“Cuba Experts” on the Wrong Side of History

| Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 | No Comments »

Jose Cardenas“The Castro generation is slowly handing power over to the next generation of party and military leaders who will determine the pace and scope of the reform process.”

—    “Cuba Expert” Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution, giving one reason why the United States should unilaterally change U.S. policy towards Cuba.

The Cold War had its “Sovietologists;” today we have the “Cuba expert” — and anyone seeking to understand the true nature of the Castro regime and the reality of events in Cuba is worse off for it.

Sovietologists, those presumed subject matter experts who were relied upon by the media for insight to the opaque politics and motivations of the former Soviet Union, are now pretty much a discredited lot.  Not because they couldn’t predict the collapse of the USSR, but because for years they grossly underestimated the moral bankruptcy of tyranny and the power of individuals who simply wanted to live their lives in freedom.

Aside from a few notable exceptions, the Sovietologists  basically hewed to the same line: the legitimacy and stability of the Soviet system were givens, the goals and aspirations of the USSR were morally equivalent to those of the United States, and all that was needed to bring about enduring global peace was enlightened statesmanship from Washington to accommodate those realities.

Which brings us to today’s “Cuba experts” — familiar names routinely quoted in the national media whose analyses amount to uncanny regurgitations of those of the disgraced Sovietologists.  They too do not question the legitimacy y or stability of the Castro regime; evince little skepticism over regime policies or actions; exaggerate both its accomplishments and its popularity; dismiss the relevance of Cuban dissidents; and maintain that whatever U.S.-Cuba divisions exist are far outweighed by common interests — and that if not for irrational “hardliners” on both sides, then the two countries could get about normalizing relations.

And, just like the Sovietologists of old when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, they accept at face value the reformability of the system.  In fact, their most consistent meme today is attempting to convince observers that Raul Castro is ushering in a new Cuban dawn of meaningful economic and political liberalization — and that, as usual, the U.S. is behind the curve.

For example, Cuba expert Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, tells us, “[Raul] is taking a number of steps that imply a major rewriting of the social contract in Cuba to shrink the size of the state and give Cuban individuals more freedom – economically, especially, but also in terms of speech – than we’ve seen in the last fifty years.”

Another of the mainstream media’s go-to experts, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, whose obsequious blog reports to the world every pronouncement of Cuban state media, “Cuba is changing, and an economic overhaul is underway. …The changes are important, far more consequential than the liberalizations that helped Cuba’s economy survive the loss of Soviet bloc aid and trade two decades ago.”

The new kid on the block, Arturo Lopez-Levy, is a former “intelligence analyst” with Cuba’s repressive Interior Ministry who is now living in the U.S. and studying at the University of Denver.  Curiously, he can’t seem to offer a single negative comment about his former employer, and instead is aspiring to be a star media critic of U.S. policy towards Cuba.  He writes, “Raul Castro’s commitment to economic reforms and institutionalization is opening venues for the discussion of new ideas within the power structure and the general political discourse.  Propositions in favor of a gradual expansion of the role of the market in the economy, the diversification of the property structure, and the expansion of the role of law and rules in the functioning of the government and the party are openly discussed.”

It is as if the Berlin Wall never fell.

In short, these Cuba experts propagate a make-believe image of Cuba that is utterly unconnected and irrelevant to the way the vast majority of Cubans live their lives.  It is a Potemkin Village, in which real Cuban citizens, to the extent they are acknowledged, are expected to be content with their meager rights and opportunities — so meager that no decent person would ever accept them for anyone else living in any civilized society.

The reality is Raul Castro’s tepid economic reforms have fundamentally changed nothing in Cuba, as even the New York Times and the Economist have recently reported.  That’s because what motivates the regime is not improving the welfare of the Cuban people — there’s a fifty-year record on that — but maintaining absolute control.  They understand, as Gorbachev soon did (even if the Cuba experts still do not), that real reform carries real risks to their power and they are too afraid of the legitimate aspirations of the Cuban people for something better to ever allow it.

As for any improvement in the rights of the Cuban people, international human rights organizations continue to report on mass detentions of dissidents and absolutely no letup in repression.  Indeed, the salient question in Cuba today is less about the prospects for reform, than it is about what impact the loss of billions in annual Venezuelan assistance will have on its mendicant economy if Hugo Chávez succumbs to cancer.

Indeed, today’s “Cuba experts” are hardly dispassionate analysts; they are apologists — interested advocates with an ideological agenda.  And that agenda is the unilateral lifting of U.S. sanctions against Cuba and diplomatic recognition of the Castro regime.  It is the strainer through which all of their commentary flows.  Not only will you never hear a word of criticism from them regarding the Cuban regime (that would jeopardize their access to Cuba and grant funding), but nearly every observations ends with a pointed critique of U.S. policy:  The U.S. is missing official Cuban signals for a rapprochement.  It’s U.S. policy that forces the regime to crack down.  We should help the regime reform.  Blah, blah, blah.

In the end, the MSM’s favored Cuba apologists may be on the wrong side of history, but journalists working today in the leading U.S. media ought to be more careful about repeating the mistakes of the past.  In covering Cuba, they would do well to remember Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis’s post-mortem on the collapse of Soviet communism: “The idea of freedom proved more durable than the practice of authoritarianism, and as a consequence, the Cold War ended.”

Leave a Reply