Does an heir of Goebbels measure Cuban failure?

The United States slogs through its worst crisis since the Great Depression, but some editorial writers in leading newspapers practice denial of their reality and focus instead on Cuba’s “failed socialist system.”

I wonder if these opinion crafters who specialize in fostering illusions, berating enemies and spreading denial study at the secret Joseph Goebbels Propaganda School–created by the infamous Nazi after he died. Someone must have taught them how to divert the public’s attention from the essence of U.S. reality.

One example appeared in a Washington Post editorial. Unlike the United States, “the gerontocratic rulers of Cuba are facing the worst economic crisis in decades: Food production is falling, the last sugar harvest was the worst in a century and only billions in subsidies from Venezuela’s erratic Hugo Chávez are keeping the country afloat.”

Indeed, Cuba does face a terrible economic crisis, but instead of comparing misery on that island with its Caribbean and Central American neighbors, the writer uses Cuba’s predicament to teach a lesson: “Hah, you see how socialism does offer freedom, but leads to insecurity for its people.”

The unstated assumption that the United States does enjoy freedom and economic success might be a trifle misleading–or just blatant denial. For example, the United States currently holds more political prisoners in Cuba (Guantanamo) than the Cuban government does. The United States has not even charged many of them; nor offered them procedural guarantees dating back to the Magna Carta. In addition, recent FBI busts of U.S. peace groups and Muslims further test the assumptions of our great freedoms. But hey, we have a free press that specializes in attacking bad countries like North Korea, Iran and Cuba, not good ones like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Cuba faces extreme problems of national debt, but the Post writer neglects to compare U.S. debt, per capita (how many trillions?) to that of the island. Nor does he cite statistics about levels of hunger, homelessness and child poverty in our successful country and compare them with Cuba’s failed model.

Anyone visiting Cuba knows most of its 11 million people have few possessions and food is scarce. But they do not report seeing hungry or sick children–or anyone without easy access to health care. Ask the homeless and hungry in any large city in the U.S. about access to medical care or food and you will hear of difficulties Cubans don’t even imagine.

Nor do people notice large numbers of homeless begging on Cuba’s downtown streets or laying their cardboards down on the sidewalks at nightfall because they have no shelter.

In 2010, in the highly successful United States–and everyone knows how prosperous our model has made us–only 37 million people depend on government food aid and, according to a February Food Research and Action Center study, nearly one in five people (18.5 percent) “report having gone hungry in the past year, up from 16.3 percent at the start of 2008. Households with children were even likelier to experience hunger, with nearly a quarter reporting hunger in the past year.”

In addition, the Feeding America study found 70 percent of emergency food centers reporting “one or more problems that threaten their ability to continue operating.”

The Post derided “the Castro brothers” for “launching a series of economic half measures and political feints in the hope of patching their regime without having to change it … the announcement that 500,000 Cuban workers — or 10 percent of the state labor force — would be laid off from their jobs.”

The lay-offs account for people President Raul Castro described as “superfluous,” meaning those who remain on payroll and don’t really contribute their labor while Cuba suffers a critical shortage of workers in agriculture and construction. The Post editorial didn’t mention the number of unemployed people in the United States: 14.9 million officially, with estimates ranging as high as 24 million, more than double Cuba’s entire population of 11 million. (October 8, 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The difference between U.S. economic distress and Cuba’s, the Post writer makes clear, lies in malicious intent. While our great people suffer the consequences of the natural ebb and flow (long time for ebb) of God’s Free Market, Cubans endure the ill effects of “the Castros’ strategy.”

Behind the ploy of “slowly releasing political prisoners into exile,” lies Fidel’s and Raul’s “expectation that the Obama administration will respond and that a wave of American tourists will arrive with desperately needed dollars. “

Yes, Cubans are desperate for dollars, but in the world’s wealthiest nation one in six people must choose between buying food or other basic necessities.

The Post writer righteously defends U.S.-Cuba policy–embargo and travel ban–because it has made Cubans suffer. But surely the Post writer must occasionally walk through nearby McPherson Square Park. Does he not notice dozens of homeless people who live there with their meager belongings? Or perhaps they get what’s coming to them–unlike those “innocent victims of the Castro brothers.”

After reading such an editorial I want to shout: “Long Live Goebbels.”

Award-winning filmmaker Saul Landau is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.