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Cuba Sans Fidel

It’s big news in the U.S. that Fidel Castro has declined to accept election when Cuba’s Parliament meets this Sunday to select the country’s Ministers–it’s the headline story in every form of media, along with more than the usual background and opinion pieces.

But it’s the media brouhaha itself that’s the real big news, for the actual top story is that there’s almost no news here at all.

Look: despite half a century of U.S. portraying Fidel as the Western Hemisphere’s Stalin ­and the Cuban people as both suffering and ready to explosively grasp freedom the moment his totalitarian grip slips­ there are no demonstrations, let alone riots, in Cuba today.

Nor are there any prospects of them.

Nor was there any form of unrest or disruptions of daily life when Fidel first handed over his posts to a team of seven leaders after falling ill at the end of July 2006.

Indeed Cuba just completed an immense and thorough-going Parliamentary election process where some 96% of the electorate (voting age begins at 16) cast secret ballots–and 92% of them chose the united slate put together by union, women’s, youth, small farmers’ and other popular organizations (the Communist Party cannot field candidates).

This puts the percentage opposing what Washington calls the ‘Castro regime’ ­read the Cuban Revolution­ at 10% under the most liberal possible interpretation.

With the vast majority of Cubans solidly backing their revolution and government, the effect of Fidel’s reassignment to regular columnist for Juventud Rebelde (the newspaper ‘Rebel Youth’) goes little beyond ache at the tragedy of human aging, especially of the world’s greatest leading political figure -one so popular that he’s almost universally and uniquely referred to by his first name.

Without Fidel, is the Cuban Revolution about to collapse? What are the chances that Cuba’s about to go down either the Soviet, Yugoslav, or Chinese roads?

The old phrase “slim to none” is a too generous an answer.

What about U.S. policy toward Cuba? Without Fidel ­ and, for that matter, without Bush ­ what are the chances that will change?

Call that one slimmer and none-er.

Look no further than the statements by the Democratic candidates (even granting the far- from-certain assumption that one of them will be the next U.S. president) responding to yesterday’s news, statements solidly fixed in the past half-century of Washington’s obdurate hostility to the Cuban Revolution:

Declared Hillary Clinton:

“As you know, Fidel Castro announced that he is stepping down as Cuba’s leader after 58 years of one-man rule. The new leadership in Cuba will face a stark choice ­continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth­ or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations.”

Declared Barack Obama:

“Today should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba’s history. Fidel Castro’s stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba.”

(For their complete statements, along with those from other leading U.S. politicians, go to http://www.lawg.org/)

Of course no surprise here ­after all, if there’s been one eternal bipartisan constant across the past fifty years, ten U.S. presidents, and 23 Congresses, it’s the unwavering agreement on crushing Cuba’s socialist revolution, on the demand that (as the 1996 Helms-Burton Act puts it) Cuba “return property taken on or after January 1, 1959.”

(Want to guess which country’s corporations owned most of Cuba’s valuable land and infrastructure then?)

This is a central and inescapable fact that all those favoring restoration of travel rights to Cuba and normalization of relations need to grasp. Washington is no more about to recognize Cuba’s government and allow its citizens to travel there with Fidel out any more than it did after Cuba met all of Washington’s previous demands: that the island end its special relationship with the Soviet Union, that it remove troops from Africa, that it halt support for rebel movements in Central America, that it sign on to international anti- terrorist and nuclear proliferation treaties, that it deploy forces to halt drug trafficking in its waters, or that etc, etc, etc.

When it comes to U.S. demands on Cuba, one thing is certain: the goal posts always move.

It’s not enough that Fidel is no longer part of Cuba’s government, he needs to be dead. Until ­ and even after ­ then, Raul Castro needs to go as well. And when that inevitably happens, it’ll be “well, the Castro brothers might be gone, but their regime lives on.”

And so on and so on into eternity ­until Cuba returns “property taken on or after January 1, 1959.”

Cuba’s free and universal healthcare? Its free education through college and beyond? Rent-free home ownership? Guaranteed foreclosure-free farm land? Twenty-eight thousand ((28,000) volunteer doctors providing free medical care in 67 countries?

All that has to go.

Property relations must be restored to their pre-January 1, 1959 condition.

Unfortunately for Washington, as the most recent events ­and the past 50 years ­ have clearly demonstrated, the chances of that happening goes all the way to slimmererer and none-erer.

And it’s that ‘no news’ that’s the big news.

STEVE ECKARDT produces CubaSolidarity.com for the National Network on Cuba. He can be reached at: seckardt@aol.com