Last week, we took a look at Time Magazine’s new special issue on Cuba, and in particular at the work of Time correspondent Karl Vick, who, in what we described as a “classic ‘to be sure’ sentence,” admitted that there’s some truth in Cuban exiles’ criticisms of the Castro regime, but maintained nonetheless that the country is not totalitarian.
As it turns out, Vick is a past master at those “to be sure” sentences about Cuba. A cover story he wrote about Cuba for a March issue of Time contains the following passage about Cubans: “Their country is poor and, without doubt, a security state, but also safe, literate and healthy. People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” Of course, “security state” is itself something of a euphemism: it sounds nicer than “police state” or “dictatorship,” and is, to say the least, a rather tame way of describing a country that will imprison and torture you for criticizing its leaders or advocating for democracy.
Even more inane, however, were the remarks made by Vick in an April 1 interview with Warren Olney on the public-radio program To the Point. Calling Cuba a “really intriguing place,” “the island that time forgot,” and a “really dynamic, really warm and convivial” country where the people “enjoy life,” etc., etc., Vick gushed over Havana’s “decaying glory” – in response to which Olney quite sensibly asked: “How is decay glorious?”
Vick didn’t know how to answer. “That’s a really good question,” he said. Plainly, it was a question he’d never asked himself while he was strolling around Havana breathlessly taking notes on the squalor or sitting at his desk banging out his fatuous cover story. He paused. Then he resumed talking, sounding lost, uncertain. He tried to paint the kind of picture of Havana that he’d painted in his article, but nothing he said remotely answered Olney’s question. In the end, after stumbling around for a while, all he managed to do was to cough up a synonym for “decaying glory”: “faded grandeur.”
There’s no kind way of saying it: he sounded like a first-rate fool.
But Olney wasn’t done with him. He asked: Isn’t the average wage in Cuba $25 a month? Vick admitted that it is, but was quick to add that “rent is free” and that using “dollar amounts” was “a bit misleading.” When Olney pointed out that even professionals in Cuba often need to hold menial jobs in the tourist industry to make ends meet, Vick again acknowledged that Olney was right. With a baffling chuckle, he recalled that during a visit to Cuba 17 years ago he’d been served by a waiter who was also a heart surgeon. Once again, however, he was quick to whitewash the problem: he actually seemed to imply that the doctor had taken the job waiting tables because he enjoyed meeting tourists. Besides, he told Olney, even though “everybody’s poor in dollars, in material ways,” the Cubans can boast of “some real social achievement.” What kind of achievement? “Social equity,” Vick said, explaining that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”
In other words, they’re all paupers (except, he neglected to add, for the Castros themselves and other high-level officials). This equality, claimed Vick, “is one of the things that people are worried about losing with change.”
Yes, that’s a Time Magazine correspondent speaking: according to him, Cubans are worried that as a result of changes to come, some of them will no longer be destitute.
Olney’s program – which also featured a travel agent specializing in Cuba, a spokeswoman for Roots of Hope, a U.S.-based group that works for change in Cuba, and (live from the island nation itself) a Cuban diplomat – was broadcast on Santa Monica station KCRW. At its website, a listener whose mother was from Cuba, and who vowed she would “never set foot in my mom’s homeland…until the people there are free,” praised Olney for pointing out Cubans’ poverty and lack of freedom. But she wasn’t impressed by Vick, to say the least. Reacting to his bizarre enthusiasm for an “equality” based on the fact that “everyone is dirt poor,” the listener pronounced, with admirable simplicity: “That’s some morality.” And she made a salient point that somehow hadn’t come up at all on the program: she’d “have loved to hear some commentary from a Cuban dissident,” she wrote, “but they’re rather hard to reach because they live in a brutal police state.”
We’re done with Cuba for now, but not with Vick. Tune in tomorrow.