On January 1 1959, Fidel Castro proclaimed the “beginning of the Revolution” in Santiago, Cuba.
While initially nationalist, the revolution soon became pro-Soviet and Marxist at a time of frequent clashes between Washington and Moscow. Fifty years on and Fidel Castro is no longer Cuba’s Head of State. In spite of that, many Cubans are still suffering from his legacy, especially with regard to a US-imposed embargo. But, for one former revolutionary, the American embargo is not the main problem facing the Island. Eloy Gutierrez said: “The problem with Cuba is not just the US embargo, it is the multiple embargoes that exist in the country; the embargo on culture and on professional choice, the embargo on freedom to meet, the embargo on everything, on the creativity of Cubans.” Responding to accusations of repression, the regime and its defenders say there are many socio-economic reasons to be happy. Cuba’s literacy rate is estimated at 99.8 percent. Some are unable to hide their pride in what the revolution has brought. Another former revolutionary fighter, Julio Antonio Herrera Perez, said: “Today we can say that we have an educated population. We can say that there are no beggars in Cuba. There is no poverty. Everyone can read and write. Health care is available to everyone and education is available to everyone. That is something the imperialist North America cannot do.” But the US way of life has nurtured the dreams of thousands of Cubans who have fled by boat. Many have lost their lives, trying to find a better life — a life that many who made the revolution have never known. “Those who started the revolution are now old, and they don’t realise that what the country needs now is a new revolution. They need to step down for the younger generation, for the people that want and have the energy to make a new revolution,’‘ said Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo. 2008 has been a difficult year. Cuba has not escaped the global financial crisis. But there is also room for optimism, especially after US president-elect Barack Obama promised greater openness in relations.