Responses to ‘Cuba’s cruel joke’

National Post
January 20, 2003

Re: Cuba’s Cruel Joke, Lawrence Solomon, National Post, Jan. 11.

I am truly impressed that a Canadian newspaper has finally captured the very essence of the survival of the Cuban people. As a Cuban-American living in the United States, we have been amazed how long it has taken the Canadian people to admit/realize that the policy of “engagement” with Cuba has only enriched the very repressive regime there and has done nothing for the Cuban people.

We have our pressures here from both Republicans and Democrats who want to follow the lead of “the world” that trades with this brutal dictatorship, particularly that of Canada. Add our press who is still mystified and enamoured with this “revolutionary.” Please let your neighbors down south know: Your policy of engagement with Cuba has not worked. It has only prolonged the misery of the poor people in Cuba!

Elena Merino, Atlanta, Ga.

I have to thank you for letting people know the real side of my country. Some of my friends didn’t believe me totally until they read it. I’m a landed immigrant from Cuba, where I experienced for 27 years what you so truthfully describe.

Cuba is such a wonderful country and the people are so warm and friendly. It is just very unfortunate for my countrymen to live under such a demeaning and hypocritical government. The more people in the world that know the true colours of what is happening in Cuba, the more chances are that such a big lie as communism won’t be spread. There are too many people in Canada who support Castro under the false idea that he’s a hero. Thanks for trying to open up their eyes with your article.

Name withheld, Kamloops, B.C.

Mr. Solomon decries the economic problems in Cuba without referring to that very immoral economic embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. And why was that embargo imposed? Because after 60 years of exploitation by corporate America, Fidel Castro nationalized the sugar industry, without compensation – a move applauded by many people, including me.

The United States, to its everlasting shame, missed a great opportunity to do something noble and support a genuine revolution of the people, not the usual military junta coup. Alas, it was so convenient to push Castro against the wall and nudge him towards the Soviet Union to justify the embargo.

Only people like Mr. Solomon remember the Batista years as prosperous. Such prosperity as existed was fueled by American tourists who flocked to Cuba for the brothels and casinos run by American interests. The mass of the people were illiterate, dirt poor and toiled in the sugar industry for pitiable wages and working conditions and could not afford to purchase consumer goods, medicines and dairy products as asserted by Mr. Solomon. The only ones who could were in Batista’s orbit, mostly of Spanish ancestry. They are now mostly living in South Florida, having been dislodged from their privileged position. The black Cubans are staying home. With the help of the United States, Cuba today would be a shining beacon for all the Latin American countries. Alas, it was not to be.

Ron Renaud, White Rock, B.C.

Thank you for a dispassionate exposition of Cuba’s current economic reality. Mr. Solomon highlights the ration card system, which most commentators do not do, thereby giving their readers the impression that, 1) Cuba’s privations are merely endemic and generic symptoms of Third World poverty, and 2) that these are merely exacerbated by the U.S. embargo. By noting that the libreta was instituted in 1962, in the very early years of the revolution, before the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and before the U.S. embargo could arguably be held accountable for the levels of indigence that have become common in Cuba, Mr. Solomon alerts the careful reader to the structural nature of the problem and its uniquely Cuban (political) genesis.

The onus for the pauperization of the Cuban economy is on the government and the Communist Party, for turning a pre-1959 free-market system (with the imperfections inherent in the market and the defects particular to developing economies) into one of the most rigidly centralized and collectivized in the old Soviet Bloc, with virtually the entire economy under state control. This has culminated in the virtual dissolution of the sugar industry for unproductivity and non-competitiveness on the world market.

In this light, the rationing system must be understood as a fundamental element of social control that goes well beyond its avowed purpose. This purpose was not to overcome a momentary emergency in supply or distribution, but to institute (the appearance of) egalitarianism as a matter of ideology.

I would quibble with only one characterization: Mr. Solomon says that Cuba was once the most prosperous country in the Caribbean. Cuba was, rather, one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, which, in 1959, included the then-wealthy and resource-rich Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela. It was, by some reckonings, on the threshold of attaining the status of a developed economy, and was much closer to the developed world in its social structure, constitutional welfare provisions and income distribution, than to countries such as Mexico, with its extremes of wealth and poverty, traditionally characteristic of underdeveloped economies. It was also a more prosperous country in terms of living standard – as measured by per capita income, literacy, various health indices, caloric intake, per capita ownership of cars, radios and TV sets, total number of TV and radio networks, total number of newspapers and magazines, etc. – than the USSR itself and Eastern Europe. This can be contrasted with today’s prohibitions on access to the Internet for the general Cuban population, and on the bleak prospects for acquiring a computer on a per capita income that is among the lowest in the world.

Ricardo Fernández, Miami, Fla.

Congratulations on your excellent article describing the Cuban situation. I have never read anything written in the United States that is so accurate and so informative in regards to Cuba. Mr. Solomon’s article should be sent to everyone who has an interest in Cuban affairs, and it should also be sent to millions of uninformed people in Latin America who believe Castro’s propaganda.

Dr. Joaquin de Posada, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Everything Mr. Solomon explains in his article I know already, and yet his discourse brought tears to my eyes. These are my people whose lives he describes, and he has made so realistically painful their everyday acrobatics for survival.

If only more folks in this country and around the world could understand exactly what was so apparent to Mr. Solomon, we wouldn’t have wealthy American and European businessmen wining and dining Castro as if he were a Third World genius who delivered his people from hell. What Castro has accomplished is precisely the opposite: Castro has delivered the Cuban people into hell.

Ileana Fuentes, guest columnist for El Nuevo Herald, and, Miami, Fla.

We have just returned from our fifth trip to Cuba, and I concur with all of Mr. Solomon’s findings. On each trip, we are saddened to find the Cuban quality of life more diminished.

We noted the frequent shortages of toilet paper throughout our four-star hotel and unexplained electrical outages which sometimes lasted for hours. The waitstaff at the hotel restaurants seemed under duress most of the time and sometimes had a surly attitude. I watched the waitstaff pack up desserts in shopping bags once the buffet lunch was closing and saw a weary chambermaid leave for the day with a garbage bag full of toilet paper and supplies over her shoulder. Native Cubans who swam near our hotel on a Sunday were quickly approached by guards and promptly escorted off the beach.

We had lunch in Havana on calle Obispo, probably only doors down from where Mr. Solomon had eaten. I had seen the homeless dogs in the streets and saved some chicken for them. When I hit the street mid lunch to give it to a passing dog, a toothless woman stepped forward with her young baby to claim that it was her dog and promptly left with the scraps and bones.

Anna Butt, Toronto

Read Lawrence Solomon’s article, “Cuba’s Cruel Joke”

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