Cuba: A New History
Richard Gott, 2004
A Personal Response
by Katharine C. Otto
After reading Cuba: A New History, I believe Fidel Castro may personify the best example we have of capitalism at its finest. He invested in human capital, and it has paid off. The book’s author, Richard Gott (2004), is a British journalist and historian who has visited Cuba several times and writes fluently about its history and culture.
Gott describes an island that was peaceful, until the Europeans discovered it. They brought the slave trade in the early 1500s, along with its accompanying violence and bloodshed. The book goes into the history of the Spanish-American war (1898), that first American attempt to expand its empire beyond North American soil. The United States won Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam.
I was sad for Cuba’s revolutionaries, when the US stepped in to “help” and ended up taking over in the post-war paperwork, through the Platt Amendment in March, 1901. Thus we have the Guantanamo Bay legacy, where the US takes prisoners in order to isolate, torture, and kill them in secret. The book says the Platt Amendment was repealed in 1934. It also says Randolph Hearst in the New York Journal, and other US press, originally inflamed America into war with Spain by blaming a Spanish mine for the US Maine’s sinking. An accidental coal-fired explosion in the Maine’s bunker was subsequently found causative, but by then it was too late.
That Castro has achieved success in the face of all that bloody history, in spite of the United States’ intolerant and divisive attitude, makes him the greatest capitalist of time so far. Why? Because he invested in human capital, proving that money without human effort has limited value.
When the USSR collapsed in 1991, and Cuba lost its primary trading partner, Fidel turned the tables on the money exporters by keeping local talent local and building from within. Castro bought bicycles for transportation, gave land to anyone who would produce a quota of food, and invested in health care and agriculture education. Students have no debt when they get out of school.*
Castro never tried to expand beyond Cuba’s boundaries, to build empires. He remained home with the people to whom he made promises, and he stayed with them through thick and thin. Except to send ambassadors of health care around the world, Castro stood by and supported Cubans, imbuing them with survival skills technology in a world otherwise zombied out on TV hallucinosis. Isolated from Madison Avenue advertising and Wall Street profiteering, Cuba has triumphed over the economic war on the Cuban revolution.
Cuba’s author, Richard Gott, who met Che Guevara, gives a subtly unflattering but honest view of US policy, and its disastrous consequences over time. Gott goes into exhaustive factual detail about why the whole world hates us, and why we don’t like ourselves.
Castro understood that violence only destroys people and resources. He took a cooperative and communal (communistic?) approach that recognizes the land owns the people, and not the other way around. Through gentle guidance, he promoted a “communistic capitalism,” that recognizes the value of shared overhead. Those willing to work the land get squatter’s rights, in Castro’s communistic capitalist society, concepts Thomas Jefferson and Plymouth Rock both supported.
My hat’s off to him, for what he accomplished. I hope the asset plunderers won’t descend on Cuba and destroy what he has brought about. I hope they can appreciate the abiding value of the culture they have scorned, rejected, and actively sought to destroy for so long.
The US could learn a lot from Cuba’s example, should we choose to see. It offers much of what we claim to want but don’t have the courage to try.
*See also *the ecologist, “Cuba: Health Without Wealth,” by Brendon Sainsbury, June, 2005; and Harper’s, “The Cuba Diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?” by Bill McKibben, April, 2005.