RUSS DEAN: “Failed communist experiment” & vibrant population
I spent last week in Cuba. Fascinating place. We’ve been visiting our nearest southern neighbors for 15 years, a partnership of churches established by a relationship between the Alliance of Baptists and the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba. Members of our church take an annual trip to visit our partner church, located in a small, rural village called Carlos Rojas.
Traveling East out of Havana, we always stop at the Bacunayagua overlook, a picturesque rest area with spectacular views of the Atlantic to the left and a rugged landscape of mountain peaks and a deep, lush Caribbean valley to the right. We just call it “the pina colada stop,” because they pour the pineapple juice and the “el Ron de Cuba” is self-serve. (Being good Baptists, of course, we forgo the rum. Or maybe not… but a few trips back one of our men did get to the end of his week and lament that he had been disappointingly “over-riced and under-rummed!”)
Continuing East we stop at the Evangelical (i.e., Protestant) Theological Seminary in Matanzas. This ecumenical school has educated most of the pastors of Fraternity churches and boasts an incredible organic garden that serves the school and the community, and provides a truly spectacular view of the Matanzas Bay.
About thirty kilometers farther East we enter Varadero, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the destination of countless European and Canadian tourists. The far end of this Cuban peninsula is littered with high end resorts, clubs, restaurants. Our lodging is the more modest dormitory of the Iglesia Presbyteriano. We’re grateful our Presbyterian friends will offer room and board before the Baptists head south, through Cardenas and into farming country.
Cuba is an island of deep contrasts: lush vegetation and tropical growth – and plates of drab rice and beans, yucca and plaintains (no summer tomatoes or yellow squash to be found); colorful clothing dotting the cities and the countryside – all hanging out to dry against a mono-chromatic backdrop of dull, crumbling concrete; a standard of living that seems to keep Cuban heads just above water – but joyful music, a ubiquitous, uninhibited-but-never-flaunted sexuality, and an inescapable joie de vie – that is hard to match in the big, rich “imperialist enemy” to the north.
Though we’re liberal Baptists, we’re a refreshing (sometimes aggravating!), confusingly-diverse congregation of Republicans and Libertarians, Independents and Democrats. With more than 50 church members travelling over the last 15 years, representing this waterfront of US partisan loyalties, we always leave Cuba unanimous in our dismay at 60 years of US treatment of Cuba.
History provides ample evidence that if an economic embargo is going to be effective, it will do its work within six months. After Fidel’s revolution, and his subsequent turn to Communism (due to lack of US support), the US blockade of Cuba has dragged on for six unsuccessful decades. The Cuban joke is that Fidel, alone, benefitted from the embargo. Until he died in 2016 US economic aggression against his country gave the iconic leader an excuse for every failing. With every accusation, Fidel grew stronger – and the people of Cuba suffered.
With a presidential election on the horizon it is unlikely the embargo will be ended any time soon. Democratic and Republican candidates, alike, see the Dade County Florida vote as essential. The county is heavily stocked with Cuban-Americans, many who lost property and possessions when Fidel came to power. Their intense anger is understandable. Less understandable is their apparent belief that after more than half a century this policy will become effective.
The administration recently referred to Cuba as a “failed communist experiment.” It’s a curious failure that can survive for 60 years – and provide free universal health care and free university education to an entire population while being blockaded by the world’s largest economic power! One need not be a socialist to acknowledge that a vibrant Cuban population, thriving despite a stagnant economy, does not regard six decades toward communism as a system that has failed them.
The obvious truth is that Cuba has survived. If we actually trust our own system, we need to open up the lines of commerce and re-open the diplomatic communications (recently closed by the current administration). The trade will be good for the US, and for the Cuban people. And if socialism in Cuba continues to survive, of what concern is that to us? I’ve seen it first-hand, and I have nothing to fear from Cuban socialism. If Democracy really is about freedom, we should have no fear in ending our failed experiment.
(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)