Monday, November 28, 2016

Beyond Castro

Fidel Castro died last week, several generations after entering Havana in the vanguard of a revolution. A decade after passing political power to his "younger" brother Raul, his corporeal passing was nonetheless long-anticipated in Washington and Miami.
A montage from my Geography of Cuba page, recounting my
2003 visit to the island nation.
Whether this is a new, new era in relations between two countries or simply a chance to rehearse old controversies for the sake of nostalgia, it is too soon to tell. As a Latin Americanist, I have been indulging in a bit of the latter and also seeking resources to which I can point my students and other readers for some context. 

One might start with the overview provided by Charlotte England's survey in the Independent (UK), in which she explores how each of these presidents shown above interacted with the elder Castro. Writing for Slate last spring, Fred Kaplan draws connections between Fidel's 1959 conversation with then-VP Nixon and the President Obama's more recent overtures. During that 1959 meeting, it was not clear what direction Cuba would take following the overthrow of the US-allied "friendly dictator" Batista; by the end of that year, the relationship was firmly frozen along Cold War lines.

See my 2009 Cuba May Finally Be Open, 2011 Against the World, and 2013 Cuba Paradox posts for some of my observations about the relationship between Washington and Havana in recent years. 

My real impetus for this post, however, was NPR's Morning Edition, which offered four stories on various aspects of Castro's passing during its November 28 program. Together they convey just some of the complexity of this enigmatic figure and his legacy. Hearing some of these items reminded me of The New Latinos, Episode 4 in the six-part PBS series Latino Americans. This episode details migrations from the Caribbean -- Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba -- between World War II and the 1960s. Particularly in the case of Cuba, it emphasizes the rapid shifts in the public perception of migrants, depending on race, class, and political context.

Whatever happens next between the United States and Cuba -- and whatever we make of the revolution and its aftermath -- one lesson of my 2003 visit remains vitally important: much more unites us as people than divides us.
A rumba lesson in Lajas and a great conversation in Havana, 2003

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