Friday, January 10, 2014

The Omnipresent American Bias Against Cuba

A news story published on NPR.org  examines the new Cuban regulations allowing for the sale of automobiles freely for the first time since the revolution.  This is a major change for a Cuban society which recently has seen a loosening of some of the socialist economic policies that have dominated the island since the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in 1959.  This story, however, like many from an American perspective, falls into the trap of failing to contextualize the Cuban government and economy while implicitly expressing a judgment of another nation's economic system as categorically inferior to the American one.  

The story implies that the new regulations were developed and disseminated without popular participation or explanation.  "Because the communist government often neglects to explain the reasoning behind some of its more extreme measures, there's been little else for Cubans to do but joke in public as they seethe in private."  First, notice the mention of the "communist" government.  Not just any government.  How often is ours referred to as a neoliberal government? The argument about the government process and public response is completely unsourced.  Not even a quote from a citizen "seething." The writer goes on to claim a "fundamental problem" of the government, which has "not a good business model."  A reader is left with the impression that citizens are unfairly subjected to irrational laws which go unjustified by an indifferent state.

The reality is that this is not how lawmaking in Cuba works.  There is extensive comment from the public, trade unions, elected local officials, etc.  It is also disingenuous to imply that the regulations took effect without providing the public with the reasoning behind them.  The daily Granma clearly announces the plan: "Within the next few day, legal norms will be published that will put in force the import and commercialization of motor vehicles, as per the approval this Wednesday the Counsel of Ministers."  

What follows is a thorough, detailed explanation behind the formulation and implementation of the policy.  The low availability of automobiles, variance in prices, obsolete bureaucratic measures are all mentioned as part of the study which resulted in the current proposal.  

Most importantly, the reasoning behind the policy of extremely high markups is clearly expressed: "With the taxes collected, a fund will be created specially designated to the development of public transportation in all of the country."  Additionally, the markups are indicated to be earmarked at the same time for the sale of bicycles, including electric bicycles, for the general population.  

As many have noted, as a poor country under a crippling economic blockade and lacking petroleum, Cuba can't aspire to have everyone owning a car.  It would take up much more space to go into the 50-year-old blockade, which has cost the country's residents upwards of $1.16 trillion and can be reasonably said to constitute genocide.  However, it is not once mentioned in the NPR article.  As if the economic state of Cuba is completely of their own doing, brought upon themselves by their own decisions and independent of any illegal foreign interference. 

This is symptomatic of a common issue in the discussion and reporting on Cuban affairs.  There is a condescending preconception that Cuba's socioeconomic model must be changed to match our own far-superior and infinitely more just system; and every Cuban government decision is not an imperfect product of debate, competing interests and imperfect choices, like our own government's decisions, but a reflection of Cuba's ineptitude and tyranny.