Cas­tro’s death pro­vides op­por­tu­nity to en­gage is­land na­tion

Cecil Whig - - & - Fabiola San­ti­ago

— It’s too soon for ma­jor pol­icy pro­nounce­ments on a post-Fidel Cuba.

Yet Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, in the be­gin­ning stages of build­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion, has al­ready made a ma­jor an­nounce­ment.

“If Cuba is un­will­ing to make a bet­ter deal for the Cuban peo­ple, the Cuban/ Amer­i­can peo­ple and the U.S. as a whole, I will ter­mi­nate deal,” Trump said in a Mon­day morn­ing tweet.

And so the Cuba is­sue — at a cru­cial, historic mo­ment — en­ters the par­al­lel uni­verse of Trum­p­lan­dia, the sim­ple­ton ter­ri­tory where world af­fairs boil


down to what kind of deal you make. Tweet­ing is the first move. God help us on both shores.

On the Cuban side, there’s a state-im­posed pe­riod of mourn­ing for Fidel Cas­tro, nine days that cu­ri­ously co­in­cide with the San­te­ria reli­gion prac­tice Cas­tro was said to em­brace. The fo­cus is on an is­land-wide fu­neral pro­ces­sion to ag­gran­dize the legacy of the guer­rillero and “max­ium leader” of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion.

His ashes are trav­el­ing to San­ti­ago to rest near Jose Marti so that Cas­tro can en­joy the eter­nal com­pany of a real hero, a man of let­ters ex­iled in the United States who came home to die fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence on the bat­tle­ground.

A throng of in­ter­na­tional me­dia is in Cuba to cover the mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing a con­tin­gent from Mi­ami, and key dis­si­dents have been rounded up or told to stay in­doors with warn­ings that they are be­ing watched.

That Cas­tro’s Latin Amer­i­can cour­te­sans are at­tend­ing his ser­vices is no sur­prise. What else can be ex­pected of lead­ers who as­pire to stay in power as long as Cas­tro, most no­tably Venezuela’s Ni­co­las Maduro, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Ecuador’s Rafael Cor­rea and Bo­livia’s Evo Mo­rales?

But what is King Juan Car­los of Spain do­ing there? A Span­ish del­e­ga­tion, like the small one Pres­i­dent Obama is send­ing, would’ve suf­ficed to cover the de­mands of diplo­matic pro­to­col. Per­haps the colo­nial touch was needed, but more likely, the Euro­pean Union and others who ei­ther helped bro­ker or paved the way for the re­newal of U.S.-Cuba re­la­tions are con­cerned.

Fidel Cas­tro’s death presents un­charted op­por­tu­nity to en­gage Raul Cas­tro on the thorny is­sues of hu­man rights, eco­nomic re­form and free elec­tions with­out the specter of big brother’s pres­ence. It’s no se­cret that there’s a power strug­gle in Cuba be­tween re­form­ers and hard-lin­ers. When Raul Cas­tro’s small re­forms — fu­eled by pres­sure from dis­si­dents — seemed to be gain­ing an un­stop­pable mo­men­tum with Obama’s pol­icy of en­gage­ment, Fidel was trot­ted out as a kind of Greek cho­rus to re­turn Cuba to the dark ages.

Fidel Cas­tro is gone. But will Trump’s threat to “ter­mi­nate” Obama’s open­ing help or hin­der change in Cuba?

It’s too early for pro­nounce­ments, but Trump should lis­ten to a wide range of peo­ple in the Cuban-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity — and in­side Cuba.

This, too, is an op­por­tu­nity for ex­iles to act smarter than we have in the past. Iso­la­tion didn’t achieve a thing for 50 some years. Re­trench­ing is not the way to go for­ward. The Cuban peo­ple showed their hope and en­thu­si­asm in un­prece­dented ways when Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced the shift in U.S. pol­icy from de­tente to rap­proche­ment in 2014. There’s room — and I would ar­gue, a dire need — for some re­assess­ment of strate­gies, and cer­tainly bet­ter ne­go­ti­a­tion on hu­man-rights is­sues.

But for Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­trench and play the bully would fit right into Raul Cas­tro’s hands. Raul would like noth­ing more than to end en­gage­ment. It opened up pos­si­bil­i­ties for the Cuban peo­ple, ex­posed them to Amer­i­cans and in­for­ma­tion. Raul be­came very afraid of en­gage­ment and started to push back after Obama, more pop­u­lar on the is­land than the Cas­tro brothers, spoke to the Cuban peo­ple live on tele­vi­sion about demo­cratic val- ues and hu­man rights.

Raul trot­ted out Fidel then to pen a let­ter of re­jec­tion to “Brother Obama.” He’s now coax­ing peo­ple across the is­land to sign an oath pledg­ing to up­hold Fidel Cas­tro’s vi­sion of the rev­o­lu­tion.

That’s not a sign of strength, but of weak­ness.

What should the ex­ile role be?

To sup­port the Cuban peo­ple in mov­ing for­ward, to be shield and voice for dis­si­dents and their strug­gle for change. It’s a mo­ment for us to process our own ex­pe­ri­ence, give tes­ti­mony with our own truth, and bal­ance the mil­i­tant view com­ing from Cuba, and the post­hu­mous ag­gran­dize­ment of a dic­ta­tor. Fidel Cas­tro is gone. What Pres­i­dent Obama launched and what he in­spired dur­ing his visit to Ha­vana shouldn’t be erasable by the caprice and knee-jerk re­ac­tion of our newly elected Tweeter-in-Chief.

Threat­en­ing Cuba pub­licly to score points has never changed a thing.

Fabiola San­ti­ago is a colum­nist for the Mi­ami Her­ald. Read­ers may email her at fsan­ti­ago@mi­ami­her­ald. com.

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