New Castro, Same Cuba, a new report from Human Rights Watch, notes that under Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, Cuba continues to harass and imprison dissidents. The criminal code punishes “dangerousness,” which punishes such crimes as handing out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any behavior deemed contrary to “socialist morality.”
One gets no clue of these conditions, or any history of Castro repressions, from American political tourists, mostly educators, who visit the island under the auspices of Cuba Education Tours, based in Vancouver B.C.
“We have an amazing Cuba trip for teachers during New Years and we warmly invite you to join us on the island,” says an email from Marcel Hatch, Education Director of Cuba Education Tours. This trip will showcase “the real Cuba,” and “you’ll return having made new friends and contacts abroad.” The upbeat Marcel also links to some educators who already took the trip. Their testimonies are indeed educational.
Norva Schapira and Abigail Cleary, high-school Spanish teachers from Lansing, New York, mention “many stereotypes about the country” but do not mention whether these include the stereotype that Cuba is a one-party Communist dictatorship that represses all dissent, persecutes homosexuals, and has reduced a once prosperous nation to sub-Haiti levels of poverty.
“The experience was smooth from beginning to end,” and “the orientation information was thorough and useful.” Further, “our guide, Tatiana Rodriguez, as well as our driver, Angel always took very good care of the group.” The pair will return soon.
Amy DeCola, an early childhood education administrator with the South Carolina State Department of Education, discovered that “Cubans are passionate about life and it is evident in their music, dance and art. They have overcome challenges with determination and a special resilience. Americans can learn a great deal from the urban organic gardens and sustainable communities.” Amy saw “where Che Guevara set up his headquarters,” and peppered Tatiana with endless questions.
Ann Eskridge, African-American studies professor at the University of Detroit, danced the salsa on a rooftop and testifies that “I came back from my trip to Cuba with a deeper understanding of the issues affecting that country and a newfound respect for the Cuban people. I attribute this to the hard work Cuba Educations Tours staff put into making sure that we had a well-rounded look at what Cuba is like today.”
Dulce Maria Gray, professor of English, writing, literature and women’s studies at West Valley College in Saratoga, California, dropped off her bags at the Hotel Habana Libre in La Rampa, a central neighborhood in Vedado. “Until the revolution, this was the Hilton Hotel that had been opened in March 1958 and had become a gambling casino and playground for rich Americans,” the professor explains. “But, the revolution triumphed on 1 January 1959.”
Sheila Scharmann, a high-school teacher at Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools in Morinville, Alberta, says “We were treated royally from the minute we stepped off the plane.” Breakfast at the Habana Libre was “excellent” and “Never once did we feel threatened or unsafe, even after dark.” Sheila advises tourists to bring a “very large notebook” because “if you go, your eyes and hearts will be opened, and you’ll come home with different outlooks on many issues. This trip is was worthwhile, indeed life-changing!”
That was the experience of Alexis P. Markowitz, of the UCLA Dept of Humanities, Sciences, Social and Health Sciences. “I am changed forever after such an amazing experience!” Alexis says. “Our guide Mildred was awesome and goes the extra mile. She ensured we had the most complete, authentic, and satisfying trip possible and saw the REAL Cuba.”
And so on. None of the eager tourists, of course, saw anything resembling the real Cuba. The faithful guides did not introduce them to anyone imprisoned for “dangerousness” or violating “socialist morality.” On the other hand, the eager tourists probably showed no interest in victims of the regime.
The visitors also appear unaware of the long history of Potemkin village tours by Communist regimes, charted by Paul Hollander in Political Pilgrims. That book recalls that New-Left icon Abbie Hoffman described Fidel Castro standing erect among his people “like a great penis.” The outpourings of the recent political tourists may be less vivid but are every bit as fatuous. Material about Cuban repression, meanwhile, is not exactly in short supply.
In Improper Conduct, Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jimenez Leal document Castro’s persecution of homosexuals. In 8A, Jimenez Leal documents Castro’s show trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, in which his state-appointed lawyer pleads with the court that his client should be executed. Armando Valladares charted Cuban prison conditions in Against all Hope and in Heroes are Grazing in My Garden the poet Heberto Padilla explained what it was like to be a writer in a Communist state.
The Cuba Education Tours crowd shows no familiarity with this body of work. The various Amnesty International reports also offer other insights on a regime so loathsome that, at the first opportunity, people will flee in anything that floats, leaving loved ones behind.
When it comes to the worst dictatorship in the Americas, the pilgrims of Cuba Education Tours combine willful ignorance with full cognitive dissonance. They prop up the regime and perpetuate the stereotype of happy peasants who love their massa. If they are so wrong on something so basic, why should their students listen to them on anything else? And now abides credulity, fatuity, and ignorance, but the greatest of these is ignorance.
[To get the whole story on political pilgrimages to Castro's Cuba and the psychology behind fellow traveling, read Jamie Glazov’s new book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.]