I was eight years old, in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power. In the ensuing years the Cold War was in full bloom. RRRRR....RRRRR....RRRR... A jarring sound ripped through my third grade room, as the air raid sirens went off. I was so young and so scared. Was this it? Was this the time it was real?
Our neighbors had built a bomb shelter in their basement. And, they were not the only ones. People were digging holes in the earth and pouring concrete and filling them with water and food. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy actually told American's to build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear war with Russia.
I can remember as a child thinking a lot about all of this. Going to bed wondering if I would even wake up, or if the bombs would drop on me that very night. I laid in bed and thought about being in a bomb shelter and coming out and finding all the people who did not have one ....dead. I thought it would be so horrible to find everyone dead, it would probably be better just to die with everyone else.
On buildings there were black and yellow fallout shelter signs. They were put there by the Federal Civil Defense Administration which was established by President Harry Truman to educate American's on what to do in case of an atomic war. There were actual fallout shelters in public buildings back in the day.
And, what was the enemy that was going to wipe us all out? Communism. Red and horrible communism. An evil force that was everything America was not. We were good, true and noble. They were enslaving, evil, and ready to kills us with their bombs.
In 1949, the Russians had blockaded Berlin and were headed into Poland and Eastern Europe to capture them, enslave them, and turn them into communist regimes. In August of 1949 they had detonated their first nuclear bomb. It was only a matter of time...
Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, and ....Fidel Castro.
The heart of evil
And, then something happened. The Cold War ended. The Berlin Wall which held the Communists at bay, came down. Communist regimes everywhere in eastern Europe gave way to open borders and free elections. In late 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved, like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz, and component republics sprang up in its place. In the blink of an eye it was over. We were saved. The bombs would not fall, the Iron Curtain was lifted and the Cold War came to an end.
And, yet, Fidel was still there, almost an afterthought. Cuba a small island where Communism was still alive, but so truncated as to be a pathetic joke. Poor and cordoned off by embargoes it was a non-event. Not like the big strong United States of America.
Everyone knew what happened to Cuba when Fidel took over. Straight down the sewer. The glitz casinos of the mobsters gone. The wealthy doctors and business men gone. And, a grinding poverty set in.
This is the Zeitgeist of an American girl born in the early fifties.
I was in college when the Vietnam war was waging and when Bob Dylan asked, "Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died ?" And, I began to wonder about the way capitalism had morphed into an Ayn Rand Objectivism. In 2012, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate said that we needed Rand's kind of thinking because we are living in an Ayn Rand novel. He said she, "more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism" and, "the morality of individualism."
Rand's Objectivism is based on "me first". Me and mine. Every man exists for his own sake. And, the pursuit of one's own self-interest and happiness is the reason for living. Your neighbor? Forget it. And, the best political system is of course, laissez-faire capitalism. If cigarettes cause cancer? Get your own scientists to say, the data shows they are very safe. If your Volkswagens have too high emissions, then doctor the data and keep those high emissions polluting the air. If your company is raping the rain forests to keep the profit margins high, have at it. Need a cheaper labor force? How about some Asian kids?
The me first, hard work gets you everything, and capitalism is your ticket to the moon simply does not work, not for everyone. Free markets are not just because they don't take into consideration the roadblocks to wealth and social mobility. Objectivism assumes everyone can work their way up to success and riches. Not true. Social mobility is not determined mainly by hard work but rather by your neighborhood, your parent's jobs, the primary school education you received, access to social capital and decent parents. Success is a roll of the dice, not just hard work, that is the difference between making it to the moon or ending up with two jobs, a sick wife, and three kids to feed.
So, enter Fidel Castro. He really wants everyone to be okay. He may be flawed, imperfect, dictatorial, but he wants everyone to be okay in a way that laissaz-faire capitalism does not.
Americans love the idea of wealth and status and are obsessed with it. One can be dirt poor but have a $300 Coach bag. Just the idea of wealth is enough to sustain people. Watching it on television via rappers and celebs, vicariously living the dream. The reality is that many people in the US can't pay their bills. They don't have money for medicine. Their home is foreclosed on due to the medical bills of a sick child and they are forced onto the streets. People work two jobs to makes ends meet. There is a huge underclass in America that struggles every day for the basics. They are invisible and largely forgotten by those at the top. Ayn Rand would be proud.
Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator. He did execute his enemies in large numbers during his revolution. He did seize the media and schools and use them as propaganda tools for his new regime. But, he also had eyes for the poor. And, today his country is still poor by our standards. However, they have the basics covered. According to Full Compass Guides:
The interesting thing is that people who visit Cuba notice that the people are happy. And, this is the heart of things. Striving to the top, scrambling for money and status, seldom brings deep happiness. In America, so many of the one percent-ers drink too much, are on Prozac and Xanax, divorcing, never having enough, always wanting bigger and more.
Pedram Moallemian, a political commentator, who has traveled to Cuba notes. "I find Cubans to be so full of life. In that sense they are loaded with "happiness". It doesn't take much to have impromptu music and dance parties for no specific reason. There's so much "life" in the air.There's still a certain amount of respect towards Fidel Castro, seen as a sort of father figure by most. Even by those who are not in favor of the system he has established. They take some amazing achievement for granted, in my opinion. Nearly everybody you meet has a degree, while some of the neighboring island nations suffer from high illiteracy rates. And all of that education is free, same as their rather advanced health care. I haven't ever sensed any racist attitudes. Considering all they have experienced, I find Cubans to be particularly positive about their future. Maybe this is part of the culture that is so alive."
And, lastly Nelson Mandela loved Fidel Castro. According to the Huffington Post,"
Shortly following his release after 27 years as a political prisoner in 1990, Mandela visited Cuba to express his gratitude, calling Castro's Revolution "a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."
"We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious, imperialist-orchestrated campaign," Mandela said during the visit, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We, too, want to control our own destiny. "During a public event in Havana, Mandela asked Castro to visit South Africa. "Who trained our people, who gave us resources, who helped so many of our soldiers, our doctors?" Mandela said. "You have not come to our country - when are you coming?"
Mandel believed without the help of Castro South Africa could not have throw off apartheid.
And, so this is my tribute to Fidel, from a child of the Cold War, for what you have done right I honor you. For educating all of your people and for making sure everyone has health care, I thank you. For knowing that Ayn Rand's way is not the right way, and that caring for each other trumps greed, I thank you. For creating a country where there is no racism, I commend you. For creating a country where people dance in the streets, I marvel. For making sure everyone has a home and no one lives under a bridge, even if it is a modest apartment, I cheer you. For exporting your doctors to poor countries to give free medical aide I commend you. For the things you did that may not have been honorable may you find forgiveness. Rest in Peace, dear brother.
Nancy O'Brien Simpson
Ms. Simpson was a radio personality in New York. She was a staff writer for The Liberty Report. A PBS documentary was done on her activism for human rights. She is a psychotherapist and political commentator.