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The Castro Brothers Pull the Emergency Brake

February 22, 2015
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Fidel and Raul Castro in December, 2001. NBC News.

Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2015 — Fidel Castro appeared. The bearded old man spoke in an elliptical address that sowed fear of future relations between the two Cold War enemies.

The message was meant to cool the enthusiasm of the young. The old guerilla, bellicose as ever, gummed up the works and dampened the festive atmosphere of a large segment of the island’s population who want to see an end to the longstanding dispute between Cuba and the United States.

You need not be a code breaker to decipher the meaning. It was a storm warning: The Yankees are still at the gate, only now with different weapons.

The hackneyed theory of ripe fruit. The gringos want to clog us with McDonald’s, broadband internet and smartphones. This time the Trojan horse is not a missile; it’s a computer.

Then it’s back to the trenches. The “barbarians from the North” want to take your money, apply their technology and do business, but only with the state. Castro I is sounding the alarm.

We do not yet know — perhaps we will in the future — if this was a concerted media offensive or if the old comandante is acting on his own. What we do know is that his brother Raul put on his boxing gloves at a summit in Costa Rica and made an offer.

The demands could have filled a basket. Some were unrealistic and over-the-top. Castro II was probably bluffing but it was an audacious move. The trick was knowing how far to test the limits of President Obama’s patience.

White House eagerness to arrive in April at Summit of the Americas in Panama with negotiations well underway, embassies reopened and an ongoing dialogue taking the burden of Cuba off its relationship with the rest of the continent is the Castro brothers’ secret weapon.

The playing field is uncertain. Venezuela is taking on water and Cuba’s finances are in the red. But in its favor the military regime has managed to maintain social and political control over an anesthetized nation.

However, they are stretched to the limit. In spite of being octogenarian, the Castros have more time to spare than Obama. Almost two months after the surprising diplomatic turn of events on December 17, Cuban authorities have decided to dampen the enthusiasm of Afro-Cubans.

The party propaganda machine is working at full speed. Editorials in government-run newspapers tell us the enemy is still out there. Negotiating with the Castros is an exercise in pure abstraction. They are always playing with marked cards. Or with nothing. But this time they have slipped up. Times have changed.

People are tired of all the mess, of the embargo, of a system that does not work, of the fear-mongering speeches. The narrative is no longer having its effect. When you ask eighteen- to thirty-year-old Cubans to where they would most like to emigrate, most say the United States.

The Castros’ policies have boomeranged. Never before in Cuba have so many people idolized the United States’ culture, consumerism and lifestyle as today.

It is a trivialized version of American society. Due to a lack of information — or simply because they suspect that the regime is lying — adolescents, young people and even many adults believe that in the United States dollars fall from the sky in parachutes.

Private sector workers think applying for a micro-credit loan from a New York bank is as easy as ordering a lemonade in Pinar del Rio or Cienfuegos. Since December 17 many Cubans have come to believe in political science fiction.

The Castro brothers have not outlined a strategy in which a street vendor or a private farmer can get a small loan from the United States.

Obama has also been blowing smoke. After eighteen months of secret negotiations and with information provided by the CIA, the White House should have foreseen that — as has always been the case — the Cuban regime would defend itself by going on the attack.

The philosophy of survival is a favorite for the brothers from Biran. From the perspective of the average Cuban, however, Obama is the winner. On the streets of Havana it is Fidel and Raul who are blamed for slowing down negotiations.

But the Castros are only interested in holding onto power and controlling every future diplomatic move. President Obama’s roadmap was merely a shovel for digging his own grave. They are no fools. They have pulled the emergency brake.

18 February 2015

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