Castro: The “Cuban model” doesn’t work anymore

A clammy encounter with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg between lunch and an afternoon dolphin show produces a tantalizing tidbit:

But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state’s hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government’s hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We’ll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

Insert the hacky “Cuban model”/Hopenchange joke of your choosing right here. A serious question, though: Elsewhere in this same interview, Castro railed against Iranian anti-semitism and explicitly told Goldberg he was saying it “so you can communicate it” to Ahmadinejad. I.e. he’s very consciously using this as an opportunity to send messages to world leaders. Presumably his point about the “Cuban model” is meant as a communique to American leaders that a little capitalist outreach right now might be received, if not warmly, at least not coldly. Obama’s too far left to get away with that politically but if he got some cover from the GOP — in particular, a Senator Rubio would be exceedingly helpful — it might give him space to reconsider the embargo. Ed argued last year that it’s time to drop it, partly because the Castro boys have been reduced to decrepit old jokes internationally and partly because outreach might do more to earn concessions on democracy and human rights at this point than further isolation. Something to think about?