Barack Obama became the first President of the United States of America in ninety years to visit Cuba, heralding the dawn of a new relationship between the two countries. The island nation at the centre of the defining incident of the Cold War, over which Kennedy and Khrushchev came so close to escalating the conflict, has long been the political utopia of the far-left, considered their best example; in fact their only example; of a functional communist state. Yet as Obama touched down in Havana, the capitalist vultures have already begun circling. US hotel chain Starwood has already struck the first blow, signing a deal on Saturday to renovate and run three Cuban hotels, returning U.S. chains to the island. Marriott International are also reported to be seeking a license from the US Treasury Department to run hotels in Cuba. How long will it be until we see McDonalds open their first public restaurant on the island (there presently exists a restaurant in Guantanamo Bay, open only to service personnel on the base).
Though in the grand scheme of geopolitics, normalised relations between the USA and Cuba is something to be celebrated, not everybody will cheer. Those towards the far-left of the political spectrum, especially those of a certain age, have always displayed an affinity to communist experiment. Whether it’s Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell brandishing Mao’s Little Red Book in response to George Osborne’s spending review or US Senator and Democratic Primary Candidate Bernie Sanders praising Fidel Castro’s social policy, one needn’t look far to uncover their nostalgic empathy.
So, when faced with the images of Obama and Raul Castro; the brother of the iconic Fidel no less; standing hand in hand, many a left-leaning utopian will be dewy-eyed at the prospect of true socialism’s final bastion embracing the embodiment of capitalism so tightly.
Who can blame them? Over the past few decades they have witnessed many a nation part ways with its far-left history, and embrace contemporary capitalism. The USSR has long given up on its communist experiment, and East-Asian nations such as China and Vietnam have liberalised their economies to take advantage of a global marketplace, opening their doors to free trade and tourism. A recent poll showed that 95% of Vietnamese and 76% of Chinese citizens believed that most people are better off in a free market economy, a greater vote of confidence than was recorded in India, Israel, the USA or anywhere in Europe. All that remains of their fantasist World Revolution is a pocket of central America, where nations such as Nicaragua and Venezuela continue to cling to some semblance of the Communist vision, though a somewhat more lightweight vision than that of Ortega and Chavez.
Cuba was always the jewel in the communist crown, where trade with the USA was embargoed through, among other pieces of legislation, the dramatically titled Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. Now, as Obama calls on Congress to formally end the trade embargo, and Castro announces his intention to step down from the Presidency in 2018, how long will it be until Cuba turns its back on true communism, breaking many nostalgic, socialist hearts in the process.
1. Pew Global Attitudes Survey, Q13a. 2014
First published by Parliament Street in 2016