Shadow Government

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Fidel’s return

Well, he’s back. Four years after ceding power to younger brother Raul, Fidel Castro is re-commanding the spotlight inside Cuba and regaling witting foreign visitors with a series of provocative quotes that are causing headlines around the world. In other words, the regime’s plan is working like a charm. While Castro’s return may be furrowing ...

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

Well, he’s back. Four years after ceding power to younger brother Raul, Fidel Castro is re-commanding the spotlight inside Cuba and regaling witting foreign visitors with a series of provocative quotes that are causing headlines around the world. In other words, the regime’s plan is working like a charm.

While Castro’s return may be furrowing the brow of many a "Cubanologist," its meaning isn’t hard to figure out: It is an act of desperation by a ruling clique unable to control a fast-moving chain of events and looking to shore up a wobbling regime facing unprecedented threats.

From the death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on a hunger strike (which sparked other hunger strikes by incarcerated human rights activists), to the courageous and undaunted Ladies in White weekly demonstrations in Havana, to desperately using the Catholic Church to broker the release of other jailed dissidents (which failed as a public relations ploy when the released were shipped off to exile in Spain), the brief reign of Raul Castro has been a fiasco for those vested in the regime.

Not only were events drawing heightened international scrutiny of human rights in Cuba, they were also emboldening Cuban dissidents to publicly challenge the very foundations of Cuba’s police state like never before. 

The hapless Raul also displayed a marked incapacity to institute any meaningful economic reforms to save the Cuban economy from its current tailspin. In addition, the hoped-for salvation — that the Obama administration would open the gates to U.S. tourist travel to Cuba — shows no sign of happening anytime soon.

All this, coupled with Castro’s own return from death’s door, compelled the return of the Old Man to set things "right." His return conveys a message to both domestic and foreign audiences. For the Cuban people, the sight of Castro alone bedecked again in his military fatigues is meant to cow them, embodying a simple message: give up any expectations that any changes are afoot in Cuba. Things are going right back to the way they were when he left power. There will be no freedoms, no hope, no future; time to go on home.

To the international audience, the message is one of diversion, an attempt to change the subject from the very negative (and deserved) narrative of the past year. The regime knew that international media coverage of Castro’s return would step all over the activities of Cuba’s dissidents and human rights activists. Throw in a spot of Castro dolphin-watching with a pair of credulous foreign guests and the ruse is complete. All is well, indeed.

It remains to be seen what impact the return of Fidel Castro will ultimately have in boosting the regime’s declining fortunes. What is certain is that there is no shortage of outside actors willing to aid and abet this last gasp of the regime to hold things together. Fortunately, to date, this does not include the Obama administration, which has declined to play the role countless policy critics are attempting to assign it. It is good that they remember that Cuba’s future lies with those Cubans advocating for something better for their countrymen; not with a fading wraith from a bygone era.

Well, he’s back. Four years after ceding power to younger brother Raul, Fidel Castro is re-commanding the spotlight inside Cuba and regaling witting foreign visitors with a series of provocative quotes that are causing headlines around the world. In other words, the regime’s plan is working like a charm.

While Castro’s return may be furrowing the brow of many a "Cubanologist," its meaning isn’t hard to figure out: It is an act of desperation by a ruling clique unable to control a fast-moving chain of events and looking to shore up a wobbling regime facing unprecedented threats.

From the death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on a hunger strike (which sparked other hunger strikes by incarcerated human rights activists), to the courageous and undaunted Ladies in White weekly demonstrations in Havana, to desperately using the Catholic Church to broker the release of other jailed dissidents (which failed as a public relations ploy when the released were shipped off to exile in Spain), the brief reign of Raul Castro has been a fiasco for those vested in the regime.

Not only were events drawing heightened international scrutiny of human rights in Cuba, they were also emboldening Cuban dissidents to publicly challenge the very foundations of Cuba’s police state like never before. 

The hapless Raul also displayed a marked incapacity to institute any meaningful economic reforms to save the Cuban economy from its current tailspin. In addition, the hoped-for salvation — that the Obama administration would open the gates to U.S. tourist travel to Cuba — shows no sign of happening anytime soon.

All this, coupled with Castro’s own return from death’s door, compelled the return of the Old Man to set things "right." His return conveys a message to both domestic and foreign audiences. For the Cuban people, the sight of Castro alone bedecked again in his military fatigues is meant to cow them, embodying a simple message: give up any expectations that any changes are afoot in Cuba. Things are going right back to the way they were when he left power. There will be no freedoms, no hope, no future; time to go on home.

To the international audience, the message is one of diversion, an attempt to change the subject from the very negative (and deserved) narrative of the past year. The regime knew that international media coverage of Castro’s return would step all over the activities of Cuba’s dissidents and human rights activists. Throw in a spot of Castro dolphin-watching with a pair of credulous foreign guests and the ruse is complete. All is well, indeed.

It remains to be seen what impact the return of Fidel Castro will ultimately have in boosting the regime’s declining fortunes. What is certain is that there is no shortage of outside actors willing to aid and abet this last gasp of the regime to hold things together. Fortunately, to date, this does not include the Obama administration, which has declined to play the role countless policy critics are attempting to assign it. It is good that they remember that Cuba’s future lies with those Cubans advocating for something better for their countrymen; not with a fading wraith from a bygone era.

José R. Cárdenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.

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