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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2002 / 25 Shevat, 5762

Julia Gorin

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Fidel Forever: Thank the Beaches -- "HE'S outlasted nine American presidents," boasts the trailer for a new Showtime original movie, affectionately titled "Fidel." Certainly, many circumstances had to converge to make this unique situation-a prison island an arm's length away from the seat of the free world-possible, and keep it buoyant. But when transforming a country into a prison, it helps if that country is surrounded by miles and miles of beach.

Castro is the most internationally celebrated dictator alive. When Stalin died, the Left needed a replacement, to fill the void in their hearts-and now a conspicuous lot of Americans are on a first-name basis with the man. A man whose despotic repression pervades every corner of his island.

When Austrian coalition member Jeorg Haider ran in the New York Marathon, they told us to throw things at him. But Castro pays a visit, and they all swoon. When the TV executives, the dignitaries, the Kevin Costners, the diplomatic corps and the journalists visit his island, they're content to eat at his table and patronize the resort establishments, those places which locals are banned from. Meanwhile, in one of those annoyingly predictable ironies, these royals worry how the U.S. is treating detainees nearby at Guantanamo Bay.

Wherefore this fidelity to Fidel? Perhaps it's because it's so difficult to separate the man from the image of stretches and stretches of beach, of never-ending fiesta and flowery dresses swaying with Spanish hips. (The fact that the flowery dresses they wear are almost as old as the antique cars they drive magically gets lost in all the romanticizing.)

The patterns among welfare states, past and present, dictator or no, are clear. Even in hopping European cities, one need only wander beyond the city limits to find people living along undeveloped countryside, drinking their wine alone. Some of Canada's largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary among them, give a pervasive sense of drabness. In Israel, the rich are very rich and very few, while in any given year those in the upper middle class live paycheck to paycheck and with huge debt. Especially in South America, where the mass depression among the populace is palpable, one can look to Argentina for a case in point: Social welfare mandates, murky property rights, high taxes and burdensome regulations are what led to its economic meltdown.

So yes they're partying in Europe and Latin America. They spend their money today, because there's no chance of saving for tomorrow. Friends, music and dancing. Wine and sex. What else is there? Not work. Not a future. So why not party now?

But o the lush sands and turquoise waters of Cuba. "The people are happy," insist the Fidelophiles. A gross assumption. It's more like: You wake up in the morning. It's a sunny day, and if you're lucky enough to live near the beach, you step out of your shanty, onto the sand and into the water. And you put off your suicide another day.

Just as the Black Sea offered Russians temporary relief from the inescapable dreariness of Soviet life, so does the fiesta without siesta do for Cubans. Proximity to the beach makes life bearable enough to make it to the next day. The water drowns your troubles, and the sand under your feet distracts you from your misery. Because no Western soul can truly be content to live in misery unless the soul is somehow mellowed. To be born in a prison and die in a prison, the misery must be a mitigated one.

So in Cuba, life literally is a beach. And then you die.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin