October 17, 2006 -- the GUARDIAN
"Can't repeat the past, Old Sport? Why, of course you can!" -- F Scott
FitzGerald, The Great Gatsby
In F Scott FitzGerald's seminal novel, Gatsby's great folly was to
believe that he could recover a lost love. Blind to the facts of
history, he was convinced he could recreate the moment when his first
romance blossomed, as if nothing had happened in the intervening
years. His plan was doomed because it was built, as FitzGerald
poetically puts it, on "a foundation as solid as a fairy's wing". For
FitzGerald, Gatsby's folly is representative of a trait in the
American national character - a propensity to believe that things can
always be created anew without any reference to what went before. No
more is this trait evident today than in the way the US is behaving
over the island of Cuba.
Since the news of Fidel Castro's illness, speculation has been at
fever pitch over what is going to happen when the great man dies. But
most observers overlook the fact that, as far as the US is concerned,
it is all written down. The Helms Burton Act of 1996, and the recently
published second report of the Orwellian-sounding Commission for
Assistance to a Free Cuba, make it clear: when Fidel Castro dies there
is going to be an "inevitable transition".
The plan is to install a multiparty democracy and free market economy
possibly within 18 months. The former owners (or their descendants) of
property that was nationalised by the Castro revolution will reclaim
their lands. The institutions of the revolution, from the army down to
the health and education services, will be disbanded and the US will
step in with "aid" to redesign the country and organise elections in
which neither the Communist Party nor any of Cuba's current
politicians will be able to run. And all this will happen because the
Cuban people will rise up and call for it. The US will be merely
assisting them in "recovering their freedom". In other words, the
country will return to the status quo ante 1959 - as if the history of
the last 47 years never happened.
Like Gatsby, who refused to accept that his darling Daisy was no
longer a virgin, was married and had a child, the US is ignoring
reality. Cuba has a population almost twice the size of what it was 50
years ago. Thus half the population knows no other political system.
The lands that the former bourgeoisie dream of returning to have
buildings, schools, factories, hospitals and whole communities living
on them that simply did not exist before.
Moreover, with 80% of Cuban families owning their own homes, the
properties that the Cuban-Americans wish to recover have people living
in or on them who do not recognise the former owners' rights. Cuba's
vast sugar lands have been divided into cooperatives in which the
workers own their farms collectively. Some 25% of Cuba's land is still
in fact owned individually - by the same small farmers who benefited
form the original agrarian reform of 1960 that triggered the US
Quite how the US expects these people to give up all they have and
welcome the idea of having to pay rent for something they believe to
be theirs, is not in the plans. Nor is there any indication of how it
will dismantle a state apparatus that incorporates millions of people.
Take, for example, the health service, perhaps Castro's greatest
legacy. Not only is it effective in delivering top quality health
care, it is also the most intrusive of the institutions of the
socialist system, reaching directly into the hearts and minds of the
The US intends to privatise this service and make people pay for what
they currently get for free. Thus privatisation implies a struggle of
titanic proportions. In Cuba there is one family doctor and two nurses
for every 125 families, or some 600 patients. No matter how remote the
village, even in the highest sierras, Cubans have the security of
having a doctor who lives among them. These advocates of socialised
medicine know their clients intimately, visit their homes, share their
problems. Just work out the maths; this system places a workforce of
some 550,000 state-paid health professionals in the field. Does the US
seriously think these doctors or the Cubans they treat will give this
system up without a fight?
Apparently it does.
But that is not all: these doctors and the nurses, the cooperative
workers and the small farmers and all the communities in which they
live, are all also militarily trained. They are part of the Cuban
citizens' militia that for the last 47 years has been annually
practising to resist a US invasion.
Somehow the US believes that these people are yearning to have the
"Yankees" back. As Nick Carraway might have replied to Gatsby when he
said it was possible to repeat the past: "Dream on." Bush's delusion
would be funny if it wasn't so incredibly dangerous. The time has come
for someone to put him right - before it all ends in tears.