You Will Not Like Cuba

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.

Subscribe free to our daily newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special reports delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time