This January 1 happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution. On this day in 1959, the dictator Fulgencio Batista boarded a plane out of Havana, and Fidel Castro began a triumphal march toward that city, bearing with him the adoration and hopes of his countrymen. Fifty years later, Castro is a dead man walking, and so is the country he has treated like his private domain for all these long, long decades.
Imagine how it must feel. We Americans get heartily sick of our presidents well short of their eighth year in office: sick of the same slogans, mannerisms, the same faces. Multiply that by 50 years — then multiply again by a cult of personality that allows the “maximum leader” to prattle on for six or seven hours on national TV, and by a police state that places spies on every block, every apartment complex, every office, every sports activity, everywhere.
Today’s slogans were first mouthed long before most people in Cuba were born; it’s all they have ever heard. Today’s faces of men in power marched in with Castro an eternity ago.
The best article on the subject belongs to my favorite Brit, Theodore Dalrymple, writing in Front Page (HT: Babalu Blog). He reviews the lengthy reporting on the anniversary by the leftist French daily, Le Monde, and is pleasantly surprised by its hostility to Castro and his works.
The special correspondent, Guillaume Carpentier, did not mince his words. Under a headline ‘Broken down roads and crumbling facades, empty markets, closed cinemas and bookshops: fifty years after the triumphal entry of the barbudos into the most beautiful city in Latin America,disillusion reigns in Havana,’ he writes:
“Practically all cinemas have shut down. Of the 135 cinemas that Havana had — more than Paris or New York — no more than 20 remain open. With nationalisation, they closed one by one, for lack of maintenance, films or electricity. . . Havana, Cubans complain, is a cemetery of cinemas. It is also a cemetery of bookshops, markets, shops. . . In short, Cuba is a cemetery of hopes.”
Batista, the man Castro overthrew, was a thug and a thief. But Cuba at the time of his hasty departure had a per capita income roughly equal to Japan’s. Today per capita GDP in Japan is ten times that of Cuba. In 1958, Cuba grew most of its food. Today, even sugar, once the country’s staple export, must be imported and rationed.
Fidel Castro is no doubt a political genius but also a despotic monster: a dreadful combination for all those who have lived all these decades at his beck and call. I pass in silence the Western artists and intellectuals who have lionized him as a man of the people while he ruled like an oriental despot. I presume they knew not what they did.
But we who live in freedom, when we look at our quiet streets, our sturdy homes, our well-stocked stores and supermarkets, when we consider our ability to come and go, should give a thought to the Cubans, who have grown to middle age without the living experience of such luxuries.
Cuba’s official anniversary celebration took place in the city of Santiago, where Raul Castro, a spry 77, addressed the duly assembled masses. His message, like him, was the same old same old: Fidel worship, anti-American rant, lots of stale history, nothing new under the revolutionary sun. One alert Cuban blogger (here, for those who wish to test their Spanish) noticed that the words “socialism” and “communism,” “Marx” and “Lenin,” so beloved by his older brother, were missing. It was a tired and tiring message: an ideological empty bucket, lasting only 30 minutes.
Raul observed that the next 50 years will be no less difficult than the last. That’s almost funny. Fortunately for the Cubans, he won’t be around to cash in this bet.