I am inspried to write about Cuba and Castro amid the recent news of Fidel Castro's illness (around the time of his 80th birthday), the manufactured uncertainty about the future of Cuba, and spending part of last night on the couch w/ a few glasses of wine listening to a CD I got while visiting the island in 2001 – actually, it's not the CD I bought in Havana, but a replacement I ordered after my ex lost the original, but I digress. Last week, I posted the following message on the blog of the radio program OpenSource after host Christopher Lydon stuck up for Castro and Cuba when none of his guests would:
“I just heard Mr. Lydon?s experience in Cuba – and I have to say it reflected my own experiences visiting Cuba in 2001 – twice actually, once in June and once in September (shortly after 9/11). I?m not going to deny there?s a certain level of fear and police state in the air, but Havana had a great vibe w/ music and people and drink. Especially visiting after 9/11 there was something wonderful about the alternative Cuba and Castro provided of a romantic, rebellious, joy)ous culture in opposition to some of the most ridiculous U.S. policies (e.g., the embargo). Indeed, many of the socialist slogans plastered everywhere had a quaint quality to them, like the cars. And the health did seem impressive in several ways, for a ?third world? country everyone had really good teeth.”
Certainly, Cuba has its problems economically and politically, and one could argue that the socialist government has outlived its usefulness. But I would like to take a moment to continue to defend the record of Cuba, it's people and their longtime leader. They took the initiative to kick out a corrupt system that happened to include powerful American interests, and have maintained a strong and vibrant culture. And you can't argue with those teeth.
They do not deserve to be the victims of one our harsher long-standing policies, the Cuban embargo, especially as it seems its only real supporters are the exiles in Florida and a few Cold War fossils. Indeed, the U.S. and Cuba could be natural allies in culture and trade at this time – and instead we're pushing them ever closer to the real bad guys in the radical Islamic world and elsewhere for no other reason than a shared hostility towards U.S. policies. Especially visiting in the days after 9/11, the contrast between Cuba and the Taliban could not have been stronger. I wish we hadn't lost that opportunity – maybe with all the current attention, we have another chance to get it right and lift the embargo.