Cuba celebrates a national holiday today in commemoration of the 26 July 1953 rebel attack on the Moncada barracks, in Santiago de Cuba, which is considered a key factor in the making of the Cuban revolution of 1958/59.
Last year’s 26 July celebrations were the last time that Fidel Castro was seen in public. A week later El Commandante was admitted to hospital for a series of operations on his intestinal organs.
This year’s acts in the city of Camagüey were led by Cuba’s acting president, Raul Castro, who is Fidel’s younger brother. Fidel had temporarily handed over power on 31 July last year, ahead of surgery.
In my mind Cuba has had a bit of a rough time over the last 500 years, or more.
Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba on 28 October 1492, having sailed from San Salvador (in today’s Bahamas). Columbus was very impressed with the beauty and nature of this large island. He was astounded by its splendor and wrote at length about Cuba in his journal and in letters to Spain. Despite finding very little gold on the island, or other preciosities, Columbus was infatuated. Cuba was claimed for the Spanish Crown, and remained Spanish until 1898, even though it had been briefly annexed by Britain in 1762 (Cuba was later exchanged for Florida). During all this time, Cuba was continually exploited by Spanish, French and British profiteers.
A series of rebellions during the 19th century failed to end Spanish rule, but increased tensions between Spain and the United States, resulting in the Spanish-American War, finally led to the Treaty of Paris and thus, Spanish withdrawal. Cuba gained formal independence in 1902, under the Platt Agreement, which however, among other things, gave the United States the right to intervene militarily in Cuba. Cuba was now exploited by the American profiteers. Only in 1925, the United States finally recognized Cuban sovereignty over the island. Which, by the way, did not stop United Fruit Company from further exploitation.
I do not want to bore you with a discourse on more Cuban history, neither pre-Castro nor post-Batista, but you might have an inkling that the Cubans themselves did not have much of a say in the affairs of their lives, either before 1925 or after, or indeed, ever.
The good news today may be that Raul Castro has now offered an ‘olive branch’ to whoever is elected US president in 2008.
Let’s wait and see if the Cubans can finally have their particular Berlin Wall come down and can at last have a say in matters of their own. Perhaps Raul Castro can do a Cuban Perestroika.
And let Cuba have their Guantánamo back. The Platt Agreement stipulated a 100-year lease, which ended in 2002. Two Guantánamo wrongs do not make one right.