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Raúl of Law
January/February 2010

 

Politics and fashion make odd, mostly hypocritical, bedfellows. Having a T-shirt with Chairman Mao's face on it is cool, even though he was arguably responsible for the deaths of 70 million people. But to do the same with Hitler is sick. And the Kate Moss of politics, the figure who is still at the top of his game despite years of controversy, is Fidel Castro. Yes, he may have overseen an estimated 12,000 executions and the incarceration, torture and political "re-education" of thousands of homo-sexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and dissidents BUT he's got a beard and a snappy military outfit and he hates Americans. 

So if it's cool to like the Castro regime, but it's also cool for ordinary, oppressed people to challenge seemingly entrenched leaders via the blogosphere, then what are we to think when the two clash? Castro sympathisers may want to reconsider their support for the old rogue when they see how a man of the people deals with a particularly effective voice of the people.

But the burden of the blogs has actually fallen upon Raúl, Fidel's brother, a previous Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (among other titles), who took over the presidency of Cuba from his ailing brother in February 2008. In his acceptance speech, Raúl hinted that "within weeks" certain restrictions on Cubans' everyday lives would be lifted, including a ban on the purchase of computers, DVD players and microwaves — there would even be the possibility of electric toasters being introduced in 2010. 

As blogs began to appear, commentators claimed that Raúl was prepared to tolerate more debate than his brother did. A foreign diplomat was quoted in the Economist as saying: "I think the leadership now recognises that when it comes to the internet, the genie is out of the bottle and they have to live with it." Generación Y, a blog written by a young woman called Yoani Sánchez about the hardships of everyday life in Cuba — of food shortages, monthly wages of £20 and restrictions on freedom that might shock those Western tourists who return from carefully managed visits to the island praising the simple joys of Cuban life — gets about one million hits a month and Sánchez was named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

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