Posted on Friday, 05.17.13
Oedipus in Havana
BY JOSE AZEL
When Oedipus, the tragic hero of Greek mythology, realized in agony and
shame the calamity he had brought his city, he could not bear to see the
results of his hubris. Overwhelmed with the knowledge of his
wrongdoings, Oedipus stabbed his own eyes out, and went into exile.
In Cuba, the Castros, blinded by their egos and unwilling to change
course, simply rewrite the history of their failure and seek to reinvent
themselves in designer clothing.
By any objective socio-economic measure, pre-Castro Cuba was a
relatively advanced country. In the 1950’s Cuba’s infant mortality rate
was the best in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world. In the
region Cuba ranked third in per capita food consumption, fourth in
literacy, and first in television sets per capita. Pre-Castro’s Cuba had
58 daily newspapers of different political hues and ranked eighth in the
world in number of radio stations.
After 53 years of the reverse alchemy of central planning, Cuba has been
transformed from one of the most prosperous countries in the hemisphere
to one of the most miserably poor.
Moreover, according to the latest (2013) “Freedom in the World” report
by Freedom House, Cuba remains the only country in the Americas deemed
“Not Free” with scores in the worst-of-the-worst categories for
political rights and civil liberties. Of the 47 countries in the world
designated as “Not Free”, only 9 have scores slightly worst than Cuba
(North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea,
Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Somalia).
Yet, the architects of this tragedy are not disgraced, but honored as
Raúl Castro was recently in Chile where he was delusively sworn in as
president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Given the abject failure of Cuba’s socioeconomic model, the sycophancy
of Latin American leaders toward the Cuban leadership is perhaps best
explained as a petulant form of anti-Americanism. It is not that the
Cuban revolution has accomplished much for the Cuban people; it has not.
It is that the Castros have successfully confronted the Goliath of the
North. That seems to be what Latin American leaders value from the
disastrous Cuban experiment.
Ironically, we may soon witness the United States underpinning the Cuban
regime following in the footsteps of the Soviet Union and Venezuela.
Should Hugo Chávez’s death result in a substantial decrease in
Venezuela’s aid to Cuba, the Castros may choose to play their Alan Gross
card and release the imprisoned American. The U.S. administration may
then feel compelled to reciprocate somehow.
For Cuba, the big prize would be a relaxation of the travel ban allowing
more American tourists to visit Cuba. The island’s tourist industry is
owned by the military, and thus money from American tourists would flow
primarily to the regime with only a trickle down benefit to the Cuban
people. With American tourists visiting the island, Cuban Americans may
discover that the Castro government will move to limit their travel. For
the Castros, Cuban-Americans — able to communicate with friends and
relatives and travel outside the secluded tourist areas — are far more
subversive and challenging. Why bother with Cuban-American visitors if
you can get Varadero Beach-headed, folklore-seeking, mojito-drinking
In Oedipus at Colonus, the second play of Sophocles’ trilogy, the exiled
king dies cursing his sons to kill each other in battle, and his grave
is said to have become sacred to the gods. The Castros have condemned
Cuban brothers and sisters on each side of the Florida Straits to battle
each other, but when the true history of the Cuban tragedy is known, the
Castros’ graves will not be sacred to anyone. History will not absolve them.
José Azel is a senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book,
Mañana in Cuba.