Fidel up close

September 13th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

got invited recently to meet . Some fascinatign insights from his Part I and Part II articles.

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

My goodness. Hopefully the Iranian President is listening.

He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?” …

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “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.

I never thought I would be singing the praises of Fidel Castro, but he has it dead right.

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.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia 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.”

As China has learnt also. A lesson some MPs on the left could do with learning also.

He asked us, “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). “The dolphin show?”

“The dolphins are very intelligent animals,” Castro said. …

Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, “It will be open tomorrow.”

And so it was.

Has, being dictator has some advantages!

“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him questions about dolphins.”

“What kind of questions?” I asked.

“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”

“You are?” I asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.

“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

My God, a Fidel with a sense of humour, who decries anti-Semitism and admits the Cuban model no longer works. Almost likeable. But then I remember all the political prisoners.

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22 Responses to “Fidel up close”

  1. Bryce Edwards (248 comments) says:

    Yes, fascinating stuff. And like him or loath him, Castro is certainly an interesting guy. As DPF says, the issue of political prisoners is an important one. And in a related issue, it’s interesting to see that according to one of the articles, ‘He feels responsible for the “great injustice” of the persecution of Cuban homosexuals in the 1970s’. So some progress there.

    I think the lack of political freedoms in Cuba needs to be condemned, but such terrible failings also need to be contextualized and discussed intelligently. In this light, I read an insightful opinion piece earlier in the year in the Guardian newspaper, entitled “Caribbean communism v capitalism” in which the failings and achievements of Cuba are compared to similar countries in the area. For example, *formal* political freedoms aren’t always as wonderful as they’re made out to be: ‘In Central American countries, by contrast, laws guarantee every citizen the right to free speech. Dissidents in Guatemala, for example, are never arrested or prosecuted for their statements. The system works differently there: they are simply shot.’ Also: ‘Since the Castro government came to power in Cuba in 1959, political killings have totalled in the hundreds, most of them summary executions in the turbulent post-revolution period. The Central American toll is in the hundreds of thousands. A Cuban has no right to establish an independent newspaper. Any Guatemalan does – but if the newspaper becomes too strident, its editor might be killed’.

    For more, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/jan/22/cuba-communism-human-rights

    Also, for what it’s worth, apparently Castro claimed yesterday that he had been misquoted about saying that cuban socialism doesn’t work in Cuba and that he thinks the exact opposite. Nonetheless it’s clear that under his brother Raul, there is a build up for a large shift away from the tenents of the old system.

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  2. BeaB (2,057 comments) says:

    As an aside, my friends in China tell me there are stories in the MSM about the ‘miracle’ of Christchurch and suggesting that the deaths in earthquakes in places like Sichuan may be due more to corruption and shoddy constrcution than the natural disaster itself.

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,170 comments) says:

    I blame the US for Cuba. If they had dropped the embargo 20 years ago there would not be communism in Cuba today.

    They could probably halve the drug trade in the Carribean by eliminating their subsidies (and import restrictions) on sugar.

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  4. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    I never thought I would be singing the praises of Fidel Castro, but he has it dead right.

    Indeed, DPF – you can palpably feel Fidel’s humanity in that third paragraph – who would have thought those words could come out of the mouth of a communist leader like Castro?

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  5. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    I blame the US for Cuba. If they had dropped the embargo 20 years ago there would not be communism in Cuba today.

    I bet you blame the yanks for all the worlds ills..

    Cuba, or more accurately Castro were their own worst enemy. They signed up to a corrupted ideology and imposed a dictatorial regime to enforce their will on the people. The yanks were right to embargo their arse.

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  6. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    It must be confusing for a number of dear readers, when a communist leader denounces anti-semitism. The world’s supposed to be black & white isn’t it? Good & evil? Right ideologies and wrong ones?

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  7. insider (1,000 comments) says:

    Ironically there is a large political prison on the island of Cuba, but it is not run by Castro – it’s called Guantanamo.

    And it is sad that internal US politics allows it to engage with Pakistan better than it can with its neighbour Cuba. The Cuban revolution would have petered out years ago if the two countries had a more normal relationship.

    The embargoes are driven by Cuba’s proximity. If it were elsewhere, the US would unlikely have demonstrated the passion for isolating Cuba that it has shown.

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  8. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    Ironically there is a large political prison on the island of Cuba, but it is not run by Castro – it’s called Guantanamo.

    Yes, they were all arrested for writing letters to the editor!

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  9. kowtow (7,599 comments) says:

    Interesting how powers such as China and the Soviet Union (and today’s Russia ) are allowed by the Left to have their zones of influence while Uncle Sam is expected to shut up and put up with a revolution exporting Cuba on it’s own doorstep.

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  10. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    Yes, they were all arrested for writing letters to the editor!

    Hey, being arrested is almost the same thing as being tried and convicted in open court! God Bless America.

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  11. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    It must be confusing for a number of dear readers, when a communist leader denounces anti-semitism. The world’s supposed to be black & white isn’t it? Good & evil? Right ideologies and wrong ones?

    The irony of that comment is palpable.

