From Castro to Trump
I first became aware of Castro when a neighborhood friend told me how great it was that he, along with his revolutionary force, overthrew the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. I was thirteen years old, and had no idea of what was going on in Cuba, and couldn't care less. Politics was not discussed at home until I was older, and my attention was directed mostly at idle concerns - fun, sports, television, rock 'n roll.
In the Catholic high school I attended a couple of Cuban refugees arrived - a student and a teacher. We paid them little mind, and largely ignored the exhortations of the priests and nuns to care about communism and what was going on in Cuba.
Then, in October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, and I watched President Kennedy inform the nation that Russian missiles were discovered in "Cuba." We were on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. A news story on TV showed demonstrators in Havana yelling "Cuba si, Yanqui no!" Life was serious all of a sudden. After a few days the moment passed, almost as if it hadn't happened. We resumed our casual lives. Since the missile crisis Cuba has been under a trade embargo with the United States, which has caused great suffering.
In November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. Attempts were made to blame the assassination on Fidel Castro, but they didn't get very far. The reputed "lone gunman" Lee Harvey Oswald, had been a member of the "Fair Play for Cuba Committee," and had made contact with the Cuban Government. He may well have been a U.S. spy, and his secret life has never been convincingly revealed. Whatever the case, no evidence was ever presented that Fidel Castro had anything to do with the JFK assassination. By contrast, Castro survived over 600 U.S. assassination attempts and one invasion, the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961.
I mostly didn't pay attention to anything about Cuba until a song changed my perception like a pinball machine going "tilt." It was in my sophomore year in college, and I bought the Another Side of Bob Dylan LP. It was his fourth album, and had songs that became legendary: It Ain't Me Babe, All I Really Want to Do, Chimes of Freedom. and My Back Pages. One song from the album, Motorpsycho Nitemare, was a "talking blues" ballad that was a variation of the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter jokes that were popular in those days. In order to escape the situation, Dylan blurted out "I like Fidel Castro, I like him and his beard" to start a ruckus and get free. It was so goofy and outlandish that it made me think about Castro in a different light. I realized that I liked him too, that I thought he was funny, charismatic, and that he stood up to his giant neighbor to the north in spite of the great imbalance of power.
Castro was a hero to the burgeoning cultural-political revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and became a worldwide symbol of defiance and resistance. His social reforms transformed the tiny island of Cuba. He established free public education, free health care and agrarian reform, His troubles with the U.S. began when he nationalized American-owned businesses in 1960. He also kicked the Mafia out of Cuba, ending its era of rampant criminality and impunity, which included gambling, drugs, prostitution and porn films. I remember reading an article in the 1970s about floor shows at one Mob hotel where women had sex with donkeys. I thought it was from Rolling Stone, but couldn't find it in their archives. This story will do.
For me personally I have had a soft spot, or blind spot for Fidel Castro, realizing his imperfections, but finding him an inspiration when few have been available. Over the years I became aware of the ongoing U.S. terror campaign against him and his government. At one point Cuba sent spies to the U.S. to get information on terror groups emanating from Miami's Cuban exile community. They got caught, tried and convicted, and became a cause célèbre among the counterculture, known as the Cuban Five. I donated small amounts of money to their freedom fund from time-to-time.
I have also donated small amounts of money to the Madison-Camagüey Sister City Association and the Wisconsin Medical Project, which have brought medical supplies to Cuba since 1994. Madison has sister city relationships with eight municipalities around the world, promoting cultural, educational and social exchanges to further international understanding.
Now Fidel Castro is gone, and around the planet he is revered as a great revolutionary. In the "U.S." corporate media he is mostly reviled as a communist dictator who imprisoned and executed people. I look at him as a man who overthrew a brutal dictator and mafioso, and established a distributive economic and social system. Cuba isn't a perfectly equal society, but it is far more egalitarian than its neighbor to the north.
This is Castro's greatest gift, and his greatest legacy. A compare and contrast with what we have reveals the shameful failure of our supposedly democratic system to actually practice democracy. In a real democracy there would not only be no President Donald Trump, there would be no rich guy Donald Trump either. Trump, a criminal sociopath, would likely find petty crime the only avenue available to him, and he would very likely spend most of his life in prison - if the firing squad didn't get him first.
I still have my doubts that Trump will actually take the oath of office. If he does, his tenure will be short. I have said it before, and am saying it again. Our unsustainable infinite-growth economic system will fail, and likely within the next few years. Trump's skew-to-the-rich policies will speed up the process. His climate change denial and its consequent policies will accelerate the failure even more. We would do well to prepare for Trump's collapse.
Here's Motorpsycho Nightmare, not Dylan, but close.
Here's an old favorite in Cuba.
This song isn't heard much these days.
Buena Vista Social Club.
Here's a song to celebrate the return of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.
Here's the Rolling Stones in Havana, March 25, 2016.