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For decades, the Cuban dictatorship, headed by the Castros and today presided over by Miguel Díaz-Canel, has been able to create a narrative favorable to its management that circumvents the reality of the island. The socialist model implemented in Cuba brought ruin, misery and death to the Cuban people; however, the ruling party cunningly managed to sell its version of history to various media outlets, organizations, NGOs and celebrities. Useful fools who, in the end, look aside in the face of human tragedy and embrace the Castro cause without qualms. Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the questioned 1619 Project, is one of those who swallowed and spread the story of communist tyranny.
There are two pieces of evidence, recently uncovered, that show Nikole Hannah-Jones’ admiration for the Cuban revolution. The first piece of evidence dates back to September 2008, in an opinion article for The Oregonian entitled “The Cuba we don’t know”, where the author was full of praise for Cuba and, in addition, she praised the educational and health systems imposed by Castroism. The second evidence, much more recent, dates from 2019, when Hannah-Jones was talking with host Ezra Klein, in a Vox podcast. In that interview, the writer said that the United States should follow in Cuba’s footsteps in eliminating systemic racism.
The 2008 article: a fictitious apology
If Nikole Hannah-Jones’ greatest journalistic work, The 1619 Project, is the object of all kinds of criticism for its intrinsic ideological bias and lack of factual basis, her article “The Cuba we don’t know” is not far behind in terms of manipulation and disinformation.
First, Hannah-Jones has the gall to gloss over the tragic Cuban reality and suggests that the information we get about the island is biased by the presence of the American government: “Much of what we do know comes from the U.S. government — which is actively working to overthrow Fidel Castro’s (and now his brother Raul’s) regime — and the few American journalists there. We know the story well: Cuba is poor. Cuba is communist. Cuba violates human rights and represses dissent.”
“This summer I traveled to Cuba with six journalists, documenting the experiences of the African diaspora in the Western Hemisphere for the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies in North Carolina… While there, I found a Cuba you may not know. A Cuba with a 99.8 percent literacy rate, the lowest HIV infection rate in the Western Hemisphere, free college and health care.”The Cuba we don’t know.
The author then proceeds to describe her trip around the island and to spread the myths of the revolution’s successes.
“A crushing U.S. embargo has ensured Cuba’s low per capita income and crumbling infrastructure. Yet, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. As in the United States, some Cuban children attend schools with tidy grounds and gleaming floors, while others sit at decaying desks in sagging buildings. There are no more than 20 students to a teacher, and more than 600 rural schools with five students or fewer. Education is the cornerstone of the revolution.”The Cuba we don’t know.
In one part of the text, the writer states that the U.S. embargo has destroyed the Cuban economy and that “education” is paramount to the socialist revolution.
Likewise, the author does not miss the brilliant opportunity to praise the Cuban public health system: “Cuba’s universal health care system is seen by many as a world model. Neighborhood clinics and municipal hospitals provide free treatment, including laser vision correction and cosmetic surgery to fix deformities. HIV and AIDS drugs cost nothing. Most clinics make do with outdated equipment and a shortage of supplies. Yet the country has a higher ratio of doctors to patients than the U.S., and Cubans live longer than we do.”
Hannah-Jones said on that occasion: “We journalists had a great deal of freedom to travel through Havana — no handlers, no monitors. We could see that Cuba is not the great evil we are led to believe. Still, life is difficult for many Cubans.”
Nevertheless, she admitted that life for many Cubans is difficult, and even went so far as to quote a Cuban man who admitted he saw himself with no future inside the island.
“In Cuba, I am spoiling my youth because (we) have no future, just the same monotony,” said the young man to then comment “I am afraid to talk about that.”
The fear of this young Cuban, surely terrified because in Cuba freedom of expression is something that does not apply either to journalists or ordinary citizens, did not seem to captivate Hannah Jones, who ended her text by minimizing the fact: “But even this belies easy characterization. The poor in our country tell similar tales. In this regard, the Cuba you may not know offers a lesson. No nation produces only evils. No nation, only good. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.”
However much she speaks of the middle way, nowhere in her text does Hannah-Jones speak of the unofficialist version with respect to Cuba, for she grotesquely minimized it to begin with.
The first myth that must be debunked about the Pulitzer Prize winner’s article has to do with the U.S. embargo on the island, since it is false that Cuba is economically destroyed by this policy.
To begin with, the American embargo only applies to American companies, that is to say, Cuba has the right to trade with 85% of the rest of the world and it does so. The problem is that its exports do not yield sufficient dividends, the added value of sugar or tobacco does not produce development, and everything is aggravated under a totalitarian communist system where the private sector is non-existent and everything is managed by the state apparatus. In fact, a large part of the blockade that prevents Cubans from accessing humanitarian aid, food, medicines, basic supplies or hygiene products comes from the regime. The U.S. embargo also has a series of exceptions that do not limit imports into Cuba by means of a license.
The second myth is Castro’s propaganda about educational success. According to a paper by Franco M. López in collaboration with Santiago Remón for Fundación Internacional Bases, “The Cuban regime has always propagated the idea of a Cuba destroyed in terms of health and education before Fidel Castro came to power. However, according to UNESCO itself, in 1958, Cuba devoted 23% of its total public budget to education, the highest percentage in Latin America. Its literacy rate in 1960 was 79%, compared to 65% and 60% in Mexico and Brazil, respectively”.
In other words, before the Cuban revolution, the island enjoyed a significant level of literacy and educational budget.
In 2016, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau three pinocchios for making the claim that Cuba “made significant improvements in education and health care in his island nation.”
