Cuba’s leader at 75: A lifetime of anti-Americanism
WASHINGTON (AP) – As a guerrilla fighter in June 1958, Fidel Castro was already thinking about new worlds to conquer even though victory in Cuba was not yet his.
Then 31, he expressed his feelings about Americans in a letter to a friend. ”I am going to launch another much longer and bigger war against them. I realize now that this is going to be my true destiny,” he wrote.
Six months later, newly installed as Cuba’s leader, Castro began his quest. The revolution he wrought has been essentially anti-American. And as he turns 75 on Monday, no discernible mellowing is evident.
As analysts see it, the rupture in U.S.-Cuban relations early during Castro’s revolution was probably inevitable, given his mindset.
From the beginning, says William D. Rogers, a former top State Department official, Castro ”has wanted to define himself as the great enemy of the United States.”
Castro saw the pervasive U.S. presence in pre-revolutionary Cuba as ”a symbol of everything rotten in the Cuban system,” Rogers says.
”Castro clearly was never interested in any form of reconciliation,” says Dennis Hays of the anti-communist Cuban-American National Foundation. During a single speech three decades ago, Castro used the word ”imperialist” 88 times to describe the United States.
Castro’s antipathy for America involves more than mere political disagreements. He sees the United States as addicted to violence and consumerism. The notion of a free U.S. press is laughable, he says, because reporters are not free to attack the capitalist system that employs them. He dismisses multiparty democracy as a ”multifarce.”
But his ”war” against the United States has yielded few victories. Castro’s most stunning triumph came 40 years ago at the Bay of Pigs during a botched attempt by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow him. Many of his countrymen have fled to the United States or yearn to do so.
Castro’s first contacts with the Soviet Union, Cuba’s erstwhile benefactor, began just months after he took office, according to Edward Gonzalez of the Rand research organization.
”Fidel was setting up a pre-emptive alignment with the Soviet Union,” Gonzalez says. ”Under the circumstances that emerged in 1959, it was predestined.”
Age has not softened Castro’s views of the United States. Even on the rare occasions when the United States and Cuba agree, he remains unbudging.
When U.S. immigration agents seized Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez last year from his anti-Castro relatives in Florida, Castro, ”This is a day of glory for our people. Tomorrow the struggle continues.”
Washington, of course, has not taken Castro’s barbs lying down. A strict economic embargo against Cuba has been in effect for 39 years, and President Bush has vowed not to ease it. As the price for normal relations, the United States demands that Castro replace his communist system with democracy.
There have been no political discussions between the two countries since 1982. With only one country, Iran, has the United States had a longer absence of such communication.
Gillian Gunn, a Cuba specialist at Georgetown University, says Bush’s pro-embargo stance is an ideal birthday present for Castro.
Cuban officials believe an immediate lifting of the embargo would be destabilizing, she says. ”Therefore, for time being, the Cuban government is best served by an intransigent U.S. president unwilling to modify the embargo.”
Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the Cuba Policy Foundation, says the embargo should be lifted without condition.
”The more isolated the regime is the more traumatic the transition,” says Cowal, a former U.S. diplomat. If the status quo remains when Castro dies, she says, ”instead of investors rushing in, you’ll have refugees rushing out.”
Rand’s Gonzalez counsels that the embargo be maintained until after Castro’s departure because it would serve as a major bargaining chip with the successor regime.
Lifting it now, he says, would play into the hands of Cuban hardliners because Castro would be perceived as having been right all along in holding out for an unconditional end to the embargo.
Hays of the anti-Castro group agrees the embargo should be kept but says it should be supplemented with aid to Cuba’s harried dissidents.
This, he says, is the best way ”to help the Cuban people get out from under Castro’s thumb.”
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