"The price of milk (and sex) in Cuba"

By Ann Marlowe

By Salon Staff
Published February 11, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Read the story.

Very thoughtful piece. Being a citizen of the First World, affords one the opportunity for complacency and cruelty (intended or unintended) when traveling to the Third World.

-- Renata Dumitrascu

I enjoyed much of what Ann Marlowe had to say about her visit to Cuba; much of it reflects my experience there as well. What I take exception to is the suggestion that there would be no prostitution, poverty, misery or stray dogs in Cuba under capitalism. Where is the evidence of such a claim? Is Mexico better off than Cuba or simply more stratified? Was pre-Castro Cuba better for more people? Has unfettered capitalism worked better in other poor countries?

In my view, general poverty is better than specific poverty. Scarce resources shared evenly is a better than scarce resources hoarded by a few. Malnutrition is better than starvation. Something, however meager, is better than nothing.

Furthermore, to ask why Castro "beggared" Cuba is laughable. It absolves the chief culprit of the island's misery, namely the American economic blockade. Maintaining official hostility after the collapse of the Soviet Union is nothing more than a mean-spirited response of a bully nation to an imaginary threat. Trade with China is good but trade with Cuba would somehow support a corrupt communist regime? Hypocrisy rarely smelled so ripe.

The last thing that Cuba needs is other people deciding what Cuba needs. More people sleep on the streets of Toronto than in Havana. When those of us who have the wealth to do so learn how to eliminate poverty, racism and inequalities of all kinds, then perhaps we can send a delegation to Havana to tell them of how we created paradise on earth. Until then, perhaps guilty middle class Americans would do better to look after the stray dogs in their own back yard.

-- Marty Williams

Ms. Marlowe feigns righteous indignation at the discovery of prostitution in Cuba. "Why had Castro beggared his nation and put a generation of young women in the position of learning to be whores? Did the daughters of the Cuban leadership have to wiggle their butts in nightclubs?" she asks. What a hypocritical question. Any trip to a large American city, Las Vegas, say, or a drive down Hollywood Boulevard will reveal the same hordes of young women who have learned to believe that the only commodity they have worth selling in this society is their bodies. Will she ask the same questions of our leaders, whether or not George Bush's daughters have to "wiggle their butts in nightclubs"? Of course not. These same questions could be asked in Mexico, or any of a dozen countries Latin American, but the author has chosen to single out Cuba.

Why do so many authors in Salon feel the need to hold Cuba up to a higher moral standard then any of their Caribbean neighbors? In so many other areas (health care, education, infant mortality rates) Cuba DOES stand head and shoulders above these capitalist havens, but no, Cuba must be perfect, or else held up as evidence of the "failure" of communism.

Cuba is, indeed, a poor country, but in no small part because of a cruel embargo against it led by the most powerful country in the world. What excuse does Ms. Marlowe make for all the other poor nations to the South? They have cooperated fully and enthusiastically in our great capitalist experiment, yet suffer grinding poverty, lack of education and health care for the poor, and the same epidemic of prostitution.

-- Robert Lemieux

If Cuba were the 51st state, Ann Marlowe's analysis of its poverty and depravations would be right on. Sadly, it's a recovering banana republic suffering slow strangulation under multi-layered economic sanctions. Where does she get off evaluating its poverty by U.S. standards?

Marlowe gets her facts right, but completely misses the context. I visited the island last month, and I substantially agree with her observations. Dogs there are a bit skinny (although much better fed than in South America). Feeding the family is hard. Racial inequalities persist. Tourism has induced a flood of sexual exploitation, with most of the victims being Afro-Cuban.

So Cuba isn't Florida. But more to the point, it isn't Belize or Peru, either. Cuba looks pretty good when compared to Latin America's free-market hellholes: Cubans have better postures than most of their neighbors. Better teeth. They can read. Nobody lives in shantytowns. They have free health care. Good sanitation. Little crime.

How can someone who's spent lots of time in poor nations make the mistake of comparing Cuba to Miami and not to the slums of Lima and Santo Domingo?

-- Marc Doussard

Salon Staff

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