Dear Editors of the Fine Publication that recently published the article "Was Castro Good for Cuba?" -
I sincerely thank you for publishing this piece, as it raises a number of important issues. These issues, for reasons personal to me, my Cuban parents and my Cuban grandparents, will always be a topic of discussion around our dinner table. I am privileged to be among the first generation of our family born in the United States, and thus was able to approach the article with a bit more of an objective stance than the older members of my family. Even still, however, there were elements to the article which were difficult, if not absurdly impossible, to swallow.
Most glaringly, having a Spaniard defend the argument for "yes" introduced perhaps the single most damaging inaccuracy in the entire piece. While I can appreciate that a well-seasoned, widely read journalist and writer such as Ignacio Ramonet might be able to craft some intelligent reasons for such an argument after a few visits and so many hours of interviewing Castro, the argument for "yes" would have been far more powerful had it been made by a native Cuban who lives in Castro's Cuba today. At first I was puzzled by the choice of a non-Cuban author because, though freedom of speech and of the press are not amongst the liberties that the citizens of Cuba currently enjoy, I would imagine that Castro might make an exception for a press document that would eulogize him. I wasn't puzzled for long, though, as I realized that one would be hard-pressed to find a Cuban citizen, living among the economically and politically cachectic people of Cuba, who would sing the praises of a man who has allowed a once glorious country to crumble into heaps of rubble. Indeed, it is much easier to find someone who enjoys the liberties of a country in which he does not need to give up simple pleasures like toilet paper, steak, or the right to accumulate wealth. It is much easier to find someone who enjoys a medical system in which he does not need to keep the equivalent of $6 USD (which amounts to anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of one month's salary) stashed away for cab fair in the event of a medical emergency because one cannot depend on an ambulance. Yes, much easier to bring in Ignacio Ramonet…a Spanish author who does not even see the irony in the question that he, himself, posed in reference to all of the pro bono cataract surgery that Cuban surgeons are offering to the poor of other Latin American countries: Is seeing one's children and the landscape of one's homeland not a fundamental human right?? Yes, Mr. Ramonet, it is. However, Cubans don't get to enjoy that right as they do not have a functional, much less a comfortable, transportation system in which to tour around their homeland. And even if they did, they couldn't afford to use it. And even if they could afford it, they're not allowed to stay in their own country's hotels, eat in their own country's restaurants, or bathe in some of their own country's beaches. So, while Cuban infants may indeed benefit from a lower infant mortality rate, the trade-off is surviving to live a restricted, albeit educated, life on an inescapable prison island. To support this political and economic system, and furthermore, to argue that Castro has the support of the majority, requires all the intention and focused energy of a toddler who, in the throws of a temper tantrum, has his eyes clenched shut and his fingers jammed snugly into each external ear while humming loudly. Only then can the reality be sufficiently drowned out. It is frankly disappointing that an intelligent man like Mr. Ramonet subscribed to such techniques to arrive at his conclusions.
Despite the fact that the harsh realities of life in Cuba precluded the ability to find a Cuban author for the "yes" argument, the discussion did not suffer from a lack of impassioned opinions. It was a lively discussion, each author having facts and statistics of questionable validity to support his argument. As a physician who knows full well that one can scour the medical literature to find data and statistical evidence to back directly opposing treatment options for the very same medical malady, it is with a grain of salt that I take in each side's supporting arguments. However, no matter how many political prisoners and extrajudicial murders there have been or have not been, no matter how many uprisings have occurred or not occurred, no matter how much Cuba's average annual gross domestic product has grown or not grown…there are at least a few simple truths, all of which rise above the distraction created by the data-wielding on each side of the argument, to suggest that when all is said and done, Castro has NOT been good for Cuba.
And those simple truths are as follows:
Castro assumed power four decades ago by means of violence, and has since never offered the people of Cuba an alternative option for leadership by any other party or any other leader.
The people of Cuba want change. They want change so desperately, that thousands and thousands have risked, and continue to risk, their lives to escape to a better place.
This is hardly a legacy to be proud of.
And so we wait. Here in the States and, surely, in Cuba, we wait and we hope for a truly "Cuba Libre.”