Michael Totten visited Cuba under false pretenses. He’s a journalist, but he knew it would take forever to be granted a visa to enter the country if he told the truth, so he lied and said he was just visiting as a tourist. He opened the article about his trip with “Fidel Castro made a liar out of me,” because he had to lie to everyone he met or he probably would have been thrown in prison.
Anyway, what he described is an eerie place stuck in a time warp.
There is no product advertising in Cuba. Every billboard in the entire country is plastered with propaganda from the Communist Party. […]
I groaned to myself at these absurd slogans and images, but was delighted when I later heard Cubans dismiss it all as “state propaganda.”
Aside from the billboards on the way in, Havana doesn’t look like a communist city. It has not been transformed into a sullen drabscape of gray concrete towers like so many capitals in the former Soviet bloc. Small one-story homes in a state of mild disrepair appeared through jungle-like foliage. Hundreds of people stood on the side of the road waiting for busses or to be picked up by one of the cars that passed periodically. Once I reached the city proper, all I saw, aside from a few faded high-rises, was European architecture in every direction. Most of Havana was built before the communist era when Cuba was still a rich country.
I am not into cars, but I nevertheless grinned like a kid when I first saw the classic American Chevys and Fords from the 1940s and 1950s that Cubans manage to keep working even though they no longer have parts. […]
And I felt like I was being spied on the minute I stepped into my room. …
Those are just a few little snippets, so please read the whole thing. Also share it, especially with people who believe communism (or socialism, collectivism or whatever you want to call it) is a good thing. People live in fear. They have no access to the outside world, all they get is state propaganda. Plus there’s nothing much to do.
I’ll just leave you with one more quote that really strikes home:
I certainly wasn’t intimate with anybody in Cuba—and I don’t mean physically any more than Fontaine did. I had to lie by omission every minute of every hour of every day just like the Cubans. A person could get used to this sort of thing, I suppose, but that does not make it less alienating. That’s the counterintuitive thing about totalitarian systems. They herd people into Borg-like collectives, yet every individual is savagely atomized.
I never felt so alone in my life.
If that isn’t the worst indictment of collectivism I don’t know what is. It isn’t so much the lack of stuff, although we all love our stuff. It’s the distrust, not just of strangers, but of loved ones. Why would any normal person ever wish for anything even remotely resembling such a state?
Update: This is weird. I think it’s important for stories like this to get out, so I thought it would be nice to send to few bucks to Mr. Totten via PayPal. He took a big risk doing what he did. A few minutes later PayPal sent me this message about my donation:
Dear Karen Beseth,
We’ve placed a temporary pending status on this transaction.
To comply with government regulations, PayPal is required to review certain transactions. The payment you sent is currently being reviewed and we will complete this process within 72 hours. This review only involves this transaction and does not affect the use of your PayPal account.View the details of this transaction
For more information, see Government regulations and policies.
Like I said, weird.
Update 2: PayPal just advised me that my payment went through and thanked me for my patience. I still think that was a little strange, since I’ve never received a notice like that before.