January 20, 2012

Cuba: A view from Canada

One to two centuries ago, from the Monroe Doctrine at least through the Smedley Butler era of pushing around banana republics, American foreign policy was deeply concerned with Latin America. These days, Latin America is seldom front-page news, unless people are trying to get worked up over Hugo Chavez. 

The most obvious opportunity for advancing American interests would be in de-Communizing Cuba. Cuba is a remarkable piece of land, a long thin island with 2100 miles of coastline, much of it climatically moderated by sea breezes (a little bit like Hawaii, although not quite as perfect). And the place is just ridiculously poor in dollar terms due to Communism: in 2008, the average monthly salary was $16. Not until Raul Castro came to power were the sale of microwave ovens legalized!

I suggested in 2008 that President Bush consider that Cuban-American relations, like Chinese-American relations in the Nixon era were improved by ping-pong diplomacy, might be rife for some baseball diplomacy. In 2011 I suggested President Obama consider golf diplomacy, since the island will someday be the next great home of seaside golf courses. 

I brought this up in my recent post on the Washington Post's attempt to smear the super-establishmentarian Center for American Progress as anti-Semitic. Not surprisingly, hardly anybody mentioned it because who cares anymore about America's foreign policy relations with countries not more than 90 miles away when we call all obsess over countries six thousand miles away? 

But, one commenter called Canadian Observer took an aesthetic objection to America helping Cubans not be so incredibly poor anymore:
Steve... you really want to Americanize and de-Castroize Cuba? Turn that unique gem of an island into just another Caribbean sell-out tourist hot-spot rife with American strip malls and ESPN blaring from every single neighbourhood bar? Do we really have to change every single place on earth so that it satisfies the pedantic tastes of the gringo?  
Cuba is unique in that it is the only civilized place on earth where the pervading force of Americanization and Walmartization is almost non-existent.  
Leave it alone, I say. People forget that behind the ideology, Castro became popular with the educated and lower classes because he kicked out the American interests which had been turning Cuba throughout the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's into a nation of dancers, entertainers and hookers.

He does have a point. But, judging from the small bits of modern Cuba I've seen in movies over the last decade, there's an even greater irony here. Castro's Cuba is something of a time capsule of mid-Century America. As I wrote in a review of the 2004 movie-in-verse, Yes by doctrinaire English leftist Sally Potter: "Ironically, Cuba turns out, due to Castro's stultifying tyranny, to look like a well-preserved slice of the Eisenhower Era, full of '57 Chevies and Hemingway-worshipers." If Raymond Chandler, Robert Heinlein, James M. Cain, and Mickey Spillane decided to come back to life for one day in 2012 to take a taxi to a bar for a couple of drinks, they might well choose Havana as the place that most reminds them visually of the good old days.

43 comments:

Wes said...

Speaking of Nixon and China, since I know Nixon gets praised here a lot, what exactly did Nixon do for the US that was good with regard to China? I see how China gained, not sure how we did.

The USSR and China were drifting apart already. How has Nixon's "opening" of China helped us? And wouldn't it have happened anyway? In a book I skimmed on Mao, the author suggested Nixon was somewhat fooled by the stonehearted totalitarian dictator.

Anonymous said...

I remember following the end of the Cold War people saying similar things about Eastern Europe being free from the modern, Western, globalized world. I heard people remark about how Praque and Budapest were great cities that retained their old character. I don't know if that was true then, nor if it would be today after 20 years of open contact. But your reader's Cuba analogy made me think of this.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, when tarpaper and shotgun shacks were still common in the Deep South, this was called picturesque rural poverty.

DaveinHackensack said...

Cuba could maintain a '50s Americana aesthetic without staying locked in abject poverty through some judicious zoning and import restriction laws.

As for the Cuba lobby, as part of a grand deal, couldn't they be assuaged by compensating them for their expropriated property, plus interest? A modest, temporary tarrif on open trade with and investment in Cubs could pay for that.

Anonymous said...

Is it that more and more places 'look like America,' or is it that wherever people have the money they set aside tradition for pragmatism, bread and circuses?

stari_momak said...

There's a scene in "Buena Vista Social Club" where the band members are window shopping in NYC. They come across some bobble heads -- one is of Ed Sullivan, the other I don't recall. The Cubans are struck by a sort of reverence: "Los Grandes, los grandes" they repeat to each other in hushed tones -- 'the greats, the greats'.

