What in the hell is wrong with Jorge Castañeda? Wait, you don’t have to answer that. Machetera will tell you. Basically, he can’t help himself. Someone pays him to make shit up, and he complies. There’s really not much more to it than that. But just for fun, let’s take a look at his Newsweek article about the recent Cuban replacements of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, respectively. Did you know that it was all Hugo Chávez’s doing? See, according to Castañeda, Chávez doesn’t like Raúl (Castro) and so he and Lage and Pérez Roque were sneaking around to see how they might get rid of him. Was it Chávez’s idea, or Lage’s? Or Pérez Roque’s? Who knows?! It’s just made up shit!
Machetera will show you how it’s done with this free guided tour of Castañeda’s mind:
As we enter the scene, a dark and stormy night on New York’s Upper West Side, somewhere around 72nd Street, Castañeda is banging away on his keyboard, a half empty bottle of Rioja to his right, an overflowing ashtray to the left, and an empty pharmaceutical packet on the floor. There’s an evil glitter in his eye. He takes a swig, then a deep breath, and pounds away:
“The problem, of course, is that, as in the Soviet Union when Stalin died, or in China after Mao’s death, we don’t really know what is going on.”
But why would that stop me, says Castañeda, laughing maniacally and reaching for the Rioja.
“Yet, there are solid reasons to believe that something along the following lines took place.”
MACHETERA: Hang on. What solid reasons?
CASTAÑEDA: Where’d you come from? Who are you? Look, you’re interrupting my flow. Just shut up for a minute.
Lage, Pérez Roque and others were apparently involved in a conspiracy, betrayal, coup or whatever term one prefers, to overthrow or displace Raúl from his position. In this endeavor, they recruited—or were recruited by—Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who in turn tried to enlist the support of other Latin American leaders, starting with Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic, who refused to get involved.
MACHETERA: Wait a second. Chávez hates Raúl? Who knew?! Wow, the intrigue! It’s kind of like a telenovela, isn’t it? Okay so, does Leonel Fernández hate Raúl too, or not? Or is he just scared of him? Is that why he didn’t want to get involved?
CASTAÑEDA: I’m not going to dignify that with a response. There’s a stack of Vogues over there. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable and stop bothering me.
“Their reasons for wishing to unseat Rául were mainly turf and power, but they also feared that the leader was beginning to feel threatened by the reaction of the Cuban people to excessive economic and social deprivation.”
MACHETERA: This was news to Raúl? The part about Cubans being unhappy about economic deprivation? Has the deprivation gone from being normal run of the mill deprivation to something really excessive? What is it? Is the pizza gone, just like the blocked Cuban blogger threatened? Are there balseros on the Malecon again?
CASTAÑEDA: You’re really getting on my nerves. Can’t you shut up or at least make yourself useful and go downstairs and get me a cafecito or something?
MACHETERA: I’m just asking…
CASTAÑEDA: [hitting the desk with his fist] Ya! Ya!
(Raúl knew that) after his brother’s demise (he) would be unable to control the flow of events. Consequently, he would accept a series of economic and political reforms to normalize relations with the United States, knowing full well that therein lay the only option for immediate improvement in Cubans’ lives. They (Lage, Pérez Roque and Chávez) believed this to be a betrayal of the revolution, and the beginning of the end of its survival.
MACHETERA: Oh man, so that’s what it was. The foreign press was right all along! All that stuff about Raúl being like so in love with China, and going to turn Cuba into another China. That’s all we need! One China is quite enough, thank you! Thank god Chávez was still looking out for the Cuban Revolution! And Pérez Roque and Lage too. I knew Pérez Roque couldn’t have been looking for a wardrobe upgrade.
CASTAÑEDA: Now you’re getting the picture. But you’re still a little noisy. Where’s my cafecito?
MACHETERA: This is too thrilling. I can’t leave. Please go on.
(Raul) detected the plot almost before the plotters themselves. Raúl took the evidence collected by military intelligence to his ailing brother, and forced him to choose: stick with him and extend his support to the predetermined succession path, or back Lage and Pérez Roque and forsake Raúl.
MACHETERA: Oh my god. He forced him to choose? Why, the tragedy! Raúl really did that? He said it’s them or me, and if you choose them, you must forsake me? How biblical. Poor Fidel. Who knew that after all this time it would really come down to this? You know, I can almost picture it…kind of like a movie. Has anyone contacted you about doing a screenplay?
CASTAÑEDA: You know somebody?
MACHETERA: I might, you know I know someone related to Lara Flynn Boyle —
CASTAÑEDA: Who? Wait, hold that thought…I’ve got a sentence coming.
CASTAÑEDA: No problem.
With evident disappointment in his old allies, the Comandante Máximo backed Raúl.
MACHETERA: Whew! Well, that’s a relief. I mean, you can’t really have thought he would go against his brother, can you? There was the Granma, the Sierra Maestra, Kennedy, Kruschev, Che, Camilo, Angola, Ochoa, they’ve kind of been through a lot together.
CASTAÑEDA: You’re missing the point! Fidel chose Raúl, not Chávez!
MACHETERA: That’s kind of weird. I think he really likes Chávez. And I think Chávez likes him. And I think he’s even said that everybody has to make their own revolution in their own way, that the Cuban model was the model for Cuba, but not necessarily for everybody else. Also, isn’t Chávez pretty much economically independent, and also helping Cuba a lot, so it would seem that Fidel wouldn’t want to anger him, would he?
