You Will Not Like Cuba

By: Luis H. Ball - May 6, 2015, 11:30 am
Behind the intense propaganda, Cuba is nothing more than a country in ruins. (Flickr)
Behind the intense propaganda, Cuba is nothing more than a country in ruins. (Flickr)

EspañolDuring the early days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, several national media outlets in the United States published articles referring to East Germany as “the most advanced of the Eastern European economies,” vaunting its bright future after communism as the country, we were told, possessed “advanced industries” in optics and a highly productive workforce. Soon afterwards it became clear that the authors of these articles had foolishly believed the lies spread by Communist East Germany’s vaunted propaganda machine.

The reality was starkly different. East German factories were only good to be used as scrap metal for the modern smelters of West German industrial giants such as Krupp or Thyssen. There was zero advanced technology in East Germany; the country’s infrastructure was comparable to that of a poor Third-World nation; the pollution of the cities was terrifying; and most of the countryside had turned into a giant hazardous waste dump.

Twenty five years later, East Germany remains poorer than the western side of the country, which never lived under communism. It will probably take another 25 years before the damage caused by decades of rule by a thuggish, murderous, totalitarian communist clique can be fully reversed.

One wonders how supposedly professional newsmen who were assigned by their publications to cover that part of the world could have been so blind and so wrong. Without doubt, some praised the supposed East German paradise with careful and well-thought-out lines, designed to hide their true political leanings. Others were evidently fooled by ignoring a fact well known to anybody who has lived in a police state: nobody dares to tell the truth.

The well-intentioned and honest reporters actually believed what they were being told by “the man on the street,” who was always full of praise for his country, even if he knew better. Years of living with the East German secret police, the infamous Stasi, had inculcated into everyone the fear of telling the truth, particularly to a foreigner. Vaclav Havel, the late hero and former president of the Czech Republic put it best: “The first victim of communism is the truth.”

Reading Time and Newsweek magazines a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see the East German case magnified by a factor of 10. These reporters would have us believe that Cuba is a paradise waiting to be discovered. Their articles are full of quotes from Cubans who praise their country and speak wonders of the changes to come.

Unfortunately, these same articles forget to mention that Cuba’s version of the Stasi, the feared G2, has not been dismantled and that, unlike Germany in 1989, the Communist Party regime is still in power. Can one truly believe these stories from people quoted by name by US journalists visiting the island?

The truth is that Cuba today is the poorest country in the Americas, poorer than Haiti. Its per-capita income is less than that of Honduras, the small Central American country that has the world’s highest murder rate. Cubans today would be suffering from mass starvation if the country were not receiving upwards of US$7 billion per year from their allies in the Venezuelan government.

Cuba manufactures nothing and produces nothing, except cigars and small quantities of rum. Its once vaunted sugar industry, the world’s largest before the communist takeover, has been completely destroyed, to the extent that Cuba has become a net importer of sugar. There is not even enough sugar produced in Cuba for its own meager, and rationed, domestic consumption.

The happy tourist that arrives in this paradise being promoted by all the main media outlets in the United States will find the world’s highest concentration of prostitutes, as women are forced to sell their bodies to live a better life and obtain precious hard currency. They will find no toy stores, no supermarkets, no hardware stores and, of course, no jewelry stores.

It is not because Cuba was such a backward country before the revolution that none of this exists. On the contrary, Cuba had more modern supermarkets relative to its population than the United States in 1958, as it had great department stores and world famous jewelers. None of this will be evident to the tourist however.

As Time magazine points out in its promotional guide disguised as a news article, there is no crime in Cuba, as there was no crime in the streets of Moscow under Stalin or in Berlin during Nazi rule. Is it not that great news for the tourist? The regime is so efficient that there is absolutely zero risk to the camera-toting visitor!

Maybe those readers who plan to visit this Caribbean paradise would like to know something that Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times have omitted: their phone conversations will be bugged, and possibly they will be secretly filmed in their hotel rooms. Remember, this is not Berlin after the fall of the Wall; this is Berlin before!

Twenty years ago, Fidel Castro began to promote his imprisoned island to foreign tourists. Canadian and Spanish tourists initially poured in. Eventually, however, word got out that Cuba was not much fun.

