Friday, September 18, 2009

Comments on The Belmont Club
"The Lost World"


(video cross posted from the BC)

Perhaps my parents saw that travelogue on Havana before they honeymooned there in 1950. They said that the extremes of wealth and poverty and the prevalent contempt for decent and lawful conduct that was not compelled or narrowly expedient was so obvious as to be repellent. The atmosphere was one of fin de siecle waiting for the revolution.

In the 1930s and 40's an American could go anywhere and do anything. My Father went to Havana once and visited Batista, who came out from his sergeant's quarters at the barracks where his family was having dinner, just because as an American he could. An uncle of mine went to Dental School (before he went to Medical School) at the American University of Beirut. As a Jewish American it was perfectly safe and natural for him to go to Lebanon but he could not get into an American Medical School without first getting an advanced degree from overseas. Things change but there is hope.


-------
RWE,
(who asked if I thought Cuba was better off under Fidel)
Nothing I said indicates a preference for Fidel Castro over Fulgencio Batista. What Cuba lacked was a moral cohesion to go with their relative prosperity. The fact that it served as a playground for American corruption and profited from it is understandable.


As our host no doubt is aware there is a history of peripheral societies gaining capital by catering to the darker impulses of members of a wealthier center. For decades American sailors used Olongapao as a Sin City in the Philippines and the Filipinos paved roads and built schools with the money that came from the crews on shore leave. Both Cuba and the Philippines suffered from the alternating buffets of America's regional, racial, religious and commercial (sugar) interests. Both were drawn closer but rejected in their aspirations for statehood.

While the Phillippines remains threatened by Islamic insurgency and their is always a threat of a renewed Marxism they have so far survived and remain potentially on the path to a brighter future. Cuba that started out more developed than some states in the American Union fell. The cultural and moral transformations that will be needed for them to overcome the legacy of communism and the preceding moral vacuum that opened the door to Fidel will be much harder I think to achieve.

-------
RWE,
(who thinks "we are in violent agreement" about Castro and Batista)
Our agreement need not be violent. I abhor violence, it makes me unhappy, and then bad things happen.
/Sarc

Batista was an interesting man and his wiki (all disclaimers noted) seems reasonably even handed. Remember that when my father met him in 1933 Batista was a sergeant living in the barracks and was considered a reformer whose coup d'etat was arranged by the US envoy. That diplomat was none other than the close friend of FDR Sumner Welles. To me as a promising reformer who tragically sank into corruption Batista resembles Charlie Rangle.

While some of the old generation of Cuban exiles in Miami might dream of lost estates I doubt that many of their grandchildren would see a future in returning to the island, and fewer would be welcomed. Cuba has been stripped of its entrepreneurial classes to a far great extent than happened in Eastern Europe. This also changed the demographics of the nation. Most of those who fled the island were of European ancestry and most of those who remained are of African descent. This will complicate any future social and political settlement.

Sep 18, 2009 - 5:27 pm

2 comments:

Tuduri said...

Too bad the comment section was closed so soon. I emmigrated from Havana as a young child with my family. My parents were apolitical lawyers but my uncle was the attorney general under Batista. We barely got out on a ferry to Miami. My uncle snuck out via the
Chilean embassy. I have several uncles and aunts who were doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. who all left Cuba. Why? There was no entreprenuerial spirit left in the country in a socialist/communist economic system. There was no reward for the hard work their professions required. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands and see what happens to an economy. And I am not talking about just highly educated people. Small business people, ranchers, farmers, anyone with 'means of production' lost what little they had. As I left Paris, France many years ago as an American undergraduate studying abroad, I met a French panhadler at the fountan of St Michele. I was surprised to learn he was a Cuban immigrant. He left Cuba years before after Fidel and his cronies took away his chicken farm or polleria. His case was all too common. Although many of those who first left Cuba were white and well off many more Cubans of many colors left soon after. I would enjoy discussing what your parents felt about Cuba in the days they visited there. It was a very complex situation politically and socially. I am not so certain that the mob had as much influence as is imagined on society in Havana.

Tuduri said...

Too bad the comment section was closed so soon. I emmigrated from Havana as a young child with my family. My parents were apolitical lawyers but my uncle was the attorney general under Batista. We barely got out on a ferry to Miami. My uncle snuck out via the
Chilean embassy. I have several uncles and aunts who were doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. who all left Cuba. Why? There was no entreprenuerial spirit left in the country in a socialist/communist economic system. There was no reward for the hard work their professions required. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands and see what happens to an economy. And I am not talking about just highly educated people. Small business people, ranchers, farmers, anyone with 'means of production' lost what little they had. As I left Paris, France many years ago as an American undergraduate studying abroad, I met a French panhadler at the fountan of St Michele. I was surprised to learn he was a Cuban immigrant. He left Cuba years before after Fidel and his cronies took away his chicken farm or polleria. His case was all too common. Although many of those who first left Cuba were white and well off many more Cubans of many colors left soon after. I would enjoy discussing what your parents felt about Cuba in the days they visited there. It was a very complex situation politically and socially. I am not so certain that the mob had as much influence as is imagined on society in Havana.