Kessler explains that the “reality is that education and health care were already relatively vibrant in Cuba before the revolution, compared with other Latin American countries… it is a stretch to claim Castro was responsible for “significant improvements,” especially more recently.”
In fact, the writer asserted that “Many other Latin American countries made far more dramatic strides in the past six decades, without the need for a communist dictatorship; Cuba simply had a head start when Castro seized power.”
Finally, the third myth to debunk from Nikole Hannah-Jones’ fictitious article is about the health success of the Castro dictatorship.
Hannah-Jones highlights Cuba’s free public health care system as an example to follow, however, the reality is far from her assertions.
The Castro narrative about Cuba’s successful and caring health care system is a farce. In Cuba there is not one public health system, but three: one for the elite, one for tourists and the real one, which is used by ordinary Cubans. This phenomenon is explained by Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
The aforementioned study by the Bases International Foundation uses Dr. Suchlicki’s argument to disprove the Castro health myth.
“Medical tourism,” they say, is the first system paid for by travelers “in foreign currency, which provides oxygen to the regime.”
As they explain, “the facilities where they are treated are clean, well stocked and state-of-the-art. Foreigners-only facilities do big business with Botox treatments, liposuction and breast implants. Let’s also remember that there are many other separate or segregated facilities in Cuba. People talk about ‘tourist apartheid’, where, for example, there are separate hotels, separate beaches, separate restaurants, all separated from the common population.”
Then there is a second system for Cuban elites, equally first class, but only for party members, military, artists and official writers.
Finally, and the one Hannah-Jones must have written about, there is “the one for ordinary people to use. The testimony and documentation on the subject is vast: hospitals and clinics are crumbling, conditions are so unhealthy that patients might be better off at home, whatever the home. If they have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own sheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs, even toilet paper. Basic medicines are also scarce.
Another article, from the Spanish newspaper ABC, also denounces the big difference between being a member of the dictatorial elite or a simple ordinary Cuban: “Not all Cubans have to go to the hospital with their own sheets, towels, food, water, personal hygiene and cleaning products, light bulb or mattress. Foreigners and high-ranking officials of the regime receive different treatment in hospitals or clinics such as Cimeq, Cira García, Ciren, 43rd and Kohly, or in special plants of Hermanos Ameijeiras and Frank País. The country that had a Nobel Prize in Medicine nominee before the arrival of the Castro regime, now manipulates statistics to camouflage the involution in the health of Cubans.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones: Cuba eliminated racism
Certainly, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ article in The Oregonian is almost 13 years old. Her thinking about Cuba, probably, may have changed… or maybe not.
In 2019 the writer claimed that Cuba eliminated racism from the island.
Ezra Klein, in a podcast for Vox, asked Hannah-Jones the following, “Are there candidates right now — or even just places — that you think have a viable and sufficiently ambitious integration agenda, and if so, what is it?”
The writer replied, “I’m definitely not an expert on race relations internationally,” Hannah-Jones said, “but Cuba has the least inequality.”
“Cuba has the least inequality between black and white people of any place really in the hemisphere. I mean the Caribbean — most of the Caribbean — it’s hard to count because the white population in a lot of those countries is very, very small, they’re countries run by black folks, but in places that are truly at least biracial countries, Cuba actually has the least inequality, and that’s largely due to socialism, which I’m sure no one wants to hear.”Hanna-Jones
Funny that Hannah-Jones should say this – remember the young Cuban man who spoke to the writer in Havana? Well, he himself revealed to her that he “bemoaned the racism he felt as a black Cuban. And the measly salary he earns as a security guard that prevents him from buying beer for friends or helping his mother patch the hole in her roof.”
Little did that comment matter to the author. She wrote, in that distant article that is more than a decade old, that “Black Cubans especially are wary of outsiders wishing to overthrow the Castro regime. They admit the revolution has been imperfect, but it also led to the end of codified racism and brought universal education and access to jobs to black Cubans. Without the revolution, they wonder, where would they be.”
“Without the revolution, they ask, where would they be?” she wrote.
This question of the author answers itself: today Cubans, all of them, beyond race, are in the streets fighting and demanding “Freedom!”. Cubans, courageous and fearless, shout “singao” to Díaz-Canel as they yearn for the end of a bloody tyranny that has plunged them into misery for decades.
But Hannah-Jones’ main terrain is not in ideology, she develops in the racial terrain and there, too, she loses out.
An article in the Spanish newspaper El País (an unequivocally progressive media), entitled “Cuba: repression and racism”, explains how the Castro regime marginalized the population of color and the poor neighborhoods unleashing a notorious unpopularity within the lower social strata and also the artists of these communities.
In Cuba, despite “anti-racist” Nikole Hannah-Jones’ claims to the contrary, racism has not been eliminated at all. In fact, the Castros are known for their contempt for the African-American community.
However, skin color, today, is a secondary and even irrelevant issue. If Cubans are marching, it is not only to end revolutionary racism, or because of the shortage of medicine or the economic crisis; they only want one thing: to live in freedom and without socialism.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
Excellent article, the best I have seen about the embargo. However, I think you could have gone further about racism. Hannah-Jones said Castro ended “codified racism”. I understand that to mean segregation. There was no segregation in Cuba before Castro. Public schools, universities, medical facilities, transportation were all accessible to everyone. Some people (not all) did have racist attitudes. However, many Black people had good jobs and were part of the middle class. When Castro took over, he instigated racial and class hatred in order to divide and destroy the society. However, after using Black people to achieve his aims, he betrayed them. They don’t have high positions in the government. More than 90% of people in Cuban jails are Black, including many Black political dissidents.