Parsing the myths and the realities of Cuba
—By Bennett Gordon, Utne.com
June 28, 2007 Issue
In the wake of Cuban President Fidel Castro's transfer of power to his
brother Raúl last year, many in the press have rekindled a love affair
with the island nation. Stories abound heralding Cuba's exemplary
organic farming and health care systems. Take, for example, Yes!
magazine's Summer issue, which joined the ranks of socially conscious
indie publications praising the quality and humanitarianism of the Cuban
health care system. Michael Moore has brought his similar take on the
issue to the mainstream media with his latest documentary. Cuba plays a
prominent role in Sicko, in which the incendiary filmmaker takes ailing
9/11 workers to Guantánamo Bay and Havana in search of health care
that's better than anything the workers could find inside the United States.
Such visions of a health care utopia don't ring true for Bella Thomas,
who recently returned to the island after living there for years in the
late 1990s. Writing for the British magazine Prospect, Thomas wonders
whether the reporters enamored by the Cuban health care system have
ventured beyond state-approved hospitals to other facilities, such as
one Thomas describes as being "in a state of filth and decrepitude."
According to Thomas, "continuing hostilities with the US have played
into Castro's hands," solidifying his power and allowing him to transfer
it smoothly to his brother, without improving living conditions for
ordinary Cubans. The island has changed little since Raúl took power and
it remains a country dominated by a repressive dictatorship. A Cuban
friend tells her "es exactamente igual"(It's exactly the same as it was).
As media-makers from all points on the political spectrum wrestle with
Cuba's image, others are looking beyond the symbolic squabble to future
realities. According to the Nation's Julia Sweig, the present situation
in Cuba presents a unique opportunity for the United States to improve
relations with both Cuba and the rest of the world. A silent majority in
Congress is experiencing "regime-change fatigue," according to Sweig,
and they're more than willing to end US sanctions on Cuba, including the
A logical first step, Sweig reports, would be to give Guantánamo Bay
back to the Cubans. The military base has become "a global icon of
what's gone wrong with America," Sweig writes, and giving it back would
signal a significant change in US foreign policy. The problem is that
most politicians don't want to anger the sizeable and vocal pro-embargo
Cuban-American constituency. "Nevertheless," Sweig writes, "the time to
make that case is now."