The Seven Phases of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Waiting for the start of the funeral ceremony in the Plaza of the Revolution, Tuesday, November 29. Photo by Mauricio Lima for the Spanish language version of the New York Times.

Ivan Garcia, 10 December 2016 — In a country sculpted by slogans, intolerance and symbols, the departure of Fidel Castro — absolute ruler and founding father of the Cuban Revolution — changes the rules of the game.

Nothing will ever be the same again. No future autocrat will be able to summon a million people to a public square, call for enormous sugar harvests, tell huge lies or launch wars of emancipation far from our shores.

Fidel Castro’s death is the signature on the death certificate of his Revolution. Castro himself perverted it in 1976 when the country formally adopted a Soviet-style system. The whole process can be divided into seven different phases.

The first phase was romantic. Fidel and his bearded soldiers were like the Three Wise Men bearing a simple political message: democracy, free elections and social justice.

Most people applauded the deception. Fidel deceived the public by appearing to distance himself from communism and seducing a large swath of the world’s intellectuals.

Then there was his own version of the Storming of the Bastille. Red tides, confrontations, executions of opponents, a phony civil war in the Bay of Pigs and seven years of uprisings in the Escambray Mountains.

Large industries were nationalized as an astute Fidel Castro entered into a strategic geopolitical alliance with the Soviet Union. It was the most violent phase of his rule, with 50,000 political prisoners. He governed the country as though it were his private estate and transformed Havana into the Mecca of anti-colonial guerrilla movements.

One day, when the secret archives of the state sanctum are opened and their contents are dispassionately examined, we will see how irresponsible Castro was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Urging Nikita Khrushchev to launch the first atomic missile strike, thus condemning his own people to extermination, was no small detail.

The years 1968 to 1976 marked Fidel Castro’s most radical phase. He confiscated small businesses, anesthetized art and culture, and accumulated total power.

From that date until 1991 he began building Soviet Cuba. The army grew to a million men, four thousand tanks and two-hundred-fifty MIG fighter jets.

Espionage became professionalized and social control began to be applied with scientific precision. Cuban intelligence services ultimately had agents operating in half the world’s countries and about five thousand in Florida alone.

The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin, along with his policies of perestroika and glasnost, heralded the decline of Castro’s personal empire. Already in the fifth phase, Cuba suddenly found itself face to face with reality. It was a nation that had been impoverished by economic delusions and Fidel’s wars in Africa and Latin America.

Thus began a painful period of deprivation. People fainted from hunger in the streets, oxen replaced tractors in the fields and daily blackouts lasted for twelve hours or more.

In spite of thousands of Cubans fleeing by air, land and sea, as well as an attempted popular uprising in 1994, Fidel Castro was able to govern without major disruption due to the efficiency of his propaganda and security apparatus.

The sixth phase was a gift from Santa Claus. Hugo Chavez — a former parachutist from the Venezuelan city of Barina, a man of disjointed speeches with the obsessions of a visionary hero — attempted to revive socialism by combining a handful of theoretical inanities by Heinz Dietrich with a bogus religiosity and odes to Simon Bolivar.

In his twilight years Fidel Castro achieved his crowning achievement: Venezuela. It was perhaps as significant as the victory at Cuito Cuanavale, a key battle against the South African army, which he had commanded from ten thousand kilometers away.

The Venezuelan case is worthy of study by political scientists and instructors in espionage. Castro conquered Caracas without firing a shot. His recipe? Ideology and backroom consultations.

Fidel remade himself into a kind of Caribbean Rasputin. Never in human history has a nation with an army of has-beens managed to colonize another nation with three times the population and four times the GDP.

The symbolism and message it offered were enough. Chavez opened the doors of his presidential palace to Cuban military advisers and the South American country got thirty thousand doctors and medical personnel.

Half of this aid was paid for with petroleum, the other half with dollars. The current Venezuelan crisis, a perfect storm, arose from the fall in petroleum prices but was aggravated by interference from Cuba.

The seventh and current stage began with the political death of Fidel Castro on July 31, 2006. His brother and hand-picked successor, Raul, is trying to dismantle the operation and get the machinery of production back in order.

In the international arena, Cuba put away the pistols and began the diplomatic dialogue. Raul Castro, always operating from behind the scenes, negotiated the release of a handful of political prisoners with the Catholic church and the Spanish government. Cuba held secret talks with the United States, which made possible the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with its old enemy. It helped mediate an end to the civil war in Colombia. It alleviated burdensome international financial debts and it allowed Cubans to be tourists in their own country. Believe me, all this was no small feat.

It did all this while still repressing dissenting voices. The repressive model of the Raul era is different and probably more efficient. Opponents can travel overseas and, if they are detained, it is often only for a few hours in police holding cells except in unusual circumstances.

By the time Fidel Castro had died — from causes still unknown — on the night of November 25, a quarter of a million Cubans had emigrated over the previous four years, the economy had run aground, corruption had become endemic, the country faced an eminent demographic time bomb, apathy and discontent were widespread and an amateurish dissident movement was as disorganized as it was distracted.

With the death of Fidel Castro, things are bound to change in Cuba. One cannot continue to expect good results from the same old economic, political and social recipes.

Fidel Castro was the past. When he came to power, there were no such things as cell phones, the internet or gay marriage. Some nations were still colonies and electronic commerce was something out of science fiction.

The European Union was but a dream in the head of the French president, General Charles de Gaulle, and no one foresaw the end of Russian communism. Raul Castro announced that he will retire in February 2018, a year and two months from now.

According to Cuba watchers, the possible subsequent scenarios range from neo-Castroism to state capitalism to a family dynasty. And any of the three, they predict, could lead to democracy in the not too distant future.

The reason is simple: we have already hit bottom.

Marti Noticias, December 7, 2016