The first friend I made at Lawrenceville School was called Reuben Batista, eldest son of the Cuban strongman. He was older and in a ‘Circle house’, whereas I was in lower school. Being foreigners gave us something in common, the rest of the school being mostly Wasps with a few Catholics thrown in for good measure.
By the time I met Reuben in 1949 his father Fulgencio had been in power off and on for a couple of decades. Havana was a paradise if one was rich, liked easy women, rum drinks and flashy nightclubs and casinos. The ruling class was predominately white and of Spanish extraction, the poor underclass was mostly black with African roots. The disparity in wealth was shocking even back in those times, yet there was a sweetness to life in Cuba back then, one that was lost on 1 January 1959. In fact, Cuba had the highest standard of living, I think, in all of South America, and its architecture alone made the island the jewel of the Caribbean.
I had visited Cuba a couple of times before Castro and found the people among the nicest in the region. Batista was always referred to as a dictator, which he was, but it was the most benevolent of regimes. In my young and limited experience, I never got the impression that the people were afraid to voice their opinions. I had some good friends, like the Garrido brothers, both Wimbledon players who were poor but comfortable, and who had shown me around when I was in Havana.
Now, as everyone knows, there are certain things that are set in stone, for example, Batista bad, Castro good. The fact that people voted against Castro by leaving the island in their millions with only the clothes on their backs does not matter.