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Castro in Carter's Cuba.......Oh, sorry, I meant......

how can we miss him if he won't go away?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 15, 2002.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who left office twenty-two years ago, gave a speech in Cuba yesterday that many thought would never happen in their, or at least Fidel Castro’s, lifetime. In a visit approved by all concerned, Carter politely castigated the Cuban judicial system, one party politics, and therefore Castro himself. He also was relatively forthright about the failings of the United States. He did this in what has been called ‘highly accented’ Spanish, but – face it - the same can be said for his English. Whatever you feel about the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, or Jimmy Carter himself, he cannot be accused of keeping his digits damp to the political thermals. What he said yesterday, with few changes, is probably what he would have said in 1979, when it would have been far more inflammatory here.

Carter is a religiously good man; he has always felt that honest thought and good intention, honorably revealed, would shame and conquer nefarious enemies because of the weight of world opinion and, probably, divine intervention on behalf of the Right. During his Presidency, he made and essentially invented the term of ‘human rights’ as a political tool to rouse good people against bad policy, either our own or that of the Soviet Union. When the Soviets betrayed his trust and invaded Afghanistan, Carter’s rage and sense of betrayal were palpable and roundly snickered at by the supposedly more worldly conservative Republicans who walloped him in the 1980 election.

They said that only a naïf could have believed that the Soviets were motivated by the same things we were and would respond as such. Carter is guilty of that in one way, but not in others. He failed to appreciate how removed from the will of its people the Soviet government was. In some ways, the Soviet policies were more progressive and beneficial than what the people, given a vote, would have enacted. In other ways, primarily by guaranteeing its own existence, it was centuries behind a population surreptitiously listening in to an increasingly wireless and electronic world, and therefore preventing political and secular growth. In any case, it is rarely noted that Carter’s once ridiculed concern for ‘human rights’ became the hammer used so well by his successor to illuminate the many failings of the Soviets, and the end came from within - not at the military borders, not at the military level – enacted by those concerned with just those issues. Which is to say, it was Carter’s view that won out in the long run.

In Cuba, the failures of Castro are everywhere. His failures are not those, per se, of communism, because a true communist government isn’t run by one man for forty years any more than a democracy is. Those are fascist governments, and Castro, by any definition, is a fascist. He is, in a way, like Mussolini or a benign Hitler without racial hatred, without grand mythological delusions. His country is nationalistically socialistic, something the Nazis claimed to be but were not. Everything under the central government is socialized to the initial benefit of the government itself, which is to say, Fidel. Castro has no great plan for Cuba. He was never, until his dole ran out with the Soviet Union, particularly concerned about the economic well being of his people beyond basic and short ranged needs. He never dealt with worst-case scenarios - a government’s actual job - or even less than complete victory scenarios, and he was caught totally flatfooted by the demise of his sole benefactor. Through the decades, with any diplomatic skill, he could have largely circumvented the US embargo with skeptical Europe, or equally anti-Yankee Mexico or South America. Castro seems like a personable guy, and he is credited with great intelligence with no actual evidence, but his diplomacy and governing skills have been proven bovine to non-existent. Forced attendance, forced policy implementation, force.

It is well to remember he was, first and foremost, a soldier, and his views are exhausted after guaranteeing his citizens had the education to make good soldiers and little more. It is as if Napoleon were allowed to rule the French Caribbean but was embargoed there. A frustrated soldier with imperial aspirations, like Bonaparte, would probably end up as the unctuous gasbag Castro has become with a cult of himself and unending power till death: amusing and always opinionated but having no ability to act out his designs.

In the third world, huge pictures of political leaders are explained, more or less truthfully, as necessary because literacy is so low. In Cuba, literacy is about as high as one could reasonably expect in any nation – one of several substantive benefits, like cleaning out the corrupt Mafioso previous to him, that Castro need be remembered and honored for – yet still the huge pictures of him and Che and Lenin. If not personal vanity, what then?

Jimmy Carter, denounced as a failure, has his vanities, no doubt, but that hasn’t prevented him from donning the hair shirt and doing good. He continues to do good work and, more important perhaps, he does it for the right reasons. He does not, like Gerald Ford, become a corporate spokesman. He does not whine about his failures or cast blame. He remains useful and helpful to both Republican and Democratic administrations and, at times, annoys them both. He did yesterday, by appearing with Castro in his own domain, something that illustrates the problem with Cuba. Carter was the most powerful man in the world and, when voted out, accomplished a paradigm shift in his psyche and started a new life as a contributing citizen. Even the most fervent leftists among you cannot visualize Castro allowing competing parties or such an election, honoring such an outcome, ever fading into the background for the good of his country. Is Cuba so bereft of competence that only Fidel can do? Does anyone think that? Does Fidel?