In all the articles and editorials commenting on Fidel Castro’s death and his unfortunate legacy with regard to Cuba, precious little has been written about the island’s history before, well before, Castro rode a battered truck into Havana in early 1959. Cuba did not suddenly become a problem, previously unimagined and ignored, when Castro and Ernesto Guevara and their crazed communist cadre of scruffy revolutionaries toppled the Batista regime. Cuba has been in America’s imagination and her history for almost as long as America has been a republic.

Consider: a plot to invade Cuba hatched in New Orleans with American mercenaries and angry Cubans. And the promise of economic payoffs should they dismantle the burdensome state apparatus of tariffs and controls. A determined Cuban- Venezuelan who despised the island’s regime tried to enlist American military expertise to lead his expedition. The Cuban-Venezuelan? Narciso Lopez, a veteran of the wars of independence. The American experts? Jefferson Davis and Colonel Robert E. Lee. The year? 1849. Davis passed the request on to Lee, who wisely rejected participating in the expedition. Veterans of the American Mexican war had apparently signed up. But President Taylor scuttled the expedition, concerned about violating neutrality laws.

You think the Bay of Pigs was an improvised out-of-the-blue idea quickly cobbled together by military and intelligence and Cuban exiles who were determined to stop the emerging communist regime in Cuba? It was one more chapter in a long, colorful, and sometimes violent history. One soaked in intrigue as well.

Lopez was a wealthy planter, and a frustrated member of what were called the annexationists: Cuban planters who saw a bright future for Cuba as an addition to America. One that would fit with the Southern plantation economy. Yes, slavery was at the heart of their system, and their vision of Cuba’s future within America. Cuba might have been purchased, might have been fought for with the support of part of Cuba’s elite. It did not happen, as much from constant changes in American foreign policy as from resistance from Spain – an impoverished, faded, ghost of an empire by this point.

You think Castro was just an idiotic showman when he booked a hotel room in Harlem in the early 60’s? Yes he was a showman, yes he could be a dangerous idiot, and a cunning traitor (just ask, if you could, Ochoa: executed for carrying out Castro’s orders in running the drug trade in Cuba). But Castro was playing media theatrics with the issue of race in America. And how it relates to Cuba’s history. He played America. He played Cuba. He played Europe and the Third World. And it worked. Tragically for Cuba, especially Afro-Cubans who were – and are – often at the lower end of the economic scale. Which is saying something in a failed economy like Cuba’s.

So don’t expect a final, closing chapter in Cuba, now that Fidel is dead. Raul Catro is handing off a communist regime to the next generation of communist bureaucrats and military power brokers on the island. And it is likely this next cadre of Caribbean apartchiks would love to imitate the Chinese model: firm political control and state-run capitalism. With lots of goodies for communist party members. In other words, an economically successful version of what Cuba already has been for a long time.

That’s a doubtful outcome, but not impossible. Whether the communists are able to keep their grip on power depends on how ruthless the Cuban military wish to be. And how President-Elect Trump is able to re-apply pressure by insisting on real progress on the island in terms of human rights, freedom of worship, and economic openness. This is just the latest chapter in a long history. Cuba, and America, will have to be patient. Let us pray that the Cuban populace find some light at the end of their long dark tunnel.

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