After five weeks of silence, during which time the usual gossip circles fluttered with rumors of his death, former Cuban President Fidel Castro endorsed the December 17 rapprochement with the United States announced jointly by presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama. His comments reflected the fact that concerns continue to exist on both sides as the process continues.
The statement was included in a letter to University of Havana students on the 70th anniversary of Fidel's enrollment there. Releasing the letter at such a university event was a signal of the long arc of the Cuban Revolution over seven decades, reminding the younger generation of the many US threats and assaults on Cuba, which had to be overcome. In the final section of the letter, Fidel wrote a formal endorsement of the Dec. 17 agreement, free of the euphoric expectations that were released by its announcement. He wrote that:
"My essential position (is that) I do not trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged one word with them, though this does not in any way signify a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or threats of war. Defending peace is the duty of all. Any negotiated, peaceful solution to the problems between the United States and peoples, or any people of Latin America, which does not imply force or the use of force, must be addressed in accordance with international principles and norms. We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all of the world’s peoples, and with those of our political adversaries. This is what we are demanding for all. The President of Cuba has taken pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and faculties conceded by the National Assembly and the Communist Party of Cuba."
Fidel's relatively lukewarm endorsement set off a new round of rumors among the so-called Cuba Watchers who only weeks before were gossiping over Fidel's death. Did Fidel really write the speech? Is there a split between the Castro brothers? And so on. Readers, it doesn't matter!
The letter says that Raul has taken "pertinent steps" using the powers granted him by the national assembly and party. Isn't that more or less what Barack Obama did by unilaterally re-opening diplomatic relations and expanding trade and travel? The Cuba Watchers still don't understand the poisoned wells of distrust that exist on the Cuban side of the waters. In Cuba many remember that Henry Kissinger wanted to normalize relations and then wished he could bomb them; that President Jimmy Carter proposed to normalize relations and ended up reversing his position; that President Bill Clinton wanted to normalize relations and ended up signing the Helms-Burton Act. Obama's historic initiative is different than all the rest, but remains to be consolidated against significant right-wing opposition during the next two years. A future president could try to reverse it. Even now, the US is helping anti-Cuban forces that are trying to overthrow the Venezuelan government so as to cut off oil supplies to Cuba. Obama's Cuba policy is like his immigrant rights and health care initiatives, rapidly taking root in a race against those who want to strangle them in the delivery room. Meanwhile, Fidel's words serve to solidify support for Raul's initiative among Cuba's own skeptics. Both sides have much to do in consolidating the December 17 agreement. But the tides have turned.
COMING IN MARCH:
Listen, Yankee: Why Cuba Matters is informed by the Tom Hayden's unique history—not only as an observer of Cuba's complex and intricate past, but also as a revolutionary leader of student movements in the US, one whose efforts to mobilize political change in the US mirrored a simultaneous radical transformation in Cuba. There are chapters devoted to the writings of Che Guevara, Regis Debray, and C. Wright Mills; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Weather Underground; the assassination of JFK; the strong historical links between Cuba and Africa; the Carter era; the Clinton era; the Cuban 5; and Elián González. Throughout, Hayden carefully documents the remarkable influence Cuba has long exerted across Latin America. And, perhaps most importantly, he rightly presents the great opportunity both countries now have to finally find common ground to the advantage of Cubans and Americans alike.
The Peace & Justice Resource Center will be releasing and promoting the upcoming book tour for Listen Yankee! beginning March 18 in Berkeley, California. To request an event please get in touch with Emma Taylor at Contacthayden@gmail.com