The news from Havana brings to mind Verging on Cuba, an item posted way back on Nov. 10, 2003, about a panel discussion of what might happen after Fidel Castro dies. The panelists included Russell Banks, the novelist, who had recently spent an unusual amount time with Castro.
Asked why the U.S. embargo has failed after 40 years to accomplish its goal of forcing Castro from power, Banks said the single, most important factor was the creation of a proud, unshakable national mythology equalled by that of only two other nations in post-colonial history: the United States and Israel.
The national mythology developed in Cuba since the Revolution was and still is such a cohering force that despite any and all the disappointments, setbacks, miscalculations and brutalities visited upon them by Castro, by the Soviet Union’s ill-fated support and by U.S. antagonism, Cubans believe in themselves as an identifiable people with an ingrained independence of spirit sturdier than any acquired ideology.
For anyone half familiar with Cuba, that’s not a revelation perhaps, but it does crystalize an idea worth remembering. Banks pointed out that without the national mythology formed in the 40 years following the American Revolution — much of it having coalesced around the heroic figure of George Washington before and after his death — the U.S. might have been forced back under the rule of England or possibly come under the sway of France. The symbolic role of Che Guevera, especially since his martyrdom, has played out in a similar way in Cuba.
Some of the other panelists had equally interesting things to say, especially Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American author and journalist living in Chicago. She pointed out that regardless of who takes over from Castro …
the single, most important factor will be what the U.S. government does. A Cuban government recognized by the United States would be much different from one that is not, whether it’s headed by Fidel’s designated successor, Raul Castro, or by someone else. The greatest influence on daily life in Cuba, therefore, will depend on American politics more than its own.
Oh yeah, almost forgot. I’ve been waiting for Robert Fiske’s comments on the war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah.