Fidel on Obama and Consumerism
After Fidel Castro’s abdominal surgery in the summer of 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Cubans in Bush’s name: “You must know that you have no greater friend than the United States of America.” This great pal showed amity by not allowing Cubans to see relatives and limiting the amount of remittances their families could send. By increasing the hardships, Bush’s logic presumes, Cubans would feel motivated to rebel against their government and not direct their anger at US cruelty. With friends like Bush and Rice, Cubans don’t need enemies.
This US policy line has endured since 1960, when a State Department memo insisted, “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” US measures should “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
After announcing his harsh measures that reduced the Cuban standard of living and kept relatives apart, Bush extolled the islanders: “You [the Cuban people] have the power to shape your own destiny.” He did not make clear how Cubans would accomplish this, except that the president also addressed the Cuban armed forces, and suggested portentously: “Cubans rise up to demand their liberty … You’ve got to make a choice.” (October 24, 2007, address to State Department)
Fidel had retired in February 2007 and Cuba had already made its presidential transition to Raul Castro, but Washington seemed not to notice – or care. Every four years, Cubans await US presidential elections, to see if sanity and logic will magically find their way into the White House. In the 2008 campaign, Hillary had sworn not to even talk to Cuba until she sees “progress.” Obama said he would talk to the Cuban government.
He has not. But Fidel talked about Obama. Chuckling as we stood around him, he said “We can talk at closer range standing up. I’m not tired, are you [referring to the US visitors]?” Fidel, his head close to mine, giving me a gentle poke in the chest for emphasis, his facial expression becoming dramatic, waved his underlined and annotated copy of Dreams from My Father (in Spanish). “He writes about when he was told ‘Your father has died’ and when he first actually met his father.” He gestured his enthusiasm over the book. “Obama is moving and also can be ironic. He writes about unions and a book by Paul Krugman who won the Nobel Prize in economics and how he learned from him about the number of millionaires which grew from about 30, in the days of Rockefellers, and just a few who decided the destiny of the United States.”
This led him to discuss the ways US Parties chose presidential candidates and how they run campaigns. He talked of the immense role of the multinational corporations and their financial contributions and how Obama artfully used the internet to mobilize supporters. “He understood that the society had changed. Hillary underestimated him. And he won the nomination almost by a miracle.”
Fidel paused as if he had made a comment of the strange course of human history. “Obama must feel quite frustrated now. Think about how he’ll feel if he loses the health care battle!”
As we sat down, he leaned forward in his comfortable, but not expensive, chair to comment on US politics. The United States had acquired “the image of the country with machine guns. A country with armed racists.” He sighed. Since times had changed, “Obama will not become a Martin Luther King.”
He talked with pride about Cuba now having scientists who test children for eye diseases and other congenital infirmities in Cuba and in Venezuela. 50,000 Cuban students attend “special schools” after specialists diagnosed them with forms of learning disorders or vision and hearing problems.
I took a brief rest room break and saw the dining room en route, tastefully furnished, but with no signs of pomp or luxury. The house looked and felt like a comfortable place to live and not difficult to maintain.
When I returned Fidel was talking about the foolishness of trying to promote consumer societies for third world countries. “If we sought a consumer society, we would never solve our problems. Look at your country. After people get a car, they then want another one and then a boat and a plane. Consumerism can’t coexist with planetary survival,” he emphasized
“The next generation will have to face this issue. It will not be easy. What an immense inventory of critical issues,” he laughed with relief – the tone befitting an elder statesman.
“Come back soon,” he urged. His youngest son and scads of grandchildren, his wife and two aides all waved. As we said goodbye, he chuckled that he could now watch the end of the Korea-Cuba baseball game.
SAUL LANDAU won Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins award for human rights. Counterpunch published his A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. He is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow whose films on DVD are available. (firstname.lastname@example.org)