I go back a long way with the Cuban revolution. In the summer of 1957, I mentioned Fidel Castro to one of the Hollywood screenwriters exiled to Mexico City for his politics. My only information about Castro came from the Time magazines that I devoured in that pre-Internet age. Time thought he was a romantic, bearded rebel fighting for justice in Cuba's mountains.
"They'll never let him get into power," the screenwriter told me. He had already excused himself from further support of Soviet communism after Nikita Khrushchev's devastating 1956 speech about Stalin's crimes. But he had no illusions about his fellow Americans. After all, the CIA had recently removed elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, setting Iran on a course toward theocratic dictatorship and toppling Guatemala into decades of right wing torture, repression, and genocide against the Maya indigenous people.
A year and a half later, however, Castro proved the screenwriter wrong by taking Havana. In the spring of 1959, I caught a glimpse of Castro himself on the campus of Columbia University. Thousands of us young Ivy Leaguers had gathered on a sunny afternoon to see and cheer the new rebel, still the bearded romantic in fatigues, who waved to us from the far side of the campus before vanishing into the School of Journalism.
Not long after, one of my brothers arrived in Cuba to teach for a few months as a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade, which taught over 700,000 Cubans how to read and write. I envied him.
Since Eisenhower in 1959, he (Castro) has seen off 10 American presidents who all wished him ill, and he has retired undefeated. Only the eleventh, Barack Obama, has called bullshit on 55 years of American policy and got a dialogue going with Havana. Even then, Obama waited until the last year of his second term, when he had nothing to lose.
Air Force One, according to a story in The Guardian, descended into Havana "like a chariot of hope," as if the Cubans hoped for nothing more than more consumer goods, tidier suburbs, and newer cars. What the writer didn't notice was that the neighbourhood below was a lot tidier than many North American communities such as Flint, Michigan, and Attawapiskat, Ontario.
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