Students are snowed by Castro’s charms

by By Mayra

Three days ago I attended a presentation given by three international studies students who went to Cuba last summer. I am Cuban-American and I had thought that this would be a great opportunity to talk about the current situation in Cuba. It was, however — and I know of no other way to put this — a love fest.
The students were cooing at the wonders of free education and medical care in Cuba. They told us of their experiences cutting sugar cane with the Cuban people and living with Cuban families. How heartwarmingly symbolic. They said that there was virtually no racism or sexism in Cuba. Truly, it was a wonderfully progressive picture that they painted.
The truth, however, is that the Cubans have to live in a very different reality. I tried to raise the question of the tremendous economic hardship and poverty that the Cuban people are forced to deal with, admitting that while yes, there is socialized medicine, there are no supplies for the sick and the old, there is no food, no gasoline and no soap. They, however, were quick to put the blame on the embargo that the United States, as well as other nations, imposes on Cuba.
While their critique of the embargo is simplistic, it is valid to an extent. I found it troublesome that at no point in the discussion was there a serious attempt to address the tremendous human rights abuses in Cuba. It is naive to claim that medicine and education are really free in Cuba. I would argue that Cubans do pay, and that they pay big.
The students were taken by the overwhelming support of the Castro government by the people. It was not mentioned that there are very real consequences for those who speak out against the government of Cuba. Recently, a woman in Havana (who has since fled to the United States) published and distributed a letter of protest against Castro. Cuban officials later came to her door and made her swallow the letter. They then beat and imprisoned her.
After the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro rounded up several thousand people who were suspected as not being sympathetic to the revolution. They were detained within a stadium in Havana and many were imprisoned for up to a year. The doctor that cared for my family met with just such a fate.
Make no mistake — the Cuban people do pay. They pay with their compliance, their silence and their freedom to dissent. Try to pin that on the embargo. Education is free, but if you do not declare yourself a member of the Young Communist Organization, your schooling ends after the ninth grade.
Now, I fully support socialized health care and education and other programs that help people. I am a feminist and I take issues of social, racial and economic oppression very seriously. Certainly, my criticism of “socialist” Cuba should not be taken as a defense of capitalist America. I do not intend it as such.
It is not simply that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I refuse to hold Cuba up as an example. Its government systematically exterminates diversity of thought through assault, withholding of services and intimidation and threat. I worry about this. Anyone who takes socialism, oppression and racial and gender justice seriously, should be worried by this.
These American students were no doubt charmed by Castro. They listened to him speak; they took pictures with him. He is indeed charming and persuasive. The stories that he tells of his revolutionaries up in the hills of Cuba are quite powerful and romantic. But look at the blood on his hands.
Mayra Gomez is a graduate student in sociology.