Putting Cuba in context

There is something about Cuba that addles the brains of otherwise intelligent journalists, political pundits and social scientists. Could it be that when they examine the situation of Cuba, they fail to put it in context?

The normally progressive British weekly, The Guardian, gives us an example of such behavior. The cover of the latest edition shows a photograph of Cuban President Fidel Castro beaming with pleasure, and the teaser headline is “Siempre Fidel: Cuba’s Resurgent Leader.” This made me hope that the article inside would be fair to Cuba, but no such luck.

The author, Le Monde’s Jean-Michel Caroit, came to Cuba bearing the usual prejudices of liberal writers. He chats with the usual malcontents. The picture that emerges is one of a dictatorship, perhaps not quite as cruel as that of Saddam Hussein, but dedicated to the crackpot economic notions of its leader, which keeps Cuba backward. We are told through “man on the street” comments that people are really getting fed up because of electrical outages and so forth, but that there is not likely to be a mass rebellion because if discontent gets too bad, Fidel will just let a new lot of people take to sea in rafts (no evidence is presented to support this idea). The impression is left that if Cuba would only allow foreign corporations to do anything they like in its economy, real progress would result.

The author recognizes improvements in Cuba’s economy, which he credits exclusively to trade deals with Venezuela, China and Canada, plus the recent find of oil. The tone suggests that this good fortune is enabling Castro to go back to his old, bureaucratic Communist habits.

What is the context that is left out?

*Caroit and many like him seem utterly unaware of the situation in all the Latin American countries, with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela. In virtually every country, the adoption of pro-capitalist, neo-liberal policies has led to virtual economic collapse. This in turn has produced massive public discontent and a political shift to the left. In the Dominican Republic, right next to Cuba, there is massive discontent caused by electrical blackouts far worse than what Cuba has had to experience. In Haiti, there is a situation close to civil war. In the Andean countries of South America, huge popular mobilizations are challenging neo-liberal policies that have brought nothing to the people but more poverty and suffering. The discontent and the leftward shift Caroit mentions, but not the reasons for it. If pro-capitalist policies produce collapse everywhere, but anti-capitalist produce improvements, one might draw the conclusion that Castro and Chavez have acted in their people’s interest. Caroit and his ilk can’t or won’t see this.

*Caroit does not even mention the ferocious 45-year U.S. economic blockade. Electrical blackouts lately in Cuba are caused by antiquated equipment the Cubans have trouble replacing because of the blockade, not by socialist policies. In many parts of the United States, government runs the electric company with good results, yet where I live in Virginia, Dominion Power has made us sit through one blackout after another, and nobody has been blockading us. How many other countries than Cuba could even have survived such a relentless blockade without collapsing?

*For Caroit, the concessions that Cuba made to capitalist methods during the 90s are an absolute good, even though he notes that they led to some inequality and corruption. Yet he cannot understand why the Cuban government, now that it is in better economic shape, wants to back away from them.

The class interest served by people like Caroit is evident: Everything has to be distorted so as to justify the neo-liberal free trade policies that have enriched a few corporations while impoverishing countless millions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Information that contradicts this is swept out of sight. This is a disservice to the readers of Le Monde and the Guardian.

Emile Schepers is an immigrant and civil rights activist living in Virginia.