Once more to Havana….
So far, I’ve tried not to fall into the trap that the English novelist George Eliot described more than a hundred years ago: seeing other people’s misery as ‘picturesque.’
I’ve described, and shown, the Hotel Inglaterra, posted images of the magnificent Grand Theatre and other architectural triumphs, monuments and renovations, and avoided overt comment on – well, on the dark side of Havana.
By which I mean, not its flawed grandeur, or its magnificent decay, but its political system. In a word: communism.
Because one of the things you can’t help noticing is the drab, dreary, official lexicon of ‘the Revolution.’ Everything in Havana tracks back to the one brief, heroic moment of glory, a moment frozen in time, historical but without history, in the sense that nothing, evidently, appears to have happened in the half-century since then.
The hard-as-nails old men who rule Cuba appear, still, in the public iconography, as long-haired, gorgeous, romantic revolutionaries, uncorrupted and incorruptible, while everything you see – crumbling infrastructure, a quarantined, impoverished but somehow still resilient people – gives the lie to their lies.
Yes, the American embargo has done enormous damage. Yes, the regime has delivered education and health-care. But the regime, let it be said, is the author, also, of Cuba’s misfortune.
Failed economic policies, incompetence, repression – not to mention Cuba’s long alliance with and dependence on the Soviet Union – are visible everywhere in the streets and on the faces that you see in Havana. The tools of dictatorship – the cult of the leaders, cult of the Revolution, the ideological instruments of the schools and the radio, not to mention the ‘repressive apparatus’ of police and the prisons – are there, too, if you choose to see them.
Here are a few images: the primary school, touchingly – or cynically – named after Camilo Cienfuegos: like Che Guevara, a hero of the Revolution who fell out with the Castros and died – would you believe it? – in mysterious circumstances.
And then you stumble across a simple memorial – on a street corner, lost, almost tender, standing in deep shadow beneath the leaves and branches – to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.