We Americans are a name-calling bunch. We throw the terms “nazi”, “fascist”, “communist”, etc., around like candy at a Fourth of July parade. I doubt most of us really know what living under such governments is really like. That’s both good and bad. Good because…well, we haven’t lived under such systems. Bad, because we also are not very likely to notice the first signs of such a system being forced on us until it’s too late.
But we can always read Michael J. Totten. He recently took a trip to Cuba, and is reporting what he experienced in a way that only Michael J. Totten can.
Some excerpts from a recent dispatch:
I’ve seen cities in the Middle East pulverized by war. I’ve seen cities elsewhere in Latin America stricken with unspeakable squalor and poverty. But nowhere else have I seen such a formerly grandiose city brought as low as Havana. The restored part of town—artifice though it may be—shows all too vividly what the whole thing once looked like.
It was a wealthy European city when it was built. Poor nations do not build capitals that look like Havana. They can’t. Poor nations build Guatemala City and Cairo.
He says the worst thing about the CDR spies is that they don’t even work for the government. They volunteer to rat out their neighbors for an extra handful of beans every month. “It is literally citizen spying on citizen,” he said. “I’ve heard of cases of a brother snitching on a brother, or a son snitching on a father. Once the regime comes to an end, things in Cuba are going to get ugly and bloody, especially with and against those CDR bastards. If I were a father living in Cuba trying to feed my family and had the CDR make my life a living hell every time I happened upon a black market piece of meat, or milk for my children, you can bet your ass that the first guy I’m coming for once the government goes down is that CDR SOB that’s been snitching on me for years. People are always talking about reconciliation when it comes to Cuba, how Cubans outside of the island are going to have to reconcile with Cubans still on the island. There will, of course, be some of that. But the real reconciliation needed will be between those ‘haves’ like the CDRs and the ‘have nots.’”
“Jose was visiting the United States on 9/11,” she said. “He was in New York City. It was a frightening time, and he had that lighter with him.” She pointed at her husband’s photograph on the wall, the one with the Che lighter. “Because of what had just happened, the lighter was confiscated in the security line at the airport. That famous lighter with that famous image is gone forever because of Osama bin Laden. It’s a shame, but it’s a great story, isn’t it? Think about it.”
I don’t know what she was trying to say, but she made one thing loud and clear: she wanted me to think about what she was telling me, and she was leaving some things unsaid. That’s often how people talk to each other in totalitarian countries. Foreigners who aren’t used to it need to know and pay close attention.
So Garciandia the painter and the art museum curators mounted a protest. Not only did they get away with it, it had the desired effect.
Only in a communist country or an Islamist theocracy would such acts be considered rebellious. Few in Europe or the United States would even notice that painting. It certainly wouldn’t be a political lightning bolt. Only in a totalitarian country where every damn thing under the sun has to be ideological can such a blatantly apolitical painting be considered political.
Read the whole thing, no matter how depressing. Because I think we need to be reminded of where we could be headed, and that it’s not pretty. Thank you, Mr. Totten, for going to the places we need to hear about.