CASTAÑEDA: Oh niña…Chávez would be DEAD if it weren’t for Fidel.
Chávez was summoned to Havana to be placed before another devil’s alternative: back off, while maintaining economic support for the island, or lose his Cuban security detail and intelligence apparatus, exposing himself to coups and assassination attempts from eventual Venezuelan replacements. He chose to stick with the Castros.
MACHETERA: Man, that is some kind of security detail! Are the Cubans, like, better than the CIA? I mean, they uncovered this whole plot and it’s only thanks to them that Chávez is even alive?!
CASTAÑEDA: (shifting uncomfortably in his chair) I didn’t say they were better than the CIA. Who did you say you were with, anyway?
MACHETERA: Ah Jorge, don’t worry about me. I’m just an occasionally blocked blogger. Time’s not gonna put me on their top 10 list, not this year anyway…
CASTAÑEDA: Where’d you go to school?
MACHETERA: Let’s get back to the story, okay?
The day after their resignation, the two plotters were expelled from their other posts in disgrace. In a newspaper column Fidel accused them of harboring excessive “ambitions” fed by the “honey of power” and the “absence of sacrifice.” He said they had reawakened the illusions of “foreign powers” regarding Cuba’s future. More importantly, and enigmatically, he resorted to a baseball metaphor on the occasion of the World Baseball Classic to praise Dominicans for not participating (the team’s plans had been unclear) and to claim that Chávez’s baseball players, “as good and young” as they might be, were no match for “Cuba’s seasoned all-stars.”
MACHETERA: You mean…nothing is as it seems? Fidel wasn’t just talking about baseball, he was really talking about, you know…Baseball! How did you figure this out? Which pill did you take, dude, the red or the blue one? I need to go back and read those reflections again!
CASTAÑEDA: Go ahead and mock me. I know what I know.
When the conspirators were stripped of their titles, they published classic Stalinist mea culpa letters, acknowledging their “mistakes” (without saying what they were), and pledging loyalty to Fidel, Raúl and the revolution. Such behavior raises ominous questions.
MACHETERA: Like what kind of questions? I mean, I know you’re really bugged because they didn’t write a complete confession for your reading pleasure, but could it possibly have been that they actually realized they’d been caught up in something much bigger than themselves and truly felt bad about it? Could what they said actually have been sincere? I mean, is that even a possibility? I don’t see either of them catching a boat to Miami, and I imagine they might be at pretty loose ends at the moment.
CASTAÑEDA: Oh you really are an ingenue. Can I get you something to drink? Sweetie, they can’t go to Miami because they’re being watched. Don’t you know anything?
MACHETERA: Then what’s going to happen?
CASTAÑEDA: Don’t worry, we have plans.
CASTAÑEDA: Hello? Oh hi, Carlos. No, I’m just finishing up, sorry it took me so long to get around to it…Yeah, I think it’s a good counterpart…loved your bit about Chávez the dimwit by the way, needing to be treated like a fine parrot, wish I’d thought of it first….Yeah…uh huh….really?…I don’t know, she just showed up like out of nowhere. Yeah, I’ll tell her. Okay, chao.
CASTAÑEDA [to Machetera]: You’ve got to cross out that part about plans. It sounds too cheesy. Look, can I just get finished here because El Rostro de Analia is on in ten minutes and I forgot to set the Tivo.
MACHETERA: I’m all ears.
Pérez Roque was popular in Cuba; his youth, his humble origins, his combative nature all brought him closer to the people than most Cuban bureaucrats. Once Fidel is gone, will Raúl be able to “keep him down on the farm,” if and when he claims to be Fidel’s true heir? Will Raúl be able to pull off a rapprochement with Washington quickly enough to placate the restiveness his opponents could exploit? Or should he act to remove them from the scene, one way or another, before they return shrouded in glory?
MACHETERA: Hang on, that’s kind of a lot of questions all at once. You really think Pérez Roque is going to claim to be Fidel’s “true heir”? That’s kind of bold, don’t you think? Does he have, like, a Movement going that nobody knows about? And which “opponents” are you talking about? Lage and Pérez Roque and Chávez? Or should we assume that Chávez is out of it now to save his skin? Who’s gonna be shrouded in glory? It’s kind of dramatic, Jorge, but you’re confusing me again…
CASTAÑEDA: Five minutes…just let me vomit this out…
Needless to say, none of this can be fully substantiated, and it is quite possible that, indeed, the entire affair might have now come to an end. Or, more probably, there will be a sequel: further persecution of the fallen idols, growing discontent in Cuba and increasing difficulties on the part of Raúl in managing the succession. It is worth remembering that Lenin, Stalin and Mao were all unable to control their successions, and they were neither fools nor choir children. There is scant reason to believe that Fidel, despite all his talent, will prove more successful.
MACHETERA: None of it can be fully substantiated? See, Jorge, that’s the thing that gets you into trouble. How about partially? No? Then this is fiction!
CASTAÑEDA: Honey, of course it is. Just don’t tell anyone! There are people to whom this really matters. [Phone rings again] Now, who was that Lara Flynn person you mentioned to me? Do you think you could get me her agent’s number?