Steve Sailer said...

"As for the Cuba lobby, as part of a grand deal, couldn't they be assuaged by compensating them for their expropriated property, plus interest? A modest, temporary tarrif on open trade with and investment in Cubs could pay for that."

Yes, the amount of money demanded by Miami Cubans for their sugar plantations and the like nationalized without reparations (i.e., stolen) in 1959 is substantial, but not overwhelming. There is some kind of deal that could be done.

SF said...

I remember an article in Slate a few years ago about an American born girl trying to find her cuban family. One of the characters was an underpaid surgeon who had to moonlight as a hooker.

Pedantic Dan said...

"Do we really have to change every single place on earth so that it satisfies the pedantic tastes of the gringo? "

Don't you mean the pedestrian tastes...?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Castros are interested in a deal that would fundamentally change anything. They're doctrinaire Communists.

A free Cuba would indeed be a real estate bonanza, but the titles to land would take a lot of litigating to resolve.

Anonymous said...

“Steve... you really want to Americanize and de-Castroize Cuba? Turn that unique gem of an island into just another Caribbean sell-out tourist hot-spot rife with American strip malls and ESPN blaring from every single neighbourhood bar?”

Translation: Cuba is a beautiful island that many people would want to visit. If the beaches were nicely groomed and had grand hotels, and if there were many stores filled with thousands of products at reasonable prices for tourists and locals to buy, this would be a terrible thing. And if people could conveniently watch sports on television at any time of the day, it would be even worse.

Anonymous said...

"Ironically, Cuba turns out, due to Castro's stultifying tyranny, to look like a well-preserved slice of the Eisenhower Era, full of '57 Chevies and Hemingway-worshipers."

Same could have been said of Eastern Europe in the 80s. Under communism, nothing had changed since the 50s.

Anonymous said...

Communism is, oddly enough, a form of cultural preservationism.

Hubbard said...

It's about a decade old now, but Theodore Dalrymple once explained
Why Havana had to Die.
Namely, he made the point that Communism had to destroy the past. Castro did through neglect what Mao did through the Cultural Revolution. And so long as America's "evil" capitalism is in Cuba's past, the Castro brothers cannot accept any American aid in making a better future.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the commenter "Wes". I was born in 1990. It seems to me the biggest effect of "opening up China" has been the destruction of America's industrial jobs base. Let China stay communist, why make it more competive to lure away jobs here?

Anonymous said...

I think the Canadian has hit on one big truth: the terribleness of suburban sprawl. Something must be done to make America from growing ever more ugly. We need to be like the Founders and build our nation in the image of europe's great cities. What can be done? Please write about this Steve. I heard Portland has done something in this respect.

Maguro said...

Yes, the Cuban people should perpetually live in grinding poverty under an oppressive dictatorship because their picturesque destitution appeals to the aesthetic sense of western leftists. That seems just.

Anonymous said...

"As I wrote in a review of the 2004 movie-in-verse, Yes by doctrinaire English leftist Sally Potter: 'Ironically, Cuba turns out, due to Castro's stultifying tyranny, to look like a well-preserved slice of the Eisenhower Era, full of '57 Chevies and Hemingway-worshipers.'"

Western leftists like Potter(who is also Jewish btw)are so condescending and hypocritical.
So, the people of Cuba should remain mired in revolutionary utopian poverty because affluent and privileged western leftists can wax romantic about it as a pristine potemkin village from afar. Of course, Potter herself couldn't stand to have her views censored for a second by the state and would throw a fit if the government took all her property, BUT she loves the fact that hero Castro maintains Cuba's 'revolution' for the sake of ideological purity. So, Cubans should keep paying the price of her conceit of believing in the revolution. They are not real people to Potter but guinea pigs to be molded into anti-American heroes sacrificing wealth and riches for the good of the revolution--except they have don't any voice in the matter.

People like Potter and Steve Jobs are real scum in this regard. They want it all but they spout conceited nonsense about how idealistic, rebellious, and pure they are. In the Jobs bio, the part about his daughter lisa is hilarious. During high school she lived with Jobs and attended Harvard--not least because of her connections to her famous dad--but at some public gathering she sang Tracy Chapman's song about 'poor taking over'. I mean when will these fucking narcissistic privileged jerks ever stop?

