Cuban offer to "to resolve at the negotiating table the prolonged dispute between the United States and Cuba, if and when they accept our country's condition that it will not tolerate any shadows over its independence." I'm all for that, of course. [....] Nice that Raul makes his offer of negotiation with the Americans--though he knows it will be turned down. More impressive would have been an offer by Raul to negotiate the coming internal domestic transition with his own people precisely to avoid conflict and to avoid offering the pretext for foreign intervention.
In case anyone missed the literary reference in my heading, I notice that the same thought occurred to Robert Fiore, as indicated by this passage from the comment he wrote in response to Marc's post.
Those looking for insight into what’s happening in Cuba could do worse than to read or re-read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Autumn of the Patriarch.” One point in particular it makes is that the effect this kind of endless personal dictatorship is to infantalize the political culture of the country, though of course Gabo never expected this point to be directed at his friend Fidel.
Support for dictatorships of both left and right--ranging from strained apologetics to enthusiastic adulation--was a remarkably pervasive feature of 20th-century political discourse. I don't just mean that many dictatorial regimes had significant support in their own countries (not all of them, of course, but some enjoyed massive popularity, at least for a while). What's more telling is that they could often count on having supporters, defenders, and fans abroad. Will the 21st century be different? So far, the signals are mixed.

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Marc Cooper
December 3, 2006
Pinochet Gasps. Castro Disappears. Raul Postures

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet underwent emergency surgery Sunday after suffering a heart attack.

The 91 year old former general is currently facing myriad murder, torture and human rights violations charges. Having been given last rites, he might wind up dying just in time to avoid a trial. Chilean President, Socialist Michele Bachelet, says when the viejo huevon actually dies he will not be given any grandiose state funeral. That's good. Pinochet should be unceremoniously buried in a plain, pine box with a 24/7 armed guard posted on the grave site. Just to make sure he can't get out.

Ailing octogenerian Fidel Castro, on the other hand, has already been lavished with the first of what promises to be numerous, public spectacles of a Roman scope to take place immediately before and after his coming demise. Though not physically present at the event, Fidel was the honored guest this weekend when the Cuban state rolled out some aging Russian tanks, batteries of anti-aircraft missiles, choppers, MIG's, and tens of thousands of marching troops in one more old-fashioned Stalinist military parade befitting for an aging leader of a one-party dictatorship.

This is merely the first in a number of such state-sponsored street operas aimed at slowly preparing for the death of Castro. After all, the Cuban ruling elite have to be scared stiff by what will come after Fidel proves he is, alas, a mortal. I don't think anyone knows, but the least likely possibility is the status quo ante. There are millions of poor, disproportionately black, younger Cubans who have grown up having only one papito, and upon whom they will (rightfully) blame their current portfolio of bleak perspectives. When Fidel finally checks out, when the lid is removed, their expectations are going to soar.

I find it fascinating--and quite revealing--that the Cuban state continues to treat Castro's medical condition as a state secret. Fifty years of "revolutionary" rule, two generations of New Men, and yet not enough trust in "the people" to tell them what the condition is of the one man who holds all power over them. Wonderful.

The Cuban state won't reveal what's taken Castro "temporarily" out of office. Most informed observers believe El Jefe Maximo has got irreversible colon cancer.

Fidel Castro was also a no-show at the week-long conference of the Guayasmin Foundation just concluded in Havana that...celebrated the life and thought of Fidel Castro! This is what passes for intellectual life in the asphyxiated Cuban cultural world. The low point of the conference was its final resolution: the appointment of a committee to begin planning the celebration of Fidel's 90th birthday -- a decade from now! In the meantime, maybe these great thinkers can pass the time watching re-runs of Chairman Mao swimming 43 miles a day up the Yangtze River.

From where I sit, that motion to prepare for Fidel's 90th unmasks the true totalitarian mindset. Not because there is anything sinister or repressive about such an idiotic resolution. Instead, it brashly reveals just how low Cuba's political/cultural managers want to force down the bar of public discourse. Clamp down is more like it. This great gathering of intellectuals responds to Castro's imminent demise with a suggestion of complete and total denial and silence. Debate? What debate?

Fidel's kid brother, Raul, barely a spry 75 year old and effectively exercising power, meanwhile, has repeated a Cuban offer to "to resolve at the negotiating table the prolonged dispute between the United States and Cuba, if and when they accept our country's condition that it will not tolerate any shadows over its independence."

I'm all for that, of course. The Bush administration, however, seems too distracted by the debacle in Iraq to be seriously planning any post-Castro invasions of Cuba. The primary concern of the U.S. won't be so much who is in power in Havana but rather how to stop millions of Cubans from trying to get here. The demand to come to the great Yuma, as Cubans calls the U.S., will actually increase when Castro punches out. What a nice little irony for which the entirety of the American political class will be unprepared.

Nice that Raul makes his offer of negotiation with the Americans -- though he knows it will be turned down. More impressive would have been an offer by Raul to negotiate the coming internal domestic transition with his own people precisely to avoid conflict and to avoid offering the pretext for foreign intervention. But then again, his people are those uniformed AK-wielding troops that marched through Havana on Saturday. And likely, he'll soon be needing them.

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