Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Dalrymple’

Cuba: Success through ruination

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Marta Verdes Darby asked for my thoughts on Theodore Dalrymple’s essay, Why Havana Had to Die (also at City Journal).

Dalrymple contemplated the endless decay of the entire city of Havana,

One of the most magnificent of its many magnificent streets is known as the Prado, a wide avenue that leads to the sea, with a central tree-lined marble walkway down which people stroll at night in the balmy air. Some of the beautifully proportioned mansions along the Prado have collapsed into rubble since the last time I was there; others have their facades—all that remains of them—propped up by wooden struts.

I am not Cuban and do not want to travel to Cuba as long as it remains a dictatorship, but having lived in Puerto Rico, I can guarantee you that the tropical sun, salt and weather of the tropics take a tremendous toll on buildings. Any building owner is in a constant struggle against the elements, the insects, and other nuisances. It doesn’t take long for the onset of decay.

Dalrymple concludes that “the neglectful ruination of Havana has served a profoundly ideological purpose,”

. . .Havana was a large city of astonishing grandeur and wealth, which was clearly not confined to a tiny minority, despite the coexistence with that wealth of deep poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people obviously had lived well in Havana, and it is not plausible that so many had done so merely by the exploitation of a relatively small rural population. They must themselves have been energetic, productive, and creative people. Their society must have been considerably more complex and sophisticated than Castro can admit without destroying the rationale of his own rule.

In the circumstances, therefore, it became ideologically essential that the material traces and even the very memory of that society should be destroyed. In official publications (and all publications in Cuba are official) the only positive personages from the past are rebels and revolutionaries, representing a continuing nationalist tradition of which Castro is the apotheosis: there is no god but revolution, and Castro is its prophet. The period between Cuban independence and the advent of Castro is known as “the Pseudorepublic,” and the corrupt thuggery of Batista, as well as the existence of poverty, is all that needs (or is allowed) to be known of life immediately before Castro.

But who created Havana, and where did the magnificence come from, if before Castro there were only poverty, corruption, and thuggery? Best to destroy the evidence, though not by the crude Taliban method of blowing up the statues of Buddha, which is inclined to arouse the opprobrium of the world: better to let huge numbers of people camp out permanently in stolen property and then let time and neglect do the rest. In a young population such as Cuba’s, with little access to information not filtered through official channels, life among the ruins will come to seem normal and natural. The people will soon be radically disconnected from the past of the very walls they live among. And so the present ruins of Havana are the material consequence of a monomaniacal historiography put into practice.

And it will continue to serve as such; now the present restoration(s) will be shown as proof of what grandiose things the “revolution” could accomplish if only sanctions were eased. There will be much propaganda about the evil results of the embargo on the hapless Cubans, and how easing restrictions on travel/remittances, ending sanctions, best of all, allowing CREDIT THAT WILL NEVER GET REPAID will preserve this fabulous site.

The gullible will buy into it, as they buy the lies about the “free healthcare, free education” and “low infant mortality rates” and life expectancy – the gullible won’t be stopping to think that all the statistics, all the data, come from the Communists.

The gullible won’t stop to think that every red cent will go exclusively for the preservation of the oppressive and deadly Communist regime.

What is your take?