With NBC broadcasting the Today show live from Havana this week, we can expect to see plenty of media hyperbole on the Cuban health-care system and general ignorance of all the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Cuba and the US. However, the UK’s Prospect Magazine gives a much more intimate look at the Cuba beyond the camera lenses in Castro’s controlled access to the island. Bella Thomas actually lived there, and knows the Cuba that Western romanticists refuse to see:
What observers at this time most underestimated was the power of the regime’s nationalist rhetoric and Castro’s strategic skill. Unlike in eastern Europe, where nationalism helped to erode communism, Cuban nationalism has shored up the regime. Castro was always a nationalist in communist clothing, and, throughout the 1990s, the communist references in his speeches were gradually replaced by nationalist ones.
The continuing hostilities with the US have played into Castro’s hands. It was as an embattled nationalist leader of a small island, standing up to an aggressive, neighbouring superpower, that Castro preserved his revolutionary credentials most effectively. The shortcomings of life under his regime were, he argued, attributable mainly to the US embargo. Many swallowed the argument. He knew, too, how to capitalise on the latent anti-Americanism in Latin America, Europe and Canada to give his struggle more universal appeal.
In fact, the regime seems to act with zeal to ensure that the embargo continues. When it looks as if the US government might consider ending it, some heavy-handed Cuban act ensues that the status quo prevails. In 1996, when Clinton was keen to initiate rapprochement, the regime shot down two US planes manned by members of a Cuban exile group rescuing those escaping the island on rafts. When, in 2003, an influential cross-party lobby in the US seemed set to dismantle the embargo, the Cuban government promptly incarcerated 75 prisoners of conscience and executed three men who hijacked a tugboat with a view to getting to Miami. …
In their call for the US to keep its “hands off Cuba,” western supporters of the Cuban regime seem to miss the irony that this, unfortunately, is precisely what the US is doing. Were the US to relax its embargo, the result would be a tidal wave of US capital, which the regime would be unlikely to survive. Many Cubans would grow richer and more demanding, and would no longer accept playing second fiddle to the tourists.
When speaking with a Cuban dissident, Thomas told him of London mayor Ken Livingstone and his planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Catro’s revolution (in 2009). The dissident expressed surprise that people in the West — with instant access to the truth — instead turned a blind eye to the suffering and the oppression in Cuba. He then shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a democracy,” and changed the subject.
How galling it must be to ordinary Cubans to see Western media organizations like NBC enable Castro to magnify his propaganda. The Michael Moores of the West — and we can’t deny that there are many like him, and some just as bad — extol the oppression of a dictator who imprisons and executes journalists who dare to tell the truth about life under the dictator. They act as repeater stations about how the only thing holding back the Cuban people is the American embargo, even though they import more food and medicine from us than anywhere else.
Every time these journalists betray their fellow reporters and build up Castro as some sort of rational alternative to private property and free enterprise, they see their chances of overcoming the oppression dim. Be sure to read the entire article, paying particularly close attention to Thomas’ reporting on the decrepitude of Havana’s hospitals (the ones for the locals) and the bribery it takes to get treatment even there.
I’ll be talking with Val Prieto and Fausta today on CQ Radio about this topic. Be sure to tune in.