Jimmy Carter in Cuba
Jude Wanniski
May 13, 2002


Memo To: Sen. Christopher Dodd [D CN]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Talking to Fidel Castro

I think you know, Senator, that some of my closest political friends in Washington disagree with me and with you about a reconciliation with Cuba as long as Castro is in power. Since the end of the Cold War, I’ve believed Fidel has been open to the idea of negotiating an accommodation with the United States that would be satisfactory to all but the most extreme Cuban emigres in Florida. In 1994, I spent a great deal of time and energy trying to facilitate a process that would produce such a result. I’ve written about it here before, and will provide the links to the report I published when my efforts failed. This was no flight of fancy on my part, but a serious effort that I undertook at the request of Rep. Charlie Rangel [D NY] and with the passive approval of Senate Majority Leader (at the time) Bob Dole. I spent a week in Havana meeting with a dozen top officials of the government, although I never did get a promised meeting with Castro.

The reason I write to you, Senator, is that of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, you are the one who has most been identified with a Cuba reconciliation. The visit of former president Jimmy Carter to Havana, which actually has the backing of the Cuban community, is your opportunity to press the issue forward as a central goal of our government. It is not, by itself, the stuff of a presidential candidacy, but the concept of reconciliation with other “rogue” governments around the world could be a winner for you, at least in winning the Democratic presidential nomination. President Bush, having won by an electoral eyelash in 2000, will be wary of being pushed too far on Cuba. If you simply pushed the Cuba opening, your would get a bit of attention, but not what you need to be presidential. That would require an expansive foreign policy agenda that addresses the challenges of the American imperium.

What I suspected in my 1994 efforts was that Castro had observed the developments in Beijing, which was also on the wrong side of the Cold War, and found that reconciliation was possible without the Chinese government having to renounce Mao Tse-tung. At this stage of his life, Fidel simply wants to be remembered with the respect of history. Have you been to Tiananmen Square lately, Senator? Mao’s portrait still watches over the square. He has not been hung by his heels, a la Mussolini, or a suicide in his bunker, a la Hitler. Castro has been 43 years Cuba’s pilot, and I think it is much easier to compare him to Mao than to the other losers of the last century. My rule of thumb is that any political leader who can last this long must have been doing something right, as far as his people are concerned. The 1959 revolution that he led was not a “communist” revolution. Castro himself has never joined the “Communist Party.” It was a reaction against the corruption of a “capitalist” regime that had little interest in its poorest people.

Democrats these days are scratching their heads wondering how they might work their way back to power. My recommendation to you, Senator, is to forget about achieving “power” by winning the presidency. Instead, think of how you can present a platform of goals that is worthy, harmonious, and distinctly different than the GOP’s. Many years ago, when I first began counseling Jack Kemp, I told him that politics was not a football game. The object of the Republican Party should not be to defeat the Democratic Party, but to present to the American people a superior approach to governance. Of all the Democrats I’ve observed in recent years, you have come closest to having the potential of taking that lead. This week, get behind Jimmy, for sure.