Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comment is Free: Castro "has a tremendous moral and ethical sense"

Not many people know this, but did you know that the Fuhrer was a great dancer?
[...] There can be no replacement for Fidel. Not simply because of his qualities as a leader, but because the historical circumstances will never be the same. Castro has lived through everything from the Cuban revolution to the fall of the USSR, and decades of confrontation with the US. The fact that he departs while alive will help to ensure a peaceful transition. The Cuban people now accept that the country can still be run the same way by a different team. For a year and a half they have been getting used to the idea, while Castro remained theoretically president but his brother, Raul, held the reins. It was Fidel the mentor, as ever.

The most surprising thing that I found out about the man, in the hours we spent together compiling his memoirs, was how modest, human, discreet and respectful he was. He has a tremendous moral and ethical sense. He is a man of rigorous principles and sober existence. He is also, I discovered, passionate about the environment. He is neither the man the western media depict, nor the superman the Cuban media sometimes present. He is a normal man, albeit one who is incredibly hard working. He is also an exemplary strategist, one who has led a life of enduring resistance.

He contains a curious mixture of idealism and pragmatism: he dreams of a perfect society but knows that material conditions are very difficult to transform. He leaves office confident that Cuba's political system is stable. His current preoccupation isn't so much socialism in his own country as the quality of life around the world, where too many children are illiterate, starving and suffering from diseases that could be cured. And so he thinks his country must have good relations with all nations, whatever the regime or political orientation.

So now he is handing over to a team he has tested and trusts. This will not lead to spectacular changes. Most Cubans themselves - even those who criticise aspects of the regime - do not envisage or desire change: they don't want to lose the advantages it has brought them, the free education right through university, the free universal healthcare, or the very fact of a safe, peaceful existence in a country where life is calm. [...]
. . . and there were no discontents or grumblers, because wise king Otto had had them all put to death along with the trade union leaders many years before . . .

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