I haven’t been in Cuba since January 1998, when John Paul II visited the island prison. And I have no intention of returning until the brothers Castro and their gang are sad memories. The recently deceased Maximum Leader, you see, took great offense at my description of the papal visit in Witness to Hope, and denounced me publicly in quite colorful language shortly after the book was published. So I don’t fancy a return engagement in Cuba until the odds on my return to the U.S. without being delayed have improved considerably.
But the fact that El Jefe finally relieved his long-suffering people of the burden of his presence did turn my mind to the impressions formed during a week in Havana, Camaguey, and Santiago almost 19 years ago. And the thing that sticks in my memory most powerfully — and which I’ve not seen commented on by others — is how ridiculously juvenile the Castro revolution has always been.
The Cuban difference was the propaganda, which was both ubiquitous and juvenile in the extreme: posters and billboards everywhere, each denouncing the perfidious Yanquis, the broader conspiracy of imperialists, and the U.S. embargo, all illustrated in idiotic cartoons that looked as if they’d been drawn by a twelve-year-old with a serious attitude problem. As Father Richard John Neuhaus said when we were walking the streets of Old Havana and seeing one display after another of callow, faux-ideological passion, “This is what your country looks like when it’s been run for 40 years by vicious teenagers with machine guns.”
This nationwide display of juvenile viciousness in Cuba suggests, in an ironic way, the appositeness of some of the encomia bestowed on Fidel since his demise
This nationwide display of juvenile viciousness in Cuba suggests, in an ironic way, the appositeness of some of the encomia bestowed on Fidel since his demise (not least by another adolescent-in-a-man’s-job, the prime minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau, MP, who beatified Fidel as a “legendary revolutionary” who made “significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation”). For there has always been something terminally unserious about the Castro Revolution — murderous and cruel, to be sure; devastating in its effects, without a doubt; but ultimately more theatricality than substance. And those who lift up Fidel Castro as someone to be emulated despite his, er, flaws thereby brand themselves as terminally unserious. It’s all adolescents, all the way down.The evening we arrived in Havana in 1998, the Spanish-speaking leader of our group put himself at the end of the line to help with any immigration or customs hassles that might ensue. There weren’t any, so Mario Paredes, then the director of the Northeast Catholic Hispanic Center, finally went through the intake routine and put through the x-ray machine, in addition to his luggage, a large case carrying a gold chalice that Cardinal John O’Connor had had made as a gift to the Church in Cuba. The security goon at the x-ray didn’t recognize the image on his screen and asked Paredes to open the case for inspection. Mario did so, and the Cuban picked up the chalice, admired it, and thinking it a soccer trophy, asked, “What team is it for?”
That’s what the Castro Revolution had accomplished a year short of its 40th anniversary: It had not only impoverished and immiserated the people of Cuba, it had culturally lobotomized a lot of them. But as Richard Neuhaus said, that’s what happens when your country’s been run for four decades by vicious teenagers with machine guns. It’s now been close to six decades, and it’s hard not to imagine that the antiphon in the hearts of many Cubans on the day Fidel’s ashes are buried is Psalm 13.1: “How long, O Lord?”
— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethic s and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.