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Jewish World Review July 11, 2001 / 20 Tamuz, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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Cuba waits -- for the inevitable -- FIDEL CASTRO has apologized. No, not for his tyranny, for his torture and executions, and for generally turning Cuba into one big penal colony its inhabitants escape at their own risk.

No, this rare apology from Cuba's warden was prompted by his fainting spell the other day. The Churl of the Antilles was two hours into one of his endless tirades/lectures/endurance contests under a sweltering Caribbean sun when he keeled over. But he recovered, dashing hopes.

Somebody really ought to do a study of the Rant Ratio -- the relationship between the length of a dictator's speeches and the harshness of his dictatorship. The two may be directly related. For inside every dictator, from Saddam Hussein to Muammar Qaddafi, there's a bore that can't wait to get out and keep a hundred thousand people captive hour after hour in a stadium. If Narcissus had opted for a career in politics, he would surely have become the dictator of a small Third World country.

By now the only cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis left unexplored in all those seminars and studies and reprises and television specials and documentaries Forty Years Later may be the inner need of a single bearded megalomaniac to keep the world on nuclear tenterhooks as long as possible. How the Bearded One must miss those heady days when he was at the center of the world's worried attention, and fears.

And now Latin America's longest-running caudillo apologized in advance the other day for, as he put it, any ``passing unpleasantness'' his people may experience on that inevitable day when he proves mortal.

Passing unpleasantness? Why, the official, fully reported, elaborately staged obsequies will doubtless go on for days, for weeks, for months, until everybody in Cuba gets the grief just right. Or else.

You can bet Maximum Leader has already gone over the plans for the state funeral in detail. It'll be the biggest show since Eva Peron went out like a stage light.

There will be representatives on hand from every remaining People's Democracy, the failed few of them left. The other evil empire, still Communist China, will send flowers, commissars and the usual weaponry. The speeches will go on for days, and the parades for miles. It'll be a great show, and for the long-suffering people of Cuba, one suspects, mainly show. And in Miami's Little Havana, hope will blaze like fireworks in the starry night.

In old Cuba, no one may dare refer to it openly, but the hope that great day will be almost palpable. Of course the secret joy in Cuban hearts won't be universal. The young, still in the grip of what they're taught in school or in the Pioneers, will be sincerely moved, at least till the truth outs at the inevitable Party Congress, or maybe after a real revolution.

Yes, some of the grief will be genuine. There were real tears shed over Stalin, too, at least until even the True Believers saw through the lie. (Some still don't; they grow misty-eyed thinking of the good old days of concentration camps and firing squads, when there was no squabbling and everybody was happy. Or else.)

There will always be those party members for whom communism has been a good thing. In Cuba, they will be truly sad at Hermano Grande's passing -- much like the mob after Capone was sent away.

And in the usual gullible capitals of liberal democracy, where dictatorship can be admired without the inconvenience of actually having to live under one, there will be the usual good words for despotism, the usual balanced appraisals of the Castro regime:

Literacy was well-nigh universal, we will be told, even if the people could read only what the regime wanted them to. Health care was free, even if it was worth about what it cost. In short, there will be the usual defenses of the indefensible.

But in Cuba itself, and deep inside those who remember how glorious liberty can be, hope will rise. The hope that maybe now Cubans won't have to leave Cuba to live free. The long-unspeakable thought will be whispered: Imagine a republic! Not a People's Republic but a real one.

One sure day the officially mournful music will interrupt the usual propaganda over the radio, and the grave voice will announce that Big Brother is no more. And the hope will come unbidden. The forbidden words will form naturally, silently, fervently: Cuba Libre!

Soviet Cuba or Soviet Russia, the feeling is the same. The same jailed poets will express the same sudden exhilaration when the news arrives. This time the lines will be written in Spanish, but the spirit will be the same as those written in Russian by Samuel Halkin after Stalin went, and The Great Thaw began.

The moment suddenly arrived, unguarded,
With early March's glittering frost, and heaven
Lit up with stars at night, and on my lips
The blessing not said since childhood suddenly
Recalled as if it were but yesterday --
I make myself believe: to every lover
Of mankind that day will be a holiday,
Arriving without asking to come in.

Oh Freedom! Whatever the tyrant's name, whether he rules in the tropics or over a Siberian wasteland, whether the forbidden word is Svoboda or Libertad, the hope unleashed is remarkably the same when, in the course of human events, a dictator dies.

The passing unpleasantness will be there, feigned or forced, but beneath it and beyond it, you'll hear the system begin to crack, like the ice flows in a Russian spring. And it will be only a matter of time before the torrent.

It's as if freedom were a universal impulse, and all men were created equal with certain unalienable rights, no matter how long they might be denied those rights. For always, even in the darkest of nights, there is the hope, almost the knowledge, that dawn is coming. Inevitable as death. The role of mortality in promoting democracy is much underestimated. Sic semper tyrannis. So it always is with tyrants.

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