Polichinello said...

For the past couple of decades, the Castro regime has been picking up where the old order left off, bringing in Europeans and Canadians to gamble, drink and whore.

I know a land of Walmart offends many people's delicate sensibilities, but I don't know how a land where professionals have to find work waiting tables filled with eurotrash is any better.

Withywindle said...

Cuba has been re-hookerizing itself slowly since ca. 1990, just catering to the non-American trade, and the state acts as pimp and gets its cut. The present isn't Pleasantville with a Cuban accent. The exiles may be a gang of thieves, but so are the current lot.

Anonymous said...

Could you change that last comment--"Cuba has been rehookerizing itself"--to "Anonymous," please?

The Acquisitive Ghost of Fulgencio Batista said...

Ha ha. It's always fun to keep somebody else mired in "noble savagery" as long as that doesn't apply to oneself. Has your Canadian commentator ever pondered why it is that any Canadian city is pretty much indistinguishable from a corresponding American city apart from the color of the mailboxes? Wanna take a bet about what the Cubans themselves would do if allowed to choose freely?

Anonymous said...

America should end its foolish and spiteful embargo against Cuba.

No name said...

Cuba isn't poor because we won't trade with them. Cuba trades with pretty much the entire world, except the USA. And everyone can go to Cuba except Americans.

Cuba's poor because of Castro. There's no reason to believe the Castro family is going to give up control.

Anonymous said...

"As for the Cuba lobby, as part of a grand deal..."
BBC radio recently carried something about the vastly increased incidence of American businessmen traveling to Cuba as a likely augur of improved relations. Now Duba seems poised to strike off-shore oil, Steve's prescience may yet be
demonstrated by a post-election visit by whoever is going to be in the Oval/Oral Office next year. I'd guess the biggest factor in all of the matter is that when the Ego-Maniac (Fidel Castro) had to give up the seat of power because of age and medical problems, his brother who took over had been the Chief of Police in the whole police state. Beria is typical of people who get to be top cop in a police state. They see clearly how brittle the power is and in the long run how powerfully resilient a complementary mix of hierarchy and democracy can be. Beria's son claimed convincingly that Beria proposed perestroika forty years before it finally happened. ( If we could get Monica Lewinsky as Secretary of State, maybe we could normalize relations with Cuba?)

Whiskey said...

Steve, a couple of observations. One, we ask Cubans to be poor and ruled by a hereditary family so we can view them as a museum of the 1950's. We are asking people to sacrifice their standard of living so a privileged few can marvel at the aesthetics of a bygone time.

The word you are looking for is decadence. Or perhaps imperialism. A different sort, but still imperialism.

Second, what do we get out of propping up a fading hereditary dictatorship. The track record for second/third generation family dictatorships is not good -- the Kim family perhaps and perhaps the Assad family (though that is in doubt, and that the latter is in doubt is an indictment of his fundamental ability to rule, even).

What do we get?

At least Smedley Butler at least got us critical experience in both Jungle Fighting and long-distance logistics, both vital as it turned out. Because the fantasy of Fortress America was just that, a fantasy. We have turned away from Latin America because we don't like the effort, find the people too difficult (stuck in Hacienda mode, both the revolutionaries and the current powers), and to pretend away reality. Iran is working with Chavez to stick Iranian missiles pointed at the US in Venezuela. Under a mostly White America at JFK's time that was cause for war. Now, Obama's apologies and groveling.

Whiskey said...

Beria had been Stalin's hatchetman. With Stalin gone, all the other top guys had him killed forthwith.

There is no there in the Cuban regime. It is merely another hereditary dictatorship without the pomp and circumstance and tradition of say, the Hapsburgs. There is not much difference. And that sort of regime will always create violence, because by its very nature it locks out most people from the good life so the few who run it can have it all.

Given modern technology, the AK-47, cell phones with cameras, the internet, it is harder and harder for these regimes to maintain control. Now with Chinese peasants eating better (so their regime can retain control), food is constantly bid up. Cuba has nothing, save MAYBE oil, to prop up the regime.

