CASTRO’S CUBA IS NOT WHAT YOU MAY THINK IT IS
Fidel Castro’s remains have been interred in Santiago de Cuba, near where the Cuban Revolution began. That revolution was an incredible odyssey with a legacy that endures in a land both enriched and scarred by that revolution.
Meanwhile, in the US, the specter of privileged Cuban Americans dancing on the proverbial grave of Fidel Castro may have energized some, but it disgusted me. I was in Cuba less than a year ago. I traveled across a good bit of that country on my own, enabled by Spanish language capability to go where I wanted and communicate freely. During my stay, I engaged with Cubans proud of their revolution and struggling like many of those in the rest of the world to make the most of what they have while appreciating how they got to where they are. [For an account of that trip, see http://www.hard-left-turn.com/single-post/2016/02/23/CUBAN-ODYSSEY . **]
Over the years, Cubans have learned well how to embrace the struggle for the common good, a lesson they could teach many in America, especially their former brethren sipping their rum and smoking Dominican cigars wallowing in delusional lust for a place that never existed. As I have noted previously, there is a refreshing “culture of solidarity” in Cuba today that has survived intact for over fifty years. That solidarity is a good part of what has carried Cubans through their recent past and is very likely to provide a firm foundation for the political, social, and economic changes that are underway. **
Often overlooked through the myopic US-centric lens is what Cuba was before the Revolution. [ https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fulgencio-Batista ] By 1959, Cuba was one of many tropical “paradises” floating in the Caribbean Sea overrun by an influx of US Government sponsored anti-Communist minions, profiteering organized crime henchmen, and American tourists seeking splendid cultural isolation by the sea. The Cuban Revolution upended this fairy tale and set in motion an effort to create a Cuba that would recapture its own cultural heritage and prosper without stultifying influence from the United States.
For context in judging the Cuban Revolution, it bears remembering that successful revolutions are never neat and clean. They are almost always born of armed and brutal conflict with consolidation of gains leaving ugly scars and the winners fighting on to preserve victory and establish order. Today, the loudest voices of criticism of Fidel Castro’s “brutality” are the Cuban Revolution’s losers and their supporters in the country to which they have exiled themselves.
In America, it is convenient to forget that our country was also born of revolution, built on the backs of brutalized African slaves, and expanded to “greatness” through genocide of Native Americans. So before writing a history that focuses on Castro’s “brutality,” try filtering your historical vision of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson through the eyes of the losers in the American revolution.
Fidel Castro and his revolution rescued his country from an oligarchy riddled with thugs and US organized crime figures whose only interest was in raping a once proud nation. Hundreds of thousands in Cuba will openly mourn the passing of a hero of their beautiful and vibrant land. They well know that their rich culture will never be defined by a mob of faded oligarchs in Miami and their vapid progeny.
So while Americans are fed a steady diet of what might have been in Cuba, Cubans themselves live in country far more serene than those living in countries that have been and are still struggling to realize America’s self-serving vision for them. Without a doubt, the long-outdated US embargo of Cuba has artificially retarded potential economic growth on the island. However, it has had the beneficial impact on Cubans and their government of hardening resistance to American cultural dominance and avoiding the negative impact that unrestrained capitalist economic expansion has had in so much of Latin America. The enduring message may be that if you want a Big Mac, stay home or go to Costa Rica.
The hard part about understanding Cuba today is that no snapshot is complete and few outside of Cuba can discuss Cuba without preconceptions born of willful ignorance or misconceptions driven by external influence. I was struck by the vitality and resilience of the Cuban people and the obvious pride they take in the education of their children, the healthcare available to all, and the struggle to preserve the island’s extraordinary natural beauty while increasing access and recreational use.
But there is so much more to know. A good place to start to understand and appreciate Cuba, believe it or not, is the CIA World Factbook ,*** a compendium of country specific and comparative information about the countries of the world. If you take the time to learn about Cuba from the many available resources and then visit, the rewards are many.
I can tell you from my experience there that at the least you will find warm and welcoming people. You will also find a nation where you can walk the streets freely day or night without fear of crime, where firearms and illegal drugs do not menace daily life, where a sense of racial harmony pervades, and where anyone who can will help you discover something new. You will also find a nation that exports with pride medicine and doctors to impoverished lands instead of a steady stream of arms and drones.
Walk that land for a while, and you may actually feel freer than you have in a long time.
** For a photographic tour of the Cuba that I saw, enjoy “Cuban Odyssey 2016” at the Hard Left Turn Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/199319570431284/photos/?tab=album&album_id=199332003763374 .
** See also, http://www.hard-left-turn.com/single-post/2016/02/23/CUBAN-ODYSSEY .