For those of us born in the 1970s and later, 1959 feels like a time of bobby socks and wings on American automobiles. We did not live through it, so we only see it through the lens of popular culture, the reminiscences of parents and uncles and aunts and others who remember it first-hand, if only imperfectly. Cuba, for whom 1959 was a monumental year, is still struggling to get past it:
Roger Cohen, writing for the New York Times, describes the last gasp of Fidel’s revolution. Cuba lives in a world where things run backwards. The Day of the Revolution began an irreversible entropy when cars started to run down, buildings began to crumble, homes began to decay and meals began to shrink. Inexorably, year by year. It was as if history ended in 1959 and began counting down to the 19th century. Now the 18th century is in view. The sea, once a highway, has become a prison. It is illegal to own a boat. What naval forces exist are tasked with keeping the population in rather than keeping interlopers out. Even the all-powerful state has become a tatterdemalion: Cubans must navigate “a labyrinth of rations, regulations, two currencies and four markets” to eat, in a kind of Third Man Vienna where the scars of wartime never heal and the occupation never ends.
There is much that one could focus on in the above paragraph, but I’d like to draw your attention again to the one sentence that I’ve made bold. “It is illegal to own a boat.” Cuba is an island, and not a very large one at that. When I read this story, that sentence simply threw itself at me. If ever there were an example of the lack of freedom, it would be this. I am reminded of the The Truman Show. In it, the eponymous lead character is made (as in caused) to be afraid of boats, so that he will never leave the island and find out that all which he believes to be true is nothing more than an illusion. Others may come and go, but Truman cannot.
Let us hope that Cuba’s time of being stuck on the island may soon come to an end.