No, Cuba is not getting better

Fidel Castro

One country we haven’t neglected on this site is Cuba. We’ve written about American TV reporter Lisa Howard’s romance with Fidel Castro, about Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about their liaison, about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s affection for Fidel Castro, about a celebration of Che Guevara in Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine, about a big, splashy fashion show held by Karl Lagerfeld in Havana, about a movie about Hemingway that whitewashed Cuban Communism, about a USA Today whitewash of Cuban Communism, about an Agence France Press whitewash of Cuban Communism, about a Time Magazine whitewash of Cuban Communism…and so on.

Obama in Havana

If we’re particularly attentive to Cuba, it’s partly because it’s so close to the U.S. and partly because its Communist regime has long been an object of affection for many stateside useful stooges. Many people on the left who would readily acknowledge that the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were unworthy of admiration nonetheless had a soft spot for Castro and his cronies. These same people warmed to one of the major initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency, the opening to Cuba, which they presented as evidence that the island nation was transitioning, slowly but surely, to something resembling democracy.

Jose Marti International Airport in Havana

Obama may have reneged on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but he made a great show of opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana since the Cuban Revolution. He authorized the resumption of commercial air flights, holiday cruises, and mail service between the U.S. and Cuba. He allowed the Cuban government to open bank accounts in the U.S. and removed it from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. And in March 2016 he made a high-profile visit to the island.

U.S. Embassy in Havana

At first Obama had said he would make such a visit only if there were real signs that Cubans were being given more freedom. But he ended up going even though such indicators as the number of arrests of political dissidents turned out to be on the rise. A Boston Globe headline in February 2016 read “Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights.” His Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, even went so far as to dispel suggestions that Obama was out to encourage an end to, or softening of, Cuban Communism: if past U.S. policies had sent the message “that the United States was seeking to pursue regime change” on the island, said Rhodes, “Obama will make clear that the United States is not a hostile nation seeking regime change.” Well, full points for honesty, if for nothing else.

Ben Rhodes

In point of fact, Obama’s Cuba policy gave a great deal to the Cuban regime and asked virtually nothing of it. U.S. officials admitted that the thinking behind Obama’s one-way generosity was that it would somehow encourage reforms – an assumption that was, at best, remarkably naïve and ill-informed. Among the critics of Obama’s new approach was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate said that the sight of the U.S. President “laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the western Hemisphere” made him think of Cuban dissident “Berta Soler of the Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and democracy advocates.”

Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams, who has held major diplomatic posts under several presidents, agreed with Menendez, writing that Obama’s visit to Cuba “weakens the chances for freedom in Cuba because it is organized around encouraging the current regime rather than pressuring it for change.” Abrams added: “There is no evidence that the president will meet with the key–and incredibly courageous–dissidents who struggle at enormous sacrifice for freedom in Cuba. There is no evidence he even comprehends that most of the economic benefits of his opening to Cuba are accruing to the regime and the armed forces.”

Miguel Diaz-Canel

President Trump reversed many of Obama’s Cuba policies – and was criticized severely for it by those who shared Obama’s view that the way to make dictators nice is to make nice with dictators. Unfortunately, many blinkered folks in the U.S. and elsewhere actually believe that Cuba is undergoing serious reforms. As evidence of this proposition, they point to the selection of a new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in April of last year. The fact that Díaz-Canel is not a member of the Castro family is cited as a sign of hope – although the fact is that Raul Castro remains head of the Communist Party and thus the nation’s de facto leader.

Diaz-Canel with Maduro

In reality Díaz-Canel’s ascent to the presidency means nothing. The first foreign leader he met with after his inauguration was Nicolás Maduro. On February 4 the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (COHR) reported that at least 179 arbitrary detentions had taken place in Cuba during the month of January. While the already horrible economic situation in Cuba is deteriorating, oppression is intensifying. A new Constitution – which is presented by the government as some kind of advance over its predecessor but which makes only cosmetic alterations while reaffirming the Communist system of government – has been a focus of protest, and the COHR expressed concern in its report “about the increasing aggressiveness of the police against activists who peacefully demonstrate NO to the Constitution” and about the more general effort to “crush any dissent surrounding the new Constitution.”

More dire news arrived on February 10. Cuban activists announced on social media that Claudio Fuentes Madan, a photographer and campaigner for freedom in Cuba, had been missing for two days. One report stated that he had been arrested. Also missing was Antonio G. Rodiles, founder of a dissident think tank. So much for the callow belief on the part of Obama & co. that their Cuban counterparts were committed to gradual democratization.

Cuba’s deadly disrepair

We’re so accustomed to seeing America’s mainstream media celebrating Havana as “exotic” and “quaint” and “unspoiled” that it came as something of a surprise to see USA Today, on December 2, running a piece headlined “How Havana is collapsing, building by building.”

A couple of Havana’s “architectural gems”

Reporters Tracey Eaton and Katherine Lewin didn’t pull any punches. They talked to one Rafael Álvarez, who “was up at 6:30 a.m. to warm milk for his baby daughter when he heard the sound of pebbles falling.” Next thing he knew, in his words, “the floor below us came loose. We were left hanging in the air, then fell into the abyss.” He ended up “buried in rubble to his waist.” But he was the lucky one. He lost his mother, daughter, and two others in the collapse of his apartment building. It was 101 years old.

Exotic Havana

They talked to Carlos Guerrero, who lives with his family in another building that looks as if it’s about to go any minute. “Neighbors tell them, ‘Get out of there! It’s going to collapse!’” They talked to Yanelis Flores, who says her own flat, where “daylight shines through terrifying cracks in the walls,” is “worse than a pig pen.” A staircase collapsed last year, stranding people on the upper floors. And they talked to Magaly Marrero, who “said her apartment is so bad that she showers in the kitchen and relieves herself in a bucket.”

And they talked to others. Plenty of others. They provided statistics showing that these anecdotes were only the tip of a massive iceberg. “In Havana,” they wrote, “some of the same architectural gems that draw tens of thousands of American tourists crash to the ground every year.” Their piece amounted to a powerful indictment of Communism.

Katherine Lewin

Except for the fact that Eaton and Lewin didn’t really focus on Communism as the ultimate cause of all this decay. No, when it came to causes they turned coy. Here, in fact, is how they put it: “Causes [for all these building collapses] range from weather and neglect to faulty renovations and theft of structural beams.” Well, yes, those may be the immediate causes. But the reason why these “architectural gems” haven’t been properly maintained over the decades – or torn down and replaced by safer structures – is, quite simply, Communism.

Tracey Eaton


If you’d taken a stroll around East Berlin just before the Wall fell, you’d have seen the same kind of miserable dilapidation – derelict blocks of flats that had pieces missing and in which you could still see bullet holes dating back to World War II. Venezuela, of course, is headed down the same road. Meanwhile in the U.S., we have a younger generation that’s been brainwashed into thinking that socialism is just dandy and that is sending the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Washington. Congratulations to USA Today, then, for documenting the dire consequences of Communism, but please: next time, be more up front about what’s really behind all this deadly disrepair.