Today, they still trickle in, but the boom in tourism that the Castros expected has not materialized. Those who do visit Cuba do so because it is, by far, the cheapest destination in the Caribbean. Those Europeans and Canadians who can pay more ignore Cuba as a destination.

Persona Non Grata (1971) remains the best account of daily life in Cuba. (Amazon)

The Castros are counting that with the United States’ huge population and enormous tourism industry, they will finally get the revenue they crave. A small fraction of US tourism diverted to Cuba will prove a windfall for their communist cronies and will greatly help them retain their grip on the island. Thus, they make great efforts to fool as many people as possible, beginning with gullible journalists, many of whom fell in love with Marxist utopia while in their Ivy League colleges.

Lastly we should not fail to mention Cuba’s vaunted health-care system. That is probably the one positive outcome of the fact that many Americans will indeed visit Cuba in the near future. Once US tourists begin to break their ankles or get food poisoning or appendicitis while on the island, this is one myth — a product of efficient propaganda — that will quickly disappear.

If a traveler reading this article wants a good account of what he can expect to find in Cuba, he can turn to the work of the great Chilean author Jorge Edwards. His book Persona Non Grata, written in 1971 when he was still a avowed Marxist, remains the best account of daily life in Cuba, as in reality nothing has changed since then.

Luis H. Ball Luis H. Ball

Luis H. Ball is publisher of the PanAm Post.

Rand Paul Hands an Olive Branch to Black Voters in Detroit

By: Alice Salles - May 6, 2015, 11:06 am
Rand Paul (@Rare)

Rand Paul held a rare conversation with President Obama a few weeks ago. During the phone call, the junior Republican senator from Kentucky praised the president for cutting the prison sentences of 22 drug convicts in March. The commutation of drug-related sentences was part of a drive launched by the president more than a year ago. Paul's crusade to reform the US criminal justice system has been well documented, but when the city of Baltimore was set ablaze following Freddie Gray's funeral, Paul's comments prompted some important supporters to question the senator's thinking. In Detroit, Paul visited with a small crowd in a community predominately made up of African Americans and Democrats to talk criminal-justice reform and economic freedom. The GOP field office on Livernois Avenue is not a popular destination for prominent Republicans, but that did not intimidate the presidential candidate from Kentucky. Before talking the issues, Paul broke up the rows of chairs. His idea of a productive meeting apparently does not include a podium. "I think it sort of lends to a better atmosphere," said Paul as he asked the others to sit with him in a big circle. This is not the first time Paul holds a similar meeting with African American community leaders. Before Detroit, he held similar discussions in Atlanta, Chicago, the west end of Louisville, where Cassius Clay was raised, and even Ferguson. But instead of pushing his own agenda by bringing up the bill he introduced with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, or Redeem Act, he also listened. During the meeting, Paul voiced his wishes to restore voting rights to non-violent ex-felons and make it easier for non-violent adult and juvenile criminal offenders to ensure their records are kept sealed. Part of the conversation also revolved around his efforts to restore Fifth Amendment protections against civil asset forfeiture, a practice that disproportionately hurts African American and Hispanic populations. “There’s some people who have been in jail 15, 18 years for crack cocaine, whereas their white counterparts got out in six months or a year.” To Paul, that's unacceptable. As Baltimore falls victim to a series of aggressive "zero tolerance" policies embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, Paul reminded Detroit residents that few conservatives have caught up to the actual roots of the problems now visible in Maryland's largest city. According to the Hill, Ferguson's representative in the House, Lacy Clay (D-MO), has shown some excitement when talking about Paul. "White Democrats have been silent" since Ferguson, Clay says. "They haven’t made any concrete proposals about how we make this situation better, and how we give equal justice under the law," but Rand Paul has. "I hope that would be the discussion of the 2016 campaign and beyond." Clay added that Paul could pick up a significant number of African American votes in 2016 "if he sticks on those points." As Paul continues to go where other Republicans seldom go in his quest to broaden the GOP appeal among members of historically disenfranchised groups, a Bluegrass Poll revealed the candidate is doing much better among African Americans than many would have guessed. While his Baltimore comments may have caused discomfort among some of his supporters, Rand Paul's actions appear to be paying off.

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