    You’re sniggering about how simple your supposed political opposites are, but at the same time lumping them into a homogeneous group. And worse, you’re doing it here, as a regular reader who should know that those on the right disagree frequently and vigorously.

    It doesn’t surprise me that a communist leader would disagree with a particular aspect of another despots worldview. What would suprise me is if one of those lower down in the system made such a disagreement with Castro, and lived to tell the tale.

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  12. insider (1,000 comments) says:

    @scrub – I suggested irony not equivalence

    @RRM – these would be the open courts that Guantanamo was specifically set up to avoid?

    @kowtow – I expect more of democracies than of dictatorships both in their dealings with their own citizens and with other states, whether inside their sphere or not. I have simialr feelings about my own kids as opposed to the bogan ones down the road. I’m just old fashioned I suspect.

    Pragmatically Cuba could have been swamped by US cash aid and would not have been the thorn that US domestic politics allowed it to become

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  13. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    scrubone – they are not “my” opposites, and I could not be further from the people who do the lumping.

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  14. Repton (769 comments) says:

    There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.

    Tell that to the Armenians…

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  15. Zhumao (401 comments) says:

    Mr Farrar,

    I don’t know what you are surprised about. Since when was the communist ideology anti-semitic in any way shape or form?
    Marx was a Jew, as were many of the early Bolsheviks. Pogroms happened in Tsarist Russia. The Soviets made anti-semitism a crime punishable by death.

    The Soviet Union was one of the first, if not the first, countries to recognize the state of Israel.

    Lenin on antisemitism: “”Shame on accursed tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.”

    The very first political movement to roundly condemn racism and anti-semitism in all its forms was the communist movement. The communist party in the US was the first to treat blacks as equals, as was the communist party in South Africa.

    If you asked Castro about the Palestinian / Israel problem, he would come down firmly on the side of the Palestinians.

    But that is not an anti-semitic position.

    Condemning the nutty anti-semitism of Ahmadinejad (who consorts with white supremacists like David Duke), while at the same time opposing US imperialism in the region, is not a contradictory position.

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  16. unaha-closp (1,111 comments) says:

    It must be confusing for a number of dear readers, when a communist leader denounces anti-semitism. The world’s supposed to be black & white isn’t it? Good & evil? Right ideologies and wrong ones?

    RRM,

    The problem with Communists isn’t that they are wrong about everything.

    The problem with Communists is their insistence they are irrefutably right about everything.

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  17. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    It must be confusing for a number of dear readers, when a communist leader denounces anti-semitism. The world’s supposed to be black & white isn’t it? Good & evil? Right ideologies and wrong ones?

    Looks like the only one this is confusing for is you. I can’t see any evidence prior to your post of anyone being confused…

    Methinks you jumped the shark.

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  18. GPT1 (2,088 comments) says:

    I hear he has had ill health. Perhaps he is drugged up?

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  19. KiwiGreg (3,170 comments) says:

    “Ironically there is a large political prison on the island of Cuba, but it is not run by Castro – it’s called Guantanamo.”

    I’m pretty sure there’s more than one and ALL the rest are run by Castro.

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  20. Hurf Durf (2,860 comments) says:

    The world’s supposed to be black & white isn’t it? Good & evil? Right ideologies and wrong ones?

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    Alas, Cuba remains a cause celebre for the left and will remain so until its citizens have a burst of courage and dangle the Castros by their ankles from lampposts.

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  21. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    A truly weird post by DPF. Support for a dictator. And one with a tenuous grasp of actual history, at that.

    But never mind. I’m a little surprised by the fact that DPF didn’t include the (aside) comment by Goldberg that Iran’s nuclear programme was not for peaceful purposes.

    The fact is that the only nuclear programmes NOT for peaceful purposes was the first, commonly known as the Manhatten project, and the second, running simultaneously, of the Nazis. All those following are defensive, ie peaceful, in intent, because they are all deterrent, by definition. But don’t get me wrong: I’m really pleased the US won that race!

    However, Goldberg is an ardent Zionist ie he supports dispossessing an indigenous population of their rightful land and potentially causing the genocide of an ancient culture. He is an extremist, much as Fidel, the dictator (not the mellowing old man who is perhaps ruefully reflecting on his past brutality) is.

    Ahmadinejad rails against Zionism. “The Zionist regime in Jerusalem.” He is not anti-Semite. Of course, he is many things that are not nice and we all eagerly await his departure from the political scene of Iran, as I do the retirement of Bibi the Thug, but the accusation of anti-Semitism is just a handy label to throw at a leader who has legitimate complaints about the violent European colonisation of a near-neighbour.

    Now I’ll sit back for a while and watch the same accusation thrown at my good self. it’s just inevitable…

    And actually, for once, I agree with the intent of the comment of my mate Hurf Durf, above, although I would prefer the regime change he is endorsing comes about without such savagery.

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  22. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Deathbed confession from a repressive old leftist monster trying to improve the way he will be remembered by acknowledging some things that the rest of the communist world learned 20 years ago ( and the west knew all along). Too little, too late. No sale.

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