An open letter to Eric Schmidt, instant Cubanologist
Dear Mr. Schmidt:
As the head honcho at Google you lead one of the greatest corporations on earth, and one of the smartest, too. What Google has done for our world and continues to do is of incalculable value. I live every day of my life through Google, depend on it, have become totally addicted to its magic, even for my research into the distant past. But what you have just written about Cuba displays monumental ignorance.
As someone who had to flee Cuba at a young age and has ever since remained in touch with people on the island, I am dismayed by the essay you have just posted, in which you describe your trip to that giant slave plantation and offer tips on how to bring it out of the Dark Age into which it was plunged fifty-five years ago.
Someone as intelligent as you should not be so easily fooled by a quick and highly controlled trip to one of the world’s worst hell-holes.
First things first: if you are going to write about a totalitarian state, please learn to spell the name of its dictator correctly. His name is “Raul,” not “Raoul.” It’s a small mistake you made, yes, but it’s indicative of the glibness with which you approach Cuba, and of the superficiality of your observations.
I won’t address your many errors in detail, one by one, though they really do deserve a thorough refutation. Thoroughness is not the best way to refute puerile observations. The apparent artlessness of the naive – so convincing to the equally shallow – always comes off looking much better than any earnest list of errors cited by the knowledgeable. Callowness is always so much more attractive to the ignorant than expertise.
So, let’s just deal with the biggest items on the list.
First: did you take a close look at the list of 187 professions that “Raoul” has earmarked as legitimate in his kingdom? The list is a joke. Dog groomer. Mattress re-stuffer. Button-coverer. Dandy. Yes, dandy is one of the 187 private enterprises allowed by the magnanimous Castro regime. None of these occupations will open up the Cuban economy in a significant way or lead to substantial privatization or genuinely free enterprise. It’s all a sham, nothing more than a shell game, and you apparently fell for the trick.
Second: what’s this nonsense you spout about women being in control? Cuba remains one of the most sexist societies on earth. Equality? What you observed was a carefully crafted mirage. Did you meet with any of the military men who really run the country and control its entire economy? Not only are they all male, nearly all of them are white too, descendants of European immigrants, in a country where nearly 70% of the population is of African descent. And they are all old men, to boot. You also seem to think that the military are “becoming more involved in economic development.” Are you unaware of the fact that the military have been in complete control of the country’s economy for five and a half decades?
Third: you scoff at the notion that the Castro regime could be a threat to the United States. Please read the news more carefully. You won’t have to spend more than one afternoon catching up on this subject to realize that Castro-controlled Cuba is indeed a great threat to the security of the United States.
Fourth: you seem to think that lifting the so-called embargo – which you delight in calling “the blockade,” in Castroite terms – will magically open the country to technological progress and openness in communication. My God. To whom did you speak down there, other than Yoani Sanchez and government apparatchiks? Did you talk to any of the Ladies in White or any of the many dissidents who are arrested repeatedly? Cuba’s lack of access to technology and its total backwardness is not due to the embargo, but to deliberate policies of the Castro regime. The last thing the Castro oligarchs want is for Cubans to have access to the internet or freedom of communication. The “knowledge economy” and “open platforms” you seek to bring to Cuba will not come from the lifting of the so-called embargo, but only from the removal of the military junta that rules it with an iron fist. If I had millions of dollars to bet on this (and I don’t, since I’m only a college professor), I would make a bet with you, confident of winning it: I would bet that a lifting of the so-called embargo would only allow the Castro regime to repress the Cuban people even more brutally.
Fifth: I give up.... there is probably no point in going any further. It’s too frustrating, too demoralizing, too soul-crushing to tell a very intelligent man your own age that he has just made a total fool of himself by spouting nonsense. Worse than that, it is too painful to have to deal with people such as you, whose ignorant opinions only serve to further enslave my people.
Wise up, Mr. Schmidt, please. The fact that you run Google – a ginormous feat of which I am totally incapable – does not make you an expert on everything, much less on a country you visited briefly, under highly supervised circumstances. I know that we Ivy League faculty try to instill confidence in our students and alumni, but I think this time you got carried away.
In closing, I would like to thank you for Google Earth. It’s the only way I can safely visit my homeland. Your marvelous technology allows me to fly over my house and all of Havana frequently, without the risk of imprisonment or execution, as I curse at the monsters who destroyed my family and my country. And, if I may, could I suggest that you try to convince the Castro regime to allow for street view access via Google? It would be great for the whole world to see what a labyrinth of ruins that island has become. But... good luck with that... openness and honesty are not considered virtues by the Castro regime.
July 9th, 2014: Dr. Carlos Eire responds to those who believe his letter to Eric Schmidt was a bit too harsh HERE.