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In Cuba, no-one can hear you scream

Seeking out fiskable material in the Guardian is altogether too much like spearing fish in a barrel. It’s almost unfair. Callous, even. In fact, spoilt for choice, I generally elect to leave the tiddlers and save my energies for the succulent, fat ones that drift serene and oblivious to my cravings for their ample and oily flesh.

Dinner is served, courtesy of one Brian Wilson who takes his readers on a moist-eyed trip down memory lane:

Twenty-five years ago this month, I visited Cuba for the first time. The occasion was the World Festival of Youth and Students, which drew 20,000 to Havana from 150 countries – probably, to this day, the country’s biggest display to the world of its revolutionary wares.

Come on over, Mama, whole lot of schtoopidity goin’ on.

Yet, for our Brian, these were the salad days:

But for me, that visit was the start of a life-long love affair.

Ah yes, the romantic boulevards of gay Havana, where Brian strolled arm-in-arm with the Revolutionary Vanguard of the Hoopty-Squat Dirtbag 25th of November People’s Liberation Front Army (or something).

There is no need to confuse that statement with uncritical acclaim for everything about the place. But criticism should never ignore the fact that Cuba’s primary service to the world has been to provide living proof that it is possible to conquer poverty, disease and illiteracy in a country that was grossly over-familiar with all three.

Where’s the ‘living proof’, O Besotted One? Why isn’t every Cuban Embassy on the planet besieged with sick, starving, illiterate people all clamouring for passage to Havana and salvation?

I have now had half a dozen such sessions with Castro. He talks a lot but then he has a lot to talk about. He is a man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I have got to know quite a few surprising characters whom few would recognise from the caricatures – Castro as an admirer of Churchill; Castro as a pragmatist who recognises the inevitability of globalisation and wants Latin America to mould it; Castro whose withering remarks about the Soviet Union confirm just how unloving a marriage of necessity that was.

Castro the wise. Castro the good. Castro the humanitarian. Castro the divine, the charming, the witty, the profound. Castro the bon vivant; a scholar, a gentleman, a prince among men. Dammit, I’ve run out of compliments.

The tragedy is that the evolutionary process – not least in regard to the liberal freedoms – could be so much more rapid and comfortable, if only the US would learn to co-exist a little more graciously.

See it’s that bloody George Bush again. What a monster! On his ignoble head be the plight of Cuba!

Cuba’s problems are immense. Socialism in one country is still a contradiction in terms.

Oh of course, it’s not the socialism that is causing the problems, it’s the socialism in one country. If only the rest of the world would take Cuba’s lead those problems would all evaporate overnight.

All true, all the inevitable product of 40 years of siege, but also all irrelevant to the bigger picture of what Cuba represents as a symbol of human potential.

If Mr.Wilson thinks that an impoverished, oppressive, third-world communist toilet is a ‘symbol of human potential’ then it isn’t just Cuba that has immense problems.

I have noticed quite a lot of this sort of orgasmic waxing about Cuba’s alleged healthcare and education standards in the British leftist press of late. It is almost identical to the kind of rhetoric they once employed in the service of the British sovietised models. And ‘once’ is the key word because here in the UK they can no longer get away with that and they know it. Their rosey propoganda has first stumbled and then ground to a halt completely in the face of a first-hand shambolic reality that even they can no longer deny.

So it’s all hearts and minds over to the tropical, mysterious and (best of all) faraway island in the Caribbean whose sovietised models work as intended (so we’re told) and the rude actuality of bitter experience need never darken their melifluous visions. While angry Britons prod them in the chest and tell them they’re talking crapola, angry Cubans denied a similar privilege are hitching a ride on old truck tyres to get them to Florida.

Doesn’t stack up, does it. But, then, it never did. Pass the hollandaise sauce.

17 comments to In Cuba, no-one can hear you scream

  • Sean O'Callaghan

    One thing correspondents like Brian never seem to realise is this: Their slavish belief in a fantasy world makes it easier for realists to roll over them! It would make no difference if they got 99% of the population to believe in their ‘system’ – for the 1% left would still be running the world.

  • Katherine

    Instapundit et al. have long standing theory that the true basis for these kind of reports from Cuba is simple: it’s the ho’s.

