When I was twenty years old, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara stood taller than Jesus on the cross. Wild eyed, twin-fisted, bearded banditos taking on the greatest empire the world has ever known with nothing but a thick veil of cigar smoke shielding their flaming hearts from swords the size of shark’s fins. The Cuban Revolution seemed like something out of a Werner Herzog epic. A tale too absurdly fantastic to possibly be true yet somehow it was. Somehow a rickety ship full of broken seasick renegades crash-landed into an ambush and the bullet-riddled survivors managed to escape with their lives, deep into the dark heart of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Somehow this ragged flock of bloodstained anti-heroes managed to immerge from the heavily jungled jaws of defeat to smash an American-made dictator to bits and launch a raucous rum-soaked revolution ninety miles from the belly of the beast. Somehow they did it. Somehow, against all the odds, they persevered. Even when they died, they persevered. Staring down the barrel of a nuclear holocaust, they sneered ‘So the fuck what?’ with such gravitas that it made every freak with a dream written in flames stand a little taller than Christ.
When I was twenty years old, I believed that the Cuban Revolution was the greatest act of love that machine guns could possibly perform. I thought Havana was Valhalla. At 33, I’ve managed to wring the cigar smoke from my eyes to reveal a very different picture. I’ve come to realize that the reality of the Cuban Revolution is a bit different from what it came to symbolize in the flaming hearts of disenchanted loser like me. Cuba may not be the tyrannical horror story cooked up by those rabid jackals in the Southern Florida press but it’s hardly the outlaw utopia I once dreamed of either. The unvarnished reality is that Cuba may not be a dictatorship in the traditional sense of the word, but it is an authoritarian state. The Cuban people vote for their favorite local Communist Party kiss-ass to represent them at the National Assembly and that National Assembly then chooses their fearless leader. It’s essentially British Parliament with less respect for civil rights. And that’s the greatest kept secret of the Cuban Revolution, in spite of all the fiery rhetoric pouring from both ends of the narrative, the result was just another bourgeoise, top-down, social democracy. There’s really nothing revolutionary about it beyond the propaganda. The people there are about as oppressed and bored as the rest of us and some of them want another revolution.
How the fuck did we get here? How did we get from the Quixotic-Leninist dreams of Che Guevara to another carceral bureaucratic purgatory. The truth is there is one piece of communist propaganda that is very true. Castro may have fucked up the revolution but he had a lot of help from his enemies back in Washington. Even before taking power, the Cuban Revolution has been under a constant state of siege from the American Empire who continues to find their very existence insulting. The CIA and their terrorist cronies in Little Havana have spent the last sixty years hurling everything they could get their bloody mitts on in Havana’s general direction. The infamous failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion was only the tip of a very ugly iceberg.
Scores of raids and insurrections were planned and financed by Washington over the decades with Batista-ite exiles running rampant across the country in the dead of night, mining harbors, sabotaging oil refineries and chemical plants, and blowing up railroad bridges. Sugarcane fields were attacked from the skies in bombing raids and strafing attacks. Biological weapons were used to destroy crops and livestock and occasionally even people. An unprecedented outbreak of Asian swine flu forced the fledgling nation to slaughter half a million pigs and another outbreak of dengue fever killed 113 children. Massive terrorist attacks have been launched. A French freighter unloading Belgian munitions exploded, killing 75 and injuring 200 others. A civilian airliner was blown out of the sky, killing another 73 civilians on board. And no fewer than 637 plots to assassinate the Beard himself have been foiled.
As heinous as America’s bottomless bag of dirty tricks has been, nothing has been crueler and more devastating to the Cuban people than the embargo. Half a century of the strictest sanctions the world has ever seen has pushed these people to the brink of desperation. During the height of the coronavirus, while Cuba was busy producing affordable vaccines for the Third World, Donald Trump ambushed the tiny nation with hundreds of new sanctions, restricting everything from ventilators to syringes. This is what has pushed the Cuban people into the streets. Not a desire for American-style neoliberalism but a desperation just to survive its economic terrorism. That and a social media campaign that bares an uncanny resemblance to a program launched by the US Agency for International Development in 2010 to foment “smart mobs” with an American made and manipulated Cuban Twitter knock-off. In any other nation this would sound crazy but documents released on the ZunZuneo program in 2014 confirm it. There is absolutely nothing too petty, outlandish, or downright weird for America’s time-honored anti-Castro industry to try.
Under the circumstances above, it’s a miracle that Cuba isn’t way more fucked up than it is. The Cuban Revolution may be a dud but at least it’s kept people fed and highly literate. Many people point to the survival of the Cuban regime as proof that sanctions don’t work as a method of regime change but that really all depends on how you define regime change. When Castro first came to power he was a non-denominational left wing populist promising direct democracy and open elections. It was only after years of American sponsored abuse that he turned to Soviet style Marxist-Leninist drudgery in an act of desperation and maybe this is the real intention of American sanctions, not to starve a nation into overthrowing a regime unacceptable to the empire, but to shellshock a revolutionary experiment into becoming an aching authoritarian nightmare so Uncle Sam can tell kids like me with red stars in our eyes, “See, I told you revolution was some messed up shit.”
America has been playing this game of revolutionary sabotage going back to the Russian Revolution, another fiery leftist eruption that even jaded anarchists like Emma Goldman believed had libertarian potential. But after 13,000 American doughboys helped the Czar’s White terrorists to fucking ransack this new nation, the Bolsheviks became angry, bitter, and paranoid. The whole damn nation was so traumatized by the chaos that they practically begged for a vicious red czar like Stalin to keep them safe from the hordes and that’s how the Russian Revolution died. And that’s how the Iranian and Bolivarian Revolutions died, not with a .45 double-tap to the skull but with gallant dreamers pushed into authoritarianism by campaigns of American-sponsored terrorism. I may be wrong. There is probably a good chance that Lenin and Castro’s lack of respect for truly stateless revolution damned theirs to authoritarian ends from the start. But we’ll never know for sure and, once again, I think that’s part of the point.
Regardless of how you feel about their direction, popular indigenous revolutions need to be given at least enough respect to thrive or fail on their own merits. I hope the kids in the streets of Havana find what they’re looking for, but be careful, with the American shark breathing down your neck, it will always be a dirty game of pool.