So what are we to make of Cuba?

One country I have not visited – somewhat to my regret – is Cuba. And yet I always think of it as a rather familiar place. When I was at school I had that iconic poster of Che Guevara on my bedroom wall, and I kept up to date with the views and policies of Fidel Castro. You could feel there was something heroic about Cuba, in the way you couldn’t feel about Brezhnev’s Soviet Union or most other states claiming a socialist label.

Decades on, Cuba is still Cuba, the land of socialism, Havana cigars, Fidel Castro (just about), 1950s American automobiles, free healthcare, crumbling buildings – or whatever image you may have in your mind. But is it heroic? The revolution has provided education and welfare for its citizens, but also many of the trappings of a police state. And here’s something new: dissident protests, or to be more precise, protests by the wives and mothers of jailed dissidents, who march through the streets of the capital dressed in white, earning the name ‘Damas de Blanco’.

Cuba should be allowed to find its own political and economic direction. But it should also observe basic human rights, including the right of dissent. Suppressing that is not heroic, and if Cuba is to find new and lasting friends it needs to abandon those practices of Soviet era socialism.

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