Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Cuban revolution and formal logic

Dateline Havana

Progreso Weekly

Week of Sep. 07 to Sep. 13, 2006

By Manuel Alberto Ramy

Since July 31, when Fidel Castro transferred all powers to Army Gen. Raúl Castro, just as the Cuban Constitution of 1976 provides, numerous articles have been published in the main media worldwide. It is logical that such an important event should cause such proliferation, but, regrettably, most of the works published are viewed from a distance, from a point of view in the periphery. And when they try to explore Cuba's complex reality they crash loudly to the ground.

Many of those approaches depart from formal logic, ignoring that the history of the Cuban Revolution is, to a great degree, the product of a combination of realities that made it possible, bold strokes, imperial clumsiness, and an incredible and determining presence of what is, in fact, illogical. Let's look closely at the facts.

In 1953, a dozen men armed with shotguns and 22-caliber rifles attempted to seize the Moncada Barracks, the island's second-largest military fortress, situated in Santiago de Cuba, where they hoped to rally the people and overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista. Was there any logic in the correlation of forces and means of combat?

Later, in 1956, aboard a touring yacht, 82 expeditionists departed from Tuxpan, Mexico, planning to land in Cuba's eastern region and begin a guerrilla war. During the trip, they ran into a storm; they didn't land at the appointed spot or on the date arranged with the urban guerrillas of the then-capital of Oriente Province. After a surprise encounter with troops of the Batista dictatorship, several raiders died, others were captured and others fled. All that remained were 12 men with seven rifles.

Fidel Castro said at the time that he would win the war with that contingent. His brother Raúl has confessed that, when he heard that, he thought Fidel had gone mad.

What could 12 men do with half a rifle each, while Batista had about 60,000 soldiers, plus an air force, a war navy and the logistics and advice of the United States armed forces and government? In which direction would formal logic tilt? Would a movement defined at the time as nationalist and with a minimal program of social demands defeat Batista's government on the military front? Did that fit in formal logic? Unthinkable.

Two years later, Fidel Castro and the guerrillas entered Havana atop tanks. Illogicality -- or a different kind of logic -- had prevailed. But it didn't stop there.

The invalidity of formal logic reached incredible heights in the decisive years from 1959 to 1961. In its first stage, the revolutionary project decreed the lowering of 50 percent of all home rentals, a similar decrease in telephone and electrical rates, and signed the First Agrarian Reform Law, which had been included in the Constitution of 1940 but had never been put into effect in 19 years. It had been a dead language.

Thus began the first volley of pressures from the U.S. government and the return fire from the revolutionary government. You take away the sugar quota -- until a few years earlier Cuba's principal economic resource -- and forbid the U.S. refineries to process crude oil on the island, and I nationalize your industries, sugar mills and the oil refineries themselves.

According to formal logic, in this dynamics of push-me-pull-you the winner should be the one with the greatest strength. Who could withstand the Yankee blows when they were accompanied by bombs, sabotage in the cities and guerrillas on the mountains?

In April 1961, an expeditionary force of 1,400 men trained and supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency and protected by ships of the U.S. Navy landed on Girón Beach (Bay of Pigs). Castro and his regime were finished, formal logic stated. But the government declared itself socialist and defeated the invaders in less than 72 hours. Could a government bearing the name of "socialist" survive only 90 miles from the United States?

Then came an economic siege, international political isolation, campaigns of terrorism inside and outside Cuba. The worst occurrence: in 1991, the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc in Europe collapsed noisily, plunging Cubans into their worst economic crisis of the 20th Century.

Faced with this appalling picture, formal logic made two bets. First, that Cuba -- like the domino pieces that, if stood in line, topple at the slightest breeze -- would inexorably topple. Could a little island in the Caribbean be stronger than the Eastern European communists? Second, society would explode like a pressure cooker over the heat stoked by the Miami ultrarightists and the Washington government with pressures and laws. None of that happened. Formal logic lost both bets.

In the face of so much evidence, the only possible conclusion is this: formal logic -- as a magnifying glass or microscope to study and analyze Cuba's reality -- does not work. It failed. Cuba is the result of dialectical logic, of a dynamics between leadership/people; rationality/ emotionality; disagreements/reencounters; pressures/adhesions; benefits and failures and the will to overcome them. The other essential component in this dynamics has been the relentless aggressiveness and exclusion maintained by almost 10 U.S. administrations.

