Realism and Necessity in Havana (Not Washington)
The Reshaping of Cuba
By SAUL LANDAU and NELSON VALDÉS
“Revolution is grasping the historic moment, changing all that should be changed.”
– Fidel Castro (May 1, 2000)
After more than half a century some myths need dispelling about U.S.-Cuba relations and Washington’s demand for “changes.” On the Cuban Revolution Ernest Hemingway said: “I think the people [of Cuba] now have a decent moment and I don’t believe that they ever had one before. (“Lo que dice el novelista Hemingway,” Noticias de Hoy, January 25, 1959)
In Washington, Hemingway’s description amounted to naïve idealism, tolerating unacceptable behavior from an upstart bunch of rebels. Hemingway, however, lived in Cuba, and understood what the State Department feared. Fidel and company took independence and social justice seriously. To accomplish these agenda items, Cuba began to treat U.S. properties disrespectfully (real estate, agribusiness, utilities and telephone and banks).
In March 1960, before the Soviet Union entered the equation as a major player, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to overthrow the revolutionary government. This plan morphed into a terror war before and after the April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco.
In October 1960, U.S. Ambassador Phillip “Bonsal turned up one Thursday looking very serious. He brought Ernest an important, although informal message from Washington D.C. The U.S. government was beginning to think very seriously of breaking off diplomatic relations with Cuba,” wrote Hemingway’s granddaughter. Washington wanted him to “terminate his residence in Cuba,” and “also publicly declare his displeasure with the Castro government.”
Valerie Danby, who worked for Hemingway, recalled that Bonsal agreed with Hemingway, “but added that in Washington they saw things differently and that he could find himself obliged to face reprisals. He was exposing himself to being considered a traitor.” (Valerie Hemingway, Running with Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways – Ballantine, 2003)
In his January 2, 1961 speech, Castro demanded Washington reduce its embassy staff in Havana from some 300 to 11, the number of Cuban diplomats in Washington. Eisenhower used that remark as a pretext to break relations. In reality, Cuba’s nationalizing of U.S. property (even with offers of payments) went beyond the pale.
In 1954, Ike had ordered the CIA to axe the Guatemala government under President Arbenz for lesser “offenses.” The impressive U.S. record for using violence in Latin America to maintain its hegemony (Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary) has endured for half a century during which U.S. officials tried or encouraged Cuban exiles to assassinate the Cuban president, and sabotage strategic Cuban installations: terrorism.
Ironically, Washington has continued to accuse Cuba of human rights violations (rights more sacred than life?), subversion and terrorism. Cuba’s crime from the outset of the revolution was disobedience. Washington punished. This pattern will continue, unless Cuba “adjusts” (unlikely) to U.S. demands: surrender.
China, Brazil, Russia and Spain (Venezuela gives oil aid), however, have, by making substantial investments, acknowledged steps taken by President Raul Castro to move the economy and political structure of the island into the 21st Century because he and most Cubans recognize that as necessary.
As Cuba’s economy opens to different forms of enterprise, the State has begun to decentralize its power bases toward provincial and municipal governments, better equipped to manage the changing economy. In small cities like Remedios and Caibarien local governments oversee development projects, and keep half the income and taxes generated by the new local enterprises. Norway has provided assistance for such local community initiatives in larger cities including Havana.
The U.S. media has not reported on such efforts, nor has it explored the implications behind a TV series showing U.S. officials in Cuba delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban agents. Cuban police surreptitiously filmed these activities, but didn’t arrest either the Americans involved or the Cubans who received the equipment. Was Cuba sending a message to Washington?
The U.S. media also hasn’t covered Cuba’s state-controlled media’s opening of space for criticism. Juventud Rebelde now includes astute columnists like José Alejandro Rodríguez and Luis Sexto (a Progreso Weekly contributing columnist) and publishes harsh opinions of Cubans confronting the vicissitudes of daily life.
Granma, the Communist party daily, prints citizens’ complaints against administrators and bureaucratic inefficiency. Indeed, state officials now feel social pressure to respond publicly to such grievances. Radio Progreso’s “Punto de Vista” deals with demands to which the government has not responded. Radio Rebelde’s noontime “Hablando Claro” holds debates and offers criticisms of public services, and routine economic mishaps.
At a monthly forum discussion of the magazine TEMAS on the proposed economic changes an uninvited guest joined the debate. The debate moderator recognized the famous (in the U.S., not in Cuba) anti-government blogger Yoani Sánchez (despite her blonde wig and dark glasses), and asked for her opinions. The audience laughed and replied to her remarks.
Cuba in 2011 has also become “Bloggers Island.” In the widely read Catholic Espacio Laical, blog academics and Party members share thoughts. Two Cuban bishops reflected this new dialogue at a meeting with other clergy in Uruguay. “The country [Cuba] is taking steps not exactly like those in the past. This indicates it is possible for us to achieve a democracy with our own characteristics and with its own way of governing.” (Bishops Juan de Dios Hernández and Emilio Aranguren, La República, Montevideo, May 21, 2011).
Washington (deaf to the Bishop’s words) demands did not provoke Cuba’s moves toward de-centralization and her opening of space for expression and non-State initiatives. Necessity, not U.S. posturing, triggered these moves. Despite President Barack “Change” Obama’s lack of response, Cuba will continue to pursue much needed reforms.
Saul Landau’s feature-length film WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP is distributed by CinamaLibreStudio.com.
Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico.