So over Mother's Day weekend, the reality TV star Kim Kardashian West took a trip to, among other places, Cuba, the open-air prison that's been run by the Castro brothers for the past 57 years. Here's her take, via Twitter:
I love Cuba! One of our best trips! We felt like we stepped back into a different time period.Can't wait to go back. pic.twitter.com/BKGaMtPlJk
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) May 7, 2016
To her credit (or perhaps Twitter's 140-character limit), at least she didn't wax eloquently about the abundant poverty in Cuba and fret over how normalized trade will "ruin" it by replacing a very "authentic atmosphere" (read: poverty) with, you know, new cars and Starbucks. That's complaint is a stock in trade not just for lefty celebs and journos but even folks such as Fox News anchor Shep Smith, who said in 2014, "The last thing they need is a Taco Bell and a Lowe's."
Yeah, no. Earlier this year, Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, put together a travel group that visited Havana and the surrounding area. Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has pushed for normalizing relations and ending the travel ban and embargo with Cuba since first arriving in D.C. in 2001, was among the group. In an interview in Havana, he was (rightly) less interested with Cuba's supposed authenticity than with massive restrictions of its citizens' rights to free expression and assembly, not to mention travel and ownership.
From that interview:
Reason: Why is Cuba poor, especially if it can trade with the world?
Flake: Cuba is poor because they have a bankrupt socialist system here. Full stop.
I think we Americans should come here now to help the people through trade and travel and that those things will nudge Cuba in a more-free direction. But I've also always felt that Americans need to see what happens when government controls not just the commanding heights of the economy, but the entire economy. It's a sobering experience.
I was in Poland several years ago, and Lech Walesa was there. All of the sudden, just out of the blue, he brought up Cuba. And he said, "I have no idea why you guys have a museum of socialism 90 miles from your shore and you won't let anybody visit it." He found it unbelievable that we would deny Americans that wake-up call.
Some people will come here—the Kevin Costners, the Oliver Stones—and laud Fidel Castro for the successes of the Cuban revolution. I've always thought if you let Bob from Peoria come down here, he'll say, "This is a mess!" Ordinary Americans will say, "This doesn't work. Why would I want to nudge our country more in this direction of government control of the economy?"
And so it's been kind of a dual reason for me to push for Americans to come here. Cubans will tout their three successes: healthcare, education, and science. I think Americans would come down here and see the three failures of socialism: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The more people who can come here and see that, the better it is for Cubans and Americans.
Read the whole thing here.
We landed in Havana just as the Flint, Michigan water crisis was hitting the news. Did you know that everybody in Havana drinks bottled water all the time because the infrastructure hasn't been upgraded in decades? The average public-sector worker makes about $20 a month and buildings are literally failing apart from disrepair. Even the private-sector restaurants, who can afford to pay more for supplies, don't have a reliable supply chain (and they operate under constant threats of crackdowns from the government). Contra Shep Smith, Cubans would really benefit from a Taco Bell and a Lowe's.
I agree with Kim Kardashian on at least two points: Cuba is really lovely and I'm looking forward to going back, too. Especially after trade barriers have really been lifted and the Castro years are fully in the rear-view mirror not of a quaint old 1950s DeSoto but of a brand-new Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt. I don't want to step back into a "different time period," especially one that is relatively poor and unfree. I'd rather step forward into what Cuba looks like in its post-Castro era, when its future is brighter than the rising sun.
As Flake put it, Cuba is poor because of its political system. Cubans can in fact trade with every country in the world except for the United States. Castro-style socialism and authoritarianism keeps it poor because that serves the interests of the ruling elite. The people we met had an immense amount of national pride, were entrepreneurial, energetic, and friendly. When they are finally allowed the freedom to create their own businesses and live their lives the way they want to, Cuba will flourish. And yes, it will look more like other parts of Caribbean, including the U.S. But it will retain unique elements, too. The people leading all of that will be Cubans, mindful not just of their own heritage but also what they want for themselves.
The June issue of Reason (Tattoos vs. the State) features Matt Welch's reflections on the Reason trip and a great Peter Bagge cartoon essay about the experience. Subscribe now to read it all RIGHT NOW online for just $15!
In 2013, Jay Z and Beyonce took a highly publicized trip to Cuba. Remy went along for the ride.