Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cuba before Fidel

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If you want to know how Cuba was before the revolution, watch “The Godfather: Part II”. The Batista regime was one of the most corrupt in the world. Compared to it, today's Lebanon is a beacon of integrity. Batista gave the US “National Crime Syndicate” everything they dreamed about. Under his rule, Cuba became the whorehouse of the United States.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather: Part II”, one the most dangerous US mafia boss, Hyman Roth (played by the former Actor’s Studio director, Lee Strasberg), says: “These are wonderful things that we've achieved in Havana -- and there's no limit to where we can go from here. This kind of Government knows how to help business, to encourage it -- the hotels here are bigger and swankier than any of the rug joints we've put in Vegas -- and we can thank our friends in the Cuban government -- which has put up half of the cash with the Teamsters on a dollar for dollar basis -- has relaxed restrictions on imports. What I am saying now is we have what we have always needed -- real partnership with the government.”

The character Hyman Roth was based on Florida mobster Meyer Lansky. Lansky, along with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, founded and developed the “National Crime Syndicate” in the US. According to Wikipedia, “Batista's closest friend in the Mafia was Lansky, They formed a renowned friendship and business relationship that lasted for a decade. During a stay at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in the late 1940s, it was mutually agreed upon that, in exchange for kickbacks, Batista would offer Lansky and the Mafia control of Havana's racetracks and casinos. Batista would open Havana to large scale gambling, and his government would match, dollar for dollar, any hotel investment over $1 million, which would include a casino license. Lansky would place himself at the center of Cuba's gambling operations. He immediately called on his associates to hold a summit in Havana.”

This infamous summit was accurately portrayed by Coppola in the “The Godfather: Part II”.

In a later scene, Hyman Roth says to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), about Cuba: “Here we are protected -- free to make our profits without key follow with the goddamn Justice Department and the FBI. Ninety miles away, partnership with a friendly government -- ninety miles. It's nothing. Just one small step, looking for a man that wants to be President of the United States -- and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel.” (US Steel is a multi-billion dollars company.)

On New Years Eve 1958, it was all over. After hearing that the strategic city of Santa Clara fell into the hands of guerrilleros led by Che Guevara, Batista panicked and ran away. The fall of the Batista regime is also well portrayed in Coppola's classic: the cuban dictator gives a pathetic farewell speech to his guests while Michael Corleone confronts his brother Fredo about the assassination attempt made against him earlier in the film. "I know it was you", Michael Says. Fredo cowardly run away and Michael tries to get out of Cuba as crowds are celebrating: "Viva la Revolución! Viva Fidel!"

The History Channel's website reports: "On January 1, 1959, Batista and a number of his supporters fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of Cubans (and thousands of Cuban Americans in the U.S.) celebrated the end of the dictator’s regime. Castro’s supporters moved quickly to establish their power. Judge Manuel Urrutia was named as provisional president. Castro and his band of guerrilla fighters triumphantly entered Havana on January 7."

Fidel Castro died on November 25 2016. He was 90 years old. "His greatest legacy is free healthcare and education, which have given Cuba some of the region’s best human development statistics", The Guardian writes. "But he is also responsible for the central planning blunders and stifling government controls that – along with the US embargo – have strangled the economy, leaving most Cubans scrabbling for decent food and desperate for better living standards."

For the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Castro pursued egalitarian ideals of free health care, housing and education, while outlawing free speech, jailing dissidents and banning fair elections. He played world politics with the skill of a grandmaster, but embraced an ideology that ultimately failed. He overthrew one dictator in 1959 only to become Latin America’s longest-ruling one, 49 years."

In a statement published on November 26, Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau said: “Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.

As controversial as he may have been, Fidel Castro was undeniably one the greatest figures of the 20th century. 

© Claude El Khal, 2016

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