By Chris Morrison
One assumes the Prince of Wales and his better half were not greeted with the words “Welcome to fucking Alcatraz” by his Cuban government guide as they made their way around Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite police state.
No such inhibitions were to be found in your correspondent’s own cicerone as he greeted us recently on the steps of the dilapidated Capitol building in Havana. An educating day awaited us – at one point our guide was unsure whether the Castros – “daddies rich boys”, as he insisted on calling them – had stolen $6bn, or $8bn. Our guide the previous day had been slightly more reticent, only getting visibly upset when she described how the State had refused her permission to travel to the United States to visit her nephew.
Of course anywhere Jeremy Corbyn goes for his holidays is just peachy for our own state broadcaster. Last year the BBC televised a propaganda film called Habaneros: You say you want a revolution?, to which the answer from our guide might be “Fuck No”. The two-part film was a great hit with our own deluded lefties but it is unlikely it packed them in at the downtown Havana Picture House (shows every second Wednesday – electricity permitting).
Many people in Cuba despise the Castro family for the harm and despair they have caused over the last 70 years. Cuba is a 1950s economic basket case and has little connection with the modern world that starts just 90 miles away in Miami. There is foreign building work in Havana but elsewhere there is little sign of much economic activity. Public transport is a joke, and the roads outside the towns are empty. Nobody seems to be transporting much to the few basic shops that exist.
Prince Charles once called for an end to consumerism – he has certainly come to the right place, although with enterprise-hating communists in charge, it never really got going in the first place.
The State controls almost everything. Reforms are vaguely promised but allowing your subjects to open private family restaurants, locally known as paladares, with a maximum of 12 places does not really count as economic liberalism.
The Sunday Times reports that the Royals will be treated to a classic car event and some Latin bar music. Well you certainly can’t avoid either in down town Havana. Open your window and admire the stinking wheezing “classic” cars that rely on the almost unlimited ingenuity of the Cubans to keep going year after year. At least the relics from Detroit have some interest – what they don’t tell you in the guide books is that half the jalopies are ghastly Ladas left over from the Russians!
Step into a welcoming café for a cold(ish) beer and you are only 12 bars into Guantanamera and the hat is going around. The people are friendly, the city is kept clean but a lot of people seem to be going through the motions. As they used to say in the Soviet Union: “they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work”. The only currency worth having is the tourist convertible peso, known as CUCs. Possession of this highly valued commodity brings access to the thriving black markets.
Fidel Castro never really started as a communist and his family was well connected with President Batista. When young Fidel attacked the Moncada Barracks in 1953, his father pulled strings and he served only 15 months in jail. He seized power in 1959 and soon after abolished elections and declared himself President for Life. He looted the country of its wealth and confiscated all foreign assets. The Americans responded with an understandable trade embargo and Castro went running to the Soviet Union.
Quite why a regime that holds its population captive on the largest and most beautiful island in the Caribbean is so popular with lefties is unfathomable. Writing in the New Statesman, our Marxist chancellor-in-waiting John McDonnell called Cuba a “beacon”. Some might argue that the revolution has not gone far enough in terms of a thorough going democracy, he wrote. Our own guide, a man who has to live there against his will, might ask “what democracy?” He might even ask the question in slightly more forceful terms.
When Castro died in 2016, Corbyn referred to his revolutionary “heroism” while Ken Livingstone called him an “absolute giant”. Not to be outdone with the treacle hose, George Galloway tweeted:
“You were the greatest man I ever met Comandante Fidel. You were the man of the century”.
Last year’s BBC film concentrated on the louche lifestyles available at a price in Havana in the 1950s. Left wing apologists always do this, so as to set up the glorious arrival of the revolutionary saviour Fidel Castro. But there were many parts of the world in those days that offered similar entertainments.
The locals can only weep when they think what their wonderful island could be today if the real criminals hadn’t taken over in 1959.