Although the Cuban Embargo has been lifted, those engulfed by the Tropical Mirage still don’t enjoy full-fledged freedom.
On Sunday, President Obama landed in the island nation to “repair” U.S.-Cuban relations. Unsurprisingly, the media are celebrating the occasion with their usual romanticization of communist countries as they did with the 2012 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Obama’s visit is not only historic, it’s quite predictable. Given his past association with radical Marxist figures, a visit to Cuba should make him feel at home.
¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.
— President Obama (@POTUS44) March 20, 2016
In response to this, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered scathing words for those partying it up in Cuba whilst ignoring the plight of dissidents:
Meanwhile, political prisoners languishing in dungeons across the island will hear this message: Nobody has your back. You’re alone with your tormentors. The world has forgotten about you.
They will not be on TV, rubbing elbows with the Obamas or left-wing politicians like Nancy Pelosi. There will be no mojitos at the U.S. Embassy for them. Raul Castro denies their very existence.
Cruz, who boasts half-Cuban ancestry, offered these words at a campaign stop in Arizona yesterday:
“For decades, leftists and Hollywood liberals have made the pilgrimage to Cuba to pay homage to Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro,” Cruz said. “It’s very chic, it’s very chichi for leftists to celebrate vicious communist dictators.”
“I cannot wait as president to visit Cuba,” he said. “But when I visit Cuba, it will be a free Cuba. It will be a Cuba without Raúl Castro, without Fidel Castro. And I can’t wait to celebrate with the people of Cuba 90 miles off America’s shore.”
Let’s put Cuba into perspective, shall we?
According to Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks 177 out of 178 countries examined. Here’s what has happened in the island nation since December 2014:
Much-touted “free-market reforms” have largely involved only cosmetic changes. The rule of law remains subject to political influence and the overriding interests of the Communist Party. The judiciary’s autonomy is severely impeded by the centralization of power in the one-party state.
After Obama’s arrival in Cuba, nearly 200 dissidents – including members of the anti-Castro group Ladies in White (Damas en Blanco) – were arrested for protesting the Castro regime.
Prominent Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, who spent 22 years as a political prisoner in Cuba for refusing to pledge allegiance to Castro, suggested Obama’s visit “provides an endless trove of propaganda material that helps lend legitimacy to the Castro regime, whose agenda of late consists of courting big corporations desperately needed to boost a failed experiment in socialism on the one hand, and bulldozing house churches on the other.” Over 8,000 dissidents were arrested in 2015. (The new Cuba awfully reminds of the old one, no?)
“Free” healthcare in Cuba is a result of government-run healthcare. In exchange for “free” healthcare, citizens are beholden to the state for their health needs. University of Oklahoma professor Katherine Hirschfield spent nine months in the late 1990’s examining Cuba’s healthcare system which she documented in her paper “Re-Examining the Cuban Health Care System: Towards a Qualitative Critique” (2007). Here are her findings:
There is no right to privacy in the physician-patient relationship in Cuba, no patients’ right of informed consent, no right to refuse treatment, and no right to protest or sue for malpractice. As a result, medical care in Cuba has the potential to be intensely dehumanizing.
Are food and water readily accessible to Cubans? Food rationing still dominates the landscape.
Despite the hardships Cubans face, some individuals don’t mind the status quo. “The Wonder List with Bill Weir” on CNN broadcasted an episode on Cuba Sunday confirming this. Several Cubans featured demonstrably sipped the commie Kool-Aid. One individual, rapper and musician Daya Suarez, told Weir she feared capitalism because the availability of private property will make Cuba less safe as autonomous individuals will desire guns, she claimed before. Another individual, an urban developer, said the influx of American dollars won’t convince Cubans to implement free market reforms. Several other interviewees dismissed the liberalization of Cuba’s collectivist policies because they fear it will lead to “extravagance” on the island.
Given ambivalence towards the Castro regime by some Cubans and the continuation of totalitarian policies, why should our tourism dollars fund this? Like big government policies, crony capitalism won’t pivot Cuba toward freedom.
What’s Cuba to do? Cuba should take a page from my ancestral homeland Lithuania. Like Cuba, my ancestral homeland was heavily influenced by the Soviet Union because the Kremlin illegally occupied it in 1939. My parents recall being forced to sing “Cuba Lyuba” (Cuba, My Love) to show solidarity with the USSR’s beloved Caribbean sister. (They obviously hated it.) Like Cuba, Lithuania also endured food rationing, universal healthcare, a police state, state-controlled industries, and non-existent freedoms for many decades. Things changed on August 23, 1989, when freedom presented itself once again with the Baltic Way. This demonstration helped propel the Berlin Wall Fall shortly after. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania formally broke away from the former USSR–making it the first occupied country to do so. Today, Lithuania enjoys relative freedom and is the 13th most economically prosperous country in the world. If Lithuania was able to declare its independence from totalitarianism, Cuba is certainly capable of rejecting it too.
Americans should look forward to the day Cuba achieves her independence. Communism was unacceptable in the 20th century and should remain unacceptable today. Freedom, however, isn’t achieved by feeding into or giving legitimacy to the Castro regime; freedom in Cuba will be achieved when those facing oppression successfully topple their oppressors, declare their independence, and wholly reject collectivism.