That was 50 years well spent then. It’s always worth trying out a policy for a bit, to see if it comes off. And if you try bringing a country to ruin for half a century by blowing it up and starving it and trying to assassinate the leader and blockading it and it doesn’t quite work, there’s no harm done and at least you can say you tried.
You have to admire the charm of America. After doing all that, they’re now saying to Cuba: “As you seem to have changed we’ll think about trading with you again.” It’s like Tiger Woods saying to his ex-wife: “All right, I might have you back, if you promise to be a bit more responsible.”
One person you have to fear for now is Fidel Castro, as I expect it’s only the assassination attempts on him that have kept him going this past 50 years. It’s often said that people in their eighties need goals to keep them motivated, and there can be few better motivations for staying healthy than knowing that the CIA have come up with 600 plans to kill you.
Those attempts included schemes involving poisonous wetsuits and exploding cigars, so maybe the new agreement should include a clause that once a month an American tries to murder Fidel, by trying to hide a great white shark in his coffee, or swapping his indigestion tablets for a nuclear bomb, to keep him on his toes.
There are still many US Republicans who see any agreement with Cuba as a betrayal. I suppose their argument is that to be really effective a blockade needs to keep going for 130 years. It takes the first 50 to get into a rhythm, then after 90 it starts to bite.
It’s impressive to keep a grudge going long after it has any meaning. If they were in Rome they’d be yelling: “I can’t believe we’ve relaxed one of the restrictions on Carthage.”
You can see why the US was so hostile to Castro, as he jailed hundreds of political opponents. This infuriated the American establishment, who must have thought: “That’s not nearly enough. If you want support from us you have to jail far more than that”.
So General Pinochet in Chile was funded and supported by the same politicians who threatened Cuba, and he murdered thousands and jailed tens of thousands, which goes to show that rewards come to those who make an effort.
This must be why Republicans demand that Cuba holds “free and fair elections” before any agreement between them. Because the one thing connecting the people the US backed during those 50 years – from Pinochet to the Indonesian military; Saddam when they liked him; the Emir of Kuwait; the Saudi royal family; Assad when they liked him; the Shah of Iran; Marcos in the Philippines; and Bin Laden when they liked him – is you can’t mention their names without thinking the words “free and fair elections”. If anything they all held too many free and fair elections, and you barely got a day off from voting to relax.
On top of that, the regime in Cuba that Castro’s guerrillas overthrew was run by a gangster called Batista, who was funded and protected by the Mafia. So it’s such a shame that an organisation like that, with no thoughts of personal gain for themselves, was replaced by someone who didn’t have the Mafia’s gentle understanding of freedom and fairness.
There might be other areas in which Cuba has to come “in line” with American values. For example they have one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world, paid for collectively and free to those who use it. They’ll have to scrap that. Once they know what they’re doing they’ll replace it with a system run by private insurance companies, in which most people have to go on the game for a month if they want their gallstones removed, as a sign they’ve learned a bit of maturity as a nation.
Aside from their health service, Republicans are accurate when they insist that Cubans are poorer on average than Americans, proving their system has failed. You might argue that this is because America has refused to allow anything to go there for 50 years, but that’s Communist propaganda.
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
1/19 Cuba timeline
July 1953: Fidel Castro begins a revolutionary campaign against the regime of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista
2/19 Cuba timeline
January 1959: Castro and Che Guevara enter Havana after a successful final offensive. Batista flees, and Castro becomes prime minister, ruling by decree
3/19 Cuba timeline
October 1960: Castro’s reforms sees hundreds of US businesses in Cuba nationalised and their owners not compensated. In December, US US breaks off diplomatic relations and imposes a trade embargo
4/19 Cuba timeline
April 1961: Cuban exiles launch the Bay of Pigs invasion with US backing
5/19 Cuba timeline
October 1962: A 13-day confrontation known as the Cuban missile crisis begins when Castro allows the USSR to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. Generally regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear war
6/19 Cuba timeline
1962: US President John F Kennedy signs off a naval blockade
7/19 Cuba timeline
April 1980: A sharp downturn in the Cuban economy and Castro temporarily lifting restrictions sees around 125,000 people, many of them released convicts, flee to the US
8/19 Cuba timeline
February 1996: Cuba shoots down two US aircraft operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles, prompting the US to make its trade embargo permanent
9/19 Cuba timeline
June 2001: The case of the “Cuban Five” begins, as five spies in Miami are convicted of providing intelligence to the Havana government
10/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2001: US sells $30m of food to the Cuban government to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, which killed 22 people, the first food export between the countries for more than 40 years
11/19 Cuba timeline
Oct 2003: US President George W Bush announces fresh anti-communist measures, including tightening the travel embargo and creating a new government body, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba
12/19 Cuba timeline
Aug 2006: President Bush seizes the opportunity of President Castro’s illness and a handover of powers to Raul Castro, urging Cubans to work towards democratic change
13/19 Cuba timeline
Feb 2008: Raul Castro officially takes over as president. Washington responds by saying its trade embargo will remain in force unless free and fair elections are held
14/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2008: A poll by Florida International University suggests for the first time that a majority of Cuban-Americans living in Miami want an end to the embargo
15/19 Cuba timeline
April 2009: President Obama lifts restrictions on family travel to Cuba
16/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2009: US aid worker Alan Gross is detained in Cuba on suspicion of spying for Washington
17/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2010: American Ballet Theatre performs in Cuba for the first time in 50 years, the most high-profile in a series of cultural exchanges
18/19 Cuba timeline
Sep 2012: Cuba hints at its willingness to do a deal with Washington on the Gross case
19/19 Cuba timeline
December 2013: President Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Castro says in English: “Mr President, I am Castro.” It was hailed in Cuba as “the beginning of the end” for what were then described as “US aggressions”
My next door neighbour’s the same. Whenever I laugh at him for not having a television he blames me for burgling his house every day for the past 50 years, but he can’t make excuses all his life.
Throughout this time, the Cuban regime has jailed opponents, and it was an ally of the brutal Soviet regime. But Castro turned to Russia and declared himself Communist only after the Americans’ attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Still, at least the US learned its lesson, and has never inflamed a situation by unnecessarily invading somewhere ever since.
And all those who pursued this strategy of trying to overthrow Castro can be satisfied at how well they’ve done, and it was all carried out so delicately that only once did it bring the planet to the point of nuclear annihilation.
Now they can all be friends, with leading politicians from America educating Cuba about running the place properly. To start with, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton can teach them how in a true democracy, power never passes between just one or two families.