With the Castros Gone, Is Change Afoot in Cuba?

View of the National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2011
View of the National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2011 (Wikimedia Commons/Héctor Valdés Domínguez)

The appointment of a new president in Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, sixty years after the island’s socialist revolution, feels like a turning point.

Once anointed by the 605-strong National Assembly as Cuba’s first non-Castro president in decades, Díaz-Canel vowed to modernize the economy and make government more responsive to its people.

What does the change mean in practice?

Not having a Castro, neither Fidel (1976-08) nor Raúl (2008-18), as leader carries with it great symbolism for sure. For the first time in many years, the powerful roles of president and head of the Communist Party are no longer combined. (Raúl remains party leader for three years.) But the Castro years weren’t quite as monolithic as they are sometimes portrayed and the next few years are unlikely to see a turnaround. Read more “With the Castros Gone, Is Change Afoot in Cuba?”

Trump Could Bring Enemies in South America Closer Together

Raúl Castro
Cuban president Raúl Castro meets with Canadian officials in Havana, November 15, 2016 (Flickr/Justin Trudeau)

The alliance between Cuba and Venezuela has lost prominence in recent years as the former normalized its diplomatic relations with the United States while the latter doubled down on a self-described anti-imperialist policy.

Now Donald Trump’s presidency threatens to bring the two countries closer together again.

Trump, who assumed power last week, has pledged to reverse the Cuba policy of his predecessor “unless the Castro regime meets our demands”.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state and the former boss of ExxonMobil, has an acrimonious history when it comes to Venezuela.

Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, has said Trump — a fellow illiberal strongman — can be no worse than Barack Obama. But that’s probably not how the Cubans see it. Read more “Trump Could Bring Enemies in South America Closer Together”

The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro Nikita Khrushchev
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, the leaders of Cuba and the Soviet Union, greet onlookers in Moscow’s Red Square, Russia, May 1963 (TASS)

There are few leaders who inspire the kind of irrational passion that surrounds the recently-deceased Fidel Castro. He is a hero and a villain and to have an opinion on him so often forces you to choose between the two.

But there is another way to judge leadership. To understand Castro’s true historical legacy, we should think of him geopolitically.

That means setting aside moral judgements, which rely on evidence that’s so readily cherrypicked, and pushing past propaganda to look not on Castro’s intentions or his personality but his geopolitical outcomes.

All leaders who are judged in such a manner must therefore pass a basic question: How much did they secure their nations and/or states and for how long can their methods work?

Security, of course, should break down as both physical security from invasion and rebellion as well as economic and social security from recessions, poverty and unrest. We are asking, in essence, about how well a leader used their ever-limited power to strengthen their nation state.

Such strengthening goes beyond mere morality, because murder is murder and always wrong in the eyes of the ethicist. But to murder someone who might corrupt or weaken a nation state is wise geopolitical policy. After all, it’s hard to argue that murdering Adolf Hitler in 1931 would have weakened Germany. Read more “The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro”

Obama Lands in Cuba for Historic Visit

President Barack Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday for the start of an historic visit that encapsulates his efforts to lift the American isolation of the island.

Obama’s two-day visit is the first time in almost ninety years that an American president has visited the Caribbean island.

“Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship and it took him three days to get here,” Obama told diplomatic staff in Havana. “It only took me three hours.” Read more “Obama Lands in Cuba for Historic Visit”

Castro, Obama Announce Normalization of Ties

Barack Obama
American president Barack Obama speaks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, January 5, 2011 (White House/Pete Souza)

Presidents Raúl Castro of Cuba and Barack Obama of the United States announced an historic shift in the countries’ relationship on Wednesday that could end more than half a century of hostility.

In speeches that were broadcast simultaneously, the two leaders said they would reestablish diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961 when communists took over the island nation.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. Read more “Castro, Obama Announce Normalization of Ties”

Cuba Admits Ship Bound for North Korea Carried Weapons

Cuba admitted that the ship that was stopped last week as it headed into the Panama Canal carried what it described as obsolete weapons systems that were due to be repaired in North Korea.

Panamanian authorities held the vessel after they were tipped off there might be drugs on board. Instead, they found what looked like missiles hidden under a cargo of sugar, Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli said on Tuesday. “That is not allowed. The Panama canal is a canal of peace, not war,” he told a local radio station.

North Korea is prohibited under international sanctions from importing weapons that it might use to advance its nuclear program. “Shipments of arms or related materiel to and from Korea would violate Security Council resolutions, three of them as a matter of fact,” said the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, Rosemary DiCarlo, who chairs the Security Council this month.

Cuba’s claim that the weapons were due to be repaired in North Korea and then send back might circumvent the embargo although it seems doubtful Panama will allow the shipment to go through. Read more “Cuba Admits Ship Bound for North Korea Carried Weapons”

“Russia Seeks Naval Presence in Cuba, Vietnam”

Russia hopes to establish another naval base abroad and is eying Cuba, the Seychelles and Vietnam as possible locations, the country’s naval chief was quoted as saying on Friday.

Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian navy, told the RIA Novosti news agency, “It’s true that we are continuing work on providing the navy with basing outside the Russian Federation.”

Russia’s only foreign maritime base at present is situated in Tartus, Syria in the Eastern Mediterranean. Although the facility is limited in scope, preserving it is seen as a reason for Russia to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad despite international condemnation of the brutal crackdown of dissent that he has orchestrated in Syria for the last seventeen months.

Russia vacated the Cam Ranh naval base in Vietnam in 2002 during Vladimir Putin’s first term as president because the country could no longer afford to pay the rent. Reoccupying it may spark some undue concern — in Beijing. Read more ““Russia Seeks Naval Presence in Cuba, Vietnam””