By now most PJM readers have heard about or looked at Atlantic magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg’s scoop of the year — his invitation to travel to Cuba and have an exclusive meeting with Fidel Castro. The dictator, it seemed, read Goldberg’s Atlantic cover story about Iran and Israel, and requested that Goldberg travel to Cuba so he could talk about the issue with him.
Of course, what Castro wanted to really accomplish was to use Goldberg as a conduit for his ideas — to let the world know his most recent thoughts and also to send a message to those considered his long-standing allies, Ahmadinejad in Iran and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. What Castro told them is that a nuclear war between Iran and Israel must be averted and that Ahmadinejad should “stop slandering the Jews.”
Was this Castro’s message to Jews on the eve of the Jewish New Year? Has the man who for years backed and trained PLO terrorists during Yasser Arafat’s heyday, and who supported the USSR’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies, actually reevaluated and moved towards a new Cuban policy?
The truth is we don’t know. Whatever his motives, to have Fidel Castro announce that essentially Ahmadinejad is both wrong and probably crazy is some kind of unexpected breakthrough. Goldberg writes:
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.
I am as opposed as the next person is to the Castro dictatorship, but this is, one has to admit, the most unexpected announcement by Castro one might have ever expected to hear. Will Chavez get the message as well, and suddenly change course and sabotage his great ally in Iran? Somehow, I doubt it. But think of how he must feel having heard this from his hero.
And then 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.
And next Castro admitted that during the Cuban nuclear crisis in 1962, when he urged the Soviets to consider a nuclear strike against the USA, “it wasn’t worth it all.” This may be the first time the Cuban leader said he was wrong about anything.
The next installment of the interview with Castro then presented another shocker. Said the old revolutionary: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more.” Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, who accompanied Goldberg, explained that what Castro meant is that “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.” She interprets this as meaning he is trying to pave the way for allowing more privatization of the kind his brother Raul is supposedly trying to implement.
Hard-line old Communists, she explained, do not look friendly upon this. Looking back at Cuba’s pre-revolutionary history, it is similar to the period in which Castro used the old Cuban Communist Party but turned against their traditional model of taking power and went his own way through the path of guerrilla warfare, which they considered “adventurist” and “petty-bourgeois,” preferring to rely on the traditional leading role of the urban working class through strikes and other tactics in which the Communists took the leading role.
I think Goldberg goes too far in claiming that this is a “free-market experiment” which will give foreign investors the upper hand in moving into Cuba. Goldberg does not seem to realize that in fact they already own many of the hotels, but in partnership with the Cuban state, thereby removing control from the foreign firms that invest. It is not the kind of free-market investment in which, for example, a British firm like BP can move en masse into Louisiana and control our resources.
Finally, Castro asks Goldberg to accompany him to the Cuban dolphin show, which he does. And here he says Castro is right: it is the best dolphin show he has ever seen. The reason is simple. The dolphins, like Castro, are dialectical materialists. Our free-market dolphins are not, like the Cuban ones, Marxist-Leninists. That proves how smart they are. Some things are really quite easy to explain.