Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year, and Happy Anniversary, Fidel!

This New Year's Day I'm remembering the way the year began 50 years ago.

When we came back to school after the Christmas holiday in 1959, our Spanish teacher Mr. Frankel was very excited. His wife was Cuban, and he wanted to talk to us about something that had happened on New Year’s Day: Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries had seized power, toppling a brutal regime. Being the ignorant kids we were, few of us were aware of what had happened, and even fewer had come into contact with the kind of jubilation that comes when a government who had tortured your nearest and dearest was overthrown. By the end of the class, Mr. Frankel was crying, and we were stunned.

This was San Diego, of course, and when we took the story of what had happened home, I suspect there were some shocked parents. It was—and still is in large part, I imagine—a conservative place, where military and strategic concerns were uppermost. I don’t remember Mr. Frankel ever mentioning Castro or Cuba again, and it’s highly likely that his initial enthusiasm faded as time went on. But 50 years afterward it’s good to remember the perseverance and determination of Cuba.

The accomplishments include the best and most accessible health and educational systems in Latin America, as well as an example of how to overcome horrendous economic difficulties. What the Cubans did after the USSR collapsed and petroleum imports dried up while export markets disappeared should be an example for the rest of us in hard times. The shift was to urban agriculture and targeted food aid to children, the elderly and pregnant women. The result was a healthier population, believe it or not. Check out the reports in important medical journals. And take a look a fascinating YouTube video of a 48 hour visit to Havana.

Happy New Year to all, and Happy Anniversary to the Cuban people.


skdadl said...

Thanks for the reminder, Mary. I remember the news coming through. I also remember that for a brief while, Americans seemed moderately well disposed to Fidel, curious about him, perhaps. That didn't last long.

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