It is also a moment of satisfaction for people everywhere who have set great store by Cuba’s experiment with a very different sort of development pattern than the one imposed over most of the Western world in the past half century since the collapse of the old European colonial empires.
Cuba was always one of the wealthier countries of Latin America, and during the Castro era it became the most egalitarian nation in the continent, with the most educated and the healthiest population, and the most alert and politically aware people anywhere. Yet its economic system, geared to basic survival mode, has never been successful at creating the consumer society typical of advanced capitalism. Like many countries of Latin America and elsewhere, significant sections of the population were grateful for the dollar remittances sent by family members living in the United States, until this lifeline was blocked off some years ago by George Bush. Under the relaxation of the US economic embargo of Cuba announced this week by President Obama, money transfers will now be again permitted, as well as travel to the island by US citizens.
For the Americans, this is a triumph of common sense over ancient prejudice. It is clearly designed to pave the way to a rapprochement that will lead eventually to a complete normalisation of relations — a decision that will ease the path of the Obama administration towards a new friendship with the left-inclined countries of Latin America who have long since made their peace with Cuba.
For the Cubans, who had had a close friendship with the US during the century that preceded the Castro revolution of 1959, there will be a sense of history returning to its former channel, as well as a hope that the authoritarian restrictions on everyday life created by a situation of economic siege will be lifted.
Fifty years ago, when a band of Cuban guerrillas led by the Castro brothers and Che Guevara overthrew a corrupt dictatorship, the French were still fighting a colonial war in Algeria and the British were executing Mau Mau suspects in Kenya. Revolutionary Cuba gave a substantial voice and a considerable military presence to the countries of the emerging post-colonial developing world.
Over subsequent decades, Cuba’s extraordinary, mould-breaking government sent its soldiers to sustain progressive regimes in Africa and to assist in the overthrow of apartheid. In more recent years, it has exported doctors all over the world on an unprecedented scale, in a selfless act of overseas development that puts richer countries to shame.
For those of us who have supported the Cuban revolution over the decades from afar, through thick and thin, this is a sweet moment. The years have taken their toll. Only the embers of the original revolutionary flame still survive. The magnificent voice and rhetoric of Fidel Castro is but a pale shadow of what once was.
The poetry of revolution has been exchanged for the prosaic reality of everyday life in an isolated and beleaguered island. Yet now at last there is a fresh chance that this magical society, whose revolutionary process, aroused so much hope and excitement, half a century ago, can pursue the unique, independent role it once created for itself, without brutal pressures from outside.
Richard Gott is the author of Cuba: A New History, published by Yale University Press
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