Cuba: The Forbidden Island Wakes Up
by Eric Margolis: France's
Dirty, Dirty Politics
– Fifty years ago this month the US and USSR came terrifying close
to full-scale thermonuclear war. I vividly recalled those days of
fear while staring at a rusting Soviet medium-ranged SS-4 missile
displayed outside the La Cabana fortress
Soviet SS-4’s and SS-5’s, secretly brought into Cuba, were poised
to destroy Washington and much of the US East Coast. US forces were
at DEFCON 2, the second highest alert status before full-scale war,
and massed in Florida to invade Cuba.
was the prime Soviet target. As a student there at Georgetown University,
I vividly recall how frightened we were, and how helpless we felt.
We would have been even more frightened had we known that Soviet
subs with nuclear missiles were headed for Cuba or that Moscow had
smuggled in nuclear-tipped Frog artillery missiles to blast any
US spin has made the Cuban crisis a great victory for the United
States. Reality is different. In fact, the Kennedy Administration
backed down, pledging the US would never invade Cuba – which was
Moscow’s prime goal. US missiles in Italy and Turkey targeted on
the USSR were quietly removed. Moscow took its SS-4’s and SS-5’s
out of Cuba.
Nikita Khrushchev won his goal of saving Cuba and Fidel Castro’s
Marxist regime from a US invasion. But it was such a terrifying
gamble the Soviet Politburo deposed Khrushchev shortly after. Kennedy
got far more credit than he deserved for the crisis. Soviet KGB
and general staff veterans have claimed that Fidel Castro begged
the Soviets to fire their nuclear weapons at the United States.
In the early
1960’s, Communist Cuba was the vanguard of revolution in Latin America,
and soon after, then Africa. Cuba, with around 12 million people,
field armed forces of 400,000, and sent a foreign legion of 100,000
to fight in Black Africa.
and Che Guevara’s Cuba was the only Communist regime outside Mao’s
China that had romantic appeal to western youth. Fidel’s vows to
promote education, health care and land distribution sounded revolutionary
when Latin America was mostly ruled by US-backed oligarchs and generals.
The Cuba romantics ignored its human rights violations and police
But that was
long ago. The combined pressure of crushing US trade and financial
sanctions and the inherent failures of the Marxist economic system
left Cuba isolated, trapped in the past. Today, once picturesque
colonial Havana is a Caribbean Pompeii, a museum of the 1950’s with
its crumbling buildings and magnificent vintage American cars.
Half a century
later, Latin America has rid itself of inept military dictators
and achieved dramatic social and economic development. The US no
longer treats Latin America with the paternalism and frequent contempt
it did fifty years ago. Ironically, Cuba, with a living standard
not far from that of the US in the early 50’s, was left behind in
a time warp. Castro’s Cuba does have a high standard of health care
and education, but the rest of the economy and society are battered
beyond belief. Still, the Castro dictatorship, now run by brother
Raul, has been honest and genuinely concerned for its people.
This past weekend’s
Americas summit in Caratgena, Colombia resonated with demands that
Cuba be included in the next meeting. All Latin America has demanded
an end to the five-decades old US embargo of Cuba. Given that the
US has flourishing relations with Communist China, Laos, and Vietnam,
or that it supported the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt that was
far more brutal than the Castro regime, boycotting Cuba because
it remains Marxist has become a bad old joke.
caved in to the hard right Cuban lobby in Florida by refusing to
open the door to Cuba. The only nation to support him was Canada,
whose rightwing government is increasingly guided by religious fundamentalists
from Alberta. Ironically, Canada has long helped sustain the Castro
government through aid, tourism and industry.
I’ve been going
to Cuba since the pre-Castro era. My parents used to meet Ernest
Hemingway for daiquiri cocktails at the famed La Floridita Bar,
today, sadly an over-priced tourist trap. In my bookcase: "A
Farewell to Arms," inscribed "to Eric the painter from
his friend Ernest Hemingway, Havana, 1952."
expectations, no big changes occurred after Raul Castro assumed
leadership from the ailing Fidel. Yet I have observed many small
but significant developments on my regular trips to Cuba. Things
Thanks to Raul’s
recent reforms, small private enterprise is bubbling up everywhere.
Aid and oil from Venezuela has kept the island afloat. People are
more outspoken, a little less wary of the secret police and informers.
One feels growing energy pulsating into Havana’s delightful old
city. With its beautiful buildings, friendly, attractive people,
and little music bars with their electrifying salsa bands, Havana
is poised to resume its role of 50 years ago as the most fun – and
perhaps wickedest city – in the world. All it needs are more hotels,
better food, and waves of young Yankee partyers. Already, some 100,000-200,000
Americans sneak into forbidden Cuba each year.
Great Satan, Fidel Castro, is sidelined by age and illness, but
Cubans still love their national papa figure. Brother Raul, now
pushing 81, has gained respect for his leadership. But once the
Castro era is over, what will happen?
Either a power
grab by the military and old guard, or the half million Miami-based
Cubans will return and rebuild Cuba. A tsunami of US money will
swamp Cuba, washing it into the modern world but erasing much of
its austere charm and sense of community. Many friends of Cuba do
not look forward to this change, though Cubans desperately need
relief from their threadbare existence.
was admired across Latin America for proudly defying the mighty
US and refusing to follow Washington’s direction. Cuba paid a heavy
price for its independence: poverty, repression, Soviet influence.
Today’s Cubans may decide their proud but painful continued independence
is not worth the heavy cost.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
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