There is much rejoicing in many quarters about President-elect Obama's appointment of moderates to key positions in his administration. The appointment of moderates, however, does not Obama a moderate make. They are, after all, moderates when compared to him, who is now the bellwether of extremism or moderation. A radical who does not wish to appear a radical will always surround himself with moderates and even an occasional conservative. But it is the one who makes the appointments, not the appointees, who will determine the political orientation of the government. The many will gravitate to the position of the one. They are there not to moderate his positions but to support them as moderates, which is quite another thing. In the end, the moderates will either be radicalized or will cherish the pristineness of their moderation from outside the charmed circle of the true believers.
When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he, too, chose moderates for most key government positions, men like Manuel Urrutia, Roberto Agramonte and Miro Cardona, who had been fixtures of Cuban politics for 30 years and served in previous democratic administrations. But not only that: all were well-known anti-Communists and had helped to purge the Communists from the labor unions, control of which had been handed to them by Batista in the days of the Popular Front.
What better way was there for Fidel to reassure the nation and the world that he was not a Communist than to surround himself with clean-shaven, accomplished civilians twice his age who had never exhibited in their public careers any tendency towards totalitarianism, establishment figures who could be expected (or so it was thought) to uphold the establishment and restrain the revolutionaries' more radical impulses. Indeed, it was almost as if Castro had appointed tutors for himself. Except, of course, that the student knew more than his teachers, or, rather, knew what they didn't know.
Castro recruited them in order to co-opt, discredit and marginalize the democratic opposition to Batista. As proof of their loyalty to the Revolution (or new order), much more than a blood oath was required of them: they had to soak their hands in the blood of its victims. These honorable men, authors of the Constitution of 1940, agreed to its suppression. The upholders of the Rule of Law under Batista enacted ex post facto laws and suspended habeas corpus and all other civil liberties. Those who accused the previous regime of censorship from their own newspapers and radio stations condoned the seizure and closure of all independent organs of opinion. These guardians of the commonweal before the Revolution agreed to mass confiscations, expropriations and nationalizations which destroyed the economy, leaving the regime as caretaker of all the island's industries and businesses. And, after legalizing capital punishment, which was abolished in the 1940 Constitution, they signed the death warrants of 15,000 men, women and children in one year when never before in the history of the Republic had any Cuban been executed for "political crimes" (not under Batista or any other Cuban leader).
The most ironic thing of all, however, is that none of these eminent men, Cuba's "best and brightest," realized until the very end that he was part of a shadow government. The real power was in the hands of Fidel and his pack of bearded henchmen, who decided all pertinent matters before they were presented for their consideration, and, while they deliberated, acted in disregard of them. Still, they rubber-stamped every measure and approved every decree dictated by Castro. As the Revolution consolidated its position and moved inexorably to a formal declaration of what was already obvious to all but them, these respectable names, now much less respectable, became also expendable, and one by one they were forced from power (or, rather, the illusion of power).
We do not think that Barack Obama is a student of the Cuban Revolution, but he has intuited its lessons and is applying them with great deftness.
Fidel Castro's First Resignation (1959)