Human Rights,  The Left

A letter to those who still look to Cuba

Cross-posted from James Bloodworth at Obliged to Offend

For many on the left Cuba continues to represent, if not a socialist paradise, at least progress of a sort. In fashionable circles, the reality that life on the island corresponds in no way to the ideals espoused by its most vociferous apologists, goes politely unmentioned.

A common defence of Cuba will most-likely begin with an emotionally-charged denunciation of United States policy towards the island. It would be foolish indeed not to concur that US policy towards Cuba since 1959 is reason alone to afford the Cuban government a degree of control over the electoral process – can a multi-party system really function satisfactorily when the most powerful nation on Earth is attempting to destabilise the island?

In truth however, repression in Cuba exists independently of US policy and is rooted in something far deeper – just as the Cuban economic malaise is more acute than can be attributed to the US economic embargo alone.

The insurmountable objection for any socialist must be that the Cuban system is based upon a discredited system of revolutionary Stalinism from above, which inevitably carries with it a denial of basic rights to the Cuban people ‘for their own good’. Cuba is not the USSR under Stalin, nor is it China under Mao; but make no mistake, the Cuban regime is modelled upon those systems – of which personal dictatorship, political repression, mass-censorship and economic failure are all a feature.

Unlike the revolutionary tourists who flock to the island, Cuban citizens are forbidden from travelling overseas without first obtaining permission from the government, which is often denied, and sometimes punitively. This was also common to the former Eastern European ‘socialist’ states, where citizens were unable to travel outside of the Socialist Bloc through fear they would never return. The spectacle of the ‘worker’s paradise’ hemming in its citizenry with walls, barricades and in the case of Cuba, the big stamp on the top of the page that reads ‘Permission Denied’, should provoke feelings of repulsion in any serious person of the left.

Travel is not the only area of life in which Cubans face intolerable restrictions. According to the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, thousands of young Cubans are in prison on the charge of ‘peligrosidad predelectiva’ – that is, they are considered ‘likely’ to commit a crime. One awaits the outcry of those ‘radicals’ who waste no time in denouncing (and rightly so) the relatively minor restrictions on civil liberties in their own countries.

Nowadays Cuba actively welcomes those from the capitalist countries, who flock to the island with their much-needed dollars and their apparently insatiable appetite for the locals. According to Michael Clancy, author of The Globalisation of Sex Tourism and Cuba, the Cuban government’s attitude towards the ‘consumers’ of this ‘profession’ has been to “send a message to the global sex tourist community that [the country] was open for business”.

It is indeed hard to see any meaningful socialism left at all in Cuba. As anybody who has travelled there will know, this is an island where everybody is on the take. The official economy does function, but only just. It is the illegal black market that supplies Cubans with everything from chicken and soap to the latest Hollywood blockbusters. There exists an unregulated and rampant capitalism whereby government Peso shops stand empty while those which operate in convertible Pesos (Cuba uses two currencies) offer overpriced Western products that most Cubans can only gawp at through the filthy shop window-fronts. Supplying most Cubans are illicit street vendors, who walk the crumbling back-streets hollering the name of whatever it is they are selling: coffee, chicken, pork – itself pilfered from state coffers.

The late Cabrera Infante, one of Cuba’s greatest writers, once said: “For us Cubans socialism was a ponderous joke that killed us laughing. It is still wearing us out – a joke on us”.

The joke however appears not to have worn off for those whose ‘anti-imperialism’ trumps all other considerations – a position defined by a willingness to let others in far-away lands break their backs for the coveted ‘alternative’.

It is the job of anyone who wishes to be taken seriously on the left to denounce such ‘socialism’, not to act as quintessential apologists for the monarchical regime of two unapologetic Caribbean Stalinists.