Thanks, Raul • 7 April 2008

I had the best talk last week with CP about the topic of dynasties. What a phenomenon. The whole ideological premise of the “America” thing is that there is nothing holy in royalty—no God running in the veins of a child just by dint of birth. My understanding is that Brahmin family ties are more political- economic than holy, so it interests me when I see Americans of all people attributing spiritual leadership qualities to children. Legacy is in nurture, not nature… I actually like the sociological shorthand on this one.

Anyway. The dynasty that is blowing my mind right now makes NO appeals to other-worldly legitimacy (given that they're a bunch of materialist athiests–ha!): just the thickness of blood. It’s an old Latin American Strongman anti-coup strategy to install your kid brother as chief of the military when you take over the ship of state (see especially Daniel Ortega); and in Cuba Raul Castro has been holding steady in the beta role for decades. (And I guess there's a little birthorder "nature" stereotyping in that: insofar as a Beta bro would likely be that must more trustworthy than the presidential Alpha in such a role.)

The NYT’s reporting on Cuba is just as odious as its coverage of WMD, but I actually don’t like Castro either. At all. I’ll hold off on the litany that starts with political executions round about 1959. 

What’s getting me now is the bag-o-tricks that Raul’s dispensing on the populace to play the Good Cop now that the dynastic succession has taken place. At first there was the authorization of sex-change operations and the intimation of something like domestic partner benefits to come. (Cuba has been awesome on sex ed if your straight and non-trans, but that's a fascinating top-down expansion their unique version of the "human rights" regime.) Last week, Raul announced the legalization of cell phones (never mind that Cubans live on $25 a week—not a huge Verizon market unless you're specially connected) and the news that for the first time in 50 years the people will be allowed to stay in hotels. Also, Cubans can now buy and sell CDs and DVDs.

Is this a joke? Mind-blowing on so many levels.

Good luck keeping the Cubans appeased with stocking-stuffers until the northern beast takes notice and authorizes the CANF to strafe Havana with Big Macs. From my perspective it is ALL a drag if you're in Cienfuegos or wherever—albeit the near future will be worse than the present. We and Fidel have teamed up to screw these people over pretty badly for fifty years, but the few things Cuba has done right—mass education, sustainable agriculture, basic healthcare, some social equalities—are about to go bye-bye.

But hey, a tiny elite will very soon have a lot more stuff, and this is the story we’ll hear from the right-wingers at the NYT Havana desk when it comes time for capitalism shock-therapy.

Till then Raul’s symbolic but life-altering concessions may at least soften the blow that’s about to land.

Go spend some dollars there in the meantime… feel the last echoes of the epic twentieth century and help some humans afford phones. It is beautiful, fascinating country buffeted by so many storms–all the kind that brew offshore and descend as a cyclone.