If nothing else, the papal visit to the “Pearl of the Antilles” concluded last week kept vigil on the all-important question of how to bring an economic-political renewal to a courageous people. A people who gave their soul to a revolution in order to unshackle themselves from economic and political oppression had to live decades of inhumane economic sanctions slapped on them for not having made the “right” political choice after the revolution as determined by the all-powerful neighbor: the United States of America.
I have just finished reading an article in Time magazine, January 26, 1959 edition, where Fidel Castro is on the cover; dated 25 days after Batista had fled Cuba and the “26 de Julio” revolution had been declared triumphant. Castro was then a persona grata, still two years before the founding of the Cuban Communist Party (1961) and Castro’s adoption of a socialist path for government – one which would allow the reform of the nation’s institutions which had permitted such corruption and lack of social justice.
What caught my interest in this article with the title, “The Hemisphere: Pearl of the Antilles,” was the inaccuracies Americans have come to accept from the corporate press, some well-meaning and no negative repercussions (as in this article), others purposely meant to influence the mind and heart of the reader… one would guess, for more sinister purposes.
The article’s first paragraph colorfully describes Columbus as Cuba’s “first tourist,” on October 28, 1492… and how a quarter of a century later, the island’s gold and precious woods were adorning Madrid and many Indians had died of overwork and by their own hands… and how “blackbirders” slid into Havana harbor with Negro slaves. Well, we have to acknowledge the injustices caused by colonialism, in Cuba and everywhere else… but as colorful as it may read, Madrid was a village of fewer than 30,000 people, hardly the place where that gold and precious wood would end up. [Cities like Barcelona, Toledo and Valladolid – then capital of the Kingdom of Spain until 1561 when its fire made Philip II choose Madrid as capital – were in 1517 the major concentrations of wealth and power in Spain.]
That article was probably the last one written in Time magazine that was not critical of the course of events that would take place in that beautiful island. From that point on, the Cuban exile element – in good part composed of the deposed oligarchy – would rule, openly or subtly, how Americans would view what was happening in Cuba. It would eventually exert a major influence in American politics because of the concentration of its population in Miami… and Cubans becoming naturalized US citizens.
Cuban-Americans in Florida have been de facto the instigators of an inhumane American foreign policy against their own people in Cuba which has kept the sanctions in place. The economic damage to Cuba has been extensive; only the program of sanctions against Iraq in the decade of the 90’s was more damaging – the latter held responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
We don’t live in a world where good intentions, or lofty ideals, triumph; that only takes place in epic poetry, or in the early days of a victorious revolution. And the Cuban government, I would think, has come to terms with that long ago. Reform in the social system and the new institutions must take place to conform to today’s geopolitical realities, right or wrong; and reality has to be the order of the day. Cuba’s patriarch, Fidel, has known that for a long time… now Raul, and his political entourage, must find the way to carry out such reform.
There is a problem, however; one which continues to have its roots in the US. As of today, nothing short of capitulation – something comparable to the Berlin Wall coming down – will do unless it is accepted by the Cuban Miami Synod. And there are too many good, and just, things that the revolution obtained for the people, such as in agrarian reform, that cannot just be thrown away to be immediately devoured by wealth-seeking opportunists. Capitulation should not be an option, and must not be an option… a posthumous return to the Batista days.
The papal visit was good for Cuba. Not that the Church can be an advocate for Cuba, for the Vatican has neither the influence nor the credibility to be such; however, it does have the influence and credibility to be a negative factor for the Cuban government. It is important for the Cuban leaders to be in good graces with the Holy See. But, no, the Church cannot be an advocate for the Caribbean nation… even if every Cuban was baptized, or re-baptized, and Our Lady of Cobre was found in Santiago singing habaneras.
Who then to take the role of advocate for Cuba’s great push… the Great Reform? The United States should be the logical candidate, given that it has been in great part responsible for the current state of disrepair of the island’s economy. That’s not going to happen, however, when the vast majority of US elected officials are but political whores. And no other country in the West would dare take the lead against the wishes of the US.
Interestingly enough, Socialism and Capitalism (the non-predatory variety) can walk hand in hand and even make love if “excited” enough.. And this could be an opportunity to prove that thesis like no other in the world today.
For all its economic ills and lack of natural resources, Cuba has been able to create in the past half-century one of the best, if not the best, social infrastructures in the world, one which exceeds by a great margin the needs of 12 million people. Its infrastructural triumvirate in education, medicine and sports is a model for the world. Yet, much of the capital invested in Cuba has to do with true and tried tourism.
Some ingenuity and thoughtful planning must create a master plan that could bring 30-50 billion US dollars in private investment in a period of 3 to 5 years; a plan that would double, even triple the gross domestic product. If I can think of ways for that to happen, while keeping the non-negotiable revolutionary gains intact, what’s preventing similar thinking in the Cuban economic intelligentsia?