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Potemkin Village in Cuba
Let's make one of our own.


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Jonah Goldberg

The Cuban government has created a Miami-style home for young Elian to help him with his “readaptation” to Cuba. The house, according to various news accounts, even has a bigger pool than his current domicile. NBC’s Jim Avila reported last night that psychiatrists consulted by the Castro government (tired, no doubt, from interrogating political prisoners) advise that Elian’s home town “is not the best place for his immediate transition.” This, despite the heartening news, reported by Avila, that Cuba’s economic hardships have lessened so much that “meat is back on the table” on most nights, and that a paltry 20% of Cubans would leave if the borders were opened, according to Avila’s “US intelligence sources.”

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Now before we get to the point of this column, let’s take two seconds to ponder that. Right now, African-Americans account for roughly twelve percent of the US population. Take a quick mental survey of how much time and energy is dedicated to their plight in the United States, even as they are overtaken by Hispanics as the largest US minority (numerically speaking, of course; strictly speaking the largest minority are excessively overweight people).

Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Shakers, Wiccans, Asians, people who don’t know the meaning of “is,” brave Frenchmen and Baal worshippers, do not add up to twenty percent of the US population. And yet, can you imagine how the United States would be described by its own liberals if all of them, one fifth of the American people, wanted to leave but were barred by law from doing so?

So anyway, the Cuban government is creating this Potemkin villa for young Elian, so he can decompress from the debilitating wealth of the United States. You know what child psychiatrists say? Nothing fouls up a kid more than indoor plumbing and wearing shoes that were made in the last decade. The press is treating this as a ho-hum story. NBC’s Avila seemed to marvel at its splendor, as did most of the network anchors (Fox News, as always, being the great exception). The house is normally reserved for dignitaries and other political VIPs.

For at least three months, Elian’s entire class of twelve students and his teacher will be put up by the pool too, so he can be re-indoctrinated into the warp and woof of that Caribbean socialist paradise (remember they have some kind of “meat” “most” nights!). Throughout Cuba, there are posters of Elian. One of Cuba’s two television networks broadcasts near-constant propaganda programs, with Castro sitting in the studio audience to ensure an open and frank discussion.

The state refers to him as “El Niño” on its nightly news broadcasts (if you don’t like the news you can turn to channel two, where a mustachioed guy in mirrored sunglasses will point his cigar at you and tell you to turn back to channel numero uno). And yet, somehow, America — especially Cuban Americans — have “politicized” this affair. By the way, has any journalist asked if this forced busing of Elian’s classmates was approved by their parents?

I mean if we are going to bemoan the “kidnapping” of Elian by his Miami relatives, shouldn’t someone be curious about how the Cuban government can so easily toss around a dozen kids? Castro’s boosters in the US — most notably NY congressman José Serrano and the perpetually disgraceful Maxine Waters (who, I am convinced, only keeps a pied — a — terre on planet Earth)— weep over the “manipulation” and “coaching” of young Elian. But they take at face value the word of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who could easily be speaking — on pain of death for him or his family — from Castro’s script.

There is something very bizarre about the lefty mindset which thinks an open system like ours is prone to conspiratorial manipulation, but an openly dictatorial government like Castro’s is irrefutably benevolent. But that wasn’t the point of this column either. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union would offer up Potemkin propaganda. They’d release pictures of elite hospitals and tell the world — hey, this is what our people get.

The media, always eager to give “both sides” of the argument, was always prepared to fuzz up the distinctions between the US and the Soviets. Sometimes, the Western journalists and intellectuals went to great lengths to do so. George Bernard Shaw, I believe, declared he had seen the future in the Soviet Union. Walter Duranty of the New York Times, wrote Pulitzer-Prize-winning dispatches about the material abundance of the Soviet Union even as he witnessed the famines of the 1930s first hand. Remember how Phil Donahue used to show off his friendship with the Soviet Goebbels, Vladimir Posner? Posner insisted the Soviet Union was the better place to live — all the while eating in New York steak joints – until the bitter end. (Once, at a book party for Rush Limbaugh no less, I was put in a position where I had to shake Posner’s hand; I’m still trying to wash the blood off.)

Today, the job of making Communism seem better than freedom is a lot harder, but, clearly, people like Serrano feel up to the task. The new approach is so say backwardness is a plus. When Tim Russert asked him if Elian would be happier in the US, this public official who’s sworn an oath to the Constitution sarcastically replied, sure, if you define happiness by having more cell phones and beepers. I guess the Bill of Rights and the pursuit of happiness don’t mean much to Mr. Serrano when compared to a country whose constitution states children are the property of the government.

All right, all right. Here’s the point of the column. If the Cubans want to create a faux-suburban Miami house to show off how great things can be there, why don’t we create our own theme park telling the other side of the story? After all, it’s not like we can trust the elite press to do its job. Besides, Epcot Center is a short drive from Elian’s house; and with all the heightened interest in what used to be called “comparative politics,” it could be a smash hit, sort of a Colonial Williamsburg, without the charm, the food, or the kitsch.

On a typical day at Worker’s Paradise, you could rebuff the efforts of young Cuban prostitutes as they try to enter your Westerners-only hotel. You could serve as a laborer, toiling in the hot sun harvesting sugar cane, only to end your day — if it’s a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday — with a hearty helping of some kind of meat. Or you could be a dissident, thrown in prison for advocating elections, renouncing Marx, or refusing to turn back to channel numero uno on command. But no matter where you are — waiting in line for your ration of salt pills, taking advantage of the three hours a day when your electric fan works, paying your daughter’s dowry in chicken legs, or swearing fealty to Castro in your fifth-grade math class — the real treat is when the state security officials knock on your door and insist that you take part in a “spontaneous demonstration” against the capitalist captors of young Elian. Mr. Serrano could take his whole family — and leave his beeper and cell phone in the car.

NOTE TO READERS 
My apologies for the confusion about my column this week. The piece I wrote about the IMF protesters — which should have been called “Smells like Teen Skeeves” — was posted as an NR Comment rather than as my column. This bit of confusion was closely related to the fact that NRO is in a bit of turmoil right now. Much of the print (say “print” like you’re trying to regurgitate a bug you accidentally swallowed) staff is on one of the luxurious NR cruises I somehow never get invited on.

Those of us left, dedicated to the cause, are coping with the fact that we are…[cue Dum Dum duhhhhH! Music] switching servers! This is a Herculean task mostly for people other than me, thankfully. My job is pretty much just to make sure that the Laotian youths — whose tiny little hands are best suited for operating the gears and pulleys — do not try to run off during all the commotion. As far as I understand the technical issues, we are floating the entire site on pontoons (sadly many of the Laotians thought the pontoons were taking them home. It took me a half hour with my Berlitz phrasebook to explain to them “not until your service contract is up or your hands get too big — whichever comes first” in Laotian) and carefully drifting it over to some place called Digex.

I want to thank all of the people at Townhall, our old server, for their hard work in the past. It’s too bad NRO became such a hoss of a site that we had to move on, but them’s the breaks. We’re still family as far as we’re concerned. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if those devoted NRO readers who so often feel compelled to write me thousand-word essays on my split infinitives, would take the time to report back to us any bugs, hitches, snafus, or even benefits from our new server.

Also, major kudos and thanks to NR production editor Chris McEvoy who has been subbing in while we look for a real webmaster (translation: some poor schlub who wants to receive ritualistic beatings at America’s greatest Conservative magazine). Chris has been the honcho of our redesign and anyone who wants to send him some Scotch should.



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