It's not every day that one of the world's longest-standing leaders temporarily capitulates in favour of his brother. When the leader in question is also communist, America's neighbour, and a childhood friend of a figure as mythical as Che Guevara, the event takes on a surreal aura.
Which is why I was so disappointed with the quality of reporting and analysis from the various news agencies following the hospitalisation of Fidel Castro. The reportage was all depressingly similar. Cubans in Miami danced in the streets, nobody quite knew just how ill Fidel really was, and the White House issued a statement promising support to Cubans who pushed for democracy.
Yawn. Of course exiled Cubans in Miami would dance in the streets. Of course the White House would jump at the chance to issue a statement attempting to undermine Castro's authority. What did Reuters, the BBC, New York Times et al expect? Some op eds suggested that in the event of Fidel's death, a power struggle could ensue; others believed that Raul Castro – the younger sibling who has been entrusted, for the time being, with the keys to the Caribbean paradise that is Cuba – would introduce economic liberalisation while keeping a tight hold on political freedom. In other words, that Raul Castro would create a China in the Caribbean. As Bart Simpson would have said were he politically inclined: Dr Sant, eat my shorts.
Why have none of these highly-paid, well-read, opinionated political commentators wondered what Cubans in Havana and Santiago de Cuba really want and think about the issue? Why is the voice of Cuba being warped into the voice of Cubans living in Florida? Why is it universally assumed that Cuba is a backward country in dire need of reform – or indeed revolution?
Let's look at the facts. Cuba has little political freedom. It does not enjoy an independent press. Human rights are not universally upheld (although a number of so-called democracies do far worse). There is no division of powers.
These are the major no-nos. But what about the glass-half-full argument? What's on the flip side of this particular coin? In 2005 Cuba's Human Development Index (which is developed by the UNDP and attempts to measure human development, as opposed to mere economic growth) stood at 0.817 - higher than Mexico, Bulgaria, Turkey or India, for example. When the index ratio is contrasted with economic growth, it becomes evident that Cuba has done extremely well at developing itself, despite having a meagre GNP per capita. Money might make the world go round, but Cuba's doing pretty well, thank you very much. Besides, the economy has been growing by at least 4% per year.
Ask Cubans – proper Cubans, living in Havana, not second-generation Cubans with US passports – what they would like out of their political system and the answers differ. Some adore Castro, others dislike him; while a number of Cubans would like a more liberal political system, a significant number are quite happy with the way things are. The one thing that all Cubans agree upon is that nothing could be worse than US interference.
So why does the Bush administration insist on the ticker-tape propaganda at its Guantanamo complex? What point is there in having Condoleeza Rice chair a puppet 'Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba'?
The reason, I like to believe, is the philosophy of the pimple and the cold sore. Cuba is at once the pimple on America's chin and the cold sore on capitalism's lip. The pimple: Fidel Castro has survived seven US administrations, all while less than 90 miles away from US soil. Every US President since JFK has been openly hostile towards him – why should Bush and his warmongering entourage be any different? The cold sore: the USA has historically been vehemently opposed to anything relatively anti-capitalist. Cuba is a mecca for wannabe revolutionaries, old-school Reds and anything remotely 'un-American'. No wonder the country that gave us McDonalds, Nike and MTV wants it done away with.
Cuba's defiance is bound to end in tears. Whether it is a matter of weeks, months or years before it is made to toe the majority line is impossible to predict. But the USA is unlikely to give up its quest for a docile Cuba, and there are only so many times that a Bay of Pigs incident will end up with Caribbean egg all over White House faces.
You may not be able to buy the latest Playstation there, or access websites with overtly democratic overtones. But at least every child receives schooling, literacy rates are high, and everyone has a roof above his head. It may be the justice of Dostoyevsky's 'The Possessed', but it certainly beats the brutality of Suharto or Pinochet. Modern-day Cuba is a reminder that there is more to overcoming poverty than mere economics: growth for growth's sake, after all, is the mentality of the cancer cell.