(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
From 1959 to 2016, Fidel Castro shaped Cuba according to his vision. During the 1960s, he led his island country through an American-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs, allowed the USSR to use Cuba as a base for nuclear missiles (and in so doing, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war) and made his people suffer for decades from the American embargo and the harsh poverty that followed.
Castro was Cuba. And Cuba, for better and worse, was stuck with Castro.
Castro envisioned himself as a historical figure: a 20th-century Simón Bolívar responsible for freeing Latin American countries from contemporary colonial powers.
It was enough to listening to one of his long, theatrical speeches to understand that Castro was living in a different time. He never judged his actions looking at the present or the short-term implications. For Castro, the only time that mattered was the future, and how historians would look at him.
Yet Castro’s ideology, which was relevant in the years of the Cold War, was considered “old history” in the years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Just like the main character in the movie Goodbye Lenin, Castro attempted to pretend Communism still reigned in a world where globalization and the Internet shaped reality instead. The world had changed, but Castro was living in his own history – and so was Cuba.
Just like Castro, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views himself as a historical figure, shaping the country in his own image – that is, the image of an Israeli Churchill standing at the gates and keeping Israel safe from its enemies. Netanyahu is the one who views peace as impossible, and determines the threats which the Israeli public fear.
Yet Israel under Netanyahu is facing the same challenge Cuba faced under Castro.
The country has a leader unable to change his worldview – a leader who ignores the powers and trends of the present and views the future as the only time that matters.
For those who hope that Netanyahu’s worldview will change one day, Castro’s Cuba serves as a lesson. A nuclear war was once just a brief mistake away, and the Berlin Wall later fell – but Castro never changed his way through all of it. And just like Castro, Netanyahu is navigating the Israeli public to the same place Cuba is today: an island stuck in the past, with only Netanyahu’s own future in sight.The author is an expert on Latin America and a consultant.