With Fidel Castro apparently on the verge of death, I returned to Cuba to visit old friends. Little has changed over recent years and life for most Cubans remains harsh. Yet western visitors continue to romanticise the place
Bella Thomas is intimately familiar with Cuba:
Between 1996 and 1999, I lived periodically in Havana with a gay Spanish diplomat, a close friend who had once, maybe not entirely jokingly, suggested that we marry but maintain our separate ménages. I was too square for that, but when he was posted to Cuba I went to stay with him. Cuba was reputedly not an easy place for homosexuals. I was interested in the country, and I could write about it.
And so for a while I became a pretend prometida of the Spanish cultural attaché. Eventually, many of those we knew—and didn’t know—in Havana, seeing my friend’s rather open homosexuality, began to suspect that I was a spy, that I was from the CIA (which Cubans pronounce “seer”), or MI5.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, the Castro regime has a history of persecuting gays, hence her need to pose as a “beard”.
During the late 1990s there much talk about regime change, which came to nothing,
What observers at this time most underestimated was the power of the regime’s nationalist rhetoric and Castro’s strategic skill. Unlike in eastern Europe, where nationalism helped to erode communism, Cuban nationalism has shored up the regime. Castro was always a nationalist in communist clothing, and, throughout the 1990s, the communist references in his speeches were gradually replaced by nationalist ones.
The continuing hostilities with the US have played into Castro’s hands. It was as an embattled nationalist leader of a small island, standing up to an aggressive, neighbouring superpower, that Castro preserved his revolutionary credentials most effectively.
The UN crowd is still buying into that.
The shortcomings of life under his regime were, he argued, attributable mainly to the US embargo. Many swallowed the argument.
He knew, too, how to capitalise on the latent anti-Americanism in Latin America, Europe and Canada to give his struggle more universal appeal.
In fact, the regime seems to act with zeal to ensure that the embargo continues. When it looks as if the US government might consider ending it, some heavy-handed Cuban act ensues that the status quo prevails. In 1996, when Clinton was keen to initiate rapprochement, the regime shot down two US planes manned by members of a Cuban exile group rescuing those escaping the island on rafts. When, in 2003, an influential cross-party lobby in the US seemed set to dismantle the embargo, the Cuban government promptly incarcerated 75 prisoners of conscience and executed three men who hijacked a tugboat with a view to getting to Miami.
Castro created the textbook for Latin American tyrant wanna-bees.
This is a most insightful article, and a must-read to all who are interested in learning about Cuba. I highly recommend it.