The Summit of Obama and Castro
Ivan Garcia, 15 April 2015 — There were two Summits of the Americas. The one that will be remembered by history is the one of Raul Castro, wide-eyed in the presence of Barack Obama, like a boy waiting to ask for an autograph from a movie star leaving a hotel.
When the tale is told of the VII Summit (which took place in Panama on April 10 and 11, 2015), historians will recall General Castro’s 48-minute speech and his flattering remarks about the U.S. president. And Obama’s comments.
Cuba in 2015 will be remembered for what it is: a country of autocrats where human rights are limited to the right to life, work, universal health coverage and education.
The remaining rights are, according to the regime, fairy tales of bourgeois democracy. Presidential elections? For what? There is no need for multiple parties when one will do. Public demonstrations in the streets and at universities are only for those who support the Castros.
Raul Castro is like a contortionist. He has put away the daggers of Fidel Castro’s strongman, absolutist government and has begun to open the door slowly. But his feet remain planted on the other side of the threshold.
Capital investments and loans are only for foreigners. In terms of foreign policy, it appears to be a normal country. The era of providing material support for Latin America’s guerrillas is over, as are attempts to create one, two or a hundred Vietnams.
These are now part of the military’s book of memories. For the slogan-loving, anarchist members of the Jurassic left, there are still the speeches of Fidel Castro and the berets of Che Guevara.
The strategy in the backrooms of power is to negotiate with the enemy, trading military uniforms for guayaberas and postponing the construction of a communist utopia in order to build state capitalism with former generals and colonels in charge.
It’s a makeover. A modern dictatorship. It is still intolerant of those with differing opinions, but now no blood is shed. Only a few fractured skulls, punches and brief detentions for dissenters.
The yin and the yang. Obama is banking on a change of course. Nothing will be lost if the objectives are not met. The problem is Cuba. The White House, ever pragmatic, thinks it is better to negotiate with Raul.
This is nothing new. They have dealt with vile figures such as Somoza, Pinochet and Duvalier. One more dictator in the bag is no big deal. Democracy can wait.
It would be even better if a flood of dollars and gum-chewing gringos in Havana managed to undermine the island’s totalitarian regime. Obama’s change of strategy could be the key to keeping 21st century socialists in line.
Some of this was evident at the summit in Panama. Maduro, Correa, Morales and Ortega were relegated to the background. Cuba, the ideological parent, tamped down the old Hugo Chavez rhetoric.
It is yet to be seen if Obama’s new policy will achieve its objectives or will fail, but it is undeniably a different direction. Meanwhile, Raul Castro has his own plans.
When he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees the saviour of the Revolution he inherited from his brother. He foresees a lavish military parade in 2059, staged by his relatives and countrymen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Castro dynasty.
The master plan involves business deals, social control and a modern foreign policy. At this point the island’s ideologues are more inclined to look towards the late founder of independent Singapore rather than to Deng Xiao Ping.
They will retain their old methods, of course, like confiscating the passports of their most steadfast opponents or dispatching a squadron of karate experts disguised as members of “civil society” to spar with them.
Cuba blatantly exports its acts of repudiation. With the snap of a finger, they summon fanatical anarchists, convinced that imperialists and their lackeys are heavily involved.
On a mission ordered by their boss, special agents crash parallel forums at the summit in which Cuban dissidents take part. This is one side of the Castros.
The other side is the one that flatters Obama. It provides caviar for technology gurus, hoping they will invest in Cuba, and tries to convince U.S. lobbyists that the island is an attractive market for food exports.
Something of a circus-like atmosphere surrounded the summit. It got a lot of media attention but produced very few results. With the economies of Latin American countries entering recession, the roaring economy of the United States attracted the interest of the region’s heads of state.
The Cuba of the Castros is one of nostalgia and an outlet for the anti-American sentiment. A country of pure symbolism, it has many doctors and ideologues but their contributions do not impact the GDP.
Obama knows this. This is why he is gambling on a strategy to tame the lion tamer.