It's beyond belief, but the front page of the print edition of the Sunday Review section of today's New York Times has yet another story glossing over the horror of the Castro repression in Cuba. The article, titled "The Cuban Evolution," was written by one Damien Cave. The sub-headline is "The island nation is slowly starting to catch up with the rest of the world."
Literally everybody with a pulse in the world today knows about the extent of the repression in Cuba, and that tourists are shown a fake patina that is not representative of the actual lives of the people. Yet somehow the New York Times has yet again found someone without a pulse to report an upbeat story on how good things are there. Or is it just another example of intentional deception of the readership? Well, you decide.
As background, a serious reporter named Michael Totten has just in the past few weeks gone on a tour of Cuba and sent back a couple of dispatches, The Lost World Part I, (January 20) and The Lost World Part II (January 27). If you actually want to understand a little of what is going on in Cuba today, read these and keep away from the fraudulent New York Times. Totten reports what you would expect from the unremitting totalitarianism: the people constantly spied on by agents of the state, intentional enforced poverty, persecution of anyone who attempts to get ahead even slightly. Here's just one short excerpt out of many:
The government imposes a Maximum Wage of twenty dollars a month. These people have been crushed into poverty and are kept there by force. The restaurant is strictly for foreigners from nations with minimum wages rather than maximum wages. . . . Beef is reserved for the elite and those who get tips from tourists or remittances from abroad. A Cuban who kills a cow is supposedly in big trouble. “You’ll be charged with murder,” one person told me. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, and the closest I can come to verifying it is an article in The Economist published in 2008. “In a place that before 1959 boasted as many cattle as people, meat is such a scarce luxury that it is a crime to kill and eat a cow.”
Well, now let's send the ultra gullible (or is it stupid? or both?) Mr. Cave into Havana and see what he comes up with. Mr. Cave goes to a bar called Sangri-LA in a Potemkin Village tourist area of Havana and asks the guy sitting next to him "for his take on Cuba's changes." The guy responds "I'm not saying a word." Later Cave talks to a "well-known 90-year-old artist" in the Miramar area who says that "her entire block had changed in the last year or two. . . . It's all so unstable." To Cave, that "certainly helped explain why no one at Sangri-LA would talk to me." Really, is it possible to be this willfully stupid? Oh, by the way, the artist "asked that I not use her name." Has it occurred to this guy that when people in Cuba say things to New York Times reporters that reflect badly on the regime they end up imprisoned or killed?
Walking down the beach, Cave runs into a twenty-something guy talking on an iPhone 3S, cost $120. Cave quotes the guy as saying, "Before, we were in this technological bubble, but it's getting better." Does Cave have any comprehension of what it means that this guy has a $120 phone in a place where the maximum wage is $20 per month? Also, does Cave really think that what this guy says can be taken at face value?
And then, undoubtedly after consulting the New York Times stylebook for what must be said on a trip to Cuba, Mr. Cave utters this howler: "[T]he inequality was nowhere near what could be found in pre-Castro Cuba or the United States." Where did he get the statistics to back up that one? Forbes Magazine several years ago estimated Fidel Castro's personal wealth at $900 million, and that's in a country with a $20 per month maximum wage. That makes inequality in the U.S. look rather paltry by comparison. Comment, Mr. Cave? By the way, Castro's response to the Forbes calculation of his wealth was that his wealth is zero because he really owns nothing and it all belongs to the people. So none of the palaces count!
Of course, there is a way to have a kind of income equality among the non-elite, and that is to prevent by force anyone from getting ahead even a little. Thus Totten reports on ubiquitous police checkpoints where people are searched to see if they have forbidden items of food, such as beef or lobster:
Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.” If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.
Looks like Cave didn't notice that aspect of Cuban life. Overall, another big embarrassment for the New York Times, but at this point they really are beyond embarrassment.