The Two Halves of Raul Castro

Encuentro entre Raúl Castro y el Papa Francisco. (EFE)
The meeting between Raul Castro and Pope Francisco. (EFE)

Raul Castro arriving in Italo Calvino’s other homeland, like the  Viscount of Calvino’s book, landed divided in two, split down the middle. He came from a flood of soldiers and armaments at the  Red Square parade in Moscow, where he showed his Communist nostalgia recalling the “glory days” of the Soviet Union. In Rome, however, he arrived with his other side taking the lead. At the Vatican he became the man educated in a Jesuit college and even confessed to Pope Francis that he might be disposed to return to the Church and once again take up prayer.

This Sunday, the two contradictory and irreconcilable pieces of Raul Castro have returned to Cuba, a country also fragmented between the celerity with which it feeds hopes and the slow pace of reality. The official media only reported the tour of one of the General’s parts, that of commitments and continuity and the embrace of the Kremlin comrades. However, with regards to the meeting with the pope, they only reported the words of thanks for the mediation between Cuba and the United States, accompanied by a reference to the pope’s upcoming visit to the Island.

Why did neither prime time TV news nor the newspaper  Granma report Raul Castro’s declarations about a possible return to the faith? Because this part is not suitable to be aired indoors, it should only be exposed to a foreign public. Inside the house, within the national frontiers, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness. In Cuba he is not willing to show the moderation or the diplomatic side on display during his trip. Here, he wants to make it clear who leads and reaffirm that there is no room for differences nor opposition.

At home, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness

To add to the contradictions, while the General-President was engaged in a foreign tour,  Fidel Castro published some reflections that reinforce the choice of Marxism-Leninism. Speaking out for an atheistic and materialistic ideology a few hours after his younger brother was received by Saint Peter’s successor. It was not a coincidental text, nor a careless one. It focused on reining in the reformist side that Raul Castro exhibited before democratic governments. The commander-in-chief also needed to make clear the limit of the transformations Cuba is experiencing, which so far have been timidly focused on the economic sphere without going so far as political changes.

Like the story written by Italo Calvino, it is very difficult for these two halves to coexist without confrontation. The pope, the French president and Barack Obama, among others, have shaken the hand of the politician who says he is willing to talk. They do not observe how the military and intolerant side, that is also a part of him, behaves on Cuban soil. Under this Raul Castro are authorized the acts of repudiation against the dissidents, State Security’s harassment and surveillance of activists and the greater part of the population which doesn’t even dare to criticize the system out loud.

A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future

Which of the two halves will prevail? A Raul Castro who returns to religious faith, propels a comprehensive reform of the country and sits down to talk with the internal opposition? Or that other, raised up in military intransigence, who incites political hatred and puts the interests of his family clan above the urgent needs of the nation? Will there come a time when he cannot sustain such duplicity?

In the last part of the book by the famous Italian-Cuban writer, the two halves of the protagonist are sewn together and live in harmony after trying to annihilate himself. In the Cuban case, that could be the most devastating of the choices. A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future.

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