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When I was growing up, I lived in a college town. The university had a large number of international students from all over the world, and many of them had children with whom I attended school. We had folks from Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Central America, from all over Africa, and from various countries in the middle east.

In the mid-1970s, I noticed an interesting distinction between my classmates from Iran. Some came from families that had fled in the early 70s, as repression under the Shah rose against the followers of the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Other families had come to study at the university under the auspices of the Shah's government, to study with government scholarships. Once the Shah fell, a third group of Iranians emerged: people connected with the Shah's government who fled the country at the return of Khomeini.

As you might imagine, these three groups didn't have a lot of polite social interaction. On the college campus, they were often present at the same events, but protesting against each other, not celebrating a common heritage or point of view. On the high school campus, it was more subdued, but when we read Romeo and Juliet, it was easy to imagine what would have happened if two kids from families on different sides of the Iranian community fell in love. Shakespeare was walking the halls of our high school.

Which brings me to Cuba.

Right now in south Florida, you've got people who fled the fall of Batista government and Castro's revolution in the 1950s. Many of these were folks with money, property, businesses, etc – and whatever they couldn't take with them (or send out of the country) remained and often was appropriated by the Castro regime. If and when they return, they will likely want their old estates and business back, or restitution for the property that was seized.On the other hand, you also have people who fled since Castro took power, such as the wave that arrived in the US in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. These are not folks who left and tried to take their wealth with them – they had no wealth to take, and were fleeing grinding poverty and what they felt was a hopeless situation. In many ways, these are the exact opposite of the earlier exiles, save for their desire to see Castro's rule come to an end.

Kind of reminds me of my Iranian classmates. Sure, the exiles come from the same country and share a common language, but the other distances that separate them are vast indeed. The distances between them and the folks who never came to the US at all are vaster still.

The end is apparently near for Fidel Castro – or may have already come, or may not come for a while yet. Whatever the reality at the moment, though, most experts are agreed: all kinds of nastiness and craziness is about to be unleashed. Will Raoul, his brother, have the necessary support to rule on his own? Will the military stage a coup? Will another leader emerge from Castro's government, to continue the Communist rule? Will there be a popular uprising, overthrowing the Communist system? And what about the community of Cuban exiles – will they return?

And what will the US do? Over at the State Department, as well as the CIA and the Defense Department, for years they have no doubt been playing out all kinds of scenarios, to see what might happen and what the US might do to influence events when Castro "leaves the scene" (under a variety of circumstances). I keep thinking about my Iranian classmates after the fall of the Shah, and the parallels to Cuba as the end of Castro's rule approaches.

I don't have any particular expertise with regard to Cuba – only a bit of historical perspective that makes me very, very nervous about what is likely to play out. As Marcy Wheeler (among others) has noted, the Neo-Cons have pushed the cause of Cuba for decades, and the prospect of a post-Castro re-shaping of the island nation surely has the Neo-Cons in the Bush administration salivating. Miguel Alvarez wrote an undated piece (2004/5?) entitled "Neoconservatives and US Hegemony" at CubaToday.com, and he rings the changes on the cast of characters and their efforts to exert their imperial influence in Cuba. The names are familiar: John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Cambone, Richard Perle, Dick and Lynne Cheney, the Project for a New American Century, Scooter Libby, Don Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, etc. The efforts include actions we've all ready seen aimed at Iraq: leaning on intelligence officers to get the intelligence that supports their rightwing preconceptions, issuing unsupported – indeed, provably incorrect – accusations of biological weapons programs, etc. Says Alvarez, 

To accomplish the mission for which they [the neo-cons] were "elected," they attacked Afghanistan and invaded and occupied Iraq, a task they considered unfinished after the Gulf War in 1991. We might ask if Cuba -against whom they have tried all possible means to change its social system- also falls into the category of unfinished missions.

If Cuba was an "unfinished mission" before Castro was ill, what does his current ill health make it now? Let's see what the National Intelligence Director has to say, shall we?

In a review of global threats last week, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said that Castro and his brother Raul, who has taken over as Cuba's temporary leader, are trying to create a "soft landing" during the transfer of control.

"From the point of the United States policy, we don't want to see that happen," Negroponte said. "We want to see the prospects for freedom in that country enhanced as a result of the transition" from Fidel Castro.

Nope, no peaceful transition in Cuba if the Neo-cons have anything to say about it. They've done such a nice job with Iraq – I can't wait to see what they've got in mind for Cuba.

Get ready folks: the Max and Moritz gang are about to ride again.