There are run-of-the-mill fools in American journalism, and then there are major-league idiots like Nick Miroff. Yesterday we quoted him fretting in the Washington Post about the new phenomenon of “yawning income gaps” in Cuba – meaning that some people there are actually starting to rise out of poverty.
But there was a lot more fatuity on offer in Miroff’s 2,000-word tribute to the shabby Havana neighborhood of Alamar. Here he is giving us a glimpse of local color:
“Men Die, But the Party Is Immortal,” says a billboard in Alamar, trying to reassure residents who may wonder what will happen after Fidel, 89, and current President Raúl Castro, 84, are no longer around.
Reassure residents? How does a man get to be a Washington Post reporter without being able to recognize propaganda and call it by its real name? We’re talking about a country where people still can’t watch TV from abroad, can’t read the Washington Post or any other Western newspapers, can’t go online without going to a special Internet cafe and paying a hefty fee. But everywhere they turn, there’s a giant hoarding telling them how wonderful the Communist Party is.
Miroff went on to hail Cuba’s “social and economic parity” as “unusual” for Latin America, “a region beset by deep class divisions.” He offered the usual starry-eyed left-wing praise for the island prison’s welfare system. Not until three-quarters of the way through his nauseating paean to poverty and despotism did he finally acknowledge – kind of – that what he was writing about here was a community, and a country, living in sadness and squalor: “a collective exhaustion has set in, the toll of steady emigration, corruption large and small, and the knowledge, from the impossible-to-filter influences of globalization, that Cubans live better in almost any other country than their own.”
But, hey, don’t get Miroff wrong here: for him, the problem isn’t that Cuba’s political and economic system has failed the Cuban people; the problem is that a younger generation of Cubans have failed their country’s system. Meaning what? Meaning that they lack the revolutionary fervor, the selfless love for and confidence in their leaders, the bottomless devotion to the cause that (Miroff would have us believe) gave meaning to their grandparents’ lives. After telling us about Aldo, an octogenarian resident of Alamar who, back in the early Castro days, was a photographer for the Communist Party newspaper Granma, and who still “keeps thick manila envelopes of old photos that tell the story of a life in the service of Cuba’s socialist dream,” Miroff lamented that the
egalitarian ideals of that era are lost today on Aldo’s grandson, Alejandro, 28. He has an American flag in his bedroom but little else. Trained as a veterinary technician, he was laid off during Raúl Castro’s campaign to downsize the state bureaucracy. Sometimes he drives a taxi. His mother says he is desperate to leave.
“He says to me, “I don’t want to turn 50 in this country with no car and no house of my own,’” Olga Mederos said.
Miroff closed with a vignette of Aldo and his photo collection:
“When I show these to my grandson, he says, ‘What good did it do? Look at you now. You’ve got nothing,’ ” Aldo said.
He shuffled the image to the bottom of the pile, looking away. “Maybe it’s true,” he said. “Maybe he’s right.”
And so ended the article. Miroff was clearly going for pathos, for poignancy. He wanted us to feel sad about the fading of the beautiful “socialist dream,” the loss of those magnificent “egalitarian ideals.” For him, one gathers, that American flag in Alejandro’s bedroom is, above all, a symbol of a generation whose members have selfishly turned their backs on the golden revolution for which their grandparents sacrificed so much and given itself over, heart and soul, to the Evil Empire across the Straits of Florida.
Miroff made no mention, naturally, of the many members of Aldo’s generation who, without a trial or lawyer or any hint of due process, were thrown in prison cells, or lined up against walls and shot, for no other crime than being anti-Communists, writers, homosexuals, whatever.
Any American reporter with half a brain, with even a crumb of a moral sense, would have started his article with that flag in Alejandro’s bedroom, and would have found its presence there deeply stirring. He would’ve recognized that flag as a symbol of young Cubans’ hopes for a free and prosperous future, and would’ve been touched and humbled to realize that his own country’s flag, and his own country’s liberties, could serve as an inspiration to a young man living in one of the world’s last totalitarian nations.
But no. Miroff, in Alejandro’s bedroom, was incapable of seeing what was right in front of him for what it was: the spectacle of a young man born into slavery and yearning for freedom. Miroff, alas, would seem to be all but blind to freedom. It’s barely, if at all, on his radar. All he can see is economic equality or inequality.
It’s disturbing to witness this virtual blindness to freedom in anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience it. But it’s especially scary to see it in a man who’s employed as a journalist by the leading newspaper in the capital of what some of us still think of as the free world.