From Cuba with love?
I posted my first post from Cuba about the classical heritage because I wanted to give myself a bit of time to think about what I saw. But -- with a few honourable exceptions -- most commenters have homed in on the "Cuba right or wrong?" question.
So? What do I think? Well -- the first answer is that no 4-day tourist is in any place to judge. I have no clue how to weigh up the supposed evils of Batista versus the supposed evils of Castro; and I hear, but can't evaluate, the anti-Castro stuff on the web. The Huffington Post has its own special Cuba page, which is worth a look.
So, that apart, I think it's a question of what strikes you. And on that score, there's lot to be said for, and about, Cuba.
First off...when you get off the plane and drive to Havana, it's great not to have any commercial adverts littering the route. I would much prefer to see a slogan about kids being the future of the country (or about the hope of the revolution) than an advert for coca cola being sexy/fun.. But that's only the start, and the least problematic bit,
There is a big question about public propaganda.
The thing to stress (and this is my second point) is that the public image of the revolution displayed around Havana is Che (or Jose Marti), not Castro. That is, in itself, interesting; and it's a bit like the Athenian cult of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the so-called 'tyrannicides', who honestly had little to do with bringing about the fall of the Peisistratid tyranny -- but became the romantic figures of political change.
I was struck by the ubiquity of Che imagery, and remarked to the daughter that I was puzzled. Were all these posters put up spontaneously, or were they enforced as a condition of the lease on the shop? She rightly said that political allegiance didn't work like that (as I should have known..that's what I teach on the emperor Augustus, for god's sake). You can only explain this by that complicated nexus of power, enforcement and display that somehow makes the Che portrait at the back of the bar seem "natural".
But to take a different direction, I was also struck by the need (if not the poverty, which may be a different thing) of the people I met. In almost every museum, as I learned too late to take a photo in the Bellas Artes, the guards were after any money you could give them, and tipping seemed more than a way of getting above the minimum wage.
All that said, I had a great time (try the Hotel Saratoga), and came away with a soft spot for the revolutionary project. If nothing else, it is salutary to see the West as our enemies see us. I was won over over by the statistics for the improvements in health care post up in the Museum of the Revolution, and tickled by the idea (on the right) of George Bush senior as a Roman emperor.
Of course, if New Labour has posted such statistics, I would have been cynical, suspicious and outraged.