Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba | The Nation


Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba

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Consider this. If it's true that Cuba is a protectorate, a semi-colony of America and its most important and precious acquisition, a country on which America was imposed to the detriment or complete loss of its identity, then why not agree on the following inference as well: Fidel Castro, Public Enemy No. 1 of America, its principal accuser and public scourge, is (paradoxical as it may seem) an American politician.

About the Author

José Manuel Prieto
José Manuel Prieto is the author of the novels Enciclopedia de una vida en Rusia, Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian...

El doctor Fidel Castro: American politician.

His entire significance is due to this one fact. The confrontation with an enemy that is part of himself, the knowledge of all its weaknesses, the precise calculation of its conduct, the deep understanding of its internal dynamics. That was what allowed him to imagine total flight from America as the only way forward, using the same Newtonian analysis as John Quincy Adams, according to whom Cuba would gravitate like a ripe fruit (an apple?) toward the United States.

The impossibility of Adams's prediction is now clear, Ahmed (my taxi driver), in the very simile: apples don't grow in Cuba.

Why not like a ripe orange?

Fidel Castro's reasoning was the same; he calculated--like an engineer placing a satellite in orbit around the earth--that the only possible way of breaking the gravitational pull of the United States was by taking advantage of that very force to increase the momentum.

Of the orange.

Presenting it all, very astutely, as a rejection: appealing to international opinion, staging the rupture before a very large live audience and with widespread media coverage.

That way he ensured, while still in pre-production, that he'd have good press in the New York Times, the coverage that may have guaranteed his triumph, like a play that opens to sparse houses until the enthusiastic review of an influential critic appears and its luck changes dramatically. In that, too, Fidel Castro is an American politician: in the awareness that everything is accomplished in the newspapers, the media, a truth he never underestimates.

The facts of the uprising reach every home in the same easy, didactic way as a television commercial or series, with the Cuban people in the starring role. And what a cast! The handsome and appealing Che Guevara, Fidel Castro himself and, in the role of villain, John F. Kennedy, also good-looking and simpático.

It was a duel such as Cuba had never before seen in its 450 years of existence. The confrontation in crescendo, the inconceivable spectacle of the bourgeoisie in flight, the frenzied nationalization, beginning with hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of American property. The anger and infinite surprise of the United States at such ugly ingratitude from its own offspring, from an American politician, who must have known, who was surely aware, that much of what was good in Cuba--all the island had gained in terms of modernity, technological advancement and well-being--came from the influence and example of the United States.

Many who opposed the revolution and want to convince us that Cuba was in good shape will trot out the fact that by the 1950s the peso traded at the same rate as the dollar. We enjoyed, that is, a splendid monetary union. So much do we owe to the United States!

Why then, I repeat, such ugly ingratitude for such beneficence?

The unusual spectacle of the greatest and most powerful country on earth, the United States, caught up in open war with so diminutive an adversary, like a wild animal in captivity, the astounded villagers crowding around to poke at it through the bars of its cage: that alone has captured the imagination of our contemporaries.

It has enabled Fidel Castro to present his triumph as the greatest, the most unlikely, the most consummate. It's been an enormous contribution to his cause, a wellspring of strength he's never stopped drawing on for all these years, a subsidy no less rich and generous than the Russians' very real millions. And the Russians contributed voluntarily, in full awareness; the United States involuntarily, pathetically, ineptly.

Fidel Castro has never made any mistake about the nature of his revolution, his Great Work. How insignificant it would be without the enthusiastic participation of the United States playing the Dangerous Predator in Captivity, for without that, without America's starring role, the spectators would long since have ceased flocking to the show.

In essence, no progress has occurred since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, no alternative strategy, no change of scenery. When, out of simple common sense or some momentary relief from internal pressure, the United States has attempted to make a shift, to soften its stance or even--horrors!--to abandon the game entirely, it has been coldly and calculatingly provoked.

One of Fidel Castro's first executive visits, in April 1959, four months after the triumph of the revolution, was to the United States. But Castro was crafty, as memoirists have depicted him, keeping under wraps his refusal to accept any favor from the United States, no credit or economic aid, however minimal, nothing that might endanger (by making him look like an ungrateful debtor) the formidable attack he was preparing, the betrayal he was nursing in his bosom.

Which was the only possible way forward from the perspective of our clever Fidel: only a rupture, a complete and vigorous change of course, could be assured of success. Any sort of agreement, any extension of the hand, would have fatally compromised his project, and therefore he scrupulously refrained.

I have to say--without passing judgment, without characterizing the procedure as betrayal or deep cunning--that the United States fell victim to an astute provocation. And it fell loudly and heavily, with all the added weight and inertia of its absolute conviction that Cuba, in its insolence, had to be punished. But it fell with the added force of its sincere desire to be a benefactor.

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