Farewell Then, Fidel. You Used to Matter to Us: So Long in Coming, the Cuban Leader's Departure Did Not Even Have the Power to Divide Opinion Here. the Mail Seemed No Happier or Sadder at His Going Than the Guardian

By Cathcart, Brian | New Statesman (1996), March 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Farewell Then, Fidel. You Used to Matter to Us: So Long in Coming, the Cuban Leader's Departure Did Not Even Have the Power to Divide Opinion Here. the Mail Seemed No Happier or Sadder at His Going Than the Guardian


Cathcart, Brian, New Statesman (1996)


"Hurry to Cuba," urged a short piece in the Sunday Times. If you want to see it before the US embargo is lifted and the Americans pour in, then "you'd better go soon". In the Independent, the travel writer, Simon Calder, was of a similar mind, warning grimly that McDonald's and Starbucks were probably already scouting for locations on "the Caribbean's most seductive island". A two-page spread alerted us to the best hotels, museums and beaches, all beneath the message: "Go now".

Long ago, after his first attempt at revolution in Cuba ended in failure, Fidel Castro stood before a court and declared, Blair-like, that history would be his judge. Very few imagined then that he might go on to enjoy almost half a century in power, and it is a safe bet that no one could have dreamt that the ending of his epic reign would be recorded not as a milestone for revolutionary socialism, but as a tourism opportunity.

It was a big story in our papers for sure, but there was no great clash of ideologies, none of the confrontation that Castro loved to provoke--indeed, almost no debate. He went, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Only Simon Heffer tried to pick a quarrel over it. "I wish the unhappy people of that island an early liberation from this vile family with its self-serving Leninist doctrines," he wrote in his Telegraph column. "How amusing, though, to read the thoughts of our own leftists on this historic moment, what with their having to deal with the abundant evidence of Castro's savagery and failure."

Heffer was tilting at windmills, for so blurred were the old battle lines that it was often hard to tell from the words alone which newspaper you were reading.

It was the Mail and not the Guardian, for example, which introduced a stirring two-page spread about the Bay of Pigs invasion with the words "How Castro humbled Uncle Sam".

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

And it was the Independent on Sunday and not, say, the Sunday Times that carried a piece by Chris Walker beneath the line "Let's get real about Cuba". In modern Havana, Walker wrote bitterly, doctors beg tourists for aspirins and people are locked up for the crime of "lending books".

The Telegraph pointed out that it was the Americans rather than any ideological enthusiasm that drove Castro into the arms of the Soviet Union. The Independent's Mark Steel, meanwhile, poignantly observed that a leader who inherited a country where black people weren't allowed on the beaches was leaving to his successor a country where the poor of all colours were barred from anywhere they might spoil the view for foreign tourists.

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