Most likely case, the US does not drill for oil, because of "save the Manatee or something," we let Castro's hereditary regime do so (because its the good, SWPL-leftist thing to do) with CHINA as their partner, massive spills making the Macondo / BP oil spill look like a grease spot, Florida's ecosystem ruined, and an easily averted crisis spirals out of control.

AOL said...

The example of Cuba maybe cues us into a neglected field of economics. Economics generally focuses on growth: growth good, lack of growth bad. Or it focuses on distribution; equality good, inequality bad.

But what about the issue of destruction? Cuba is a good example. Yes, Cuba is run-down and shabby. But even after so many decades, many parts of Cuba seems inhabitable--even without economic growth--for the simple reason that the population is less destructive than people--especially blacks--in other Latin American nations.

We tend to think a nation is well off when it has 'growth', but a nation without growth--or even economic shrinkage--can be decent if people are not destructive and maintain what is already there. And though things may begin deteriorate over time, a non-destructive people can still maintain a functional community and fix up stuff piecemeal by piecemeal.
This struck me when I visited my friend in Poland in the 90s. There were parts of Poland that seemed run-down and poor, but they still seemed livable for the simple fact that most Poles, even when unemployed, didn't act like 'youths' and 'teens' in America. And though many ran out of supplies, they used what they could find to fix up houses and the like. They made do with what they had.

There are also economically depressed communities in America that remain livable and decent for the simple fact that most of the people in the community are not destructive. Generally, such communities don't have many blacks.

And take Japan since the 90s. Very little growth, aging population, and rising social problems... but the simple fact that most Japanese don't run riot and destroy things, much of Japan still seems like civilized community.

To the extent that Cuba is still a tightly-controlled police state, Cubans have mostly learned to get by peacefully. Sure, there's a lot of corruption and petty crime, but state power and lingering vestiges of social ideology do seem to maintain some sense of harmony.

Give a Cuban a 1950s car, and he'll try to fix it up and make it run. Leave a new car in Detroit and it will be burned and looted in no time. What's the difference? Cubans may not have economic growth but they are not as destructive as so many people in other nations.

So, black community in America, even if it doesn't see great growth, would be much better if blacks simply didn't rob, burn, and loot everything.

Anonymous said...

"America should end its foolish and spiteful embargo against Cuba."

Maybe we should focus more on 'embargo' against American Renaissance conferences in American hotels.

Anonymous said...

"Beria had been....had him killed"
His son wrote a detailed account of how after after after Stalin's death, Beria pushed for the same general far-reaching changes that
came to pass about 38 years later.
The point is not whether he was a nice guy or was popular in Stalin's entourage. He was a realist and saw that a police state is over time not realistic. Raul Castro likely has the same view.

eh said...

I think you can't see Cuba from Canada -- it's too far away.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Maguro expressed my thoughts more cleverly than I would have.

I would add that I was reminded of the craze of French nobility dressing up as shepherdesses. Or modern eco-tourists.

I'll bet your Canadian commenter is popular in his circle for knowing where all the hole-in-the-wall restaurants where they serve real Tuscan/Hunan/Chilean food are, replete with stories about the owner liking him and bringing out from the back some "special" article that isn't usually on the menu. Because he is recognised as one of the few who "get it."

whorefinder said...

It never ceases to amaze me how leftists will always clamor how people in dictatorships should remain poor and oppressed so that leftists can look at them as museum pieces and sigh happily....while returning to first-world decadence.

Leftists truly are the the fascists history has shown them to be.

anonthistime said...

I've been reading this blog for a long time, and I do believe that may have been Whiskey's first predictive post. If he turns out to be right about the upcoming oil spill ruining Florida, y'all will be kissing his fingers down the line.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if America would maintain the Cuba embargo if a super giant oil find was made in Cuba or in its coastal waters?

Anonymous said...

What happens after Fidel finally goes to that great Marxist-Leninist paradise in the sky? Does Cuba implode? Will there be a huge boat-lift to Florida? One that makes Mariel look like nothing in comparison? Maybe the USA should start thinking about this?

Anonymous said...

Wait, so wait a minute here, lemme see if I got this straight...

The prospect of a large, tropical, magic island, only 90 miles from the US, full of nothing but beaches, hookers, casinos and sugar?

Am I missing something? What is not to like about this?

Anonymous said...

