A Voice in the Crowd: Cuba in the news

A Voice in the Crowd: Cuba in the news

By Jim Spelman

Cuba in the news

Cuba is news! Recently, retired Illinois Senator Paul Simon traveled to Havana and dined with Fidel Castro. On March 22, five survivors of the 2506th Brigade, the ill-fated U.S. force which, 40 years ago landed and was defeated at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s southern coast, traveled to Havana to meet and reminisce with some of their Cuban adversaries. On the lighter side, for several weeks, the cartoon characters, Arlo and Janis, have been visiting the island country. In their comic strip, they’ve been making gentle fun of some typical Cuban idiosyncrasies. What makes it all even more interesting to me is, that from March 2nd through the 9th, my wife and I and 17 other folks from the Rock River valley were there, too!

“Why in the world would you want to go to Cuba?” someone asked before we left.

“To see what it’s like before McDonald’s gets there,” I replied smartly.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all, if McDonald’s Corporation had plans on the board for its own invasion of Havana. But then, Cuba’s very astute government, for both dietary and economic reasons, might not want Ronald’s golden arches adorning street corners in its cities. Right now, though, notwithstanding the fact that it is a sovereign nation, because of the U.S. embargo, Cuba doesn’t even have a choice in the matter.

The U.S. refuses to let go. When the people’s uprising finally ousted the right-wing, fascist tyrant, Batista, this country lost its principal ally in the Caribbean. (Shame on us, but we seem to habitually support fascist tyrants.) Because the upstart Socialist, Castro, had kicked the bully in the shins, the bully cancelled its agreement to buy sugar from Cuba and imposed a crippling embargo on the bantam country. Eventually, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Castro’s government, yet arrogantly refused to relinquish its treaty right to keep a naval base at Guantanamo. This country’s attempt at continued domination has undesirable consequences for both our neighbor and us. First, it forces Cuba to seek assistance elsewhere in the world. During the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Castro found an all-too-willing helping hand in the Soviet Union. Since the crumbling of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and 1990, Fidel has had to look to other nations not friendly with the North Americans, such as Iran and Iraq, but has found little aid. As a result, during the mid-’90s, Cuba sank into deep and pervading poverty which, through the determination, resourcefulness and perseverance of its people, it is slowly overcoming.

Secondly, the termination of diplomatic relations, the embargo and other repressive executive and legislative acts like the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, give Fidel a foil. He can point north, toward the U.S., laying the blame for his country’s poverty right where it appears to belong.

Finally, the U.S. actions have helped imbue the natives with a sort of spiritual nationalism. It’s not the chest thumping, we’re-better-than-others, type of patriotism we so often hear of in barrooms and from podiums in this country. Instead, Cubans are quietly proud of who they are, and that, after centuries of being ruled by kings and politicians from elsewhere, they have finally achieved a degree of self-determination unknown to them before 1959. It is my impression that the people are in tune with their leadership. To them, capitalism is akin to the fascism from which they shed blood to free themselves. It’s unlikely that Cuba will capitulate to U.S. intimidation.

President Jimmy Carter, the last truly compassionate man to sit in the White House, has been quoted as saying about our behavior towards Cuba, “I think of all the things that have ever been done in my country, this is the stupidest.”

The best thing this country can do for itself and its tiny neighbor is to drop the embargo, restore diplomatic relations and stop acting like an angry father. The United States would profit socially, politically and economically by putting its hand out to help Cuba rather than continuing to punish it.

Jim Spelman is a local attorney.

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