Just one bright idea
Just one bright idea ... and everything will be OK.
One of the aspects of my book that seems to get the most attention, judging by the feedback, is the never-ending capacity of Fidel Castro to dream up increasingly-bizarre plans and strategies to solve whatever problem is at hand - normally the Cuban economy.
Back when I was growing up in Banes, in the 1960s, we got used to Castro's grand ideas, some of which I describe in more detail (and from a child's perspective) in Child of the Revolution. The most audacious and predictably ill-fated of these was the great Ten Million Tonnes Sugar Harvest - La Zafra de los Dies Millones - which was to be the mother of all sugar harvests. Ordinarily, a sugar harvest of seven or eight million tonnes would be considered a huge success in Cuba. But this just wasn't good enough for Castro. He wanted 10 million tonnes. Why? Because then Cuba would be able to sell sugar at hugely inflated prices to everyone in the world (even those filthy capitalists!), and use the dollars that would inevitably flow back into the country to solve the many economic problems faced at the time by the regime.
Crazy? Well, yes. But no one dared contradict Castro, who had at his fingertips a bucketload of figures, graphs, tables and pie charts to convince even the most reticent of sceptics. Not that he needed to convince anyone, of course. And so, for 18 months in 1969-1970, the whole country was turned upside down in pursuit of Castro's latest pet project. Factories, schools and offices closed so that everyone could go off to the countryside to cut sugarcane. Nurses, teachers, street-cleaners ... everyone was sent out to cut sugarcane. It was a disaster. A monumental failure. Even the Soviets blanched at the results - and they were pumping millions of roubles a day into the place at the time.
Then there were Castro's wild plans to grow giant pineapples, tropical strawberries the size of oranges, super cows that would give so much milk Cubans would be able to bathe in milk - just like Cleopatra. Then, later, there was a plan to manufacture the best cheeses in the world (take that, you Frenchies!), and to drain the Cienaga de Zapata wetlands for agriculture - a huge environmental disaster had it gone ahead.
Looking back, it all seems like a huge joke. You know, something out of that Woody Allen film Bananas, where Allen plays the president for life of the Republic of San Marcos and decrees that from now on, everyone must speak Swedish ... and wear their underpants on the outside. Except that it was all serious - deadly serious - for Cubans, who had no choice but to go along with whatever dictates emanated from Castro's offices in Havana.
And lest you think Castro has learnt the errors of his ways, have a look at the photograph above. It was taken last year when El Comandante en Jefe announced his latest plan to solve Cuba's decades-long, endemic power shortages. I kid you not.