I was in Cuba at this time last year and I discovered that it was neither a Shangri-La nor a Stalinist hellhole. It was more like the most highly developed Third World country that I have ever seen, with a highly articulate population, among whom were dedicated, self-sacrificing Communists and loud-mouthed right-wingers who definitely did not lower their voices when they spoke of the government as José Manuel Prieto says.
It is a complex country with its own historical context that should not be viewed through the lens of US policy positions only. However, Prieto is insightful in positing Fidel Castro as an American politician, if you mean by that the Americas and not just the United States of America. Prieto reveals an interesting limitation to his own imagination there.
His idea that the popular terror conducted against Batista’s torturers in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution somehow infects Cuban reality today is overstated. The popular culture of the USA is far more shaped by the unresolved, violent legacy of the American Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction than Cuba is by the period before its governmental structures were constitutionally settled.
Historically, it has been a symptom of truly deep revolutions, ones in which class rule is changed, not just the constitutional actors, that they are accompanied by social terror. That was true of the French Revolution, the Haitian independence struggle and most others. The American War of Independence was a struggle over which ruling class would extract profit from the Americas, and so was generally free of terror. However, the American Civil War and its aftermath, which was a titanic struggle, most certainly involved terror.
Australian national culture is suffused by the unresolved issue of Aboriginal ownership of the land, which to this day is not addressed by a treaty or by proper legal guarantees. Terror is still used against Australian Aborigines; last year an Aboriginal man was literally baked to death in the back of a prison van driving through an outback desert, no police officer has ever been convicted of any of the many deaths in custody that still occur.
I never saw a single Cuban living in the conditions in which I see Australian Aborigines living. At least one Aboriginal leader has publicly asked for Cuban doctors to go to Aboriginal communities to help them, because the Australian government is incapable of doing it.
Taxi-driving is the traditional method by which poor immigrants scrap a living together to get themselves established in a new country. It’s often a lousy way of making a living, subject to all sorts of indignities. José Manuel Prieto should consider why it is that oppressed people all over the world, even within the belly of the beast, identify the Cuban Revolution as a symbol of their liberation.
Strangely, in my entire life I cannot remember once encountering an Aboriginal taxi driver in Australia. It is as though even that meager avenue for self-advancement is written out of Australian reality.
Prieto is exhibiting a remarkable level of self-indulgent myopia in his essay, through which the “memories of underdevelopment” seep.