A few weeks ago I scolded the American Library Association for refusing to condemn the Castro dictatorship in Cuba for sentencing 10 independent Cuban librarians to long prison terms for the crime of possessing reading materals that Fidel does not care for. See Selectively Vigilant Librarians, March 9). In an e-mail, reader P.T. defended the Castro crackdown, writing:

“Cuba, the one Latin American country whose capital is not surrounded by shantytowns, is a human rights oasis compared to some of the death-squad regimes the U.S. supports–countries where homeless children are murdered by security forces with Anerican weapons.”
I responded:
“Hmm, P.T., let’s see. In some politically corrupt Latin American countries, such as Colombia, gangs of thugs, often with ties to the drug trade, roam city streets murdering the homeless beggars who live on those streets. I guess you could call them ‘death squads,’ and in some very loose sense of the term, you could call them ‘security forces.’ The criminal gangs somehow get hold of U.S.-manufactured weapons, just in the way that U.S. drug dealers somehow get hold of cocaine processed in and shipped out of Colombia. I fail to see how any of this is the American government’s fault. As for Cuba’s capital not being ‘surrounded by shantytowns,’ that’s because Cuba’s capital, from all reports, is a shantytown, thanks to Uncle Fidel.”
Now P.T. is back with a riposte:

“What was Havana under U.S. imperialism? As for security forces, those are the military and police, which does not preclude their involvement in the drug trade. And how do the infant mortality rates, life spans, and education levels in those countries compare with Cuba’s. You can use Guatemala as an example.”

I’ll skip my failure to understand why police corruption in Latin America is the fault of the United States and get right to the point: Guatemala? Hell, Cuba has better infant mortality rates and longer lifespans than the United States! That’s because, as everyone knows, infant mortality and longevity correlate closely with lifestyle choices such as healthy eating and prenatal care, which in turn correlate with middle-class values. Cuba, before Castro’s revolution was the most prosperous, middle-class, and highly educated nation in Latin America. Middle-class habits die hard. The United States, by contrast, has a highly heterogenous population, and many of its residents are Third World immigrants from countries where medical care is primitive. Not suprisingly, then, Cuba’s figures are slightly higher than those in the U.S.

Now let’s turn to Havana, under “U.S. imperialism” and now. I’ve never visited Cuba’s capital, but my mother did, two years ago. My mama, bless her heart, is a dyed-in-the-wool, kneejerk-to-end-all-kneejerks liberal, but her reaction to the trashed-out Havana of Fidel’s workers’ paradise was, “What a wreck!” And if you don’t believe my mother, here’s a Havana report from the certifiably eco- and Castro-friendly People and Planet:

“The fact is that many owners and tenants simply do not have the additional income required to improve their housing. Although the legal limit of household occupancy is 10 square metres per person, overcrowding is becoming a problem. Due to lack of space, the high-rise ceilings of many old colonial buildings have been turned into two storeys by adding new ceilings and wooden staircases. As no Cuban household is allowed to own more than one house, and there is still a housing deficit of 530,000 units, families tend to live in the same house for generations.

“As result, many houses in the bigger cities are beginning to resemble those of Third World cities. It is estimated that 50 per cent of Havana’s houses are in ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ condition. Yet, it is difficult to classify these houses as ‘slums,’ mainly because apart from the physical decay, each of these houses do fulfil the basic criteria of adequacy — they all have access to sanitation, water and electricity, and there is security of tenure for all occupants.”

Even under People and Planet’s generous definition of a non-slum–digs that have “access” to a lightbulb and running water somewhere–Havana sounds pretty bad to me. Under “U.S. imperialism,” Havana was a glorious city, with block after block of gorgeous colonial architecture and a rich indigenous musical culture that Castro ruthlessly suppressed until a few years ago. Now–well, hey, Cubans have “security of tenure” in their jampacked tenements that feature “access” to a toilet.

Meanwhile, reader “Cheryl” sends the IWF this fan e-mail praising Anne Morse’s article on Security Moms featured on our home page on March 4:

“I love your website. Found it by accident when your article on Safety Moms was linked at another favorite site. Keep up the great work! I love the idea of a conservative ‘womens’ organization.”

Moi aussi, Cheryl.