For those pondering the recent odd coupling of Cuban President Fidel Castro and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Christian Orthodox spiritual leader to Latin America, consider this:
Cuba officially switched from “atheist” to “secular” in 1998 — part of the public relations prepping for Pope John Paul’s visit. The Castro government needs all the help it can get to provide necessities to those citizens, which is virtually all, who don’t have access to dollars. In a quid pro quo for greater religious tolerance on the part of the Cuban government, various denominations are providing basic services in their communities.
Make no mistake, Castro is still Castro — whether pressed out in blue pin stripes or olive battle fatigues; whether in the company of Bart I, the Christian Orthodox Patriarch, or Hugo Sanchez, the rogue, unorthodox populist.
In fact, look no further than last weekend’s five-hour speech to Latin American activists opposed to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Castro accused President Bush of plotting with hard-line Cuban exiles to kill him. The allegation was widely covered by foreign correspondents in Havana and dominated the domestic news.
It was vintage Castro. While he has certainly dodged his share of assassination threats, the 77 year old’s demise will likely be biological — not geopolitical.
But playing the assassination card still works as a rallying ploy against the U.S. — Uncle Scapegoat. When times are toughest in Cuba, Castro can be counted on to be Castro — whether it’s schmoozing a religious icon or reminding the natives who’s really to blame for Cuba’s failed social experiment.