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Killing Castroism, Softly

Vicki Huddleston, a former US ambassador to several countries, has written a book about her experience as a diplomat in Cuba.

San Luis

Vicki Huddleston, US ambassador to several countries (now retired at 76), has just written a book about her experiences as a diplomat in Cuba: Our Woman in Havana, featuring a prologue by Carlos Gutiérrez, the Cuban-American who Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009 in the second George W. Bush administration.

Just as there is post-imperial nostalgia, there is also post-revolutionary nostalgia. And Vicki Huddleston, an intelligent and decent lady, with sentiments of solidarity towards humanity, cannot help feeling them at this point in her life: she fell in love with Cuba and the Cubans, like so many foreigners who have lived in our country.

Consequently, Ambassador Huddleston wishes the best for our subjugated island, a nation that lost its sovereignty six decades ago, kidnapped and placed under the personal and populist aegis of a totalitarian revolution disguised as a proletarian utopia: in short, the remote paradise of the international Left (that place that many people visit, but where almost nobody actually chooses to live).

It is always interesting to read the points of view of people who actually lived historical events, personally. It is also prudent, however, to distrust all such first-hand testimony. The case is that sometimes the actors are unaware of the intentions of the theater director for whom they are performing. Specifically, at the highest levels of politics, the actors often do not even realise who their director is.

I recommend reading Our Woman in Havana for many reasons. First, because I already read it, and any judgment of yours as a reader will, of course, be just as valid as my own (in general, one should never place too much stock in literary criticism). Second, because these confessions are written from the perspective of defeat, and books by the losers always have a poignant tone: what could have been but was not; what could still be, but is unthinkable. And third, because Vicki Huddleston, like 99% of the Americans I've personally met, unfortunately suffers from PTSD: "Post-Totalitarian Sentimental Disorder." In her case, this is complicated by the fact that she also suffers from a case of congenital Castroism.

Running throughout her entire book is all too common admiration of being considered a personal enemy of Fidel Castro, and not just in the eyes of a few retrograde radicals in Miami, but by Fidel Castro himself: the hardest of the hard-liners, not only local, but also global. A continental titan when it comes to beating the drums. In this, there is some indulgence in a kind of celebrated persecution by Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, and a type of pride in withstanding such a giant. Freudian Fidelism, as it were.

If in the novel Our Man in Havana(1958), by Graham Greene, the character James Wormold invents a network of spies based on the Cuban press, and that network eventually seems to actually exist, in Vicki Huddleston's work the network to be spied on is that of Cuban dissidents, who are harassed, almost kindly, by Cuba’s State Security agents.

Unlike in Greene's work, nothing in Huddleston's saga indicates the potential for a violent death around every corner or diplomatic misstep. Havana is not Baghdad. In the 21st century the island’s battle is now, as Fidel Castro would define it, one of ideas, not of bodies. And certainly not one of corpses. It would seem that State terrorism ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in Europe (and with the spectacle of General Arnaldo Ochoa shot with four Castroist narcos in the Caribbean). The Revolution as a paroxysm of the pacifism typical of our time: apparently everyone from the police to the political opponents involved agree with this literary paradigm.

In Huddleston's book we stand before, then, the twilight of a "charismatic dictator," but not a monster that should have been judged for his sustained commitment to crimes against humanity. Or for the cultural genocide he perpetrated. Those accusations should be reserved for Somoza, Trujillo, Stroessner and Pinochet. Socialism might be unbearable and everything else you want to say about it, but it is a system that does not kill Cubans and throw them into ditches, like in the rest of the "shithole countries" of the region (as defined by US President Donald Trump, in private).

In fact, if it had been up to the Castros and nothing else, change would "already have arrived in Cuba." But, according to Vicki Huddleston's account, the aforementioned Trump arrived just in time to meddle with the transition of powers, and, to make it even worse, with his Republican congressmen on the Cuban American right, who, according to the polls of the Democrats, no longer even represent the will of their Florida voters when it comes to lifting Washington's economic embargo against the tyranny in Havana.

Because that is what it's all about. If democracy in Cuba has waited for 60 years, what harm can be done if Cubans have to wait another 6, or 16, years? With Castroism the only thing one cannot do is lose patience, because then the poor things get stubborn and upset, and everything will just go from bad to worse. Thus, the Castros must be treated like demure damsels, with perpetual tact, to see if they finally make a mistake and decide to throw us a few crumbs. After all, something is better than nothing, right? Like killing the enemy with pin pricks. “Send more diplomats, now we’re winning.”

That's the gist of it. The Cuban question as a strictly economic one. Democracy, like heaven, is an abstract concept that might well from the sky at any moment. After all, even in the US democracy today leaves much to be desired. Meanwhile, author Vicki Huddleston, a retired ambassador who relapses into the networks of the Revolution, now works as a consultant for the Transnational Strategy Group (TSG) and its Cuba Business Advisory Practice Group for Cuba.

Our Woman in Havana could be read, then, for its consistency, without any trace of complicity, as Our Wallet in Havana.

Vicki Huddleston, Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat's Chronicle of America's Long Struggle with Castro's Cuba (Overlook Press, New York, 2018).

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