Baby Steps Toward Freedom in Cuba

A few days ago the big news out of Cuba was that Raul Castro–brother of Fidel and the new benevolent dictator in town–had taken the magnanimous step of decreeing that ordinary Cubans were now free to own and use cell phones. Up until then, only Cuba’s communist party elite were granted that privilege.

Today we hear that Raul will be allowing Cuba’s long-suffering citizens to actually set foot on Havana’s luxury hotel properties that have long been a favorite vacation spot of Canadians and Europeans with no qualms about having their tourist monies prop up a repressive dictator. They can now even stay in those hotels if they want, not that one regular Cuban in ten thousand could afford to do so.

These truly are hopeful and positive signs of change in Cuba. The next thing you know we’ll be hearing that evangelical pastors are no longer having their houses bulldozed by the government just for preaching the Gospel. We can certainly hope and pray.

As encouraging as these signs are, it’s important to note this truth: Freedoms granted on one man’s whim can be withdrawn on one as well. 

But the fact that it’s big news that Cubans now have the freedom to make a mobile phone call should be at least a little embarrassing for all the Castro-philes from Hollywood that have made the pilgramage to Havana for an audience with Fidel over the last decade or so. And they are legion.

Steven Spielberg visited Cuba in 2002, dining and hanging out with Castro into the wee hours of the morning. In the cigar-smoke tinged afterglow, Spielberg proclaimed his dinner with Castro to be “the eight most important hours of my life.”  After a 1998 meeting with the Bearded One, Jack Nicholson told a Hollywood newspaper that “He [Castro] is a genius. We spoke about everything.”

Part-time rocket scientist Naomi Campbell proclaimed Castro “a source of inspiration to the world.”

After a 1999 pilgrimage to Cuba with fellow intellectual Kate Moss, Campbell said, “I’m so nervous and flustered because I can’t believe I have met him. He said that seeing us in person was very spiritual,”  Right. I’m guessing Castro is not the first fellow to try the old “spiritual connection” line on a couple of super-models. But he may be the first creepy 80-year-old to actually pull it off.

Other Hollywood celebrities who have private-jetted to Havana to hang with El Presidente are Woody Harrelson, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Sidney Pollack, Danny Glover, Ed Asner, Shirley MacLaine, Alanis Morissette, Spike Lee, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kevin Costner.

I betting that not a single one of them has read Armando Valladares’ memoir of his life as a prisoner of conscience in Castro’s gulag. They won’t. But you should. . . if only to truly understand how truly deep the darkness was that now displays some glimmers of freedom’s light.