Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hell of a morning

Wow, Fidel Castro has resigned.


Well, OK, it's not all that amazing I suppose, he's 81, he hasn't be seen in public in 19 months, he's sick and feeble. But, still, he's been in power for 49 years, he's an institution on the world stage. I always figured he'd die in office, somehow I could never see the old guerrilla resigning.

My dad was stationed in Cuba in the mid 50's, and according to him actually met Castro and his brother Raul, in the period sometime after the disastrous Moncada Barracks attack and before the beginning of the 26th of July Movement. Here's a shot of my dad from around that time, circa 1954 or so. My dad would have been about 18 or so, and he's standing in front of the EM Club on Guantanamo Naval Base. What a punk.

Anyway, I admit to harboring a sneaking admiration for Castro. Oh, stop it. I don't admire his politics or the crimes he committed against his own people, or all the subversive Marxist crap he instigated in Latin America - or the fact that he always looked like he needed a hot shower. In fact, there's a hell of a lot of things about him I don't admire. Still, here's a guy who has managed to be a thorn in the side of every US President since Eisenhower, despite everything those powerful men could throw at him. Ten US Presidents now have been confounded by this tinpot dictator from some dinky island banana republic. They tried everything to get rid of him, from poisoned cigars to invasion to embargo to sactions - nothing worked, Castro shrugged off the CIA and everybody else. Ten Presidents have had to put up with the results of Eisenhower's idiotic foreign policy and his decision to back the Batista coup in order to keep the sugar and the profits flowing. It has always amused me, because instead of learning from that lesson, every single one of the last nine Presidents has gone on to make nearly the same mistake - in fact, Cuba could be considered a template for our foreign policy in the third world, i.e. back the corrupt dictator until he either turns on us, or is overthrown by a regime that is, for some strange reason, utterly hostile to us, we'll call that 'promoting democracy.' And it's worked like a charm in Cuba, Vietnam, Panama, El Salvador, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and yeah, etc and etc.

I've always thought that Castro was like one of those Voodoo dolls that are so popular in his part of the world. As long as he's in power, we're stuck making the same mistakes over and over.

Maybe now that he's gone the curse will be broken.

Probably not, I expect he'll be laughing at us from beyond the grave, but I can hope. Right?

Speaking of dictators:
- Musharraf (a 'Key Ally' in the War on Terror) conceded Pakistan's elections this morning. We'll see if he actually gives up power, and if he doesn't - well, one guess as to what our reaction will be, I mean he's a key ally and all.
- The US Supreme Court (also a 'Key Ally' in the War on Terror) conceded it's power this morning by refusing to hear an ACLU suit against warrantless wiretapping. In your basic catch-22, the court said unless the ACLU could prove the wiretapping, the court wouldn't hear the case. The proof is, of course, classified. So, unless NSA or the phone companies decide to incriminate themselves - no case. Yeah, way to go there, SCOTUS, way to go. Well, look at it this way, the whole concept of 'Checks and Balances' will be a lot easier to teach in the schools:

Teacher, "Who can explain the role of the Supreme Court in the US Government?"
Little George, "Uh, it's a joke?"
Teacher, "Very good, Little George."


  1. Yeah, you gotta admire ol' Fidel's sticking power. A lot like Franco hanging on long after every other Fascist had long bit the dust. Both made the classic correct decsision of staying in their power base and not overreaching. (Both are examples of why I distrust Spanish-influeced culture, too, BTW).

    If Fidel had gone galivanting around South and Central America spreading the Revolution in person, he'd be worm food alongside his buddy Che. Fidel stayed carefully under the screen of his Russian protectors, and carefully avoided overt antagonism of the US once they were gone, knwing that post Cold War US was never going to invade with a huge provocation.

  2. Yeah, he was a pretty cagey guy.

    I lived in post Franco Spain, and it always amazed me that many people spoke of his dictatorship with fondness. No crime, no poverty, the trains they ran on time, etc. Just a bit idealized I thought, but still few spoke harshly of the man. Then again, fear of the Laguadia National (the Federal Police) was still pretty widespread in the 80's, and gypsy spawned crime was pretty damned bad. I don't know what it's like today.

  3. Another weirdly admirable part of Castro's caginess was the way he was able to keep the Soviets footing the bill for so long. There was a period in the '80s where Cuba was possibly the only prosperous totalitarian dictatorship in the world... and then the Soviet Union had to go and implode. Easy come, easy go.

    And it's really Castro who gave rise to that old joke:

    Q. How do we know the CIA wasn't involved in the JFK assassination?
    A. Well he's dead, isn't he?

    ...poisoned milkshakes that froze before Castro could drink them, explosive clam shells that failed to go off while he was diving--the CIA's history with Castro is like a forty-year-long Peter Sellers movie.

    D'ya think his fading from view will lead to finally normalizing relations? What will all those Cuban expats in Florida live for now? I guess they have a little while to find out: Castro is still party head down there, from what I understand.

