Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cuba, Castro, and Exploding Clams

Cuba. Suddenly that's in the news, because Fidel Castro's sick, had to go to the hospital, and has temporarily handed power over to his brother, Raul. Also, because nothing has happened. (Almost too bad he didn't die: Castro is dead! Long live Castro!)

This has sparked a flurry of Cuba-related news in the papers, and a flurry of Cuba-related searching on my computer. Google news is a wonderful thing. What I've learned so far:

  • His assassination has been attempted 638 times, at least once with brightly colored exploding mollusks. (This is what the CIA does with it's time?)
  • Castro and related officials refer to his government as a "revolution." As in "the revolution will continue to move forward."
  • Cuban exiles are an interesting bunch. Most of the early ones were fairly well off, and left when Castro took their stuff and gave it to the state and "the people." More recent Cuban emigrants are poorer, and left because Cuba's economy isn't that great, and would probably collapse if Venezuela & Co. didn't provide aid.
  • The U.S. embargo is mostly about money. Not human rights. Not democracy. These are issues, but they're ancillary to the basic reason, which is that the Cuban government took away rich people's stuff.
  • On a related note, the embargo has helped Castro and hurt Cuba's people. It keeps Cubans poor, keeps Americans, American money, and American ideas out of Cuba, and encourages the idea of Cuba vs. The World that cements Castro's position as the center of a national personality cult.
  • Castro isn't evil. Cuba's life expectancy is equal (or nearly so) to that of the United States, it's health care system is sane, (Preventative medicine? You don't say!) and the man actually seems pretty popular. Of course, that could very well be because he imprisons or executes dissidents, and the country has an abysmal human rights record.
So what does this all mean? Couple of things. One, that revolutionaries, even ones with good intentions, have to watch it. As far as I can tell, ol' Fidel down there had great intentions. Still does, even. But that hasn't stopped him from committing atrocities, imprisoning people who shouldn't have been, and executing political opponents in the name of "the cause." And it doesn't excuse those actions.

The other isn't so much a cautionary morality play as it is a concrete piece of advice. Watch out for the U.S. A major part of the current American ideology is: Stuff is good. Stuff makes people happy. Taking people's stuff = Bad. And trying to put together a country, an economic system, based on the idea that stuff doesn't make people happy? That they're better off without it? Better make sure that all your other credentials are picture perfect, or you're going to get 638 assassination attempts and a cold shoulder. (Although, in hindsight, throwing it in with the Soviets really wasn't the greatest ideas. Which is another lesson: don't tie your fate to that of a huge, morally questionable, somewhat ideologically aligned juggernaut.)

Oh, and watch out for brightly colored mollusks.

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