Wednesday, August 2, 2006

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The New York Times, they like to kid

From James McKinley Jr.'s front-page story in the New York Times, "Castro Is ‘Stable,’ but His Illness Presents Puzzle":

News that Mr. Castro had relinquished power for the first time in his 47-year rule prompted expressions of concern from leftist leaders in Latin America and set off immediate celebration among Cuban exiles in Miami.

The transfer also set off intense speculation about Cuba’s future. Raúl Castro, who has acted as defense minister for decades, made no public appearances. He is 75 years old and seems to lack the charisma, political skill and rhetorical brilliance of his brother. (emphasis added)

I'll concede that Fidel Castro must possess some charisma and ample amounts of political skill -- he's the longest-serving leader in the world, after all.

Since when, however, does the capacity to give six-hour speeches imply "rhetorical brilliance"?

There are many words that can be used to describe Castro's rhetorical style -- and "brilliance" is nowhere close to the top of that list.

posted by Dan on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM


I hope this brings us closer to a major league baseball team in Havana. We can move the Devil Rays there.

posted by: David Pinto on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

There are many words that can be used to describe Castro's rhetorical style -- and "brilliance" is nowhere close to the top of that list.

What *is* the best word to describe someone who is reputed to make 6-hour speeches?

'Bloviator' seems inadequate.

posted by: rosignol on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Too bad the exploding cigar thing didn't work, history could have been different.

The only words for a six hours speech while making thousands stand or sit in the sun would be "cruel and unusual."

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Well either way it's finally getting interesting in Cuba.

The Spanish press interviewed Huber Matos yesterday. Matos was one of the original revolutionaries back in '58, taking over Cuba with both Castros and El Che, among others. He later fell out of favor and spent 20 years in a Cuban jail. Not suprisingly, he concurs that brother Raul Castro lacks in the brainpower department, and what's more, "... is a castrated man without even personal bravery." He also states that Raul is "a wiesel type" that won't last in power.

I'm sure he's objective.

But that doesn't necessarily make the US's position any better. Cuba is indeed getting closer to the Mercosur market and is signing a trade agreement with the bloc (although isn't a member). Coupled with Chavez's support and cash, it won't be that easy to return Cuba to it's hotels-and-whores-for-Americans tradition.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

If Cuba wishes to continue in it's current hotels-spas-and-whores-for-Europeans tradition, that's fine... but the US is the nearest and largest market for whatever Cuba has to sell.

With Fidel gone, and Raul unlikely to last, it looks like the Castros will be out of power fairly soon. Once that happens, the biggest obstacle to normalizing relations with Cuba will be gone, and if the economic lunacy is thrown out, a whole lot of money for development will go in.

posted by: rosignol on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

"serving?" "leader?" Am I mistaken about things like sham elections, emigration controls, mandatory propaganda, vigorous prosecution of political crimes, and general arbitrariness of rule? Perhaps there's value in judiciously avoiding negatively-emotionally-loaded terms like "dictator," but then are positively-loaded terms the appropriate substitute? What distinguishes this "serving leader" from a "ruler?" (Or from Napoleon? Or from Jefferson --- in "serving" as the "leader" of his slaves?)

posted by: Bill Newman on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Fidel Castro is a great speaker in the Latin American style. He used to speak without notes for 6 to 8 hours. Mesmerized crowds heard him out standing in the plaza for hours and cheering periodically. His speeches were published in brochures and studied by politically active people all over the world. People paid good pesos to buy his speeches in the sixties. What else is rethorical brilliance?

posted by: jaimito on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

When people are required to listen to your speeches on pain of imprisonment or death, I don't think that qualifies as rhetorical brilliance. Nor does the fact that idiotic dupes thought that he was a great liberator and paid to read his drivel make him a great rhetoritician, either.

posted by: John Jenkins on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Agreed that Castro is a dictator and all-around detrimental to Cuba.

However, don't assume that Cuba's (or any other country's) natural state should be one that receives US investment with open arms, given the chance. It comes at a price and Cubans may decide that they have greater affinity to the South American/Mercosur markets, warts and all.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Actually, Castro is a brilliant speaker. I don't mean that as any endorsement or compliment to his character. Hitler was a brilliant speaker as well. Castro even better. As others noted above, he could speak for hours, extemporaneously, and hold attention, excite and motivate. I've never seen anyone even close to his level of skill in this regard. People who dont understand that, and simply use this issue to take a gratuitous shot at the guy, are pretty ignorant. I would think that intellegent people who want to understand how and why people like Castro can attract and hold the emotions, and the minds of his listeners. Especially if you oppose his politics.

posted by: Tano on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]


That's news to me. Why do you say that? I'd love to hear examples of his rhetorical brilliance. Can you point me to others who agree with you?

posted by: Klug on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Rethorical brilliance? It is hard to say. I have never seen him in a debate or facing though questioning. All he has said in his life are monologues never worried about any type of press or domestic oposition.

His six-hour speeches are actually quite boring. He seems like an old person with too much time in his hands going over the same stories and "wisdom" everybody has heard a thousand times. The problem is that his public has no choice but look interested. The other day he spoke for hours in front of 500 students aged 12-16, not a single one of them appeared on camera with signs of being bored or sleepy.

