Cuba — Can You Hear Me Now?

Now, you’re not going to hear me defend Raul Castro very often, but he has at least made some slight easing on the restrictions of ordinary Cubans. Among other things, he’s lifted the ban on private ownership of cell phones. Most of the changes are very small, but typically freedom is an infectious organism, and when an oppressed people start to get a taste of it, they want more.

But one ivory-tower elitist– a phrase I don’t use often– doesn’t like the change. David Lazarus of the LA Times would prefer that Cuba remain the quiet, poverty stricken hellhole that it’s been for decades, rather than have to put up with an annoying cell phone user.

You know you’re in for a ride when an article starts off like this:

The Cuban government made headlines worldwide when it announced the other day that its citizens would finally have unrestricted access to cellphones, ushering in a new era in telecommunications for the economically challenged island.

I say: The people of Cuba don’t know how good they’ve had it.

Oh, yes, David! Tell us how wonderful the average Cuban has had it!

Economically challenged?! That’s one way to put it. Someone who has to take out a pay-day advance loan to pay for a car repair is “economically challenged”. The Cubans, on the other hand, are economically oppressed.

It’s only a matter of time before the Cuban government bows to the inevitable and permits its citizens to pay in local currency, and thus follow the example of people throughout the developing world in flushing their hard-earned money down a rathole of text messages and idle chatter.

How about this, David? Maybe the Cubans who don’t want to throw their hard-earned money down for cellphones can choose not to. And those who actually want to use their newfound freedom to join the modern world can choose for themselves, too! Part of that whole “freedom” thing is allowing people to do things that you don’t agree with, as long as they don’t infringe upon your rights.

Cubans will be able to enjoy the capitalistic thrill of paying not just the advertised price for cellphone service but also hidden taxes, fees and surcharges that can boost monthly costs by as much as 20%.

Hmm, the “hidden” taxes and fees on my wife’s cellphone bill look to be either most or all government-imposed. Just what is a “capitalistic thrill” about that? Really, if you wanted to attack policies like “bundling” of services or the fact that you often get charged for things you don’t need (really, if you have a cellphone why do you need “automatic call forwarding”?), I could at least understand. But to call government-imposed fees a “capitalistic thrill” is just disingenuous.

He goes on to rant about how Cubans will adjust to people answering cellphones in movies and driving with a cellphone. Because you know that in dirt-poor (kept so by the government) Cuba, movies and cars are just plentiful! Somehow, I just don’t think these concerns will be nearly as large a problem as Lazarus believes.

How about this, David? Perhaps if Cuba’s ruling elite eases a few more restrictions, there might be private business again? And maybe– just maybe– cellphones will help those who wish to do business to pull their “economically challenged” island out of the 1950’s and into the 21st century? You may have your little neo-luddite fantasy, but please don’t suggest that Cubans should have their freedoms continually restricted to support it.

— Full disclosure: I am not only a cell user, but a Crackberry-carrying, mobile-internet using, email from anywhere traveler. And I love it.

  • oilnwater

    it’s quite interesting to see Raul ease things in cuba as well as planning to ease them further. keep in mind that it was Raul himself that negotiated the plan to install Soviet nukes, as well as spending a whole lot of time in Moscow and being an ardent marxist.

    maybe it goes to show that times change, and old paradigms can slowly fade away to nothing more than pages in history. but maybe these actions are simply to slowly strengthen cuba as a member of the south american marxist community (venezuela, bolivia, sometimes peru and ecuador).

  • Doug Mataconis

    Does this mean that Cubans in Cuba will be able to call their families in Florida ?

    And what might that mean for the future of Castro-ism.

  • VRB

    I don’t think Cubans in Cuba are strangers to private business. Those fifties cars don’t run by magic.

  • Dawn

    I am going to Cuba April 18th and im bringing in all the Cubans i can into my hotel room, i will find them in the streets the small towns every where i can and bring them in to see my room and the hotels that they should have been able to be in for many over due long years..We will eat,talk and go swimming (most are not allowed before now to be on their own beaches) I can’t wait for this..
    Canadian with Love!!

  • Quincy

    David Lazarus is an idiot who’s been inflicted upon the SF Bay area for years as a business columnist. Nice to see him getting out in the world for further fisking.

  • Quincy

    Come to think of it, if the phones had access to Twitter, things would get *really* interesting.