Monday, 3 March 2008

Cuba and Castro: The Story Is More Complicated Than Americans Think

A ghost on the cover of The New Yorker this week, or rather the outline of Fidel Castro in smoke, to commemorate his announcement that he is stepping down.

I remember the Spanish class when our teacher Mr. Frankel practically cried, he was so happy that Batista had been overthrown. His wife was Cuban, and her family had suffered under the dictator. When Castro and his friends took over, Mr. Frankel was sure times would get better.

There’s no way of telling what happened to his wife’s family—he would be in his 80s by now, and after I left to go to university I came back only a few times. But certainly the saga of Cuba has been something to watch with interest. In Canada we’ve had a good vantage point too: there is no trade embargo here, Cuban dairy cows are descendants of Quebec cattle, Havana is a favourite winter get-away destination.

Lately, as I’ve been researching The Walkable City, I’ve learned about the way Cubans responded to the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1990s by making a jump into green, urban agriculture that may teach us all a lot about what can be done on not much land with recycling of waste and careful cultivation. And, as it happens, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has a big exhibit of Cuban art right now which has been getting rave reviews.

But as Castro fades to black I found these links to a very unusual look at Cuba today: two short programs about Havana produced last summer by Al Jazeerah’s English service. Check them out if you like dancing…and surprises.

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