The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 22, 2013

Tourists in Cuba

Daily Item

---- — An article in your April 8 issue recorded the dismay expressed by Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino knowing that musicians Beyonce and Jay-Z had taken a vacation in Havana, Cuba. The politicians claimed the musicians had violated a U.S. law against tourism in Cuba by U.S. citizens, and Marino added the threat of legal action against them were that the case. Then, on April 14, you printed several of your readers' views about this issue. I would like to take a look at this matter from a somewhat different perspective.

To begin with, the visit had been approved by the U.S. Treasury Department as a legal cultural exchange, no doubt why Beyonce danced with children at a Havana dancing school. And, I want to show why additional comments by Tom Marino reveal that his being wrong about the legality of the visit is the tip of the iceberg of his confusion about Cuba.

Any discussion of Cuba demands an historical context, however brief, and here it is: In 1953, Fidel Castro launched a revolt against the Batista government in Cuba that he saw as tyrannical and as subservient to the U.S. government, U.S. multinationals, and to the Mafia. Then, in 1956, his forces were joined by Che Guevara, and 81 other revolutionaries, who had sailed a yacht from Mexico to Cuba. By 1959, the revolutionaries had driven Batista and his government out of the country and began to build their brand of socialism. During this revolt, most of Cuba's wealthy classes and military leaders were stripped of their assets, their power, and some of them lost their lives. The majority fled to Florida and understandably these refugees were outraged at their treatment. They have retained that anger because they see the economy as a failure and loathe the denial of civil liberties of many Cubans, still in Cuba, charged with being "enemies of the revolution."

Starting in 1960, Castro forged an alliance with the Soviet Union, and the Cubans in Florida developed one with the U.S. government. Since then, both sides have carried on a protracted propaganda struggle, and the one in the U.S. has been so successful that criticisms of the Cuban Socialists, no matter how uninformed or unthoughtful, go unchallenged. I am writing here to make such a challenge.

In particular, I want to contest Tom Marino's claim that the U.S. bans you and me from being tourists in Cuba because that country "refuses to recognize basic human rights." This is presently the central element of the U.S. propaganda war against Cuba, so Marino knows it will be taken as the truth by most of us. However, there is actually another very different way one can look at this matter of civil liberties in Cuba that will lead to a very different conclusion. I ask readers simply to read the following paragraph, and then answer the question that follows it.

Let's imagine this situation: About 90 miles from the U.S. border is the world's most powerful military power. Since 1959, this country has organized and financed one invasion of the U.S. and threatened others. Its government spies have several times plotted to assassinate our president, and it has waged a multi-dimensional economic war against us all along: their business can't trade with us, and most of their citizens can't visit us. Our aggressive neighbor is engaging in one war, has just finished another one, and is threatening a few others. It has over 700 fully equipped military bases around the world, including several close to us. And, to top it off, its population is thirty times as large as ours.

And, here is the question: If this were the sort of threat actually facing the U.S. -- as it more or less has been facing Cuba since 1960 -- what might be the restrictions on our civil liberties?

I should also say that the views I express here were partly shaped by several visits I made to Cuba to prepare for a seminar, "Cuban Development," that I taught at Bucknell. For certain, I have never liked to hear about Cuba's restrictions on civil liberties, but I came across other elements of Cuba's brand of socialism that would also shape my conclusions. For instance, I visited several medical care facilities and learned why Cuba's free health care system is considered among the best in the developing world. In short, I found Cuba's socialism, like all economic systems, a mixed bag. Perhaps you have an interest in Cuba and would like to decide for yourself about what is happening down there. If so, I suggest you ignore Tom Marino and me, read about Cuba, and then visit it. Just be sure your trip is legal so that when you come home and get off the plane you won't face criminal charges urged by Tom Marino and Lou Barletta.

Charles Sackery, Lewisburg