Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last three days with a bunch of people who think Cuba is Brigadoon with a salsa backbeat. Maybe it’s because I’ve been told time and again this week that America is a land based on hate and greed and exploitation – where minorities are thrown in jail to toil for capitalism. Or, perchance it just has to with the outrageously easy piety we are hearing on all sides. But I think the Elián case isn’t simple or easily solved, and I don’t think conservatives or Cuban-Americans are the ones who are the most guilty of playing politics on this issue.
What bothers me so much is that so many people I’ve been talking to are incapable of buying their ideas in anything smaller than six-packs. Ideas do come in individually wrapped packages from time to time. For example, it is entirely possible to believe that A) Elián should be with his father and B) Cuba is an evil place.
What do I mean by an evil place? Well, having spent the last week with activists dedicated to overthrowing the “Prison-Industrial Complex,” this is a tougher concept than you might think. For these Free-Mumia types, American prisons are evil places because they restrict the freedom of criminals (a.k.a. political prisoners, oppressed minorities, cheap labor force, the lumpen proletariat). To me it is the reverse. In America, prisons are places that ensure freedom by punishing or simply removing from civil society those people incapable of respecting it; a good place, filled with evil people. Cuba does the reverse. It criminally incarcerates not just dissidents and political malcontents but an entire population; an evil place, filled with good people.
I’ve been hearing all this week that in Cuba you get a free education, free food, free health care, free housing. Fair point, but whatever happened to free speech, free assembly and – most important – being free to go. The same American citizens who will chain themselves to mail boxes and go on hunger strikes because of the silliest civil inconveniences, gush over a land where protesters go to jail – if they’re lucky. The same artists and activists who consider self-expression and self-determination the highest imperative yawn when you point out that Cuban AIDS patients are put in medicinal concentration camps; artists cannot say what they want; and leaving the country is a crime with sometimes deadly consequences.
Michael Moore, the gaseous and corrupt propagandist, recently wrote a column that was not merely stupid, it was venal. I read the thing a week ago and it’s taken this long for me to muster any energy against it, mostly because I don’t think the buffoon deserves the attention. Moore’s obnoxiousness always seems to stem from a profound amount of self-hatred and low self-esteem. He must always beat everyone to the punch in obnoxiousness – because he is the sort of sad bully who knows nobody really likes him.
Anyway, Moore writes “A Letter of Apology to Elián” where he denounces his mother for “kidnapping” Elián and dragging him to America out of greed. “The truth,” writes Moore, “is your mother and her boyfriend snatched you and put you on that death boat because they simply wanted to make more money.” He tells Elián that he was in no danger at all in Cuba. Instead, “The worst that could be said is that, in Cuba, you were in jeopardy of receiving free health care whenever you needed it, an excellent education in one of the few countries that has 100% literacy, and a better chance of your baby brother being born and making it to his first birthday than if he had been born in Washington, DC.”
Now Moore made his name denouncing unaccountable corporate fat-cats who did not take the interests of labor organizations into account (oddly, Moore has a habit of waning in his support of unions when it comes to his own employees). But for some reason it doesn’t strike Moore as particularly disturbing – from the vista of his multi-million condo on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – that it is illegal to organize in Cuba. Moore smears the memory of Elian’s mother by saying she risked his life by putting him in danger on the high seas. And yet we do not hear a word about the fact that Castro has ordered the capsizing of boats trying to leave the workers’ paradise. I guess Castro’s family values – killing the whole family is better than letting them get away – are beyond reproach.
Moore ridicules the United States for its irrational policy toward Cuba – and it is irrational, we should lift the embargo, flood Cuba with dollars, and get Castro a comfortable job at the Kennedy School. “We’re still wacked-out over Cuba,” writes Moore. “…It’s illegal in this ‘free’ country to travel there. Loopy, huh?” Any American who wants to live in Cuba can do so with ease. Flights leave from Mexico and Canada daily. Any Cuban who wants to live in America better pack some shark repellent.
It’s not just Moore, of course. Ritzier buffoons make similar arguments. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Communist novelist, complained recently in the New York Times that Elián was being abused through his exposure to American culture. He wrote that “…the real shipwreck of Elián did not take place on the high seas, but when he set foot on American soil.” Garcia Marquez objects to Elián playing with a toy gun. What we don’t hear is that if he were in Cuba, he would be trained in how to use one by the State. Talk about gun control.
All this week I’ve heard some of my fellow participants on the Spitfire Tour explain that Cuba enjoys a cultural vibrancy not found in America’s consumer culture. Sure it’s poor, but people rely on one another and celebrate in simple ways consistent with their culture. Let us put aside, for now, the minor chuckle we can all get at the last bastion of “scientific socialism” in the Western Hemisphere – a nation where a 1957 Buick is a new car, a chicken is a dowry, and electricity comes and goes like spring rain.
I am sure that the Cuban people – a noble and culturally rich people – are making do as best they can. I wish my friends could see the vibrancy of the Cuban cultural life as of piece with the vibrancy and esprit de corps they so admire in some of America’s prisons. Convicts often create quite a civil society, with poets and artists finding beauty in the most dismal of places. Indeed, just like in Cuba, American prisoners get free health care and free meals and free housing. And just like in Cuba, American prisoners can get shot if they try to escape. The only difference, of course, is that the people in American prisons belong there because they raped and murdered people. The Cuban people didn’t do anything to deserve where they are.