It comes complete with a “no, it’s-not-a-parody” headline, “Some Cubans Enjoy Comforts of Communism.”
Google News confirms that the AP reporter is Vanessa Arrington, a veteran of the Havana bureau. Her story simply must be read to be believed, but here are some choice excerpts:
“Park cleaner Froilan Mezquia sleeps in the shed where he stores his supplies and hasn't had a real meal in three days. The 62-year-old also received years of free medical treatment for throat cancer.
“In Cuba's communist society, where every day is a struggle but survival is practically guaranteed, Mezquia's story helps explain why people didn't flood the streets clamoring for change when Fidel Castro stepped down for surgery this week.
“The reasons Cubans took the events in such stride are complex. Castro supporters say it's because of Cubans' deep belief in socialist ideals; detractors say it's all about fear. Conviction and dread aside, many Cubans find genuine comfort in the communist system, and reject U.S.-style democracy and values."
“Mezquia's former wife and four children live in Mexico, and from what he hears, capitalist countries are filled with cruelty, hardship -- and certainly no free health care.
“‘They pay you more, but you must spend so much more just to live,' he said.
“Cubans who have left the island come back to visit relatives laden with gifts and goods, symbols of the material wealth to be found beyond Cuba's borders. But they also speak of people working multiple jobs just to get by and of people who don't know their neighbors -- foreign concepts in Cuba."
This after just talking to someone who sleeps in his workshed and hasn't had a real meal in three days.
“When outsiders think of Cuba, it's often the lack of political freedoms and economic power that comes to mind. Cubans who have chosen to stay on the island, however, are quick to point out the positives: safe streets, a rich and accessible cultural life, a leisurely lifestyle to enjoy with family and friends.”
“There are, of course, hundreds of dissidents and political prisoners on the island of 11 million who abhor the system and feel a desperate need for rapid change. But most Cubans would not list political repression among their most immediate concerns.
“For all its flaws, life in Castro's Cuba has its comforts, and unknown alternatives are not automatically more attractive. The idea of Cuba without ‘El Comandante,’ who has been in power for nearly five decades, provokes alarm and uncertainty -- and a tremendous fear they could lose their way of life.”
Arrington throws in a line you may remember your Marxist professor spouting in Political Theory 201: “Many foreigners consider it propaganda when Castro's government enumerates its accomplishments, but many Cubans take pride in their free education system, high literacy rates and top-notch doctors. Ardent Castro supporters say life in the United States, in contrast, seems selfish, superficial, and -- despite its riches -- ultimately unsatisfying.
“‘Socialism is superior to capitalism. It's much more humane,'’ said retiree Luis Poey, 66, whose last job was delivering food to workers in Old Havana.
“These Cubans even defend their system as a democracy in which the National Assembly and provincial and city leaders are directly elected. Assembly members then elect one of their own to be president of the country -- Castro, a representative from the eastern city of Santiago, has repeatedly won out.
“Castro's critics say the notion that Cuba is democratic is a farce -- that tight state control, a heavy police presence and neighborhood-watch groups reporting on ''anti-revolutionary'' conduct prevent any real political freedom.
“Some Cubans retort that a system allowing President Bush to ‘steal' elections and wage wars without the people's support is certainly more flawed than their own.”
Well, give Arrington some credit -- she does put “steal” in quotation marks. Too bad she apparently didn’t even try to get in some dissident viewpoints -- it’s not as if your average man in Havana is going to tell you what they really think of El Jefe, dead or alive.
Nathan Goulding at NRO pointed to a State Department memo on Cuba. Some of the gruesome findings:
- denial of citizens' rights to change their government
- beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, carried out with impunity
- transfers of mentally healthy prisoners to psychiatric facilities for political reasons
- frequent harassment of political opponents by government-recruited mobs
- extremely harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care
- arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations
- denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners
- interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications
- severe limitations on freedom of speech and press
- denial of peaceful assembly and association
That’s not all. Arrington’s story from yesterday, “A life of close calls for Cuban leader,” makes “the leader of Cuba’s revolution” out to be some dauntless, death-dodging hero of the people (though whether death has caught up to him at last has become more and more an open question).
“When Fidel Castro was 10, he nearly died of appendicitis. Since then, he has survived military assaults and even poisoned cigars and milkshakes. Now, two weeks shy of his 80th birthday, surgery has sidelined the leader of Cuba's revolution.
“After a life filled with near-death experiences, the intestinal bleeding that forced Castro to hand over power and undergo surgery may be one of the closest calls yet for the true survivor.
“The current crisis follows a lifetime of close shaves.”
Clay Waters monitors the liberal bias of the New York Times at TimesWatch.