Just after college, I developed a fascination with Cuba, that long-time thorn in our collective side. I was lucky enough to go there in 2003, and two years later I chose to write my Master’s thesis on a rather obscure event in Cuban-American relations. As a result, I try to keep my eye on Cuban affairs, for old times sake.

Before I found the genius piece that I just had to write about yesterday, I had another topic in mind for my next post. I recently discovered that my favorite old man dictator, Fidel Castro, was due to reemerge from his long public absence on Tuesday. He had stomach surgery last summer, around the same time that another of my favorite old men had a similar procedure. Everybody’s doing it, you know.

But when I searched to find articles on his speech just now, which is all of two days after the fact, I was interested to see how various media outlets covered (or didn’t) his speech. The first results I came up with were all Latin American newspapers, and that was only twelve of them. For the first public appearance in almost a year, that’s a surprising lack of coverage, especially when compared to the 550-odd articles speculating on whether or not the Bolivian president will see Fidel when he visits Cuba.

Fair enough. So I searched the New York Times for “Fidel,” and came up with a whole “Times Topics” section on F.C. Good show! However, upon closer examination, most of the articles on Fidel from this year are one or maybe two paragraphs long. The piece on Fidel’s TV address was a grand total of four paragraphs.

True, the page does include some multimedia and interactive features for those of us who don’t like to read boring words for too long, but still. Given that this tiny country brought us to the brink of nuclear war just 45 years ago, it’s kind of amazing to see how completely we’ve moved on. (By contrast, a random selection of articles for both Steve Jobs and Katie Couric shows multiple paragraphs both above and below the fold.)

The Times page did succeed in pointing me to the official page of the Cuban Communist party, Granma. A more different perspective I could not have hoped for! They were predictably enthusiastic about his recent reappearance, saying that it “filled the inhabitants of this archipelago with satisfaction and joy.” Classic.

My favorite article of all, however, comes from an Australian paper, The Age. Since his operation, Fidel has been wearing a variety of brightly colored two-piece track suits. But on a recent visit, Hugo Chavez urged him to resume wearing his military uniform, which had been Fidel’s standard garb for the past oh, half-century or so. Now that is what I call cutting-edge news reporting! Along with the sidebar comparing George Clooney to Carey Grant, of course.

(Chavez also lauded Fidel for talking for nearly four hours, which he called “almost a speech.” Fidel must indeed be ill, to have only opined for four hours! How disappointing.)

All of this brings me back to my original point: Cuba is so twentieth century. We are far too absorbed with our current assortment of villains, not to mention American Idol and Paris Hilton’s jail sentence, to pay much attention to a tiny Communist island that still refuses to conform.

This in fact is precisely why I started studying Cuba in the first place – because not many people seemed to be doing so. It is both the curse and the blessing of the historian to remember things where others forget. So even though I wasn’t alive at the time, I remember that this island nation very nearly brought us to our knees.

And yes, that is still the very same island that now merits four paragraphs in the Times and an article on its leader’s fashion sense.


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