Tag Archives: Richard Levins

How to Visit a Socialist Country

A woman waves a flag in Havana's Revolution Square during the May Day parade, May 1, 2010

The following article by Richard Levins is from Monthly Review:

Travelers from the United States to Cuba cross more than ninety miles of sea: they cross decades of history. They may be limited to one suitcase, but they carry trunks full of ideological baggage, including biases about Cuba, beliefs about communists, commitments as to what a good society should be like, and a collection of conventional poli-sci formulas about power, government, and human behavior.

One Cuban commentator notes:

Coming from North America or Europe to a typical Cuban urban neighborhood, the visitor’s first impression might be one of poverty: crumbling or poorly maintained buildings, pot-holed streets, ancient cars, homes where there are few “extras” etc. On the other hand, if you arrive from Latin America or another developing country, other aspects of Cuban life might get your attention: no street kids, no malnourished faces, no beggars, and people walking the streets at night with almost no fear.1

Or easily identified as foreign, visitors may be beset by scouts for private, tiny restaurants, offers of guides, ginateras (a Cuban euphemism for prostitutes, usually amateur).

Members of delegations usually have planned itineraries, visiting various institutions and cultural events. They will learn about health care, education, cultural and sport resources, commitment to an ecological pathway of development, urban agriculture, equitable distribution through the rationing system, full employment, formal aspects of the political and judicial systems, achievements in gender and racial equality. These are all real, and demonstrate how far a poor country can go with so little. But it is obviously not the full story. There is nothing sinister in this. These are the things in which Cuba has pioneered, and of which Cuba is most proud and eager to show the world

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