The Strange Syndrome of the ‘Superficial Benevolent Charm’

The Cuban battle has moved to the press. It has to do with a counter charge. It responds, without saying so, to a document featured in the New York Times that expressed a contrary sentiment.

A group of 40 prominent American and Cuban-American personalities, very prestigious and with a long tradition of public service or of relevance in the business sector, linked in some way with Cuba’s fate, will publish a lucid article in the Washington Post. I have read it and it is very persuasive.

The signers are opposed to Barack Obama’s new Cuban policy. They feel it is a dangerous error to make concessions to the dictatorship without Raúl Castro taking steps toward openness and democracy.

They are advocates of what is dictating the law of the nation, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 and of what supposedly Obama himself was defending up until the eve of last Dec. 17, when he announced the changes.

Obama spent 18 months plotting in secret. What has driven the president, with the enthusiastic collaboration of his adviser John Kerry, to mislead the locals and foreigners to modify policy toward Cuba and make peace with the dictatorship?

In the United States, there are at least five types of people who are opposed to the embargo or to prohibiting Americans from visiting the neighboring island.

1. The people convinced that, after more than half a century, the policy of hostility has failed and it is preferable to turn over a new leaf, like in Vietnam or China, and subscribe to the strategy of reaching out. In other words, declare peace and forget the past.

2. Exporters and businesspeople that see a small and poor – but potentially interesting – market in Cuba.

3. The libertarians who feel, based on their principles, that no government may interfere with the freedom of Americans to travel where they will and do business with whomever they want.

4. Pro-communist sympathizers – few, but very active – present in publications like The Nation or in numerous universities, generally anti-U.S. government.

5. The victims of the very pervasive phenomenon of the “superficial benevolent charm.”

The latter, without being communists, view the Cuban Revolution with a vague and skin-deep congeniality, suggested by powerful imprinting which left that episode in half the planet’s memory ever since 1959.

They are “fascinating,” those young bearded men who defeated the army of the dictator Batista, directed by a singular character, who spoke for eight consecutive hours at the United Nations, openly confronted Washington, and they were determined to build a more just world among the shadows of a society peopled with prostitutes and ruled by gangsters.

They are sympathetic toward the figurehead of Che Guevara, choosing the image of the rebel that gives his life for a cause, forgetting that the cause was to create collectivist dictatorships without the least bit of space for freedoms, and ignoring the monstrous dimension of a person who was capable of declaring that a good revolutionary should be a relentless killing machine, or that he confessed to his wife that he was in the Cuban jungle “thirsty for blood.”

In this last category, the “superficial benevolent charm,” as I see it, is sustained on a romantic interpretation, misleading and foolish about Cuban reality, but very entrenched, encompassing people like Obama and Kerry. They are not communists, and would not wish for their country a system such as that under which the Cubans suffer, but they regard the Castros and the Revolution with a benevolent and superficial charm.

I have seen many people affected by “SBC syndrome.” Perhaps Manuel Fraga Iribarne, the conservative Spanish politician, suffered from it. He was deeply anti-communist, but he felt a vague attraction to Fidel. He seemed to him to be a fearless Galician that challenged the Yankees.

At the start of the 1990s, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari summoned Felipe González, César Gaviria and Carlos Andrés Pérez – all then-presiding leaders in their respective countries – from out of the Caribbean to a Mexican island for a discreet meeting with Fidel Castro.

The USSR had just disappeared and with that cataclysm the island’s support vanished. The purpose of the small and relaxed conclave – probably spurred by González – was to try to help the Cuban dictator negotiate the difficulties and facilitate the transition to another way of organizing Cuban society.

Fidel was an ideological enemy to neoliberal Salinas, privatizer and close to the United States. He was an ally to the Spanish ETA, which González confronted with firepower. He was an accomplice of the Colombian narco-guerrillas whom Gaviria attempted to crush. And he never distanced himself from the anti-democratic Venezuelan conspirators, as he showed when Chávez appeared on the horizon. But when the four heads of state met with Castro they wanted to save him. Superficial benevolent charm ruled them. They had lost their faculty of understanding who their objective enemies were. A very grave limitation.

Many years later, in exile in Miami, brought about by persecution by Hugo Chávez, Carlos Andrés Pérez confessed to me that he had been so naive that he came to think that Fidel Castro was his friend. There was deep disillusionment in his words. He told me, in credit of his innocence, that at his second inauguration in 1989, a thousand distinguished Venezuelans had signed a card welcoming the presence of Castro to Caracas. Nearly everyone there today is in the opposition or in exile. They suffered, knowing it, from SBC.

Do Obama and Kerry suffer from the same evil? I suspect so, although there is nothing more opaque and contradictory than their motivations. In any case, it appears that SBC remains until death for many of the afflicted. Only those who collide with reality are cured.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply