September 29, 2002
3:16 AM   Subscribe

"All it takes is a snowball," he said, "to start an avalanche." Vaclav Havel speaks to Cuban exiles.
posted by swell (10 comments total)
Preaching to the exiles is like John Brown figuring he can start a slave insurrection in 1859 by talking to free blacks and escaped slaves in the North. Let's see him go to Matanzas and try giving this speech in somebody's basement late at night.
posted by alumshubby at 5:32 AM on September 29, 2002

From the article:
His seminal essay, The Power of the Powerless, written in 1977, is circulating inside Cuba in Spanish.

In his formal talk, which he addressed both to the Miami audience and to people in Cuba (it was broadcast into Cuba by Radio Marti)...
posted by liam at 11:01 AM on September 29, 2002

"Circulating"? Well, maybe his essay is, be he isn't, now, is he? swell's FPP makes it sound like he's standing atop the Malecón wall with a bullhorn or something.

Radio Martí broadcasts stuff like this all the time. BFHD. Plenty of US officials have been addressing their ideas "to the people in Cuba" via RM and other means (speeches at the UN, in Congress, etc.).

No slam on Havel intended, but hey, it's easy to advocate Cuba Libre in Miami; the exiles themselves have been doing it since '59. Hell, I could speak in favor of a post-Castro Cuba "at the Biltmore Hotel, in a lush Miami suburb of green lawns, low-slung million-dollar homes and quiet winding streets." Doing so from the steps of El Capitolio is a little harder.
posted by alumshubby at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2002

Havel is as close as it comes for me to having a personal political hero.
Advocating a non-violent opposition in Cuba he understands that communists must be confronted but not as to give them an excuse for a bloodshed. And he is providing exactly what the dissidents in all of the communist regimes always lacked - someone on the free side of the world advocating their plight and actions. Most of the time however, the right wing in the West has been much more concerned with the domestic problems and the left wing has symphatized with the communist regimes to a varying degree.
A great book that talks exactly about the type of resistance that Havel promotes is "To Choose Freedom" by Vladimir Bukovsky, where he provides a unique view coming from both sides of the border, and describes the reception dissidents' struggle (in the USSR) was getting from all sides of the US/European political spectrum. Quite an eye-opener as to how much some things never change (so it's not as surprising that he wasn't invited to Clintons' party).
posted by bokononito at 12:43 PM on September 29, 2002

Alumshubby: There's only two sentences in the FPP, and only the second is mine. I don't see how you possibly could have read "Cuban exiles" and thought he's standing atop the Malecón wall with a bullhorn or something. I stated that they're exiles. If I meant to imply that they were in Cuba I'd have said "Cubans".

At any rate, what I found interesting was not so much their reaction to him as his reaction to them. "No -- I spent only five years in prison. The honour is mine." A model of grace and humility for us all.
posted by swell at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2002

Oops, my bad -- I was too busy freaking out over the inanity of his preaching to the choir (and they back to him). It would've been more to the point to have written He's standing on the sidewalk of Calle Ocho with a bullhorn, I guess. Brain cramp, what can I say?

Actually, the bullhorn-atop-the-Malecón-wall is what he ought to be doing instead of a be-in with a bunch of limo liberals in a posh Miami setting. Sure, he'd do time in a Cuban jail if he actually tried, but hell, he's Vaclav Havel the onetime Czech President and "Velvet Revolution" icon -- he'd garner a lot of sympathetic press.

When I see evidence that his essay is sparking a Cuban version of intifada, I'll believe this was worth the bandwidth. Meanwhile, like the guy said in The Razor's Edge, it's easy to be a holy man on the top of a mountain.
posted by alumshubby at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2002

I'm really not sure what the problem you have with this is.

I understand that it's easier to take a stand against Castro in Miami than it would be in Havana. But you seem to be implying that Havel's some sort of coward for not standing up to a dictator in his (the dictator's) land? He's been there, done that, served the jail sentence for it.

Also, that's gotta be the first time I've ever seen Cuban exiles described as "limo liberals".
posted by swell at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2002

alumshubby, whatever reaction you're having is not to swell's post. Trying to be an asshole, or just succeeding accidentally?

There was a lot to be hopeful for here. One of the tremendously frustrating things about Cuba has been the hardened opinions and factional dissension. The anti-commies on the Cuban exile right, as the article suggests, themselves have a hard time accepting dissidents from within Cuba; and the rose-colored-glasses liberals fighting American policies seem to have only cursory apprehension that such dissidents exist in the first place. The liberalizing of the CANF, described in the article, is important because it opens up the possibility of a broader political consensus aimed at practical change in Cuba. The strong voice of a man like Havel, who has retained the respect of the left while simultaneously standing on a strong reputation opposing totalitarianism, can't be understated as a factor.

The Castro regime is showing signs of ossification and back-trenching. They know Fidel's reaching the end of his days, and they're trying to create a political consensus that transcends his personality-oriented hierarchy. But it looks like any of the possible successors will be a more pragmatic actor, and the exit of Fidel himself will very likely open many American doors as regards acceptable political options.
posted by dhartung at 8:07 PM on September 29, 2002

dhartung: Nice to see you belatedly figured out that my problem is with the idea of this meeting, not swell's post. And calling me an asshole doesn't make me wrong, asshole.

I reiterate: Until this kind of discussion takes place openly in Cuba, it's so much chin music and back-slapping. So Havel's a wonderful guy and these exiles are moral heroes. So what? They accomplished nothing but stoking the other participants' egos (especially those of the Hollywood liberal elites and President Clinton.)

If Havel wants to do for Cuba what he did for his homeland, sure, let him try Cuban jail food; but if his intent isn't overthrow per se but providing gravitas for this meeting, I'd say he got used and he wasted his time in terms of what the meeting will accomplish.

If Havel wants to capture American (left- and/or right-wing) policymakers' imaginations and get them thinking more clearly about the Cuban situation, surely there are better venues than the Biltmore Hotel in Miami -- can't he get time on Face the Nation or Meet the Press if this is such a critical issue? If he can't do that either, he may as well join us all in sitting back and waiting for Tio Fidel to kick. Your entire second paragraph argues in favor of just this sort of wait-and-see strategy.

swell, of course I don't mean that exiles are limo liberals. Sheesh! If you'd actually read the article you linked to, you'd have noticed whom else was there besides the exiles themselves. Hint: Check out the photo caption. (Or are those people exiles too?)
posted by alumshubby at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2002

I did read the article in question, closely enough to realize that more than one speech is covered. The photo comes from the speech in New York, which focussed on Havel as a writer. Bill Clinton was on stage, and there were a whole bunch of lefty artist types in the audience.

The speech you were ranting about was the one in Miami, which focussed on Cuba and Havel as a statesman.

dhartung: Isn't the succession pretty much already planned for Fidel's brother Raul? As for CANF, the properties that they wish to return to have either been nationalized or redistributed, and I suspect the people using them now aren't going to be interested in giving them back. Once a reasonable government is established, its interests are going to be to marginalize the exiles. So, we'd have a "right of return" problem.
posted by swell at 2:11 PM on September 30, 2002

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