When I was a kid most anybody with any sort of ear could do a spot impersonation of John F. Kennedy. All a body had to do was say the word ‘Cuba’ a la JFK — “Cuber”. And then we’d pee ourselves with merriment at our impersonational talents. Take that Vaughn Meader. And I am not going to bother explaining who Vaughn Meader was. If you weren’t there at the time it won’t mean much.
But, it was all merriment about a truly difficult time in the world. A time in which we came perilously close to World War Three. Go back a little bit. When Fidel and Raul and Che were holed up in the mountains outside Havana. What a swathe those bearded and fatigue-wearing brigands cut and it was just the sort of thing to appeal hugely to an adolescent lad. It was all quite thrilling. Piggish dictator Batista was to be toppled and it would be a new era for Cuba.
To punctuate my feelings about it all I got myself a little printed poster published by the ‘Hands Off Cuba’ committee in Vancouver and put it up in my bedroom. My old man was not pleased. Regarding Fidel, Dad was of the “dirty commie” school. But, he didn’t force me to remove it. Otherwise, with the exception or Ricky Ricardo I knew little about Cuba.
Ultimately the “new era” lost a lot of its romantic charm when the trials were held and thousands were imprisoned for their reactionary, pro-Batista views. Increasingly the Americans soured in their attitude and that sent Fidel, in desperation for the revolution to survive, into the welcoming arms of Nikita Khrushchev.
And then it was game over regarding the erstwhile connection between the US and Cuba. And then there was the silly buggers and pathetic Bay of Pigs abortive invasion of this island only 90 miles from Florida. Didn’t work for shit. It was said that JFK was talked into the damn foolishness by old Joe Kennedy who, according to those who hated the Kennedy clan, once own half the whorehouses in Havana. Maybe he did.
More important and terrifying was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those fraught 13 days in October of 1962 brought us closer to international conflagration than any other event before or since. We were petrified and I kind of felt that I was too young to die in a nuclear holocaust.
As we know, cooler heads prevailed and the ghastly was averted.
But, the US remained resolute in refusing to have any truck with Cuba and they left the beautiful island nation as a storehouse of brilliant retro vehicles and a people who, while seemingly happy – and still producing great music – were essentially impoverished and possessing very few freedoms. And thought crime remained a crime in a state that, while it may have its ideals, is far from being free. In fact, after the fall of the Soviet empire, Cuba remained one of the few communist holdouts in the world.
Canada, by the way, has always maintained diplomatic ties with Cuba.
I know a lot of people who have vacationed in Cuba and love the place. We sailed past the island last fall on our Panama Canal cruise and I was hoping we’d see land more clearly. It also showed me how damn close a potential enemy was to mainland America.
I have not vacationed in Cuba on a point of principle. I don’t give a sweet goddamn what the US thinks about Cuba and I’m not hugely anal about the fact it is a communist state. What does bother me massively is the great number of political prisoners in Cuba and that is a reality that cannot be denied. Short and to the point, I won’t spend my money in a police state.
That said, I am delighted for the change in US attitude towards Cuba and the overtures about softening antagonisms. May it indeed be so. That I would welcome and expect the Cubans will as well. I also hope they maintain their integrity and not get too (for want of a word) Americanized.