New Orleans has a load of problems. It’s a city whose economy is based largely on letting tourists drink beer in the street and urinate in public. It has one of America’s highest poverty levels and one of the world’s worst murder rates. Property taxes and home insurance costs are prohibitive. Much of the housing stock is very rundown. Public transit is crap. The streets are filled with potholes and the sewage system is so inadequate that the place floods every time there’s a serious rainstorm. The schools are lousy. Political corruption is endemic. High local taxes and excessive regulations discourage business development. There are no major art museums and there’s no real high-culture scene to speak of. Rats, roaches, and termites abound. In short, the Big Easy is in desperate need of a massive influx of business activity that would provide jobs and fund civic improvements, but it’s not going to experience that kind of renaissance unless it makes itself more attractive both to established corporations and small start-ups.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell knows what NoLa needs. So where did she travel in early April in order to pick up tips on economic development? Give up? Cuba.
Yes, Cuba. According to press secretary LaTonya Norton (yes, the mayor is named LaToya and her press secretary is named LaTonya), Cantrell flew to Havana to “see firsthand how [Cuba’s] history has produced unique opportunities and challenges in the areas of economic development, trade, health care, education and other quality of life issues.” Accompanying Cantrell was a group of 35 people, including both public officials and private citizens. Among her planned stops during the trip were a medical school, the Literacy Museum, and the University of Havana, because the mayor and her crew have, like many American progressives, bought into the propaganda about Cuba’s wondrous achievements in medicine and education. Indeed after arriving in Cuba, Cantrell told her hosts that New Orleans’s maternity mortality rates are up, and she was therefore eager to learn the secrets of Cuba’s first-rate community health care. Of course, anyone in the know could have told Cantrell that while Cuban elites do enjoy pretty good health care, the hospitals for ordinary Cubans are backward, with severely limited supplies, primitive equipment, and a narrow range of available treatments.
To its credit, the editors of the local paper, the Times-Picayune, raised questions about the junket. “Mayor LaToya Cantrell didn’t even try to explain why she’s in Cuba this week,” they wrote in an editorial. “She didn’t announce the trip at all.” Nor did city officials “provide an itinerary or the cost of the trip.” Noting that this wasn’t the first time Cantrell had taken major action without informing the public beforehand, the editors concluded: “The lack of transparency of this administration is astounding. In fact, it’s a lot like Cuba.”
Commenting on the trip, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and longtime critic of the Castro regime, pointed out that “learning about ‘quality of life’ from a place that saw multiple times as many desperate people die trying to escape it, as died trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, sounds like shameless click-bait, or even a Saturday Night Live or Monty Python skit.” Fontova reminded readers that Cantrell’s hosts “converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants, and workers who enjoyed the 8th highest industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians….and in the process jailed and tortured the most and longest-suffering BLACK political prisoners in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.” True enough. But such facts, it seems, will never overcome the illusions of certain starry-eyed folks who’ve been seduced by Cuban propaganda.