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THE CUBAN REVOLUTION, 50 YEARS ON

By Nicolette Bethel

Thursday, January 22, 2009.

It’s not fashionable these days for a writer to support Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Communism, after all, is supposed to be dead, a failed experiment that was roundly defeated, when the Soviet Union disintegrated 17-odd years ago, by the oh-so-superior capitalism and its apparent corollary, democracy.

Let me say right now that I am sceptical, and deeply so, of those who denigrate Castro’s Cuba. In most cases the arguments offered to display the inferiority of the Cuban revolution are not arguments at all, but knee-jerk condemnations that ignore the success of the revolution. They usually refer to material goods, or else they assume that the only possible way that Castro should have retained power for half a century is through the total subjugation of the Cuban people.

The truth, however, is far more complex. It usually is. Cuba’s revolution was, its critics notwithstanding, very much a popular one, as Russia’s was in the beginning. If its popularity has faded within and without, that fact has as much to do with the reaction of the capitalist world around Cuba, which is hostile to it, as it does within Cuba. I’m not saying that the revolution is perfect. I am saying, though, that it isn’t, as some would suggest, the worst thing that could ever have happened to the Cuban people in Cuba (though it may well have been the worst thing that happened to the exiles who still survive).

Castro and his supporters overthrew a dictator who was in every way as bad as Castro’s detractors claim he was, or more; but that fact is rarely shared.  It’s convenient for people who are comfortable, or who (perhaps uncomfortably, if they think about it, for them) benefit from the suffering of others to resist revolution; it keeps them feeling safe, it keeps them from changing too much, it keeps them from questioning the corrosion that comes with greed. 

In many ways the Cuban revolution parallels Haiti’s, which succeeded 155 years earlier, and the success of each revolution depended as much in many ways on the reactions of the countries beyond as it did on the will of the people within the nation. Haiti’s revolution ended in abject poverty and long-term chaos for that nation — not because of some inherent flaw in the idea of freedom for slaves and descendants of Africa, but because of the intolerable demands placed on the nation by the slave-owning countries around it.

Cuba’s is sliding into poverty, but despite the best efforts of the Cuban exiles in Miami, and despite the fondest wishes of those who believe Communism is an unworkable system, chaos has not yet begun.

But on New Year’s Day, the Cuban revolution turned 50. The future of the revolution looks bleak. I doubt very seriously that Raul Castro will be able to stem the tide of global capitalism that has already affected his country, and which is changing even Communist China from within.

But before we celebrate, before we extol the fundamental glories of “democracy” and capitalism, let us remember that there are riches that go beyond the material. It’s not surprising that we don’t remember; our nation is particularly hollow in that regard. But success cannot be measured only in material goods, or in the protection or the advancement only of the privileged and the rich.

All that said. I want to salute the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Viva Cuba Libre, for however long it has left.

Nicolette Bethel is a Bahamian literary writer, editor, blogger and academic. She holds a PhD and MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto.

She left academia to assume the position of Director of Cultural Affairs for the Bahamas Government, but continues to teach part-time. She also writes a weekly column for the Nassau Guardian

 

You will find articles by her here.

 

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