Gale's View - Cuba
November 30th 2016
The cameraman and his female reporter sent to cover our visit for the BBC stayed in one of the city`s finest hotels. We, sent by the Inter Parliamentary Union on a fact-finding mission, stayed in a Government “Guest House”. The happy media couple appeared to spend some time sipping Pina coladas by their hotel swimming pool. Our “guest house” had a swimming pool also. Its` concrete construction was cracked and it was empty save for the corpses of several generations of dead snakes. Welcome to Fidel Castro`s Havana where the socialist elite live in style, luxury and comfort while the poor, which is most of the population, and anyone regarded as “opposition” (such as visiting critical politicians) get the shortest of straws.
The communist dictator Fidel Castro, who ruled the Caribbean island of Cuba from 1959 until 2008 is dead.
Those of a certain age will remember only too well that weekend in October 1962 when the Earth hovered on the brink of World War Three and probable nuclear annihilation while the US. President John. F. Kennedy and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev played diplomatic hardball over the location of Russian nuclear weapon-bearing missiles in Cuba. It was thirteen days after the start of an American blockade of the island before Khrushchev backed down and it is said that when he did so Castro was furious. The Dictator was, it seems, prepared to sacrifice his country and his own life in defence of the `ideals` of his revolution.
I did not meet the then-president Castro during our visit but if I had wanted to I had ample opportunity to see him during one of his many seven – hour addresses to his` adoring` public on television. I did, though, meet and speak with many well-briefed apparatchiks of the regime and, much more importantly, with many men, women and children in the street. The Havana that I visited was a once glorious home of beautiful Spanish architecture containing a UNESCO-restored world-heritage site that is a colonial palace. The 1950`s American limousines, still serving as much-cannibalised and ill-repaired taxis, offered a rock-and-roll charm and good photo-opportunities for the Western tourists upon whose dollars and economy broken by trade sanctions and political corruption depended.
Scratch just below the surface, though, and you found that each colonial seafront mansion, one of which literally collapsed into the road during our stay, was inhabited by dozens of families crammed into squalid conditions without power, water or sanitation. Cooking was on open fires outside in the road at night and when I asked our driver if I could stop to speak with some residents I was told that his instructions were to “drive us straight home”. Walking the streets in daylight, pursued by policemen “for our safety” and the omni-present camera crew, I broke ranks and entered a single-storey one-roomed hovel where an elderly lady was lying on a bed with her family around her, quite clearly dying. I was told through our interpreter that her passing would be a blessed relief as it would release the bed for another member of the family. Curiously this episode, filmed by the British camera pair, did not appear in the colourfully-entitled “Our Man In Havana and Other Parliamentary Excursions” when it appeared on UK television!
This beautiful land of naturally generous and peaceful people has been the site of political oppression, torture and terror for more than fifty years. The offshore haven of communist “equality” has been the place where young women have hired themselves out to elderly male tourists to lie with them on the beach, do their shopping and cooking and sleep with them at night for a pittance in order to live. We were told openly of one decrepit western Lothario who, in exchange for a couple of suitcases full of food, spent a long annual winter holiday residing and sleeping with a Mother and her three under-age daughters in turn. Healthcare and education? Forget it. Yes, Cuba under Castro established a reputation for brilliant Moscow-trained medics and Russian university-schooled academics and we were instructed to watch as classes of well-uniformed and scrubbed up schoolchildren were paraded on their way to primary school, The reality, though, as in all communist states, has been that while the few are privileged the masses have remained with their illnesses untreated, their children in tatters and waiting with their ration books for the once-in-an-alternate-fortnight opportunity to buy soap or flour or salt or candles or even sugar.
I have visited, in the course of my parliamentary career, many countries where people are still oppressed under dictatorships thinly disguised with a veil of `democracy` provided for by spurious `elections` and I have witnessed poverty and starvation and a lack of even basic healthcare and education. Cuba under Fidel Castro, though, was one of the very worst and no dewy-eyed North London Marxist politician or suborned media socialist will ever convince me otherwise. I hold no brief for Castro`s predecessor, the appalling if pro-Western dictator Fulgencio Batista, and I find the “celebration” of Castro`s death by the Cuban-exile population of Florida less than attractive but I do understand why they regard the departure from this earth of `El Comandante` a cause for, at the very least, a feeling of liberation.
Discard the “saviour of our Country” and “hero” myths propagated by people like the European Commission `President` Jean-Claude Juncker and our own Shadow Chancellor, John Mc Donnell and does any of this matter to us in East Kent? Yes, emphatically it does because the Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition, Mr. Corbyn, a leading light of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, has described Fidel Castro admiringly as “a massive figure in the history of the whole planet” and on the assumption that this man aspires to lead a Government of the United Kingdom that has potential implications for us all.