‘Only the left,” The Nation’s Tom Hayden suggested after Obama’s announcement on Wednesday, “can recall, narrate and applaud the long resistance of tiny Cuba to the northern Goliath.” Next year his comrades in arms intend to do just that. In May, the magazine will take a long-planned trip to Havana, that they might enjoy a “specially curated” expedition and immerse themselves in “Cuban politics, culture and history at private seminars and concerts featuring prominent Cuban professors, top government officials, urban planners, journalists, musicians, artists and community activists.” Their hope is that such tourism will catch on. “If the president has his wish,” Hayden writes, “the Obama family will be seen on the streets of Havana before his term is up.”
This, I think, is deeply problematic. The Cuban government is to be praised for its brave stand against untrammeled freedom of speech and bourgeois cultural selfishness; for its steadfast resistance to the dangerous, outdated notion that citizens have a right to self-defense; for its refusal to permit abstract notions such as “the rule of law” and “human dignity” to get in the way of altruistic goals such as universal child care and free dental care; and for the scorn that it has poured upon the cheap, inauthentic baubles of unchecked American capitalism (McDonalds, Starbucks, SUVs, purified water, etc.). Yet I worry that, despite these considerable achievements, people of good conscience have little choice but to stay away until it changes for the better.
For all its professions of socialist purity, Cuba remains a redoubt of high-level social unrighteousness. The island is run by a pair of elderly, politically conservative, rurally raised, white-Hispanic dude-bros who took charge by staging a racist, old-fashioned, and decidedly non-nonviolent coup against a person of Spanish, African, Indian, and Chinese descent. The leader of that coup, Former President Fidel Castro, has been a consistent enemy of diversity and a shameless champion of ableist hegemony. After attempting for years to hide his disabilities — successfully body-shaming anybody who hoped to begin a dialogue about his condition — Castro handed power over to Y-chromosome-privileged member of his social strata rather than consider the many highly qualified Cuban women who are still struggling mightily under the hot glass ceiling.
All things considered, the Castros’ behavior should come as no surprise, for the Cuban constitution that they produced is shot through with concessions to the racist, militaristic, and homophobic patriarchy. “The state,” the document proclaims in a particularly antediluvian section, “protects the family, motherhood and matrimony.” That same “state” resolutely refuses to recognize or to celebrate untraditional family structures. The Cuban government, the constitution records, “recognizes the family as the main nucleus of society and attributes to it the important responsibilities and functions in the education and formation of the new generations.” There is not a single mention anywhere of the valuable contributions that skolioplatonic Cubans have made to society, nor are polyamorous types recognized as being legitimate. “Marriage,” meanwhile, is defined unequally, as “the voluntarily established union between a man and a woman, who are legally fit to marry, in order to live together.” No progressive can in good conscience visit a country with this kind of law on the books.
Concessions to capitalist hegemony remain everywhere, too. “Work in a socialist society,” Article 45 establishes, “is a right and duty and a source of pride for every citizen.” This is nothing short of a kick in the teeth for those among us who realize that work is a barbaric Anglo-American relic and every citizen, non-citizen, and otherkin in any just and forward-looking society should have a minimum income, regardless of how they hope to contribute to the tapestry. And it gets worse. “Every man or woman, who is able to work,” the document proposes, “should have the opportunity to have a job with which to contribute to the good of society and to the satisfaction of individual needs.” You will, of course, note the triggering gender binary in this particular asseveration. As of last night, there were over 50 different genders. Is it too much to ask that the Cuban constitution should list them and append a favorable note to each?
Some myopic, self-serving commentators — including some members of The Nation’s caravan, have celebrated the new access afforded to the island’s more mundane pleasures: Cuban cigars, the island’s remarkable collection of vintage American cars, the legendary nightlife that Havana and the island’s other cities have to offer. The problems here are legion: Higher cigar consumption among Americans is the last thing the doctor ordered for a nation with an appalling record of disability-adjusted-life-year per health-care dollar spent (not to mention the habit’s association with a fat-cat lifestyle that has no place in a just, egalitarian society). Older cars are unsafe, belch a considerable amount of soot for the pleasure produced, and can act as a trigger for those still scarred by the oppressive experiences of America in the 1950s. The nightlife, meanwhile, is a draw for underpaid and under-protected sex workers, and the hyper-sexualized contradanza music only serves to reinforce stereotypes that have been superseded by progress.
So we might let The Nation enjoy its holiday and let them wonder at the glittering trinkets of Castro’s small steps toward the society of the future. And we might forgive them, too, for they seem to know not what they do. But the smarter set must resist the temptations, and, if justice is to be done, we must insist loudly and proudly that until the people of Cuba have been freed from the yoke of the white supremacist gerontocracy, none of our clean and virtuous feet will touch its guilty, reactionary soil.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.