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Castro and Manolo

Once upon a time, long long ago, I worked for a company that measured the length of commercials. It was shift work, unbelievably boring and badly paid. There was a man there who kept himself to himself, except he would hover near my desk, and sort of watch me. He wasn't like an admirer and he didn't try to be particularly friendly, though he smiled from time to time.  One day he announced to me that he was Cuban, and asked what  I knew about Cuba.

 I admitted my ignorance to him. Cuba to my mind was the land of hi-jacker jokes and a man with a big beard, a man who the CIA kept trying to kill with exploding cigars and female agents who fell in love with him. Cuba was  Godfather II,casinos and big car land. Havana was its capital. I knew nothing of it, except that the word sounds musical to my ears, 'Havana,'  a beautiful heroine's name. I also knew that Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, was a friend to my schoolgirl crush Che Guevara, second in my affections only to Mr Spock. In short, I knew nothing about Cuba.

The next time I was in, Manolo walked up to me brandishing some papers. 'Here.' He said.  'You may keep it.'

He had written a short story.

It was about his life as a dissident imprisoned in Cuba. I still have it somewhere.  It did not describe torture per se (as far as I know I have only ever spoken to one victim of actual torture), but it was nonetheless very painful. I thanked Manolo and tried to create more moments and spaces where he could express these things to me if he needed to. But he didn't. He didn't want to talk. He just wanted me to read what had happened to him.

And it left me so confused. Castro did some amazing things - one of the few things Manolo did mention was the universal level of literacy on the island - and I just could not understand. If you want your population to be well read, how can you not want them to express it openly? And if you don't want them to express dissidence, then why teach them to think at all? One is a natural result of the other.

It is this, I guess, that makes Castro a shaper smaller than the visions he inspired. But how would I know? All I have is what I read from dubious sources, and Manolo's story.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
benicek
Nov. 28th, 2016 11:14 am (UTC)

Literacy and healthcare was vastly improved by Stalin too, and many western Communists spent decades refusing to believe that his regime was anything other than benign, fatally undermining their movement. There were some heroic aspects to the Cuban revolution but even Che's book about it reveals murderous factionalism. These dictators are a red herring, a dead end. The left needs to forget them.

smokingboot
Nov. 28th, 2016 01:58 pm (UTC)
The question I cannot answer is, 'Was it worth it?' Manuelo never told me why he was imprisoned and it never felt right to ask.

I think we are in an age when the Left is under attack pretty much constantly; the narrative we are being sold is that socialism/communism/any derivant thereof cannot work, shouldn't work, hasn't worked and never works. There are those for whom Batista's reign was seen as the beginning of a wild and wonderful free market where you could buy anything and anyone you wanted. Against that vision of Cuba as gangland paradise, and against a background of constant attacks on his life, one can be disappointed but not surprised that embargo and paranoia led to massive abuses. Left wing ideologies have a few downfalls written in, as far as I can tell; but more than anything, we have not seen them rise without interference from those who would, quite simply, destroy them. I think this has created a massive distorting effect. This can, however, never excuse abuse of people's lives and liberty.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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