The problem with Time Magazine‘s just-released special issue begins with the title. It’s called “Inside the New Cuba: Discovering the Charm of a Once-Forbidden Island: The People, The Culture, The Paradise.”
Yes, there’s certainly a great deal of natural beauty in Cuba. But the title of this special issue seems designed to suggest that Cuba, under its present management, is some kind of Eden to which Americans, until now, have been denied entry.
Much of the issue is the usual travel-reportage fluff with little political content. In one piece, Karl Vick poses that burning question: “When long-forbidden Cuban cigars become more available to Americans, will they maintain their aroma of glamour?” Vick, a cigar aficionado who spends several paragraphs recounting his own experiences with “Cedros” and “Lanceros” and “Bolivar Gigantes” (these are different types of Cuban cigars), fears that those stogies will lose a “certain cachet,” “the mystique of the forbidden.” The key paradox of this special issue is that even as Time‘s authors fret about the impact that American tourists and businesses and capitalist-style materialism will have on Fidel’s island paradise, the whole product is explicitly designed to be purchased by potential American tourists, whom it encourages in every sentence to book a flight to Havana and consume away.
But the issue does touch on politics from time to time – and when it does, it’s not pretty. In one article, Vick actually dismisses the notion that the Castro regime is totalitarian and that the Cuban people are victims – a view he attributes to Cuban exiles who live in Miami and whose opinions can’t be taken seriously because they’re giving voice to their own personal frustrations and resentments. While admitting, in a classic “to be sure” sentence, that there are facts that support the exiles’ arguments about the Castro regime, Vick insists that the Miami Cubans toward the Castros is “at heart a neighborhood grudge match.” The statement is breathtaking in its glibness and moral blindness – an insult to every free-thinking Cuban writer, artist, democracy activist, and gay person ever imprisoned, tortured, or executed in the name of the Revolution.
But then, as Joel Pollak observed after perusing Time‘s special issue, the people who put it together seem less interested in entertaining the pleasant possibility that the coming years may bring greater freedom for the people of Cuba than in fretting over the supposed likelihood of “a different kind of change – namely, the prospect of thousands of rich American tourists arriving and demanding creature comforts that will ruin the island’s charm.”
More next time.