Today’s headlines remind us of just how volatile and unstable many countries are around the world. The economies of the major powers are weaker and unpredictable. The Middle East is rapidly deteriorating, with Muslims (Sunni) slaughtering other Muslims (Shia), and vice-versa. Thank you, France and UK, for contributing to this terrible situation many decades ago by drawing artificial boundaries between newly-created nations, without considering separating factions that have been at war for thousands of years. Other cohesive tribes were artificially divided by being placed in multiple countries.
Consider the Kurds, for example. Kurdish people have one of the longest ethnic histories in the Middle East. For over 4,000 years, their ancestors have occupied roughly the same geographical area that they live in today. Unfortunately, this area now includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and it is sometimes referred to as “Kurdistan.” Kurds are often treated as irritating minorities by the governments of all four countries. The Kurdish people today are one of the largest identifiable groups in the world without a country, or without majority control of a separate nation. Personally, I hope they end up with their own country in what is now northeast Iraq, with a substantial amount of oil reserves. For some bizarre reason, the U.S. government still thinks it makes sense to maintain the present boundaries of Iraq, with three distinct factions who absolutely hate each other. One fact that is not commonly known is that Israel has maintained discreet business, intelligence, and military ties with Kurds since way back in the 1960’s. Israel has viewed this ethnic minority to be a buffer against the nearby more radical adjacent Arab factions. This area of the world will surely become an even more frightening and fascinating chessboard in the next few years.
So how dies Cuba fit into this worldview? Consider that just about all of today’s ongoing conflicts are being fought over land and/or religion. On the other hand, Cuba is a country made up of one large island and about 4,000 smaller islands. There are no territorial disputes that I am aware of.
With regards to religion—today’s Cuba is very tolerant of religion. Decades ago, after the revolution, the Catholic Church was persecuted by Fidel Castro. This increased significantly after churches were discovered to have become centers of anti-revolutionary activity. Many caches of weapons were discovered in churches, prompting Castro to simply ban most religious activities. In 1998, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba and met with Castro in Cathedral Square in Old Havana. Religion suddenly became acceptable again. Christmas was made legal. (If you visit Cuba in December, you will now see numerous brightly decorated Christmas trees in stores and homes.)
I have been to Cuba with groups where some of the members were Christian Fundamentalists who openly brought bibles for distribution. They had no problems. Cubans are generally well educated, and they don’t view religions by themselves as serious threats to the government. (However, some of the powerful anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Miami claim to be religious in the traditional sense. It must be easier to be a Christian zealot if you believe it will help you make claims on real estate you left behind over fifty years ago.)
Cubans today watch world news on their TV’s with amazement and disgust. They see Muslims slaughtering other Muslims over religion and real estate. Meanwhile, they are thrilled when visitors (including Americans) come to visit their country. If you are religious and bring bibles to donate, they will be happy to show you where you can also attend Sunday services in centuries-old cathedrals that are architectural wonders. In my experience, you can do pretty much whatever you want, as long as you don’t bring weapons, illegal drugs, or advocate bringing down the government. Cubans simply want you to visit, spend money, and have fun. Just don’t wear your “Death to Fidel” T-shirt while salsa dancing in Old Havana.