The Slow Demise of the Castros in Cuba

Here in Miami, Fidel Castro is killed by word of mouth several times a year.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I read on Twitter that the former Cuban dictator had died, and that soldiers were patrolling the streets of Havana, trying to keep order. But a few days later, the 87-year-old Castro appeared in a photograph with a daughter of Hugo Chávez, the late former president of Venezuela.

I’ve lost count of how many times Castro has died and come back to life in recent years. But sooner or later, news of his demise will be true.

It is no secret that major media outlets in the United States have already prepared obituaries and begun planning their coverage of Castro’s death. Many of the articles will likely center on the notion that “Castrismo” in Cuba can’t survive without Fidel Castro and that democracy just might have a chance to flourish on the island once he is gone. But Castro’s demise wouldn’t necessarily portend the demise of his ideas. Many people thought that “Chavismo” would die right along with Chávez, but his successor, Nicolas Maduro, has proved that it’s possible to maintain an authoritarian ideology even after a leader dies – and even if it leads the country into ruin.

Still, the case of Cuba might be different. Fidel’s brother, Raul, is in charge these days, and the Castros’ experiment with communism seems to be dying a slow death. Capitalism has gradually sneaked onto the island, and Cubans can finally travel abroad, if they are allowed a visa. And no matter how hard the Castros try to block access to the Internet and television, Cubans are finding ways to circumvent the prohibitions.

For the past 20 years, the Cuban regime has sought recognition from the rest of the world as a legitimate government. But the message from other countries has been clear: A dictatorship is a dictatorship is a dictatorship. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Castro brothers had the rug pulled out from under them. In the absence of their powerful benefactor, they tried approaching the U.S. government as early as 1994 to discuss the possibility of normalizing
diplomatic relations. At the time, Czechoslovakia, Poland and several other countries in the Soviet sphere had left communist totalitarianism behind, and it seemed likely that Cuba would be the next to fall.

In September of that year, during a lunch on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., at the home of the American novelist William Styron, President Bill Clinton resisted pressure from Styron, the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes and the late Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez to re-establish relations with Cuba, according to a recent op-ed in The New York Times by the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who was also in attendance. Clinton would not budge.

In fact, Clinton told me that, contrary to a rumor that has been circulating, García Márquez, a longtime friend of Fidel Castro, did not try to directly broker a meeting between Castro and American officials.

García Márquez did, however, become an informal channel of communication between the two countries. Clinton’s chief of staff, Mack McLarty, wrote in the Miami Herald this month that in May 1998, García Márquez visited McLarty at the White House to deliver a confidential message from Fidel Castro: The Cuban strongman was willing to cooperate with Americans on investigations related to terrorism.

That didn’t open doors to more dialogue, though. The Cuban-American community in South Florida, which enjoys significant political clout, would not stand for any move toward lifting the American trade embargo on Cuba. It was unthinkable for anyone in Congress to cross them in 1990s – and it remains unthinkable today.

Then, after Cuban jets shot down two aircraft from the Florida-based nonprofit Brothers to the Rescue in 1996, the regime became even more isolated internationally. The U.S. and Europe emphasized that there would be no possibility of a relationship with Cuba until the regime’s human rights record improved, the political system was democratized and dissidence was tolerated.

None of that happened, of course. Cuba in 2014 remains one of the world’s most isolated nations, and the Castro brothers remain dependent on their old, but well-oiled, machine of repression. But time has worn the Castros down, and the regime is reaching its limits. I wouldn’t dare predict a quick end to the Castro era – through the years, similar predictions have been as plentiful as the rumors of Fidel Castro’s death. But real change is coming, and it won’t require the death of a dictator.

Besides, dictators shouldn’t die in power. They should die in jail.

Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”