The US government has on its payroll a Cuba Transition Coordinator, as if planning the future of another sovereign country were the most natural thing in the world. His name is Caleb McCarry, and he manages the day-to-day operations of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a "Cabinet-level commission" established by George W. Bush in 2004. Forget transparency: Only part of the commission's July 2006 report was made public. The rest of it was delivered directly to the President of the United States in a secret annex.
What's in the secret annex? One hundred and fifty journalists have not been hopping on planes to find out. The Cubans, who would be derelict in their responsibility to their own security to assume anything but the worst, would very much like to know.
Perhaps a clue to what's in the secret annex could be gleaned from the August 18 announcement of the appointment of thirty-two-year intelligence veteran J. Patrick Maher to the new high-level post of "mission manager" for Cuba and Venezuela. There are five other mission managers, covering counterterrorism, counterproliferation, counterintelligence and one for each of the two undestroyed Axis of Evil countries, Iran and North Korea.
Then, on September 13, the Miami Herald reported that since July 31 the United States had "quietly set up" five "interagency working groups to monitor Cuba and carry out US policies." One of the five groups is "strategic communications," which "seeks to ensure that Cubans understand US positions." According to the article, many members of these groups are working together at a State Department office in a "war-room-like" setting.
Fidel Castro's confinement came six weeks before he was scheduled to host the fourteenth Summit Conference of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, which began in Havana on, of all days, September 11. Delegations, including dozens of heads of state, arrived in Havana from 118 member countries (by way of comparison, the United Nations has 192). The Chinese conferred with Latin American ministers. A high-level North Korean delegation attended, as did Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Pervez Musharraf (Pakistan) and Monmohan Singh (India) met to restart the Kashmir peace process, stalled since the July 11 Mumbai bombings. The US government declined an invitation to send an observer. NBC's Brian Williams, reporting from "Castro's Cuba," bluntly characterized the gathering of leaders from all over Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia as "some of America's biggest enemies on the planet." Most of the media interest turned on whether Fidel Castro would speak. He did not, though he did meet individually with several heads of state, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and India's Singh, who spoke with him for forty minutes about a range of issues and afterward told the India press, "I felt I was in the presence of one of the greatest men of our times."
Through archival clips and soundbites, Cubans have continued to hear Fidel's voice while he has been away. Famous for his endurance, he could recuperate and live to contend with an eleventh US President and, who knows, a twelfth. Or not. The irony is, it doesn't matter if Fidel Castro dies, because he already has achieved a kind of immortality. History may or may not absolve him--it depends on who writes the history--but he will not disappear, any more than Che Guevara did. He will remain as an inevitable point of reference for revolutionaries, including those who have participated in the unprecedented political realignment of the past few years in Latin America, and as an indispensable boogeyman for the right.
Meanwhile, hold off on the obituaries, because Fidel Castro is still alive. And so is the complicated phenomenon that has developed over the past few decades in Cuba, which we can refer to simply as the Cuban Revolution.