UNCA D ATTENDED a social event last night. A considerable number of guests were high-net-worth individuals. The thing for the well-off to do these days, it seems, is to be the first in their circle to travel to Cuba.
Notes were being shared by those who had been with those who are soon to go. Considerable comment was made on the lovely old 19th-century buildings in Havana, and -- unavoidably -- on their visible ruin. The decaying premises had a deep aesthetic appeal to the travelers. The consensus is that if one is to visit Cuba, one should visit quickly, before modernity or prosperity arrive and sweep away such beauty.
The subject prompted this unlovely quip:
"Beautiful old buildings, brought to you by Cuba; ruin, brought to you by the United States."
(This quotation is inexact but substantially accurate.)
The little joke was wrong on both counts. If by "Cuba" he meant the Cuba of the Castros, that Cuba has built nothing. Less than nothing. The Cuba of the Castros has merely taken (without compensation) and occupied what other, worthier, generations built. As for the source of the ruin, consider Marxism, the dark comet of the twentieth century, behind which trails nothing but material ruin and human death.
The U.S. embargo is not responsible for Cuba's troubles. Cuba has been open for decades to the Soviet Union, Russia, China, Western Europe, and South America. It's not the absence of opportunities for trade, investment, and enterprise that has emmiserated Cuba. It's evil men imposing evil designs on a people who, huddled in decaying 200-year-old buildings, can only endure or escape.
As for the quipster, he has prospered here in America, thanks to an economic system and political system that he is willing to belittle, carelessly, in idle cocktail-party banter. It's a reflexive form of anti-Americanism, of mockery, of fashionable contempt for the air he breathes and the soil on which he stands.
A drop here, a drop there -- that wouldn't matter. But when the drops gather in rivulets, then streams, then torrents, the very soul of America erodes, the country falls prey to the conceit that the country needs fundamental transformation. Then the country moves -- bit by unlovely bit -- in the direction of Cuba, with its decaying buildings and dispirited people.
The well-to-do wordsmith should apply for a job on the Houston Chronicle editorial board. He would fit right in.