With the Oscars scheduled for next weekend, Hollywood and the worldwide motion picture industry have been busy promoting their favorite films, their preferred musical scores, their star actors and actresses and their most compelling scripts.
In the same fashion, many of those who followed the recent visit of President Dilma Rousseff to Cuba were backing a new version of a treasured old movie they hoped would be shown, but they came away disappointed.
They had convinced themselves that what they would see during the president's three days in Havana was a dramatic confrontation in which the legendary Brazilian activist defiantly challenged the creaking old Cuban regime to respect the voices of opposition. In their minds they had conjured up a script in which the visa that Brazil gave to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez would prod the aging Castro brothers to respond in kind and at long last allow Sanchez to travel abroad. They pictured a Hollywood moment in which Dilma, on Cuban soil for the first time as president, met with Sanchez and other dissidents, and spoke out forcefully for their right to express their political views and to voice their demands for change.
That would have been a five star movie, but the actors were not following that script. Dilma did not meet with Sanchez or any other dissidents. She dared not even pronounce Sanchez's name, referring to her only as "la bloguera," and saying that after Brazil approved her visa, it was up to the Cuban government to determine whether to allow her to leave. So much for the heart-stirring moment of democratic solidarity that so many hoped to see.
As so often is the case with Cuba, those who had anticipated such a scene were projecting what they wanted to see, not what was history told them was likely to take place. The proper script for this trip would have been the one that had Dilma campaigning, not for her office in Brazil, which is secure, but for leader of Latin America. Her audience was certainly not Cuba, but rather her homeland and, just as important, the rest of Latin America where siding with Castro and standing up to the United States is a guaranteed way of making points. Look, even Canadian leaders, as close as they are to the U.S., understand that one sure way to pick up support is to stand up to Washington.
And that is what Dilma did. Oh, she spoke about prisons and human rights, which she had stated will be a hallmark of her administration, but not the way people had imagined. "We are going to start by talking about human rights in the United States, with respect to a base here (in Cuba) called Guantanamo," she told reporters who were following her. Following the same script as her predecessor and other Latin leaders, she condemned the U.S. embargo and ignored completely the harshness of the Castro regime, including the death, just last month, of Wilman Villar Mendoza, who dissidents said had been on hunger strike in prison. The Cuban government called him a common criminal.
The president made her pilgrimage to see the frail 85-year-old Fidel, a visit she said she made with pride, and she spent considerable time with Raúl, 80, talking among other things about the rising important of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which held its first summit in December. Unlike the Organization of American States, CELAC includes Cuba, but excludes the United States and Canada, leaving plenty of room for Brazil to take a leadership role.
The Castroite revolution has always relied on an outside benefactor to outflank the American embargo. First it was the Soviet Union, then came Hugo Chavez with his boatloads of Venezuelan oil. With Chavez's future uncertain (either at the polls or in the cancer ward) Cuba is already looking for help from someone new. And Dilma wisely has seen an opening. Brazil wants to be wanted in the region, and during this trip the president made certain that the Cubans understood that Brazil is willing to help them experiment delicately with capitalism. That, she said, will be Brazil's big contribution to Cuba.
The Odebrecht SA investment in the reconstruction of Mariel port was at the top of the agenda during her three days in Havana, but you can be sure that much more was being negotiated. Perhaps the most important development was the understanding that Oderbrecht will lend a hand to Cuba's prostrate sugar industry. It is worth recalling that in 1970, the same year that Dilma was arrested, Castro challenged the Cuban people to produce a historic 10 million ton sugar harvest, the accomplishment of which would have showcased the superiority of the Communist system he imposed. Christmas was postponed that year so as not to interfere with the harvest, and every Cuban was exhorted to spend time cutting cane. The crusade failed (the harvest totaled 7.6 million tons) and some historians use that to mark the beginning of the Revolution's long and inglorious decline.
Cubans love films, both domestic and foreign. As the build up to Oscar night continues, one wonders which of the nominees for best picture of the year the Cuban people, including Fidel and Raúl, are going to favor. Will they throw their vote behind "Hugo," or cheer for "The Help" to win the biggest prize?
Anthony DePalma is author of "The Man Who Invented Fidel" and other books.