  • People are still defending Castro? Wow.
    I mean, I give people a pass for appreciation of Cuba in the past, considering Castro replaced a dictatorship with a less brutal dictatorship at a time when countries like Guatemala was playing “Let’s kill the peasants.” and Chile was going from democracy to dictatorship with the approval of the US. But Chile has returned to democracy and Guatemala is slowly improving. Cuba is now the same old tyranny as it’s been for a while, and without being propped up by the USSR the economy’s only hope is cigars, tourism and hookers.

    His claim that socialism needs the world to work reminds me of religious zealots who claim all misfortune is caused by the existence of non-believers. Game theory makes it very clear that any system that requires 100% compliance to work is doomed – defectors will always pop up. Mature ideologies work even when other systems exist. This is one of the reasons I’m libertarian – the less non-consensual systems there are, the easier it is to get along with someone who disagrees with you.

    As for the US being responsible for Cuba’s misery, well, I don’t approve of the trade embargo. I think it’s largely driven by the Florida sugar barons annoyed at being driven from Batista’s mafia playground and an attempt at revenge for Cold war embarassments, and it makes the life of the Cubans harder and retards the economic improvements that usually help democratize a country. But if communism is all that great of a political/economic system, shouldn’t Cuba be thriving despite it? Oops.
    The US was leaning towards dropping the trade barriers recently, but Castro put a quick end to that when he did a mass arrest of dangerous dissidents after Carter visited the island and they dared to demand a movement towards freedom and democracy. I shouldn’t be surprised – it is after all a country where unlicensed modem possession is a crime. Any country that finds private communications and freedom of speech dangerous is a disgusting authoritarian state that needs to be overthrown.

    This is rather timely by the way. I found a recent
    Washington Times article
    on State Department plans to remove Castro from power. This isn’t Venezuela, so more power to them, and good luck to the Cuban dissidents.

  • Jonathan L

    Castro is a charismatic leader, otherwise he could never have been able to lead a revolution or to oppress a population for so long. Yet commentators are always commenting on the “real Castro”, like his charm and wit excuse him from the suffering he causes.

    Hitler was a charismatic speaker, as are many of the butchers that terrorise the poor people of Africa. Boring people simply find it impossible to reach the elevated status of “great leader”. Funnily only socialist tyrants however have a charismatic side that gets noticed by the press.

    As for his thirst for knowledge, someone who ignores all the evidence to the contrary in order to perpetuate his cruel and unnecessary regime is an ignoramus of the worst kind.

    I wonder what the doctors and teachers who moonlight as prostitutes to feed their families think of the wonderful health and education system?

    Pragmatist Socialist, could this be the ultimate oxymoron?

  • Dale Amon

    Castro is definitely an interesting figure. He’s never been quite as easy a hate figure as most Communist leaders… he’s well, too Caribbean. Also, I think there are a very large number of Cubans who put up with Communism these days simply to humour a well-loved but overly eccentric grandpa. (Perhaps that is due to the ease with which all those who hate him could make it to Florida.) When Castro dies, I expect Cuban socialism to lie under the same headstone.

    The history of American-Cuban relations in the 1959-1964 era is utterly appalling and becomes more so the more FOIA documents come out from those years. There were some rather undemocratic ultra-right wing generals in the US at that time and “7 Days in May” was closer to a real prospect than I’d ever known… and the desire to invade Cuba was at the centre of it.

    As it turns out, there was a rather nightmarish plot to kill americans in america or to damage and american ship to create a cassus belli. The civilian leadership after Eisenhower didn’t go along with the idea so it didn’t happen. Kennedy only went along with the Bay of Pigs (fence sitting in the worst sort of way) and the assasination attempts.

    There used to be a joke about it:

    Senator: And is it true you spent a billion dollars in an attempt
    to parachute miniaturized agents with flame throwers into Fidel’s beard?

    DCI: Absolutely not. We were never able to get the miniature flame throwers to work.

    If you are interested in the secret history of the period, read “Body of Secrets” by Bamford.

  • Front4uk

    It never ceases to amaize me how easily the “intellectual” left is seduced by third world dictators , no matter how genocidal/homicidal they are.

