And that it should end so ingloriously! No fighting to the last man at the battlements, no martyr’s surrender to an assassin’s bullet, only a creaking, shuffling exit through the ward’s doors, hospital gown flapping. We are less than a year away from the half-century marker of a most astonishing marathon, but even this artist of endurance must bow to fate and acknowledge that it’s time to go. Vámonos, Fidel: no one is standing in the way. . . .
In retrospect, it is astounding how short the period of the revolution’s great achievements was. The literacy campaign was completed in 1961; the health-care system and the food-rationing program (which, though loathsome, provided every Cuban with a guaranteed calorie intake) were both in place by 1962. It was all done with Soviet money, but no one else had done it, and the right to an education and a healthy life was more than enough promise for millions of the world’s poor, who remained faithful to the idea of Cuba during the decades of the revolution’s slo-mo collapse. Housing on the island crumbled; public transportation disintegrated; the sugar industry was destroyed; rationing became a constant form of torture; informing on suspect neighbors was enshrined as an ideal; incorrect thinking or behavior was punished with ostracism and jail; journalism withered; art congealed; and still Cuba’s leader found in himself the dramatic resources to embody a dream, a goal, a purpose for an audience the size of the world. . . .
The words “China model” have been batted around with enthusiasm, but tiny Cuba does not have, among other things, a billion people to provide combustion for an internal market. What Cuba does have, unavoidably and, so far, to its historical misfortune, is the United States, and what the United States does not have is a policy. The mindless trade embargo, imposed in 1962—which inflicts great suffering on a proud people in an attempt to coax them to support U.S. interests—does not qualify. Nine successive Presidents have rubberstamped the embargo; apart from making the island’s American-car repairmen world famous, the only effect recently has been to deprive Cubans of cheaper medicines, food, books, industrial equipment, spare parts, communications systems, and reasons to bear Americans good will.
The only other significant U.S. policy initiative with regard to Castro, as he has always been called in this country, was the Bay of Pigs and, like the embargo, it served merely to strengthen the revolution. The Bay of Pigs was a gift worthy of the magi; it allowed Fidel and Raúl, the sempiternal head of the revolution’s armed forces, to rout fourteen hundred anti-Castro Cubans, armed and trained by la CIA (rhymes with “see ya”), and provided the perfect backdrop against which Fidel could, in the course of the operation, declare Cuba a socialist state. By the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Fidel’s armor of defiance had been polished to a high gleam. . . .