Sunday, December 30, 2007
"To Cling to Power, Or Not to Cling to Power, That Is the Question"
Stream of consciousness is, I suppose, the most polite way to describe Fidel Castro's message to the Cuban National Assembly, read at his request by Ricardo Alarcón yesterday. A less kind evaluation might characterize it as the incoherent ramblings of someone suffering from dementia who thinks that his precious words will resonate with all the world's peoples and be carved in stone someday. No one who reads one sentence of it, however, and is acquainted with Fidel's idiosyncracies will fail to identify it as his own. A list of the persons and subjects mentioned in it will suffice to show his tendency to range far of field, in all directions and with no particular destination,which in a six-hour speech was not too noticeable but which in less than 1000 words hits the listener like so many one-word messages crammed in one bottle, ultimately signifying nothing: Raul Castro; José Martí; Randy Alonso; Joseph Stiglitz; Bill Clinton; Sukarno; Suharto; Lyndon B. Johnson; John F.Kennedy; and the "Five Heroes." For that "kitchen sink effect" he throws in casual mentions of Antarctica and Oceania; the Stone Age; and the "Giant in Seven-League Boots." None of this, of course, is well-digested. I doubt that even the most privileged mind could weave all these diverse topics into one coherent whole; but it is undoubtedly a sign of a failing mind that someone would even try.
At the onset of his message Fidel raised the question of nepotism in regard to his appointment of Raúl to succeed him. Nobody had ever raised it before. One would as lief accuse the Borgias of nepotism as the Castros. When one usurper appoints another usurper to succeed him it little matters if it's his brother or the Great Khan.
Fidel then assumed the mantle of "world statesman." He no doubt thought that his ruminations on Sukarno's overthrow or veiled predictions of a nuclear hecatomb in Pakistan would be front page news in those countries. Perhaps they are. There must be some in those countries who are flattered to be remembered in Castro's senectitude. Greenpeace, too, must be gratified that he mentions the Kyoto Protocal, carbon dioxyde, greenhouse gases and the oxone layer. In fact, Castro proclaims himself the godfather of the movement to save the planet from man: "I predicted, for the first time in Rio de Janeiro, — over 15 years ago, in June 1992 — that our species was threatened with extinction as a result of the destruction of its natural habitat. Today, the number of people who understand the real danger of this grows every day." It seems that Fidel may feel cheated by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore. Surely a joint award would have served both of them right.
Then comes his personal reflections on his life and times, all, as I've already noted, in the span of just 1000 words. He is very gratified that his refusal to "cling to power," which he proclaimed after nearly a half-century of exercising absolute power, was received in all seriousness and even commended by the world press. However, he wishes to make one modification. It seems that he did once desire to cling to power, before he came to power, in his halcyon days, when he was just a mere "utopian socialist." After he was actually in power he was cured of his craving for power. Nearly fifty years later, he no longer feels the inclination to "cling to power." Whether this inclination will ever rise to the level of a determination to surrender power, he leaves unanswered. Maybe in another 50 years if he can renew his Faustian pact.
This clarification of his imperial aspirations was also noted by the international media, but I don't think he will be as pleased with the latest spin on it. Of course, their sympathies are still with him but a fortuitous mistranslation has invested his remarks with a candor which the original did not possess. The MSM has reported that Castro said, apropos of his early (and fully consummated) aspirations to cling to power, that it was a product of his "youth and lack of conscience." Of course, Castro said "conciencia," which in this context means knowledge or awareness. Granma translated the phrase correctly but nobody else followed suit. Everywhere in the world today, on the eve of the 49th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, it is being reported that Fidel's self-admitted "lack of conscience" in his youth caused him to want to cling to power. The truth prevails because of a false friend and a poor translation.
Fidel again credits (=blames) Martí for influencing the course of his wretched life. I hope the Cuban people are sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between thesis and antithesis, which is the only relation that Martí bears to Castro. Sadly, 50 years of being acclaimed as the "Intellectual Author of Moncada" has discredited Martí in Cuba, especially among the young. I do not think that the decision to co-opt Martí was inspired by love or reverence on Castro's part. On the contrary, he needed to debase what was purest in our national life in order to stand on equal ground with Martí and even tower over him. Castro knocked down Estrada Palma's statue but he did much worse to Martí — he falsified and prostituted his legacy. His phrase "Martí's ideas and those of the classics of socialism" is equivalent to saying "Jefferson's ideas and those of the classics of fascism." Observe also that Marx is never mentioned by name anymore; he is just a "classic of socialism;" poor Martí, alone, must bear the responsibility for the debacle of the last 50 years. This is the final "tribute" of the "Generation of the Centenary," as Castro's generation calls itself because it came of age in 1953, the 100th anniversary of Martí's birth.
Martí's dream, as expressed in his last letter, was to "cling to the last tree and disappear," not to cling to power forever. If he survived the war Martí desired to become a teacher in a rural school and spend the rest of his absorbing Cuba's natural beauty, from which he was cut off for most of his life. That was the limit of Martí's personal ambition. What a contrast to the megalomaniac who would later claim him as his model!
Castro notes that "Martí taught us that 'all of the world's glory fits in a kernel of corn.' Many times have I said and repeated this phrase, which carries in eleven words a veritable school of ethics." Yes, a "veritable school of ethics," but not Castro's school. Martí was contrasting "la gloria del mundo" (the glory of this world), that is, the pomp of this world, to real glory which transcends the mundane because it is willing to abandon sinecures and benefices and all other earthly rewards. True glory is the renunciation of personal ambition, or, rather, the subsuming of all ambition in the common work of redemption. No man who possessed such glory would ever have to grapple on his deathbed with the idea of not clinging to power after 50 years of unelected rule.
[Photograph: Raúl Castro is shown "reading" the text of his brother's speech with closed eyes].