  4. "it always amazed me that many people spoke of his dictatorship with fondness"

    That has nothing to do with culture, that has to do with human nature. I heard the same thing from pensioners (especially Party members) when talking about Stalin in the early 90s, but if The Man himself had walked into the room, they would have shit themselves in fear.

  5. I am going to go out on a limb and make a falsifyable prediction: Cuba is going to be a USSR in miniature. There will be one, perhpas two Communist successors in rapid order who will try some variant of reform a la Andropov. Then one of them will step over the line a la Gorbachev, and the Party will be thrown out.

    I laos predict that, like Putin, the successor regime will be headed by a kleptocrat so crooked he has to screw on his socks.

  6. John, oh yeah, most certainly. Franco's secret police had lost much of their power by the time I lived there, but they were still widely feared (and rightly so), if Franco had walked into the room - yeah, they'd probably have shit themselves in fear. It amuses me to see the same thing in Russia today, the fondness many have for the old CCCP, ah at least the trains ran on time (well, no actually they didn't, but...).

    Eric, I surely hope this marks a turning point in relations. We went to war to free Cuba from Spain (To Hell With Spain, Remember the Maine! - yeah, another contrived war, the more things change...). Throughout the first part of the last century Cuba was our best friend in the western hemisphere. I've always found it sour grape flavored that we shun Cuba, and yet have China at the top of the Most Favored Nation list, and Vietnam is not far behind these days. Hopefully things will begin to change now. But I suspect it will take another ten years - Raul has to go too, along with the last of the old revolutionaries.

  7. John, I suspect you are right with those predictions.

  8. And SCOTUS shuffles off to Buffalo...

    Well done, John Roberts. You have fulfilled your purpose.

  9. OK, onto the important thing of note:

    18? Really? Are you sure your dad didn't lie to get into the military Jim? Because he doesn't look old enough to shave in that picture.

    Moving along to other subjects, I thought there was still a small degree of nostalgia for Communism in Russia? Not for Communism per se, but for heat and food? Which is how they got Putin in the first place? (Oh. Wait. I'm sorry. That was because the Russian people looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. Right?)

    And regarding Cuba, completely talking out my as, it seems like our policy towards Cuba has done more harm than good. Wouldn't it have been more effective to let American tourists and money and freedom of choice into the country?

    Maybe I've just misunderstood the gist of our foreign policy,

  10. And the 50s were this wonderful platonic era where everything was right with the world. Same nostalgia trap.

    This is how you know old warriors, we actually have some respect for our opponents. Doesn't mean we wouldn't drive them over a cliff if we could, just means that we don't irrationally hate.

    Michelle, Southern Florida and the Batista Loyalists (read: those who had money in Cuba, and those who wanted to have money in Cuba) would defect. Heck, just look at the hysterics over that kid we returned to his Dad. The myth making of Angels and Dolphins guiding him to America. The ex-pat community has a real agenda for retaking Cuba (and punishing those that stole, real or imaginary, form them). As long as a politician isn't willing to give up their support, we'll continue to blockade Cuba.

  11. Steve,

    Nothing personal, but I was really hoping that wasn't the answer.

  12. Michelle, actually, from what I understand, he did lie to get in the Navy. Sort of. Basically - or so the story goes - the judge gave him a choice of either the Navy and Korea, or Jail. But supposedly he was too young for the navy (17) and lied his way in. This picture is about a year later. He was attached to the Salvage and Rescue Vessel Shakori, ATF-162, based out of Gitmo. He looks like every hell raising kid seaman I ever had, and from his record that's exactly what he was. So, I guess I come by it naturally, so to speak.

    And yes, Michelle, sane policy would have been to crush the Marxist Cubanolitos under a mound of McDonald's wrappers and Levi Blue Jean, but as Steve said there's no way the ex-pat community would have let that happen. Without Castro as the devil, they've basically got nothing. And starting with Ike and Kennedy - Castro's Cuba is the land of evil. Ain't no way we're dealing with his commie ass, we don't associate with commies - unless they're Chinese, you know. Bah. Maybe this will change things, after 50 years, it would be about damn time.

  13. Jim,

    That explains much about you, yes? ;)

  14. Oh, here's a picture for you: http://klishis.com/Family/Mat/Military.jpg

    My grandfather and great-grandfather (Air Force and Navy) before shipping out for WWII)

  15. Michelle, your server says I am verboten. Can't access the picture.

    And, yes, it does explain much about me. Maybe too much :)

  16. Michelle, cool. God, they looked so young back then didn't they? Thin, clean cut, ready for anything.

  17. Well, I dunno about my great-grandfather looking so young--after all, he is standing next to his grown son! But that could also be because I know their relative ages!

    And clean cut? I'll give that for my grandfather back then (I've heard stories that at some point, somewhere in the Asia Pacific, he had multiple death threats (you never knew the dangers of being a Supply Sargent, did you?) But my great-grandfather? I think he looks ornery just standing there.

    But neither of them looks anywhere near as young as your dad in your picture!

    Just wish I had more photos of my grandfather and great-grandfather.


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