The Fidel Castro era has ended officially and nothing much has changed in Cuba. His brother Raul, who has been in charge of the country for the past 18 months, takes over as dictator, ensuring a continuation of the policies of the past half-century.
Viewed from Washington, this is a disappointing development. Viewed from Miami, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban expatriates reside, it is even more discouraging. Where are the riots in the streets of Havana? Where are the Cuban revolutionaries demanding democracy and freedom? There aren’t any. And there won’t be any.
Castro is ill, possibly close to death. But so what? This long-anticipated eventuality means nothing. The people of Cuba are going about their business without a hint of protest. Perhaps it’s because the Castro generation has been brainwashed and cannot conceive of a free and democratic society. Or perhaps it is because they have no cause for violent protest.
Historians will have to assess Castro’s legacy. But I wonder whether they will agree with the American perspective. To the United States, Castro is a monster. Succeeding U.S. governments have attempted to get rid of him without success. Early on, attempts were made on his life, some of which were absurd. I understand the CIA tried to blow him up by hiding a bomb in a conch shell in his favorite diving spot. And I have even read of an attempt to make his beard fall out.
For decades, the United States has quarantined Cuba, attempting to destroy its economy. Might historians find the U.S. guilty of creating the misery and deprivation for which Castro has been blamed?
To some other regimes, Cuba has proved a valued trading partner, and even a desirable tourist destination. My son, Ross, who is Canadian, spent an enjoyable vacation there a couple of Christmases ago.
Jamaica, for example, has quite a different view of Cuba from America’s. Indeed, the people of Jamaica have reason to be grateful to Fidel Castro. When Michael Manley was prime minister, I seem to recall Cubans coming to Jamaica to build schools. And The Gleaner reports this week that under the Jamaica-Cuba Miracle Eye Care Programme, more than 11,000 Jamaicans have been screened and more than 3,800 operations have been performed.
From my perspective, democracy and freedom are precious, and any dictatorship is abhorrent. But it is not for me to tell the people of Cuba how they should live. I will leave it to the historians to decide who has behaved more like a monster — the bloody dictator who seized the homes and destroyed the lives of thousands of middle-class Cubans, or the mighty democracy that punished a generation of innocent Cubans because their leader was unacceptable.