January 3, 2006
Cuba's Sad Anniversary -- 47 Years and Counting

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Around this time we mark another anniversary of Fidel Castro's triumphant drive into Havana at the head of his little army of bearded men, an event that happened no less than 47 years ago. At the time, the comandante was an impetuous and bold young man, convinced that he knew how to restructure humanity so everyone might become wealthy and happy, even if the way to achieve such a benevolent objective were to beat everyone into submission.

At this point in history, only two interesting questions remain about the failed experiment staged by Castro on that poor island:

• First, why has a man as eccentric and absurd as he -- capable of carrying out feats as improbable as the destruction of the centenary sugar industry, multiplying by 10 the number of prostitutes, executing or eliminating 16,000 people, and pushing into exile 15 percent of the Cuban population -- lasted so long in power?

Nobody doubts that his administration is the worst the country has ever endured, incapable for the past half century of allowing Cubans to have drinking water, electricity, food and shelter in minimally reasonable amounts.

• The second question also is obvious: What will happen when he disappears? After all, we're talking about an ailing 79-year-old man with Parkinson's disease who exhibits very clear symptoms of senile dementia and has been struck by several cerebral ischemias that have affected his ability to communicate. He mumbles, repeats himself, becomes incoherent and confused, and displays aggressively bad temper at the slightest contrariety.

He can still talk for eight consecutive hours without the slightest concern for his listeners' bladders. What's important is not his staying power but the content of his speeches. He is a pitiful man who never stops uttering nonsense, to the embarrassment of a ruling class that has been trained to obey a charismatic and presumably infallible leader and now doesn't know what to do with this addlebrained and neurotic old geezer who just as blithely designs pygmy cows as he expounds on the unfathomable scientific secret of pressure cookers.

The first question has a very simple answer: Castro has lasted almost five decades in power, despite being a disastrous head of government, because he has created a hermetic institutional cage from which no escape is possible. His permanence has nothing to do with his talent as a leader, the era in which we live or his ability as a strategist. He is sustained not by his virtues but by his defects: his lack of scruples and his unlimited capacity for inflicting harm even on those who surround him, as shown by the execution by firing squad of Arnaldo Ochoa, his best general.

Castro holds utter control over the parliament, the judicial system, the armed forces and the communications media. Meanwhile, the political police watch, intimidate and punish any member of the power structure who deviates even one millimeter from the official line.

The democrats in the opposition -- a handful of extraordinarily brave women and men who are constantly spied upon and infiltrated by the security corps -- cannot move beyond the strict limits imposed by the apparatus, either. When they do, they are incarcerated, mistreated or killed without the slightest compassion.

Why don't the Cubans get rid of Castro? For exactly the same reason the North Koreans don't get rid of Kim Jong Il: because they can't.

However, after his death everything will begin to change, probably at a very rapid pace. Why? Because the ruling class is beset by a profound demoralization. They obey not because of conviction but because of fear and because they know that the dictatorship doesn't even allow for voluntary marginalization. Either they bow their heads and applaud, or they're wiped out.

That humiliating situation will begin to change during the comandante's wake, when everyone -- Tyrians and Trojans -- will feel a huge relief as the coffin is lowered into the pit and the grip of the dictator's hand around their necks vanishes forever.

That will be the moment when the regime's reformists -- a huge majority -- and the democrats in the opposition will begin, peacefully and systematically, to tear down that anachronistic madhouse.

2005 Firmas Press

Carlos Alberto Montaner

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