He may be brilliant in other aspects but I see much more rethorical skill in most presidential elections in any latinoamerican country.

posted by: Ramon on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Tano: I'm waiting. Seriously.

posted by: Klug on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Klug, I for one think Fidel is a great orator and motivator. In the beginning, people loved him and went to hear his long speeches and stories without compulsion. Just judging by the fact that he is in power for so long you can see he is something special. And has somethig to say. 40 years ago his message of antiimperialism was relevant. Not now, of course. Please do not interpret my defense of Fidel's rethorical ability as a defense of the politician.

posted by: jaimito on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]


I believe you -- what I want is an example. For example, I think Reagan's "Pointe du Hoc" speech is pretty good and I will remember Bush's 9/20/01 speech until the day I die. (Specifically, the ultimatum to the Taliban -- not every day you hear one of those.) Or I will tell my kids I heard Clinton's 1996 DNConvention speech where he used 'bridge to the future'...

Can you tell me a word or a phrase or a speech specifically that really resonates? What story of his do you like? What is the Latin American style and how is it different from a typical American political speech? Is Castro the best at the LatinAm style?

P.S. That Castro has been in power for 40 years is evidence of his speechmaking ability is a remarkable piece of logic. I would really like to hear an explanation of this.

posted by: Klug on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Just judging by the fact that he is in power for so long you can see he is something special.

Yes- he has an especially efficient secret police. This isn't really surprising, once you take into account that for most of his time in power, he had the Soviet Union for a patron.

posted by: rosignol on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Klug, a Fidel phrase that resonates through the ages...? Let me quote his call to arms during the bay of big invasion.

Aquí, frente a la tumba de los compañeros caídos; aquí, junto a los restos de los jóvenes heroicos, hijos de obreros e hijos de familias humildes, reafirmemos nuestra decisión, de que al igual que ellos pusieron su pecho a las balas, al igual que ellos dieron su vida, vengan cuando vengan los mercenarios, todos nosotros, orgullosos de nuestra Revolución, orgullosos de defender esta Revolución de los humildes, por los humildes y para los humildes, no vacilaremos, frente a quienes sean, en defenderla hasta nuestra última gota de sangre (Aplausos).

¡Viva la clase obrera! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Vivan los campesinos! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Vivan los humildes! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Vivan los mártires de la patria! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Vivan eternamente los héroes de la patria! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Viva la Revolución socialista! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Viva Cuba libre! (Exclamaciones de: “¡Viva!”)

¡Patria o Muerte!



Al combate... Vamos a cantar el Himno Nacional, compañeros. (Los presentes entonan el Himno Nacional).


I am no fan of Fidel, but he could talk to the people.

posted by: jaimito on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Niet. If that's an example of one of Castro's best efforts, I don't think he qualifies as a great speechwriter. But maybe I have lost the thread of what you are claiming about him.

We can agree on this: Castro -- like perhaps Peron and Hitler -- was good at riling (sp?) up a crowd and getting everyone frothy at the mouth. But the content of the speech itself (as your example shows) is pretty lame; it cannot hold a candle to something like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

What I wonder is, from a politician's standpoint, which quality is better to have: words that end up in history books, or the ability to get the crowd going your way?

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

From a politican's standpoint? In the short term, the latter, in the long term... the latter.

Getting people riled up so they accomplish something is what gets you into history books. Eloquence is nice, but it's a matter of style, not substance.

posted by: rosignol on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

The King of Thailand is the longest serving leader in the world.

I look forward to seeing that baseball talent play in MLB...

posted by: mem on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

Jaimito: Thanks for responding. Not sure I get it, but thanks anyway.

posted by: Klug on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

I don't think it's fair to omit most of the readers fromthe discussion, so I took a stab at translating Maximum Leader's brilliant oratory. I hope I did it justice. Blog away, Anglophones!

Here, in front of the tomb of the fallen comrades; here next to the remains of the young heroes, sons of workers and sons of humble families, we reafirm our decision, which is the same as those who put themselves in the line of fire, the same as those who gave their lives, that whenever the mercenaries come, all of us, proud of our revolution, proud to defend the revolution of the humble, because of the humble and for the humble, we will not hesitate, in the face of whoever it may be, in defending it to our last drop of blood (applause).
Long live the working class!
Long live the farnmers!
Long live the humble!
Long live the martyrs of the homeland!
Eternal life to the heroes of the homeland!
Long live the socialist revolution!
Long live Cuba!
Homeland or death!

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

...not exactly the "we happy few" speach of Henry 5th, but it has a certain primitive charm to it.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

¡Venceremos! (We shall win!)

Al combate... Vamos a cantar el Himno Nacional, compañeros. (Forward to the battle... We shall sing now the national anthem, friends).

Sorry friends, but in Spanish it sounds great and rousing. And very effective. The battle of the Bay of Pigs was a great victory for Castro, unexpected by CIA's learned PS experts.

Make no mistake, except for the early days of cleaning up Batista's corruption and alphabetization, Castro is a tragedy for Cuba. For bad, he is a very effective speaker.

posted by: jaimito on 08.02.06 at 08:13 AM [permalink]

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