Cuba v. America: An Analysis

Over winter break, I journeyed to Cuba for a five-day humanitarian mission. This article and the four following it discuss the following questions: Should we lift our trade embargo on Cuba? Billboards HAVANA, CUBA – “Mommy, what’s a natural sex enhancer?” asks an innocent child staring up at the billboard ahead of him. Or, so I pictured him through the lenses of my imagination. I imagined the Cuban child being edified with the wisdom, “Have the Best Sex of Your Life with Natural Sex Enhancers!” But, it was much more than just a billboard. It symbolized the perversion of an industrious, hardworking people into a society consumed with instant gratification. Consumed with my bitter condemnation of the billboard and the system that permitted it, I suddenly realized that I was still in America. The child of my reverie could never be Cuban, only Cuban American, and I noted that we might be facing such a perversion in our very own country. I was dismayed. American billboards that I observed on my way to the Miami airport included a giant invitation to a gentleman’s club where strippers perform, and plenty of ads with scantily clad models. At first glance, Cuban billboards seem to be much more salubrious. Here are some English translations of Cuban billboards. Some billboards encourage good citizenship, such as “Save Water!” and “Eat Only as Much as You Need!” Other billboards would indicate that Cubans still seem to be at war such as those that read, “The 45th Anniversary of the Revolution.” Others denounce the capitalist movement, such as those that state “Socialism is Your Friend!” Most reek of forced speech, but which yields a more baneful effect: propaganda or unavoidable sex solicitations? On the other hand, perhaps billboards are not as crucial to commerce as businessmen have portrayed them. Businesses can find other, less conspicuous, more tasteful means of advertisement like word of mouth and the Internet. Karl Marx would even go so far as to argue that state-owned businesses would not need advertisements, as all money would end in the same place. University of Havana During the late 1960’s at Columbia University, radical students seized the administrative building in protest of the Vietnam War, among other issues, for over a month. American colleges reveling in activism have, for many years, served as the center of liberal thought in the country. Cuba presents an antithetical situation. In the center of the University of Havana, situated in the middle of a quadrangle, two military statues lend a militaristic presence to the campus. A large, dark, green tank lies on the quad, almost as an exhortation that students should be always respectful of their military. A stark contrast to student protesters of today, the students of the University of Havana do not resent an icon of aggression located in the midst of their campus. Instead, they act as if it is quite normal and acceptable. Also, on the Cuban campus, not far from the tank, a statue of an owl perches. At first, this symbol of wisdom befits a university, but, upon closer examination, one notices that the bird bears a rifle beneath its wing, another reminder that the school is in the service of a military state. Ironically enough, all male students are drafted into the army for one year before entering college, the very same policy that Columbia students were protesting against during the Vietnam War. For the next stop, I visited the University of Havana’s library. It does not appear to live up to the free-thinking, intellectual standards of the libraries of American colleges. The card catalogue has two editions of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the cornerstone of capitalism, but it holds over 200 editions of the works of Karl Marx, founder of socialist thought. Because of the Socialist government, education and health care are monetarily free for every citizen. But, another trade-off occurs; the free education at the University of Havana is granted at a price: the freedom to think liberally. If we were to lift the embargo on Cuba, it is safe to say that radical changes would occur. We might be able to phase billboards in and militaristic symbols out, and both countries would benefit from increased trade. Why would we really want to condone a country where the basic right of free speech is denied? I cannot answer the embargo question with one analysis, but I can say that whatever our ultimate decision, it shall cause upheaval more radical in magnitude than any hurricane ever to hit the island of either Cuba or South Florida.