Oops! 20

Some thirty or forty years ago, a British journal (can’t recall which) ran a competition for the most devastating headline you could wake up to find on the front page of your national daily newspaper. The winner was (in meaning, even if the wording isn’t exactly right): “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Found Alive First World War Fought By Mistake”.

It came to  mind when we read Jeffrey Goldberg’s account of his interview here and here with Fidel Castro. The old Communist dictator of ruined Cuba, who swept down from the hills into Havana with his guerrillas in January 1959 to seize his country in an iron grip and has been squeezing the life out of it ever since, now declares that the system he imposed “doesn’t work”.

I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said. …

Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia [Julia Sweig, Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations] to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

And there were more surprises. He said of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, “it wasn’t worth it all”, and that he regretted asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.

At least Kruschev didn’t do it.

Castro invited Jeffrey Goldberg to come to Havana and interview him on the eve of the Jewish New Year. The date may have been accidental, but the particular Jewish journalist was chosen because the wild old wicked man had read an article by Goldberg on Iran and Israel and that was the subject he said he wanted to talk to him about. He had something to say that he wanted to get out to the wide world, and he chose Goldberg to be his messenger. What he had to say was something sympathetic about the Jews. Let’s give him the benefit of any doubt we may have about his sincerity. He spoke up unambiguously against the ages-long persecution of the Jews, and for the State of Israel’s survival and security (though not its nuclear deterrent). That must surely come as a mighty shock to the international Left. One of its greatest heroes defending its most hated quarry!

As great a shock as his repudiation of collectivist economics? Possibly even greater. Goldberg reports Castro as saying:

“I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Perhaps Castro is overcome by genuine regret as he nears the end of his life; or perhaps it is only vanity that moves him to wish wistfully for a softer reputation, for the world to remember him as something better than a tyrant.