I suppose it had to happen. Fish must swim, birds must fly and Barack Obama, when on foreign soil, has to take a swipe at the United States – a country which has been exceedingly good to him by electing him its president. But, like the scorpion in Aesop’s tale, Obama has to sting his benefactors. It is in his nature. And so, having listened to the Cuban dictator’s attack on America over human rights, the trade embargo, Guantanamo Bay and the “inconceivable failure to provide free food, health-care and social security to the American people,” our President responded that he “personally would not disagree” with many of Raul Castro’s criticisms.
To quote, “[President Castro I think has pointed out that] in his view making sure everybody’s getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with that… And hopefully that we can learn from each other… And, you know, I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we’re falling short because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well.”
Now, America is not perfect. Had Obama urged Americans to “learn” from countries whose people are not risking their lives by paddling rickety dingies across the Florida Straits in order to escape, I would be all for it. As it is, we have nothing to learn from Cuba. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I do not claim to understand American progressives’ obsession with Cuba and their total unwillingness to separate the Cuban government’s propaganda from the reality of daily life on the island. I am not a psychiatrist. But, below I offer some reasons why Cuba is a failure based on the priorities that progressives themselves claim to embrace and promote.
First, consider political freedom. Cuba is a communist dictatorship. The people are not allowed to vote for non-communist candidates, which is tantamount to disenfranchisement. Progressives, who are super sensitive to vote suppression, real and imagined, should remember that no Cuban is allowed to partake in free and fair elections.
Second, consider freedom of speech. In Cuba, all media – including television, radio, newspapers and the internet – is censored. The government regularly imprisons people who speak out against it. Progressives, who regularly recall the comparatively mild attack on free speech during the McCarthy era, should remember that suppression of free speech in Cuba is total.
Third, consider civil rights. Progressives from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama have insisted that the U.S. government needs to look like America, with every hue appropriately represented. Cuba’s leadership is almost completely devoid of blacks, who form the vast majority of the populace. So much, then, for the progressives’ commitment to racial diversity.
Fourth, consider gay equality. For years, Cuba was renowned for its barbaric suppression of homosexuality. While treatment of gay people has improved in recent years, gay marriage remains prohibited by the Cuban Constitution. Progressives, who would not tolerate a constitutional ban on gay marriage in the United States, do not seem to be particularly upset by it in Cuba. Why the double standard?
Fifth, consider human wellbeing. In 1800, Cuban per capita income amounted to 39 percent of American income. By 2008, the last year for which I have long-term data, that ratio fell to 12 percent. Between 1960, when the Castros took over, and 2008, real per capita income increased by 83 percent. In America, it rose by 176 percent.
The progressives would, no doubt, respond that income is an imperfect measure of wellbeing. And they are correct. But, wealth is the great enabler. It enables the individual or, in extremis, the collectivity, to pay for healthcare, education and social security. An equal right to be fed is irrelevant if the shops are empty – as they are in Cuba. An equal right to healthcare is pointless if the hospitals lack drugs and basic medical equipment – as they do in Cuba. An equal right to social security is useless, if it is too small to allow you to enjoy your retirement – as it is in Cuba.
It is, above all, because of the grinding poverty that over a million Cuban citizens have left for Miami alone. Others have gone elsewhere. These people do not believe that America has things to learn from Cuba and Obama ought to learn from them.