Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fidel – The Cuban Model “Doesn’t Even Work”

Jeffrey Goldberg continues his trip to Havana and meeting with Fidel, who admitted over lunch that the Cuban model of Soviet-style communism doesn’t work anymore.

We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn’t say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat – it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

That rather startling — if not obvious — admission means that Fidel is basically giving his blessing to the kind of economic reforms that could bring about the changes that the U.S. has been demanding from Cuba since the 1960’s, including foreign investment in Cuban real estate. That would be one way to really prove the Cuban model doesn’t work.

Of course, with the embargo still in place, everyone but the U.S. will be investing there.