    From years on generations will wonder how somewhat intelligent and educated people like Brian Wilson MP could have the intellectual dishonesty to cover their eyes and blindly cling on to their decaying ideology responsible for so many crimes against humanity…

  • There’s a few myths about pre-Castro Cuba that still. Was that country a place where “poverty, disease and illiteracy was grossly over-familiar”. Not really. It was the second spanish-speaking country in America both in literacy and GDP. And it had an highly developed medical system. Most of the “Castro’s living proof” is just a pure lie.

  • There’s a few myths about pre-Castro Cuba that still lives on. Was that country a place where “poverty, disease and illiteracy was grossly over-familiar”. Not really. It was the second spanish-speaking country in America both in literacy and GDP. And it had an highly developed medical system. Most of the “Castro’s living proof” is just a pure lie.

  • It’s rarely politically expedient to criticize your intellectual allies while they’re still alive and in power, regardless of the atrocities they commit (whether in the name of your shared ideology or not). Further, it’s a person of rare courage and self-discipline who can abandon his allies when the cause is as demanding as socialism is; even people like Orson Wells gave up on Stalin only after personally being exposed to direct tragedies caused by the man himself. And they were the exception amongst international socialist intelligentsia. Rest assured that when Castro dies and can no longer be considered the flag-bearer of Western hemisphere socialist anti-imperialism and stand-up-to-Americanism (which is, I suppose, currently a synonym for “anti-imperialism”), left-leaning elites will be jumping up and down screaming for our attention, begging us to notice how much they’ve never really trusted the man and how they’ve always disapproved of his methods and blah blah blah. It’ll be 1953-55 all over again. Of course this time we’ll have the internet, so it’ll be a bit harder to pretend they didn’t say the things they did before…

  • Brian Wilson MP for Cunninghame North (North Ayrshire) says:

    But criticism should never ignore the fact that Cuba’s primary service to the world has been to provide living proof that it is possible to conquer poverty, disease and illiteracy in a country that was grossly over-familiar with all three.

    According to the website of Wilson’s own local government authority (also run by Labour):

    Table 5 shows that in January 2000, North Ayrshire had an unemployment rate of 11.1%, with 15.9% male unemployment and 5.9% female unemployment. This was the 3rd highest unemployment rate of the 32 Scottish local authority areas. The corresponding figures for Scotland were 6.2%, with 9.5% male unemployment and 2.8% female unemployment.

    North Ayrshire’s high level of unemployment has been a consistent feature for a considerable period, and shows no indication of converging to the Scottish rate in the short to medium term.

    So this socialism thing hasn’t quite solved unemployment and poverty at home, has it Brian?

  • David,

    I think that was spearing fish in a barrel. The fish was simply an extremely large one. I do like the “socialism has not made Cuba rich, and therefore it needs to be applied to the whole world” argument, though.

  • R C Dean

    “He’s never been quite as easy a hate figure as most Communist leaders”

    Funny, I’ve never had any trouble.

  • S. Weasel

    Why isn’t every Cuban Embassy on the planet besieged with sick, starving, illiterate people all clamouring for passage to Havana and salvation?

    And that, of course, is the one indigestible lump of fact.

    Even when I was young and unsure of my country and my politics, that was the question I kept coming back to. If the Soviet Union is so great, how come people are risking their lives to get out? If the United States is so horrible, how come people are risking their lives to get in? It remains an excellent test of totalitarian regimes versus pretty decent places to live.

    The short form is: if this country built a wall, which direction would the guard towers face?

  • veryretired

    Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have literally thrown themselves into the sea to escape the “worker’s paradise”. This desparation is a form of voting much more significant than the occasional “plebiscites” that produce a 99.9% vote for Castro and the boys.

    When he finally succumbs to age and debauchery, the truth will come out, as it has about the Soviets, Chairman Mao, and the rest, and the left will wave it’s collective hand and dismiss the truth about Castro as more “anti-socialist paranoia”.

    Nothing in the universe is as impenetrable as the mind of the ideologue.

  • I’m generally not a fan of John Derbyshire (from National Review), but there’s a well-known quote of his that’s just priceless: “Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.”

  • Katherine;

    Your theory is boosted by this other quote from the story

    Happily, this location kept me far from the interminable debates in which the Brits earnestly engaged themselves while everyone else had fun.

    I think we all know what “having fun” likely entailed. Not for Wilson any actual debate.

  • mike

    Eradicated poverty? And the average monthly Cuban wage is????


    QED, ladies & gentlemen