A few years back, I was fortunate enough to make the journey to Cuba.
At that time, I thought that I should make the effort to see the place while Fidel Castro was still alive. That was not because I idolised the stubborn old revolutionary - but more out of the determination to see the place as it was before the inevitable transformation that would occur in a post-Castro period.
It must be frustrating for the US that Fidel has chosen to gracefully retire this week, rather than finally succumbing to the ongoing bullying from the USA - the embargoes, the assassination attempts, the demonising.
This frustration must be further compounded by the knowledge that Castro will hand over power to someone equally committed to his own revolutionary ideas for the way Cuban society should be structured.
My experience of Cuba, albeit a superficial one after spending just a few weeks there, was of a deeply complex society awash with contradictions - smart healthy virile people, but still the palpable frustration that they couldn’t even obtain a passport to leave if they chose. The evident anti-Americanism amidst the crumbling facades of the once graceful Havana, yet the expectation that as a foreigner, I would only do business in Cuba in US dollars.
The truth is that America has had an almost obsessive determination to topple Fidel Castro for almost five decades now.
And yet, Castro has outlived them all: he is in fact the longest serving surviving political leader of our time (not counting monarchs) and has been a constant thorn in the side of the USA - both figuratively and geographically.
The Florida school of thought would have it that as soon as Fidel falls, the oppressed people of Cuba would welcome US intervention with open arms. But this is not the way things are unfolding. The US embargoes have achieved little beyond making a spiteful symbolic gesture, and the Cuban economy has greatly benefited in the last years from trading with European countries including Germany and Spain and Italy, and enjoyed cheap oil courtesy of the sympathetic government of Venezuela.
In fact, for all the flaws of Castro’s leadership (including the brutality toward some dissidents and his early era that was marred by such things as imprisoning people with HIV) Castro will be remembered as a formidable foe to American imperialism.
There are many humanitarian, health and educational aspects to Cuba that stand as an inspiration to other developing nations around the world. And, perhaps most frustratingly for those in the US that hold onto their almost juvenile hatred of Fidel Castro’s Cuba - it is the Cuban people themselves, not Washington, who will rightfully dictate the new fate of their own country.
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