Belfast Telegraph

At last Cuba is free to become more like the glorious USA

By Mark Steel

That was 50 years well spent then. It’s always worth trying out a policy for a bit, to see if it comes off.

And if you try bringing a country to ruin for half a century by blowing it up and starving it and trying to assassinate the leader and blockading it and it doesn’t quite work, there’s no harm done and at least you can say you tried.

You have to admire the charm of America. After doing all that, they’re now saying to Cuba: “As you seem to have changed we’ll think about trading with you again.” It’s like Tiger Woods saying to his ex-wife: “All right, I might have you back, if you promise to be a bit more responsible.”

One person you have to fear for now is Fidel Castro, as I expect it’s only the assassination attempts on him that have kept him going this past 50 years. It’s often said that people in their eighties need goals to keep them motivated, and there can be few better motivations for staying healthy than knowing that the CIA have come up with 600 plans to kill you.

Those attempts included schemes involving poisonous wetsuits and exploding cigars, so maybe the new agreement should include a clause that once a month an American tries to murder Fidel, by trying to hide a great white shark in his coffee, or swapping his indigestion tablets for a nuclear bomb, to keep him on his toes.

There are still many US Republicans who see any agreement with Cuba as a betrayal. I suppose their argument is that to be really effective a blockade needs to keep going for 130 years. It takes the first 50 to get into a rhythm, then after 90 it starts to bite.

It’s impressive to keep a grudge going long after it has any meaning. If they were in Rome they’d be yelling: “I can’t believe we’ve relaxed one of the restrictions on Carthage.”

You can see why the US was so hostile to Castro, as he jailed hundreds of political opponents. This infuriated the American establishment, who must have thought: “That’s not nearly enough. If you want support from us you have to jail far more than that”.

So General Pinochet in Chile was funded and supported by the same politicians who threatened Cuba, and he murdered thousands and jailed tens of thousands, which goes to show that rewards come to those who make an effort.

This must be why Republicans demand that Cuba holds “free and fair elections” before any agreement between them. Because the one thing connecting the people the US backed during those 50 years – from Pinochet to the Indonesian military; Saddam when they liked him; the Emir of Kuwait; the Saudi royal family; Assad when they liked him; the Shah of Iran; Marcos in the Philippines; and Bin Laden when they liked him – is you can’t mention their names without thinking the words “free and fair elections”. If anything they all held too many free and fair elections, and you barely got a day off from voting to relax.

On top of that, the regime in Cuba that Castro’s guerrillas overthrew was run by a gangster called Batista, who was funded and protected by the Mafia. So it’s such a shame that an organisation like that, with no thoughts of personal gain for themselves, was replaced by someone who didn’t have the Mafia’s gentle understanding of freedom and fairness.

There might be other areas in which Cuba has to come “in line” with American values. For example they have one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world, paid for collectively and free to those who use it. They’ll have to scrap that. Once they know what they’re doing they’ll replace it with a system run by private insurance companies, in which most people have to go on the game for a month if they want their gallstones removed, as a sign they’ve learned a bit of maturity as a nation.

Aside from their health service, Republicans are accurate when they insist that Cubans are poorer on average than Americans, proving their system has failed. You might argue that this is because America has refused to allow anything to go there for 50 years, but that’s Communist propaganda.

My next door neighbour’s the same. Whenever I laugh at him for not having a television he blames me for burgling his house every day for the past 50 years, but he can’t make excuses all his life.

Throughout this time, the Cuban regime has jailed opponents, and it was an ally of the brutal Soviet regime. But Castro turned to Russia and declared himself Communist only after the Americans’ attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Still, at least the US learned its lesson, and has never inflamed a situation by unnecessarily invading somewhere ever since.

And all those who pursued this strategy of trying to overthrow Castro can be satisfied at how well they’ve done, and it was all carried out so delicately that only once did it bring the planet to the point of nuclear annihilation.

Now they can all be friends, with leading politicians from America educating Cuba about running the place properly. To start with, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton can teach them how in a true democracy, power never passes between just one or two families.

Further reading

Happy Havana celebrates new era

What the US-Cuba shake-up means: from diplomatic relations to the internet

Cuba-US relations: How the Caribbean island stood up to Uncle Sam

Havana great time: Cuba parties to celebrate revolution’s 50th anniversary

Cuba's golf revolution: plans to make island a golfer's paradise 

Why Che Guevara's image is still a bestseller 

Rediscovering Che Guevara, the romantic revolutionary

Mark Steel: However debased the image, Che's legend lives on 

Thousands visit scene of Che's death 40 years ago

Trail Of The Unexpected: Boxing in Cuba

Simon Calder: Cuba as risky as Darfur? Please, don't make me laugh

Castro accuses US of torturing spy 

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