The Miami Herald
Thu, Sep. 09, 2010

Fidel Castro: Cuba's economic model is broken


Over a glass of red wine and a few bites of fish, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro coughed up what most have known for decades: The island's economic model is broken.

During a lunchtime interview in Havana last week, Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, asked the ailing leader if Cuba's economic system was still worth exporting to other nations.

According to Goldberg's blog, Castro replied, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore.''

Goldberg didn't pry into Castro's surprising statement, but said he believes it was clear what the aging leader meant.

"He said it in an off-hand way, but not jokingly,'' Goldberg wrote The Miami Herald in an e-mail Wednesday. "I think this was an honest recognition on his part that his brother must re-order Cuban's economic system in order to keep the country afloat.''

That Cuba's economy is flailing is no state secret. Fidel's brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, has repeatedly said that the communist economic model is badly frayed and in need of reform.

He has told Cubans to work harder and expect less from the state, which controls more than 90 percent of the economy. But the Castros have also insisted they have no desire to embrace capitalism.

Still, Fidel's candor caught many by surprise.

"He is either crazy or senile. This certainly does not sound like something Castro would say,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, a long-time Castro observer and head of the University of Miami's Research Institute for Cuban Studies. "But if he was quoted accurately, then I guess he's come to the realization, like everyone else, that Marxist-Leninist governments do not function. So the real question is, what is he going to do about it now? Is he going to bring about change in Cuba since the Cuba model doesn't work?''

Castro's comments are just the latest in a string of revelations he has made over the last two months. In an interview with the editor of Mexico's La Jornada in August, he took responsibility for allowing the persecution of homosexuals in the early days of the revolution.

In a previous blog post by Goldberg, Castro criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and said the Iranian leader needs to do more to understand Israelis. Castro also admitted he was wrong to have asked the Soviets to launch a nuclear strike against the United States if Cuba were invaded during the Missile Crisis of 1962.

Miami resident Max Lesnick, 80, a long-time friend and classmate of Castro's from the University of Havana, said he visited the former Cuban leader for the Labor Day weekend as Castro was playing host to The Atlantic journalist. Lesnick said he had dinner with Goldberg and Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's national assembly.

Castro has become more reflective as he fully recovers from an illness that nearly killed him in 2006, Lesnick said.

"I think that what Fidel is trying to do is correct the errors of the revolution. And I'm very happy he's doing it; I think it's the right thing,'' said Lesnick, a former magazine editor who currently hosts a radio show on Radio Miami. "Today, Castro is like an elder statesman; he is no longer Cuba's president. He's like Jimmy Carter.''

Goldberg traveled to Cuba after Castro invited him to talk about an article he had written for The Atlantic about Iran's nuclear program.

Goldberg made the trip with Cuba expert and member of the Council of Foreign Relations Julia Sweig.

In his blog, Goldberg -- the only U.S. journalist to interview Castro since he left office in 2006 -- provides a rare glimpse of Castro, relaxed and joking.

The day after their lunchtime interview, the two men visited Havana's aquarium along with the president of Cuba's Jewish community.

When Castro told Goldberg that the aquarium director is actually a nuclear physicist, the journalist asked why the scientist is running the tourist attraction. According to Goldberg, Castro laughed and said: "We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!''

Miami congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, said the latest off-the-cuff remarks prove that Castro is ``battier than ever.''

"Fidel Castro continues his mental slide with a revisionist view of history,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. "He and his thugs have ruined a country and now he feebly says that the system that he built is broken. He is irrelevant yet is anxious to still be considered a player on the world's stage. He jumped the shark years ago and no one has told him.''

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.