There’s been predictably little interesting discussion in the United States of Fidel Castro’s retirement as Cuba’s commandante en jefe, maximo etc. That’s because in the U.S. political mainstream, Cuba policy has for a generation been grotesquely disfigured by a collective kow-towing — yes, collective, it was that craven Mr. Clinton who signed into law the Draconian Helms-Burton act that made it infinitely more difficult for any U.S. president to actually lift the embargo — to the Cuban-American Ahmed Chalabi figures of Miami, still fantasizing about a day when they’ll regain their plantations and poor people of color will once again know their place. But let’s not for a moment forget the mirror-image of that view so common on the left, where Castro’s patent fear of his own people and reluctance to trust them to debate ideas and options (much less hold competitive elections that, in all probability, he’d have easily won) is strenuously rationalized on the basis of the CIA’s repeated efforts to kill him. (Sure, they repeatedly tried to kill Castro, and Washington might like to manipulate Cuba’s politics given half a chance, but those are not sound reasons to imprison economists or avoid discussing policy options even within the Communist Party.)
What fascinates me, however, is the guilty pleasure with which so many millions of people around the world revere Fidel Castro — revere him, but wouldn’t dream of emulating his approach to economics or governance. People, in other words, who would not be comfortable actually living in Castro’s Cuba, much as they like the idea of him sticking it the arrogant yanqui, his physical and political survival a sure sign that Washington’s awesome power has limits — and can therefore be challenged.