January 1 marked the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution that destroyed Cuba, so the New York Times decided to commemorate the occasion with an article celebrating Cuba’s historic anti-Americanism. Well, not just celebrating it but joining in on the fun and suggesting that Cuba build on this record to raise its global stature. The piece, by Che Guevara biographer Jon Lee Anderson reaches its apogee with this paragraph:
At a time when the United States can no longer lay claim to being the democratic bastion it once was, Cuba has an opportunity to compete, albeit on a much smaller scale. In much of the world, and for all its faults, Cuba is respected for its pluck in standing up to the American behemoth over the last half-century. Cuba is also beloved and admired for its international medical assistance program, for its prowess in music and dance, in art and in athletics. But such achievements are not enough to keep the island going.
Ah, yes, Cuba’s “achievements”: salsa, mambo, and Soviet-sponsored destabilization. Amazingly, those alone aren’t enough to ensure Cuba’s future. Anderson suggests that Cuba’s leaders “avoid taking sides in a newly polarized world.”
Anderson makes a series of unconvincing claims about the Cuban regime’s post-Castro evolution toward democracy. Next month, Cubans will vote on a new constitution (that “describes Cuba’s ultimate political goal as ‘advancing toward communism.’”) According to a new draft law, “state regulators will decide what property can be owned [by Cubans] case by case.” The government will “step back aspects” of a law censoring cultural performances. And 13 percent of the population—according to Anderson’s citing of Cuba’s official Communist Party—is now self-employed (although the government is trying to slow this down).
What Anderson doesn’t mention is that Cuban Ambassador to the UN, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, told the UN Human Rights Council in September that “our country will not accept monitors,” He added, “Amnesty International will not enter Cuba, and we do not need their advice.” In October, according to the Miami Herald’s John Suarez, “Cuban diplomats led an ‘act of repudiation’ at the UN to prevent a discussion on political prisoners in Cuba,” and Cuban artists continue to be arrested for protesting a dystopian law restricting artistic freedoms. In these and countless other ways, Cuba is still simply a brutal dictatorship that makes life hell for its prisoner-citizens.
We’re all trolls now. From the president on down, we say things that are deliberately ugly and absurd to make political adversaries crazy. But Anderson’s New York Times article isn’t trolling. It’s something worse—sincere institutional praise for a morally reprehensible regime. It’s an effort to establish Cuba as a morally sound player on the world stage, to boost its image while downgrading America’s claim to global legitimacy.
There’s an eager audience for this kind of thing on the American left. Any country that gives the U.S. a hard time, so the thinking goes, can’t be all that bad. Never mind what its own citizens have to endure. The idea that the U.S. unnecessarily demonizes its antagonists was partly behind President Barack Obama’s restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014. Since that decision, leftist liberals have been engaging in happy talk about Cuban progress. But the best hope for Cubans was and still is the end of the island’s Communist regime. When revered American institutions push propaganda of this sort, that end can seem another 60 years off.