Commonwealth and Cuba: keep it in the family

The Castro family ruled Cuba for more than 60 years – then handed over to a close family friend.

The British Commonwealth has had the same ruler for more than 70 years and is just handing over to that woman’s son.

No hint of a vote. Public acclamation is all that is needed. In other walks of life the term used to describe these arrangements is nepotism.

Each case lacks outcry – much less the Commonwealth case – but there is plenty of delicious speculation in its place. Will the Castro family still play a behind-the-scenes role? Is Prince Charles being given a consolation prize for being denied the throne? But where should our emotional energies be directed – and why are we not more angry about these things?

To be fair, the Castro family earned their throne and put their lives on the line to win it. In doing so they liberated the downtrodden of Cuba from a ruthless, greedy dictator (Fulgencio Batista) who partied with Mafia bosses and used their methods to accumulate fabulous wealth. Having done so the Castros set up a Socialist system that so angered the West that they have lived in enforced blockade and poverty ever since. Notwithstanding that, every Cuban is guaranteed a home, subsistence food, free healthcare and free education including all forms of higher education. The Castros had an argument. Whether it still stands today is a debated question – not least in Cuba. But, for sure, the Castros represented their own people, spoke their language, lived alongside them, were part of their culture.

On this side of the world, Queen Elizabeth – and now her son, Charles – are aged, white, English, Anglican, wealthy and landed. Their rule is over a largely black and Asian people, mostly poor, mostly religions other than Anglican, mostly under 30 years of age and of diverse cultures. Their rule was gifted to them along with fabulous wealth that was inherited rather than earned.

Of course, Prince Charles does not ‘rule’ over Commonwealth countries – there are 52 independent – mostly elected – governments that do that. Even so, in 1975 Elizabeth removed a Labour Prime Minister from office in Australia ad installed a Conservative (Liberal) Prime Minister in his place. (There were unusual circumstances, here – she was constitutionally ‘Queen of Australia’ and had extraordinary powers. But such powers exist elsewhere in this post-imperial arrangement.) So this is not a game of Post Office or Monopoly and the Commonwealth is a system of political values and a powerful ‘club’, if you will. The fact that Charles shares little by way of culture, language, gender, lifestyle, beliefs or much of anything else with the 2 billion or so people of the Commonwealth is still extraordinary in itself and significant.

Both Cuba and Commonwealth deserve a vote.

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