Old neighbors. Can they be friends?

Adapted from an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2015.

In the 1950s, Americans saw Cuba as they saw Canada—a friendly neighbor they could pop in and visit anytime. Sure, Cuba was known to have a corrupt government and a booming trade in gambling and other vices. But in most quality-of-life rankings, the United States, Canada, and Cuba were Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the Western Hemisphere, and not always in that order.

There were more cinemas in Havana than in New York City. Cuba had low infant mortality, high literacy, a large middle class. And it was only ninety miles away from US territory. Ninety percent of Cuba’s tourism in the late ’50s was from the US. (A relative of mine in the Midwest used to swap houses with a Cuban family from the Isle of Pines, now known as the Isle of Youth.) The most-watched TV show in the US throughout that decade was a sitcom about a nice-guy Cuban bandleader and his zany American wife. Everybody loved Lucy and Desi.

Almost overnight, the love was gone. This was not a transitory tiff, however. First came revolution, then an ill-conceived invasion, and then a perilous-beyond-imagining crisis that could have become a nuclear holocaust. The US-Cuba conflict became a long, cold war, replete with espionage, sabotage, and proxy battles in Latin America and Africa. Under el bloqueo, the Spanish name for the American trade embargo, the giant island effectively vanished from the American map. And because the politically active Cuban-American community in the US was adamant that the revolution be reversed, Cuba and the US never experienced the sort of practical détente that the US entered into with more powerful communist countries from the 1970s onward.

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'To Bless All Mankind'
When neighbors become true friends
February 8, 2016

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