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Bush’s Cuba Detour



Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, obsessed with Iran’s rise as a regional power (a direct result of the wars in the aforementioned countries) the State Department has woken up to the fact that South America is in turmoil. Their last major intervention in the region was a crude attempt to topple the democratically elected government in Venezuela. This was in 2002, a year before the adventure in Iraq. Since then a wave of Bolivarian unity has swept the continent, successful in Bolivia and Ecuador, creating ripples in Peru and Paraguay and, above all, breaking the long isolation of Cuba. It is this that is causing the panic in Miami.

This tiny island that has defied imperial intervention, bullying and blockade for almost half-a-century remains an imperial obsession. Washington has been waiting for Fidel to die so that they could try and bribe senior military and police officials (and no doubt some well-chosen party apparatchiks) to defect. Bush’s speech of 24 October is a sign of panic. They were so convinced that mega-bucks would do the trick that they had not done too much in recent years.

But yesterday we are told, without any sense of irony, that Raul Castro is unacceptable because he is Fidel’s brother. This is not the transition that Washington had in mind. It’s a bit rich coming from W, given his own family connections, not to mention the fact that if Mrs Clinton is nominated and wins, two families will have been in power for over two decades. And dynastic politics is now so deep-grained in official culture that it is being happily mimicked in tiny circles (the editorial chair of the neo-con mag Commentary has been smoothly handed over from father to son Podhoretz).

What has worried the Bush brothers and their clientele in Florida is the fact that Raul Castro has inaugurated a debate on the island encouraging an open debate on its future. This is not popular with apparatchiks, but is undoubtedly having an impact.

State censorship is not only deeply unpopular but has crippled creative thought on the island. The new opening has brought all the old contradictions to the fore. Cuban film-makers are publicly challenging the bureaucrats. Pavel Giroud, a well-known director explains how the censorship works:

“Censorship works here just like it does everywhere, except that because it’s Cuba, it’s closely scrutinized. It isn’t a national monopoly. Every television network and publication in the world has its guidelines for broadcasting or editing, and whatever does not fit the requirements gets left out. HBO in the States refused to broadcast Oliver Stone’s documentary about Fidel Castro, because it didn’t take the focus that the network wanted. So they insisted on another interview with Fidel. In other words, what Stone wanted to say about his interviewee didn’t matter — what mattered was what the network wanted to show.

Personally, I prefer that a work of mine not be broadcast, rather than be told to change my shots or remove footage. Nor am I interested in hearing their explanations. The mere fact of being silenced is so serious that the reason why pales in comparison, because it will never be a good enough reason for the person who is silenced … Banality and lack of creativity are favored everywhere. Turn on any music video channel in the world, and you’ll see that for every artistically worthwhile video, you have to put up with several others. the same buttocks writhing around the machista reggaeton star, the same seductive gestures by the “in” singers, the same slow-moving shots of love scenes at sunset, the same sheen on the biceps, the same sensual moves, the same phony little smiles. I think we in Cuba are definitely not the principal producers of these.

“The same happens in politics — there is opportunism on both sides, by the makers and by the broadcasters. The broadcasters know that a video full of praise for the system won’t make any trouble for them, and the creators know perfectly well that they will get on television much faster if they write a song, produce a video or film, or paint a picture in praise of a political figure”

That the Cuban system needs to be reformed is widely accepted in the country. I have been told often that the decision ‘forced on us by the embargo’ to follow the old Soviet model was ‘not beneficial.’ The choice now is Washington or Caracas. And while a tiny layer of the Cuban elite will be tempted by the dollars, most Cubans would prefer a different model. They will not wish to see an end to their health and education systems, but they do want more economic and political diversity, even though the model of the Big Neighbour under whose shadow they live does not exactly offer that choice.

TARIQ ALI’s new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at:




Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

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