Sometimes you can tell just how rigidly “ideological” someone is by who they think isn’t. Hillary Clinton has told friends she never considered radical community organizer Saul Alinsky, the subject of her senior thesis in college, as “an ideologue.”
Now President Obama has announced he doesn’t believe Cuban dictator Raul Castro “is an ideologue.” In an interview with Yahoo! News last week, Obama expressed his desire to visit Cuba before he leaves office because “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” He lavished praise on Raul, praising him for “a big streak of pragmatism. In that sense, I don’t think he is an ideologue.” He said Castro “recognizes the need for change.”
Hmmm. It’s true that after the near-collapse of the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Castro regime has loosened the grip of his nation’s planned economy so that people can have enough to eat. Cubans can now buy houses and cars and run small businesses. Those troublemakers who wish to leave the country can more easily do so. But the secret police is as active as ever in spying on and jailing political opponents.
So the “pragmatism” of Castro is of a strictly limited kind. Here’s a 2014 analysis by Britain’s respected Independent newspaper:
Cuba under Raul did not follow the path taken by the leaders of Burma, another semi-closed authoritarian state that suddenly flung open its doors.
Cubans still cannot vote for the party of their choice. The economy remains almost wholly in the hands of state-run enterprises. Access to the internet is limited and censored . . . Venezuela bellows its fidelity to the ideological values of the Castro brothers.
As for Castro’s rhetoric, there appears to be little change from that of his retired brother Fidel, albeit Raul’s speeches are mercifully shorter.
“I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba,” Raul Castro declared in 2013. “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism.”
Obviously, just the deeds and words of a “pragmatist” who couldn’t be “an ideologue.” President Obama truly does operate in a world that others do not see.