Posted on Wed, Dec. 06, 2006
The 'transition' has begun -- in Cuba and U.S.
Fidel Castro might have been resting, in a coma, or simply busy monogramming his track suits. But his no-show at his own birthday party Saturday proves that El Lider is now worse than dead -- he's irrelevant.
Little bro did just fine by himself. The Yankees didn't invade. And in Miami, all eyes were on the Miami Heat.
''F. Castro'' indeed.
The most encouraging sign of the old man's passing is the way it has deflated the hard-liners here.
For sure, it was always a symbiotic relationship. But the intransigents have become so bereft without their foil that they've been driven to mad capers like the Dumpster-burial of his effigy last month.
It was a tacky spectacle. When it ended, you got the sense that what the crowd really wished was to raise Fidel from the dead so they could hate him for another 47 years.
Thankfully, the rest of El Exilio seems to be moving on to more productive pursuits. Monday, about a dozen exile organizations including the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuba Study Group, presented a petition calling for an end to the ill-conceived ban on family travel to Cuba.
The petition, delivered by the umbrella group Consenso Cubano, made its appeal on humanitarian grounds (``Emigrants from any country feel the ethical obligation to help those families and loved ones they left behind.''). And its authors made pains to point out that the recommendations were months in the planning.
But it's almost inconceivable that such a wide-reaching proposal could have been floated in Miami just a few years ago. The press conference at La Ermita de la Caridad shrine Monday was notable mostly for its sedate air. From far away, the whole thing could have been mistaken for an industry gathering of bathtub salesmen instead of the revolutionary event it was.
When it was over, there was silence. Outside, it was an ordinary Monday: no protesters, no placards.
Consenso Cubano's proposal represents more than a generational shift. In some cases, it also marks a deeply personal reevaluation of long-held beliefs.
''I come from the very hard-line tradition,'' Carlos Saladrigas, head of the Cuba Study Group, told me afterward. ''But it's important to reflect. I've come to understand that the isolation of a country only benefits the totalitarian state.'' Long a supporter of the embargo, Saladrigas was not ready yet to go so far as to call for its end. ''But 47 years of failure tells you something,'' he said.
There was the usual condemnation of Consenso's proposal, from the usual corners. But those voices are growing feebler by the day. As Castro's grip weakens, so does that of the demagogues who built their careers around him. The succession is on in Cuba -- this is what the long-awaited ''transition'' looks like. What some have failed to see is that the transition is on here as well.
Times are changing. The request from Consenso Cubano follows a similar call last week from dissidents on the island. Earlier this year, another group of moderate exiles formed a group called ENCASA, urging an end to the embargo and calling U.S. policies a ''political and moral failure.'' Last month, a few days after the Dumpster spectacle, Florida International University screened a powerful new documentary about the hardships the travel restrictions cause for ordinary families.
It's now clear to all but the most fanatical that the failures of the revolution are matched by the failures of U.S. policies meant to thwart it.
History may absolve or dissolve the embittered leaders on both sides. May the old ideas pass with them. The rest of us are left with the present, and for the first time, we have a real chance to make it relevant.
A note to readers: Ana Menendez will be on book leave through January. To read past columns, go to www.