Cuba comes in from the, er, cold?…
Barack Obama has, so we are told, with the help of Pope Francis healed the decades long hostilities between America and Cuba. Like Kennedy, his Democratic Godfather before him, Obama has seen Castro stick it out, principled to the end, and like Kennedy, Obama has backed off and given it up. Over fifty years ago Cuba served as the venue for the closest point the world has come to a thermonuclear war and now we hear from a President who says it’s all no longer worth it. Well, was it ever worth it?
It may well be a much used line but many parts of the world really did ‘hold their breath’, In John Galbraith’s excellent memoir about his time as US Ambassador to India under Kennedy he recalls protests outside his own embassy and what he plainly considered an ill-thought strategy by his government towards Cuba and Khrushchev. For those ‘within range’, the realities of a nuclear strike appeared to be coming home to roost and whilst Castro doubtless sweated over the possible total destruction of his island nation it was left to Khrushchev to make the significant move in averting a third world war.
As the crisis subsided and Kennedy discreetly withdrew Turkish based missiles whilst the Soviets dismantled their own on Cuban soil, Castro remained outraged. He ignored the Soviet Ambassador and publicly declared Khrushchev a ‘son of a bitch, bastard asshole’ It forged his will to become an independent nation and he set about revitalising the public health and education systems to considerable effect despite crippling sanctions which would cost Cuba over a trillion dollars.
Obama’s decision to end sanctions against Cuba will see a dramatic change in Cuba’s fortunes, quite literally. Money sent into Cuba by individuals has long been restricted but this could soon become a billion dollar plus investment process. As travel restrictions begin to lift for US citizens it can only be a matter of time before corporate America beds itself into banking, hospitality and natural resource development. And then what?
What will become of Cuba as it becomes beholden to the American dollar? Will we see a return to capitalism as was the case under Batista? Will there be a return to exploitation of the poor whose land, returned to them under Castro will be bought by the huge conglomerates flattening the landscape for golf courses and exhibition centres? The Cuban system is not perfect, far from it but does it really need American interference? Castro, were he able, would surely point to the horrendous poverty endured by many Americans who live in fear of medical bills and street violence on a daily basis. For those living below the poverty line, capitalism has failed them, compare their education to Cuba’s near 100% literacy rate and higher levels of employment and the picture becomes a little clearer.
As the political prisoners are freed, exiles allowed safe passage to return and the foundations of an American embassy begin to build in Havana the Cubans face no less an uncertain future now than they did when Castro seized power. One only has to look towards beach resorts in the Caribbean, Africa and South East Asia to understand that Western backed infrastructure benefits the few rather than the masses. Outside investment has not rid countries of their shanty towns, and Cubans, despite their probable optimism should not hold their breath as their parents, albeit for a different reason once did in 1962.
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