In response to "Fidel: father of modern Cuba" by Saul Landau
Fidel is neither savior nor devil, but an important historical figure who, like any human being, makes mistakes.
He seems to me primarily a moralist, shaped as much by his Jesuit education as by Marxism-Leninism (which itself has aspects of a Christian heresy).
From my own perspective, the combination of his idealism and personal dominance of Cuban politics for such a long period frustrated creativity and reform, in particular the adoption of market mechanisms at the grass roots that I have seen to be of tremendous benefit to peoples' well-being and hope in Vietnam.
This was not entirely his choice. The seldom swerving hostility by a superpower neighbor with two centuries of ambition to dominate Cuba's politics and economy put a premium on discipline and solidarity, which there, as in the US and other countries, too easily becomes repression of opponents.
However, from an outsider's viewpoint, regular change in leadership in any political system is vital for its health. New leaders bring new relationships, new networks of advisors, and new approaches to old problems.
Cubans, both in the country and émigrés, should and will find a balance in their judgment of the role of Fidel, and no doubt that will change over time.
Having met him only once, in December 1971, I can add little personal insight. I do recall that he and I may have been the only persons in Havana expressing positive feelings about George McGovern in the run-up to the 1972 election. Certainly the other Americans with whom I was traveling did not share our enthusiasm.
In any case, it is not the role of Americans, friends or foes, to tell Cuba how it should organize its society politically or economically. There's too much history of Americans (and Brits and French and Russians and Chinese) presuming to know what is good for other smaller nations, and of consciously or obliviously putting their own political, economic and philosophic interests first.
The best we can do is to be true to our own values, i.e. freedom of expression and travel, and remove the obstacles that distort Cuban choices, i.e. regime change subsidies and the embargo.
Freed from external threat and sanction, I don't doubt that Cubans will find their own path internally as well as reconciliation with their divided families and culture. 2/21/08