The Cuba Conundrum

In the wake of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s transfer of power
to his brother Raúl last year, many in the press have rekindled a
love affair with the island nation. Stories abound heralding Cuba’s
exemplary organic farming and health care systems. Take, for
Yes! magazine’s Summer issue, which joined
the ranks of socially conscious indie publications praising the
quality and humanitarianism of the Cuban health care system.
Michael Moore has brought his similar take on the issue to the
mainstream media with his latest documentary. Cuba plays a
prominent role in Sicko, in which the incendiary filmmaker takes
ailing 9/11 workers to Guantánamo Bay and Havana in search of
health care that’s better than anything the workers could find
inside the United States.

Such visions of a health care utopia don’t ring true for Bella
Thomas, who recently returned to the island after living there for
years in the late 1990s. Writing for the British magazine
Prospect, Thomas wonders whether the
reporters enamored by the Cuban health care system have ventured
beyond state-approved hospitals to other facilities, such as one
Thomas describes as being ‘in a state of filth and decrepitude.’
According to Thomas, ‘continuing hostilities with the US have
played into Castro’s hands,’ solidifying his power and allowing
him to transfer it smoothly to his brother, without improving
living conditions for ordinary Cubans. The island has changed
little since Raúl took power and it remains a country dominated
by a repressive dictatorship. A Cuban friend tells her ‘es
exactamente igual
‘(It’s exactly the same as it was).

As media-makers from all points on the political spectrum
wrestle with Cuba’s image, others are looking beyond the symbolic
squabble to future realities. According to the
Nation‘s Julia Sweig, the present
situation in Cuba presents a unique opportunity for the United
States to improve relations with both Cuba and the rest of the
world. A silent majority in Congress is experiencing ‘regime-change
fatigue,’ according to Sweig, and they’re more than willing to end
US sanctions on Cuba, including the travel ban.

A logical first step, Sweig reports, would be to give Guantánamo
Bay back to the Cubans. The military base has become ‘a global icon
of what’s gone wrong with America,’ Sweig writes, and giving it
back would signal a significant change in US foreign policy. The
problem is that most politicians don’t want to anger the sizeable
and vocal pro-embargo Cuban-American constituency. ‘Nevertheless,’
Sweig writes, ‘the time to make that case is now.’

Go there >>
Cuba’s Cure

Go there, too >>
A Cuban Death Rehearsal

And there >>
A New Stance Toward Havana

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