Thursday, January 8, 2009

50 Years of Cuban Revolution

Cuba,the largest island in the Greater Antilles group, is known as the Pearl of the Caribbean Sea.It celebrated its 50th year of revolution on January2,2009. It is formed by two main island---the island of Cuba and the Isle of Youth---and more than 4,000 keys and small isles. Its neighbours are the US,Mexico,Haiti and Jamaica.
Cuba was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and Spain ruled it for four centuries. In 1898 Cuba became an independent republic.
In 1959, Dr.Fidel Castro overthrew General Batista,the dictatorial President and took over power.Emigres made an unsuccessful invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. In 1962,the US learned that the erstwhile USSR had brought nuclear missiles to Cuba. After a warning from the then US President,J.F.Kennedy,the missiles were removed. A communist Constitution came into force in 1976,and direct parliamentary elections were permitted in 1992. In 1998,Fidel Castro was re-elected.
Ever since a bunch of young revolutionaries drove out Batista ,the dictator in Havana,50 yers ago this tiny Caribbean island has been an iconic symbol of Third World revolution. Fidel Castro,who led the storming of the presidential palace in Havana,emerged as the poster boy of revolution and a symbol of anti-Americanism.
Positive Points
There are many positive things,but at the same time there are new problems that we have to confront. The 77-year-old Raul Castro,the brother of Fidel Castro and the present President of the country,has addressed people from the balcony in Santiago de Cuba where Fidel,declared victory over the ousted Batista dictatorship on January2,1959.
Cuba woke from a night of New Year celebrations without much of a hangover. There was a brief flurry of fireworks as midnight struck and sound trucks dashed around the city extplling the virtues of the Communist Party. Most families gathered for loud celebrations in their apartments but ignored the official events. In the heart of Old Havana the fastest way from Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hotel to La Floridita,the bar where he took his sundowners,is up the cobbled Avanida de Obispo. It is where tourists and Cubans rub shoulders and a good place to see the apartheid system that has grown up in 50 years of Communism.
The Communist State survives,nonetheless.Poor as they are,Cubans are among the best educated and healthiest in the world. Life expectancy is almost as high as in the US,76years for men and 80years for women. In its near neighbour Haiti,by contrast,people die 20years younger on average.
At present,Raul Castro is in charge and as dour a Stalinist technocrat as can be found. He has little of his ailing elder brother Fidel’s strategic vision and none of his genius for publicity. And now,his Communist regime faces a time of great peril.Three hurricanes ravaged large parts of Cuba in 2008 and the hard currency that pours into the regimes coffers from tourism is sharply down. For decades,Cuba could blame its problems on the bellicose US and the American trade embargo,in place since 1961.
Priority for New US President
There is no doubt that Cuba is unlikely to be an immediate priority for the new US Presisent Barack Obama. But he has everything in his favour to lift sanctions on Havana. The Cuban President Raul Castro is a pragmatic leader who seem to recognize that the Cold War era framework is not suited to understand global politics. Despite commendable achievements in public health and education,Cubans recognise that their country is hardly the socialist paradise they aimed to build.
Subsistence rations donot compensate for the lack of freedoms including that of free speech. As compared to other countries in Central and South America,Cuba has not seen bloody military coups and enormous economic hardships.But that phase is getting over.Latin America is now entering an era of relatively stable democratic governments and economic prosperity.Cuba is unlikely to be left untouched by the changes in its neighbourhood.
Obama took a risk on Cuba in the campaign by calling for a new strategy to improve the lives of Cubans. Two immediate changes are expected as soon as he takes office---the lifting of all travel restrictions for Cubans to visit their families and raising the limit on financial transfers from the current $300 every four months.
Optimists are already building scenarios in which the 75 political prisoners in Cuba’s jails are released in return for US concessions,followed by the return of Guantanamo as the US rids itself of the infamous 45 acres,which have only brought it ignominy in recent times.An open-door policy towards Cuba may work better to have a friendly dispensation there than the current approach of hostile containment.

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