Fidel Castro has just given the world the opportunity to ponder a new direction for Cuba. Castro has issued a statement that is vague but nonetheless signals that he sees himself departing the political front line and making room for a new set of leaders.
As Center for Democracy in the Americas Director Sarah Stephens said today on a journalist conference call, “Cuban leaders don’t communicate by accident.” She said that “change is in the offing.” And that “Castro is writing the script” of his departure as ‘the decider’ on Cuba’s political life and course.
Peter Kornbluh, also on the conference call, says that the smooth fading into the background by Fidel Castro — at his own pace — helps write the final chapter for Fidel and a chapter in which he’s clearly in control of the optics of all of this and hasn’t been compelled or forced out.
Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, again on the conference call today, really drilled into the details of Fidel’s statement. She gets Castro’s complexity and sees this statement as a move in a multi-dimensional chess board in which he is both confident and aware of the many political pressures in Cuba’s domestic political scene. She thinks Castro is not only saying that Cuba needs to cultivate a new generation of leaders — but that Cuba needs to yield to them as well. And this may signal a future for a Cuba not run by either Raul or Fidel Castro.
The United States needs to tack now towards a new course. To miss yet another opportunity to change course in US-Cuba relations is a serious mistake. When Russia stopped supporting the Cuban economy, there was an opportunity to move forward US-Cuba relations. That was missed. This is the next chance.
Barack Obama has been supportive of a new course on Cuba. Frankly, Chris Dodd sets the gold standard and thinks that we need a complete overhaul of the US-Cuba relationship and a full opening of commerce, travel, and diplomacy. Bill Richardson just released this paragraph as part of a foreign affairs essay he just published:
The United States of America also needs to start paying attention to the Americas. We need better border security and comprehensive immigration reform. And to reduce both illegal immigration and anti-American populism in Latin America, we must work with reform-minded governments there to alleviate poverty and promote equitable development. We need to strengthen energy cooperation in the region and foster democracy and fair trade. Our efforts to promote democracy must include Cuba. We should reverse the Bush administration’s policies restricting remittances to and travel to visit loved ones in Cuba, and we should respond to steps toward liberalization there with steps toward ending the embargo.
Hillary Clinton needs to tack in a new direction too. This is an opening for her to recast how she would modify US-Cuba relations given what Fidel Castro has done to make the question of whether we promote perpetuation of a US-Cuba relations cocooned in Cold War anachronism — or whether we use Cuba as a template for signaling to the world a new and different strategy for dealing with the world.
And frankly, Mike Huckabee used to be a pro-engagement governor on Cuba but recently denied his past and said that he wants a regime even more strictly constraining than the Bush administration. Giuliani, Romney and Thompson have also not been visionaries on changing the course of both US-Cuban and US-Latin American relations, but all will need to provide a response on what their policy course would be given Castro’s surprise announcement.
— Steve Clemons
Update: To download a transcript of the conference call, click here.