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The International Writers Magazine:

After Fidel
James Skinner

‘It was January, 1973 and I was at the Grand Cayman international operations terminal of the telecommunications ‘brain centre’ when Paul*, one of my technicians burst into my office yelling, ‘Jim, there’s a bullet riddled trawler being towed into Georgetown!’ I picked up the phone and called our main office next to the harbour and, sure enough something serious was going on down at the docks.

The island in those days was pretty calm with very few tourists, usually Americans, no television or newspapers, no cruise ships or fancy hotels, and the only entertainment was scuba diving, sailing, listening to short wave radio stations, going to local parties, ‘reggaeing’ whilst downing dozens of Heineken, and of course plenty of sex. Paul and I went down to the garage of the building and jumped into one of the Landrovers and within ten minutes we were pushing our way through the gathered crowds. By the time we arrived, the fishing boat had been docked and tied up alongside. One of the police sergeants and two other policemen greeted me. ‘What gives?’ I enquired. ‘Cubans, Gov! There must be about 40 of them.’

By this time the only medical team on the island had turned up as well as the ‘official’ on duty from Government House as the Governor was over on Cayman Brac on a routine visit with the manager of our outfit. I walked over to the boat and looked down onto the deck. A collection of expressionless humans were staring up at us on the wharf. It was the first time in my life that I witnessed the look of fear on the faces of a group of refugees who had escaped from a dangerous ordeal of being shot to pieces trying to escape from the oppression in their homeland. Luckily, only a couple of them had been injured, neither of them seriously. The rest were in good shape and were soon taken into custody to be housed and resettled as victims seeking political asylum. The international law stated that they were not allowed to leave Cayman for 5 years thus avoiding the ‘impossible dream’ of entering the promised land of the United States of America.

As I could speak fluent Spanish I was one of their main interpreters. I found out that they were not ordinary peasant folk. There were engineers, medical students and all sorts of educated persons amongst them. Apart from being allowed to stay they also had the right to work on the island. As I was in need of two extra hands at the terminal I immediately hired Julio*, an electrical engineer and Pedro* a carpenter. When they were offered the standard wages for their level of employee on the payroll they burst into tears. They had never seen so much money in their lives. It had been my first contact with people from Cuba; yet it would not be my last. Years later, as part of a consultancy team I visited the island on three occasions staying for weeks on end, I learned a great deal of what was going on; about the people, their culture, the politics, the economy and their way of life in general.

To appreciate the present day situation it is essential to understand the history surrounding this Caribbean paradise.
Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1492. It was Spain’s first colony and stepping stone for future conquests into mainland America. As part of the Spanish Empire and over the next few centuries Cuba became a thriving worldwide producer of sugar, tobacco and other agricultural products. However, by the end of the XIX century it was one of the last remaining colonies and the population, now consisting of afro-Americans, Cuban natives and Spanish descendents decided to seek independence. With the help of the 7th Cavalry under President William McKinley, who declared war on Spain the Cubans finally obtained their freedom. As the country entered the XX century it welcomed the beginning of several years of turmoil based on corruption and irresponsible administration that passed through the hands of several heads of state until finally a Cuban military man called Fulgencio Batista took hold of the reins and turned the country into a large United States backed brothel. Besides the continuing wealth achieved from the sugar cane and tobacco fields, there were hundreds of dollars pouring in from the North. This was thanks to gambling, liquor, prostitutes and other high class living by wealthy Yanks. Many Cubans became millionaires whilst the majority of the population was uneducated and lived in squalor. The country was ready for change.

Fidel and Che Welcome the ‘beasts’ of Sierra Maestra lead by one Cuban doctor called Fidel Castro Ruz supported by his right-hand-man, Ernesto Che Guevarra who marched into Havana on the 2nd of January, 1958 and established the first ever Communist regime in America!

Politics aside, Castro introduced a solid social program that increased the level of literacy and state of health to the extent that it had one of the highest rates of life longevity in Latin America. Equal examples of prosperity were investment in sport, music, art and culture in general. Before 1959 Cuba had 100 libraries and six museums; today it has approximately 2000 libraries and 250 museums. The island hardly suffered from a crime rate or social unrest rampant in today’s democratic societies.

However, Cuba was supported by Russia up until the fall of the USSR and was a thorn in the side of Uncle Sam that has continued to this date. Trade embargoes, invasion threats, political rhetoric and other insults failed to topple Castro’s government although the Cuban administration eventually opened the doors to a limited amount of foreign investment and tourism.

In 1992 I was on a working mission and contacted a great deal of Cubans that worked for Castro’s government. They talked about the ‘Revolution’ as well as their personal financial hardship yet they expressed no regret. They felt ‘safe’ with Fidel at the helm. I also spoke to taxi drivers, teachers, cigar growers, hotel staff and many others who were eager to learn about the ‘outside world’ but when asked if they would change their way of life, most shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘we have everything, what else do we want!’

Things had changed however. The northern ‘Bear’ was no longer their mentor. The cheap oil, military support and commercial exchange with the Soviet Union had vanished. In today’s Cuba, there are not only signs of economic deterioration but also of a slow disintegration of the social services that once offered first rate education and medical facilities as well as overall security. Prostitution and crime are back, and what is worse, Fidel Castro is an ailing man that no longer has the strength of the leader he was 50 years ago today.

So what about the future when he is finally gone?
Despite support coming from Chavez in Venezuela, Cuba will have no choice but to revert to some sort of democratic state over a medium to long period of transition. A good example to follow would be that experienced by Spain when Generalissimo Franco died in 1975 after 40 years of dictatorship. It is worth remembering that although Spain was declared a monarchy with Juan Carlos (the present king) being declared Head of State, it took another 4 years to produce a proper constitution that laid down the foundations of today’s democracy based on a state of law.

The main issue today is that Cuba is no longer a threat to the USA, nor is the USA the world power it was when Fidel Castro took over. As we all know the international scenario has been turned on its head with Islamic Fundamentalism, climatic change and a world economic slump being at the forefront of the White House agenda.
How to proceed?

When Fidel finally passes away, the international community through the auspices of the United Nations should assist and allow whatever interim system of government is installed to set its own course of action. It is obvious that there will be radical changes; if anything because Cuba no longer exports revolutionary communism nor does it economically wish to do so. Fidel’s successors know full well that in the world of globalisation, the old communist regimes no longer survive.
If the USA appreciates this form of ‘hands off’ transition period, it will be the one to most benefit, even though it may take several years. If Uncle Sam decides otherwise, we’ll be back to square one!
* Fictitious names.

© James Skinner. January 2008.

It's a Mad World
James Skinner

how do we feel about what’s being going on and what lies in store for us in the coming year?

Read an extract of James Skinner's book here

The Goa File   Author: James G. Skinner
Paperback (pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher:, Allahabad, India
Pub. Date: Jan 2007
James G. Skinner, as he is know to his friends in Vigo, Spain was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a retired telecommunications expert who has travelled the world over having worked for some of the greatest of todayıs conglomerates such as Cable & Wireless, US Sprint and British Telecom. Having lived in many different and disparate countries spread across several continents, his knowledge of and experience with people from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds is second to none. He is a regular writer ­ in Spanish ­ in the local papers of Galicia and is currently the Honorary British Consul in the region. (read more)

James Skinner is a journalist and commentator on contemporary Spanish affairs.

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