The old Chevys on the streets of Havana tend to have Lada engines installed in them (from the Russian cars shipped to Cuba before the fall of the USSR) -- the old engines having long since given up the ghost.

Truth said...

"But even after so many decades, many parts of Cuba seems inhabitable--even without economic growth--for the simple reason that the population is less destructive than people--especially blacks--in other Latin American nations. "

Cuba is the blackest Spanish-speaking country in Latin America, Champ.

TGGP said...

I have not heard of any Iranian missiles being placed in Venezuela. And Iran doesn't have nukes. Put down the crack pipe.

Anonymous said...

When I took a holiday in Veradera, it looked to me like the Cubans would have wanted a little bit of soul destroying commercialism. I think they would have killed for a mall. In the book store across from their "white house" nobody was looking at the books; they were all examining the art supplies (which few could afford) in the glass cases. All the hotel staff were happy to be tipped with dollars, or goods. Watch out for Cubans coming up to you and saying how much they like your shoes, and how they look to be their size. Oh, and security guards offering to bring you women. There were still lots of dancers and entertainers too, every couple of nights at the resort.
I took a little hike through some of the nearby towns. The walls around the houses seemed in better repair than the house, and many houses had German shepherds or rottweilers behind the gates. I suspect that indicates something. And the famous racial harmony certainly seemed to be strained, at least to my eyes. Most of the resort workers were white. Most of the restaurants and bars in the tourist town (apparently Che was from there) seemed to be run by whites. And a walk through some of the other towns which were majority blacks, left me feeling very uncomfortable. I suspect that if the (very) heavy police presence was at all reduced, racial harmony might disappear, and the crime rate would go up.

RonG

Liesel said...

he kicked out the American interests which had been turning Cuba throughout the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's into a nation of dancers, entertainers and hookers.


Understanble but Jineterismo is back with a vengeance. Even girls with MDs know where the money in Cuba really is.

Canadian Observer said...

Cuba is poor, but not insufferably poor. There is very little to no starvation. Living quarters can be cramped though. However, if you think that it is anything like African or Haitian poverty, you will be sorely mistaken. When I was there last month, the people appeared to be genuinely happy. Havana does have a few destitute beggars roaming about, but for the most part the town consists of various sorts of people living off of modest incomes, who don’t mind selling some trinkets on the side to European tourists for inflated prices. Can’t blame them really, in a sense.

The music scene is energizing and a real life force. People are classy and possess Old World charms. The weather is gorgeous. A lot of nice slim, beautiful women walking around too. The farming sector, however, appears to be a disintegrating industry. Canadian engineers are playing a role developing the oil and gas industry, I think.

The island is around 1/3rd black and 2/3rds white. These two communities have much more genuine social interactions with one another than the blacks and whites do in North America. You can see blacks having a grand old time dancing to Spanish-oriented music or paid black singers crooning a Frank Sinatra song with real passion and love. That’s something you can never find in North America.

Free enterprise has been growing slowly in Cuba over the past 20 years. The tourist spots like Havana and Varadero have decent but not amazing seafood restaurants which are mostly small and family-run, pursuant to government policy. Barbershops in Havana became independent businesses for the first time just this past year. Ordinary Cubans I talked to are willing to speak against the regime’s “insane” policies regarding low wages, enforced military service, heavy government controls on commerce and travel, etc. However, Fidel Castro is still a revered figure. He is considered to be a romantic persona, a “friend of Che” and a spectacular speaker. No one quite knows where Fidel lives. That mystery adds to his aura.

The word around Cuba is that his brother Raul is more dull and uninspiring.

I think there is a growing awareness in the island that change will come. However, I am honest when I say that the average Cuba fears American influence. Sure, some of that is based on indoctrination in school, but a lot of it is also for good reason. Cubans are educated folk. Their school system is quite good. Many Cubans have found ways to travel around to the rest of Latin America. A lot of the older generation served as mercenaries in Africa during the 1970’s during those quasi-wars in support of Third World tin pot dictators back when the Non-Aligned Movement was the next big thing. Your average Cuban is not going to bend over backwards for Uncle Sam just because he has the means to throw some money at the Cubans. They would become second-class citizens on their own island very quickly, and they know this.

Can Cuba change and evolve on its own terms? I sincerely hope so.