There is only so much one can know by reading and talking about a nation, without actually going there. Such was my dilemma before making a trip to Cuba in September, aware of the risks to people who work in the media and challenge the regime.
Now, with so many observations to process, I must overcome that same hurdle in communicating to others what I experienced. To gather the initial reaction in depth, my good friend and PanAm Post contributor Yaël Ossowski interviewed me for our podcast.
Above all, and I don’t feel good saying this, I want to convey that the Castros and their criminal allies have made Cuba a nation of lies. Their deceit permeates far and wide, from the socialist propaganda that litters the nation to the misleading tourism advertising that lures foreigners in. While those in charge scapegoat their home-grown problems on the United States and the embargo, the people suffer and the capital, Havana, struggles on as a dirty, smelly, and pitiful ruin of a city.
One can barely walk a block without a tribute to the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, their revolution, and even Hugo Chávez, although what they are to be thanked for remains a mystery. And with internet access almost nonexistent, locals are left with little other than regime-approved media. For newspapers, I saw the Granma, the “official voice” of the Communist Party of Cuba, but that was about it, and I felt sorry for the visibly poor man trying to persuade me that a copy was worth US$1 (a day’s salary there), 25 times what he actually sells it for.
Why anyone would rave about Cuba as a tourist destination and why Marxists abroad parrot praise for the tyrants, perhaps I will never understand. One would think the thousands fleeing on makeshift boats (often perishing), along with Cuba’s top athletes defecting at foreign sporting events, would send the message that it’s no paradise. Apparently the lackeys are too mesmerized by the smokescreen of “free” medical care and education to notice the strongman rule and flagrant disregard for human rights.
My PanAm colleague and travel companion, Belén Marty, has written a report on the level of medical care that regular Cubans actually receive, after she went and saw people bringing their own bedding and other supplies to depleted facilities. The same poverty that plagues the island extends to the education system, as dissident Rosa María Payá has explained, and the sight of the “schools” tells the tale.
One might be tempted to just forget about Cuba and her problems, and let the deceptions perpetuate, such as the false notion that the regime is softening. There are, after all, so many places with problems, and many of the locals even support the socialism.
Yet innocent people suffer, and that is why they flee in numbers like few other places on earth. They want nothing to do with the revolution of the Castros; they just happen to have been born there and caught up in the mess. They are the innocent victims of power-hungry rulers; like everyone else, they have individual rights that ought to be respected, and my heart goes out to them.
My hope is that the PanAm team can correct the prevailing confusion in both the Anglosphere and Latin America. Further, I look forward to addressing the International Congress of Cuban exiles in December, and examining why they have largely lost the public-relations battle. (Please don’t hesitate to join me in Miami. The event will be primarily in Spanish, but my talk will be in English.)
For those interested in learning more, here are my two favorite commentaries that paint the picture in words: “You Will Not Like Cuba” and “The Last Communist City.” In our interview, Yaël Ossowski also mentioned his article on the embargo, which is worth your consideration: “One Million Canadians to Cuba Every Year: Why Not US Citizens?”
In terms of books, Mañana in Cuba by José Azel is your best bet, and then Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond by Jaime Suchlicki (reviewed here and here). The columns of Azel and Orlando Luis Pardo Larzo are also authoritative, and I publish them with pride.
This article first appeared on the PanAm Post blog, which is no longer online.