Many will say to me, "Adventurer," and that I am, except of a different kind and of those who wear the skin to demonstrate their truth. -Ché GuevaraMy neighbour got me a Ché shirt the other day and this quote is on it. Then I watched a 3 1/2 hour miniseries on the rise to power of Fidel Castro. All of this got me thinking on Cuba and I thought I would think aloud here.
It is sure that Cuba needed a revolution in order to begin to change the country for good. The corruption that existed before Castro was abominable and is akin to what we see in Dominican Republic still today. It's clear that the revolution's intentions were to transform Cuba, but there was no plan in place once power was taken. A firm hand was needed and that was there, but many of the policies were reactionary rather than revolutionary.
A scene from the film spoke volumes of the militant stance the leaders took towards so-called enemies of the revolution (which included some of their own). One of Castro's advisers tells him that the people will respect him because of his power, but they will love him if he is merciful. Castro is not merciful and so the power had to be defended in some very unattractive ways.
I've been known to be a defender of Cuba's socialist state and Castro's leadership. My reasons revolve around the instituted social programs, the elimination of foreign ownership (though it has returned in the form of tourism investment), and the idealism that fueled much of the change.
When I speak to people who have been to Cuba I get very different reactions:
The most enlightened place she has ever been, where people are willing to share their skills for the betterment of society rather than simple material accumulation for self. (teacher in Alberta)I think the essential issues are the corruption of power on Castro's behalf (both Fidel and Raul) and the trade embargo imposed by the United States. Castro's failure to listen to the people after the revolution hindered the growth of the country's economic and social programs. Many Cubans lost their voice and thus lost their life force and the desire to join in the vision for a better Cuba.
The most spiritually dark place he has ever been, full of hopelessness. (farmer in Idaho)
The people are happy, but discouraged at how limited the food supplies are. (social worker in Norway)
The American embargo against Cuba is still in effect due mainly to Florida's Cuban expat population and their voting power. Florida has been one of few swing states and therefore important to both political parties. Any perceived softening of a stance towards Castro would mean severe political consequences.
The religious right in the U.S. is also against Castro. According to Tony Campolo, Christians who speak against Cuba because of its communism are ill-informed. Cuba has not outlawed religion, it has simply restricted the construction of churches as building supplies are scarce and land use is an issue on the island. Campolo's view is that church buildings are a poor use of Christian funds. I share Campolo's sentiment.
My middle name is Ché. I will continue to wear Ché shirts. I will continue to defend Cuba's social programs and I will criticize America's embargo. But I will also pray for better leadership for the country where power will not be as centralized and corrupted.