The Consistency Of Cuba

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.

9 thoughts on “The Consistency Of Cuba”

  1. How galling? Probably about as galling for Iraqis to hear US democrat politicians and US celebrity stars demanding America pull out of Iraq while demanding America go into Darfur instead.

  2. It has always seemed to me that the embargo hasn’t made sense since the fall of the USSR, and arguably for some time before that point. But neither party wanted to risk the fallout from the Cuban expatriates.

  3. How galling that the United States continues a policy that has failed for over forty years. Our current strategy appears to be wait for Castro to die of old age and hope the country changes to our liking even though we antagonize them. The embargo empowers Castro, it is his ready made excuse for every failure. I can understand why people would back this policy during the cold war, and its immediate aftermath, when Cuba looked very vulnerable. But it has been clear for over a decade that they will not collapse, so conservatives like William F. Buckley have changed their minds about the embargo and advocate dropping it. (And really, if it weren’t for the amount of electoral votes in Florida, it would have already happened.) If you want Cuban society to change and progress towards democracy, drop the embargo. If you want more of the same, keep it.
    I disagree with Thomas’ take. Those hostile Cuban actions were in response to particular increased activities that they deemed provocative. The 2003 actions were in the midst of both a lot of activity by the US Interest Section in Havana and a lot of saber rattling and “axis of evil” rhetoric by President Bush. Plus, we ARE trading with Cuba now, mostly farm states from the heartland that ship about $150 million in products a year. Plus Cuban exiles send about a billion dollars a year to Cuba in remittances. Plus the whole world trades with Cuba and goes there for vacations. The only reason for the embargo is 1) appeasing the Cuban-American lobby in Florida in hopes of getting their votes; 2) saving face. China is probably more oppressive than Cuba, but we trade with them. Makes no sense.

  4. Okonkolo,
    I am so tired of hearing that crock of crap you used spewed – a verbatim crock from the castro regime itself. You are more than ill informed and on numerous levels. may I suggest you swing by my blog –, and educate yourself a bit more on the US Cuba relations and policy thing before making absoultely senseless arguments and comments.
    Sheesh. One would think that in this day in age, with the plethora of real, valid and true sources of information on the internet rweadily available to all, that at the least there would be some kind of reduction in stupidity.

  5. While agree with a lot of the subtleties of Thomas description of Cuba in the full article, I disagree strenuously with the idea that (a) Castro wants the embargo and that (b) lifting the embargo will bring Cuba any closer to democracy. By the way nobody can “provoke” you into violating all international law and shooting down two unarmed civilian propellor aircraft with Mig jets and missiles. No embargo forces castro to execute 3 guys because they tried to steal a boat (the trial came immediately after they were arrested and the executions happened within five days of the attempt).
    American policy did not and does not drive fidel castro to be a dictator, it’s his own ambition that does that. He has been very successful in using the world blatant (not latent, as thomas deescribes it) anti-americanism as a way to prop himself up. But removing the embargo will not remove the excuses or the rhetorical attacks on the US. Just last year Cuba denounced CANADA, one of its biggest trading partners and sources of tourists as violators of human rights. It never ends. The argument that the embargo is clever excuse for the regime would imply that there is some sort of world jury or higher power that is being deceived into thinking that fidel is a good guy. Well the question is if we can see that it’s a pretext, then why can’t this omnipotent juror of world opinion see it? And if that juror is too dumb to see it, why should we care about the juror’s opinions?

  6. just talking about cuba/castro, chavez, ortega et als in a serious manner speaks volumes about the person doing the talking. these are blatant murdering criminals. to speak as if they have offered anything to humanity on any level is preposterous.
    if their crimes weren’t so outrageous and the list so long they would be ignored by virtually everyone. you really have to be delusional to romanticize these sub human forms. when you finally get that wearing a che t-shirt is the equivalence of wearing a zwastika or a hammer and sickle you’ll be making progress. until then just be happy you live in a society that tolerates your idiocy.

  7. I don’t really think the MSM harps on how nice things are in Cuba. I certainly haven’t seen much on TV or the press which suggests that journos are pushing Cuba as a viable or desireable alternative to pluralism and basic freedom. Ken Livingston is a maverick by any standards and received massive criticism from the press, the government, and Londonders generally, for his absurd junket to Cuba.
    Cuba has a repressive regime and everyone knows what happens to those that think outside of the restricted parameters of the communist regime. Those are accepted facts. Those facts should not preclude our looking at certain aspects of Cuba which are quite successful for a developing nation. Cuba does have a very successful health system when you take into account how much is actually spent. Cuba also is exemplary in how it handles natural disasters and their aftermath. Other than those two facets, I don’t think there is much to learn from Cuba and Cubans themselves seem eager to risk death to escape. I don’t think learning from those isolated successes constitutes support for the regime. Castro will be gone soon. Let’s hope that inevitable change produces some positive improvement in the life of average Cubans.

  8. In my initial post I said nothing about the embargo causing Castro to be a dictator, nor did I romanticize him. [some of the responses seem to go on autopilot]. I merely stated the obvious–the embargo doesn’t work, it does not force or encourage Cuba to change. It is Castro’s excuse for everything bad in his country [and that, Val, is not Castro’s line at all]. William F. Buckley is hardly a bleeding heart liberal and he basically thinks the same thing. Waiting for Castro to die of old age is not a strategy. I think it is clear that Castro’s death is not going to be the revolution-inspiring event some hoped it would be. So what to do? Trying to punish countries that deal w/Castro doesn’t work, because it’s the whole world, and when they threatened counter-tariffs we had to fold. I am not naive enough to think dropping the embargo will be some sort of magic bullet, but it would basically rob Castro of his ready made excuse for everything and create potential for change and tie them to our economy (a la China). That, coupled with diplomatic efforts to marginalize hardliners and cultivate any “progressives” within in the communist party (let’s be realistic, the democracy advocates in Cuba are brave, but they have zero chance of any power or leadership in the near future–post-Castro Cuba will be run by the party), and Cuba will change. A Cuba flooded with happy, prosperous Americans would be a nightmare for the Revolution. (Truthfully, I think greed will end the embargo before anything, as the farm state exports show, and now that oil might be right off shore, that too.) But hey, we can always keep doing what we’ve been doing…and get the same result. Okay, fire away.

  9. Okonkolo:
    Cuba will implode when Castro dies. Either that or Chavez will annex the island to Venezuala.

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