Friday, September 04, 2015

Time: "Inside the New Cuba" -- how "new" really is this Communist island?

Time offers a supermarket illustrated book “Inside the New Cuba”, heavily illustrated with color photos, edited by Stephen Koepp, many contributors (Bryan Walsh, Karl Vick (several). Marc Peyser, Mitch Maxley, Nathan Thornburgh, Julia Cooke, Edel Rodriquez, Robert Siegel, Eyder Peralta, Tim Padgett, and Andrea Ford. The subtitle is “Discovering the charm of a once-forbidden island: the people, the culture, the paradise”.

Despite the opening of diplomatic relations and of the embassy in Washington on 16th St., the country is still Communist and no paradise for people who live there. On p. 9 (“Cuba on the Cusp”), Vick writes “ordinary Cubans need permission to move and go into business.” Internet access is not widely available to average people and censorship is heavy, far worse than China’s. Neighborhoods have their local chapters of the “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution”, and people spy on one another.  I recall a conversation with my own father about the lack of privacy under communism when growing up.  The last chapter has black-and-white “scenes from the revolution”. Cuban communism seems more extreme that what was practiced in the Soviet Union (at least after Stalin and Khrushchev).  Like Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) it seemed dedicated to the idea that ordinary citizens must be kept “right-sized” by sharing their rightful shares of manual labor, and that wealth not earned directly by labor was immoral.  

Vick also quotes others as saying that the United States handled Cuba badly from the beginning, after the 1959 ouster of Batista (as in the ponderous Andy Garcia film “The Lost City”).  The US pushed Cuba into the maw of the Soviet Union. We all remember the Bay of Pigs, and then the existential Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 “the world’s closest brush with nuclear war.”  I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post now if that threat hadn’t been contained (when I was a “patient” at NIH, a dark period of my own life).
Vick covers some of the refugee crises from flotillas, especially one in 1980 where appeals went out in gay communities in southern cities (like Dallas, where I lived at the time) to house refugees personally, an expectation that has not recurred this go-round with the Central American crisis the past two years or the Syrian crisis from Europe (usually only relatives are asked if they can sponsor people), but that is a topic that needs more reporting. 

The chapter on baseball (Siegel and Peralta) is interesting, and notes that Cuban baseball emphasizes “small ball” rather than power hitting.
 My own travel plans don't include Cuba in the foreseeable future. Pesyer has a chapter on the travel basics.  

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