Now there is a provisional president, Raúl Castro, who in recent statements to the daily Granma challenged the U.S. administration when he reiterated Cuba's willingness to dialogue under equal conditions. (Fidel Castro did it before, in 1986.) Sensible voices -- which include former U.S. military officers and former high-ranking officials of tough administrations, such as former Under Secretary of State William Rogers -- urge the current administration to consider steps toward rapprochement. But the White House spokesman calls Raúl Castro "a Fidel lite," dismissing him unless he opens a process of political pluralism and democracy in the style of the U.S.A.

Notwithstanding ideological differences and historical context, that description -- "Fidel lite" -- reminds me of past history.

During the period 1960-1965, the groups that confronted the revolutionary government exceeded 200, but no more than three or four were capable of bringing together a decent number of Cubans and acting with some efficacy in cities and mountains. One of these movements, formed mostly by former combatants who opposed the Batista dictatorship, was called "Fidelism Without Fidel," because its differences with the revolutionary government were not over changes in themselves but over the direction and depth of those changes.

It was a reformist alternative that had no place in the political project or in the war strategy planned, directed and controlled by the Eisenhower administration and later inherited by John F. Kennedy. Washington then decided to exclude the reformists and, in the event the Bay of Pigs invasion worked, to neutralize them (an aseptic word with terrorist meaning) and the Cuban government leaders, both in the outlying regions and in the central government. In charge of this would be Operation 40, an elite and secret organization inside the invasion force.

In other words, both reformists and revolutionaries would share the same grave.

Between Fidelism Without Fidel, the reformist group within the initial process of the Revolution, and Fidelism Lite, the hypothetical reformist process within the already established process, there are essential differences but they both have a common meaning to the enemy: zero reforms. Washington persists in its policy of punishment and refuses to accept any variant that prevents its control over the island.

To the Washingtonians and their allies in Miami -- who are a very important factor in U.S. domestic policy -- Cuba must remain frozen in time. Not a day beyond Dec. 31, 1958. Everything the U.S. functionaries and the Cuban-American acolytes say is just political show; as in the fashion industry, the past, although retouched, remains the past.

But in the Raúl Castro scenario, now labeled as "reformist," there is an underlying current of doubt and fear that the acting president -- a communist, a magnificent and pragmatic organizer -- may be capable of tackling the challenge of solving the problems that weigh upon the Cuban society (food, transportation, housing are the most urgent), and further consolidating the Revolution's political and social base to continue to resist Washington's hostility.

Many friends have written to me, and others have asked me in person: "Is this a likely outcome?" I don't know, but an economic response must definitely be given to the population, to a society composed mostly of people born after 1959, generations many of whom use as their motto a song by Habana Abierta that says: "All I want is a little something to live on."

Will the regime follow the Chinese model or the Vietnamese model? they insist on asking me. Among other important factors, such as levels of economic and industrial development, those countries are thousands of miles away from the empire, so in the Cuban case any reform must take into account the geographical factor and the political context. Above all, I think that the measures -- if they are taken -- will be Cuban-style.

To replace the charismatic Fidel Castro is impossible. A long time ago, a president said that Castro had the ability to travel to the future, come back and talk about it. Perhaps when, with only 12 men, he said he would win the war, he had returned from the accurate vision of Jan. 1, 1959. Indisputably, he is a great leader and an example of the role of man in history.

For the time being, Raúl Castro, who made it clear that Fidel's heir was the party, must deal with the task of leading the government, distributing tasks, delegating responsibilities and demanding their execution, because he's dealing with a machinery that Fidel Castro's indisputable leadership and extraordinary talent set up to cover every eventuality. I think this is Raúl's first task -- and it's not at all simple.

His other task is to be a bridge between several generations of leaders, some of whom stand at the bottom rungs of government and party. He can open the way for them "to defend these and other ideas and measures that may be necessary to safeguard this historical process," as Fidel Castro wrote in his proclamation to the people on July 31.

Above all, whatever happens in Cuba will be the product of dialectical logic, of creative imagination, and the unexpected or illogical nature of the native-born Cuban, a nature that imperial arrogance feeds and nurtures with its eagerness to absorb us as a nation.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is chief correspondent of Radio Progreso Alternativa in Havana and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.

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