Castro misreads WikiLeaks, Washington misreads Castro

WikiLeaks poses an interesting dilemma for governments that share Julian Assange’s hostility to Washington, but not his enthusiasm for information. Case in point: Havana. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez offers a glimpse: I remember the first mention of Julian Assange’s site in our official media was accompanied by a certain complicity on the part of ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks poses an interesting dilemma for governments that share Julian Assange's hostility to Washington, but not his enthusiasm for information. Case in point: Havana. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez offers a glimpse:

I remember the first mention of Julian Assange's site in our official media was accompanied by a certain complicity on the part of the article writers, a hint of laughter anticipating the damage that the publication of these classified documents could cause the U.S. Government. But when the name of Cuba began to appear along with reports about the interference of Venezuela and the testimonies of coercion against their own medical personnel, the enthusiasm of the newspaper Granma turned to annoyance and the initial applause gave way to silence. Not even the Maximum Leader referred to Wikileaks again.

WikiLeaks poses an interesting dilemma for governments that share Julian Assange’s hostility to Washington, but not his enthusiasm for information. Case in point: Havana. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez offers a glimpse:

I remember the first mention of Julian Assange’s site in our official media was accompanied by a certain complicity on the part of the article writers, a hint of laughter anticipating the damage that the publication of these classified documents could cause the U.S. Government. But when the name of Cuba began to appear along with reports about the interference of Venezuela and the testimonies of coercion against their own medical personnel, the enthusiasm of the newspaper Granma turned to annoyance and the initial applause gave way to silence. Not even the Maximum Leader referred to Wikileaks again.

She’s presumably referring to this cable from the Caracas embassy, which alleged that Cuban medical personnel were being forced against their will to work in Venezuela. Aside from old-school communist credibility, medical expertise is the main export Cuba has to offer Venezuela, which under Hugo Chávez has become an essential trading partner and oil supplier for Fidel and now Raúl Castro’s government.

Speaking of which, a February cable published Friday — one of only a couple to emerge from the U.S. interests section in Havana, signed by Jonathan Farrar, the top official there — offers a sweeping view of the crumbling Cuban economy: Chávez’s support is the only thing keeping Cuba from falling back into the deprivations of the Special Period, Farrar reports, and the country is defaulting right and left on its trading partners. But the cable also suggests that American diplomats badly misread the seriousness of Raúl Castro’s economic reform agenda:

Despite how badly Cuba needs them, significant economic reforms are unlikely in 2010, especially with the continued delay of a policy-revising Communist Party Congress… . The [government of Cuba]’s direction and leadership remains muddled and unclear, in great measure because its leaders are paralyzed by fear that reforms will loosen the tight grip on power that they have held for over 50 years. Faced with political uncertainty regarding future Cuban leadership and relations with the United States, the Cuban people are more likely to endure a slow erosion of state-subsidies than a much-needed radical restructuring.

Less than a year later, a radical restructuring may in fact be on the way.

Charles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.

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