03 August 2006

Cuba: What if?

This is the beginning of the end for Fidel Castro's Cuba. Whether it is the end of the revolution remains to be seen, though it is hard imagining anyone else capable of fending off Yanqui advances while keeping Cuba together. My best guess is brother Raul will take the reins for a six or nine month tour while the revelers in Miami prepare for their Mariel-in-reverse boatlift. Or perhaps it'll be more of a Bay of Pigs II.

Many forces will be acting in concert against the revolution: the expats' fervor; promises of thawed relations with the US; and the simple fact that Cuba's revolution has always been partly a cult of personality. Without Castro's outsized presence, the half-century experiment will come to an end. This will no doubt cheer millions throughout the hemisphere, though a good 6 million Venezuelans, 21 million Mexicans, and countless others will lament its passing.

But I come not to bury Castro, nor praise him. I come to ask what if?

  • What if Ike hadn't let Tricky Dick push the invasion plans through the CIA?
  • What if Kennedy had had a backbone and tossed the plans out the window?
  • What if relations had remained normalized?
  • What if there had been no embargo?
Those who think Marxism is wrong, of course, will contend that its only possible outcome is tyranny, repression, and death. There are certainly enough examples of that around. Based on Castro's reign, it's very possible that's the exact outcome we would have seen. However, Cuba has been in a constant state of siege for much of the last 50 years. As we know all too well, when the perception of danger is high, some people are willing to give up much freedom (and others willing to oblige by taking it.) If the restrictions are great enough, human rights are violated.

Considering the conditions under which Cuba has evolved - especially since the collapse of her Soviet sponsor - it is quite remarkable. Cradle to grave health care, a slightly lower infant mortality rate (6.22 per 1000 vs. 6.43 per 1000) than the US, and widespread literacy. Now imagine a half-century of free trade, normalized relations, and a friendlier, more successful big brother than the Soviets.

What could have been?