Blast from the Past

Posted: May 09, 2004 12:00 AM

Courtland Milloy, meet Walter Duranty.

Duranty, a correspondent for The New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his series on the Soviet Five-Year Plan. He managed to deny the existence of a man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians that year. ?Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda,? Duranty boldly wrote in August of 1933.

But Duranty was a dupe, an apologist for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a man he once called ?the greatest living statesman.? And besides, that was before Churchill?s Iron Curtain speech.

So what does Milloy, a Metro section columnist for The Washington Post, have to do with Duranty? Well, these days, virtually everyone says the dangers and evils of communism were apparent. Virtually everyone claims to have opposed it. But, like Duranty in his day, there are still a few communist apologists around.

?I was still carrying a lot of that spooky old Cuban commie baggage when I arrived last week.
The Cold War shadow was tailing me,? Milloy wrote on April 18. ?I feared my room was bugged.
Would they try to brainwash me, or just ply me with rum and make me talk??

Well, they did get him to talk -- but not about American state secrets (and just what secrets would a journalist have to share, anyway?). Instead, they got him to say just what they wanted him to: Cuba?s not so bad. And in some ways, it?s better than the United States.

 ?You really can walk down dark, narrow streets in this city and discover there is nothing to fear but fear itself,? he wrote. Not only that, ?Cuba has a near 100 percent literacy rate and free health care, and no hospital in the country has ever closed its doors.? Plus, ?school is free -- as is all education in Cuba. Castro, it turns out, has been saying ?leave no child behind? since 1959.?

Well, of course the streets are safer in a dictatorship. The streets of Soviet Moscow were safe, as well. For foreigners, that is.

Low-level street crime is one of the prices we pay to live in an open society. The Cuban people don?t have that luxury. And if they are picked up by Fidel Castro?s police, whether the charges are legitimate or not, it?s possible they?ll simply disappear.

And while it may be true that all Cubans can read, what they can read is severely limited.
Cuban law bans the ?donation, receipt, request, distribution or facilitation of material, financial or other resources for the purpose of undermining state security.? In other words, if the Cuban government doesn?t like what you?re reading or writing, it can and will arrest you.

An arrest in itself can be a death sentence. As Milloy?s own newspaper reported in February, ?At least 20 Cuban dissidents, part of a group of 75 journalists, librarians and economists arrested nearly a year ago, are seriously ill in Cuban prison cells where they are being held under inhumane conditions, according to their wives, friends and human rights activists in Cuba.?

The columnist notes he had meals with average Cuban families. He should have asked to speak to some of the detained journalists, as well.

As to health care, again, Milloy?s own newspaper reports Cuba?s system is in decline. Drugs are becoming scarcer, and it?s difficult for the system to obtain disposable medical supplies.
Those factors, Karen DeYoung wrote, ?have resulted in increases of treatable conditions such as acute respiratory infections and intestinal infectious diseases, among others. Food intake in Cuba has fallen below nutritional requirements in recent years.?

As for school, well, part of the reason Castro loves education so much is that it?s a tool for indoctrination. Witness Elian Gonzalez after his return to the island, dressed in his school uniform and chanting with his classmates.

?From primary school to university, we Cubans learn that to dissent from the Communist Party line means our marginalization,? Claudia M?uez Linares, vice president of an independent association of Cuban journalists, wrote in The Los Angeles Times last year. ?What use is education if we have no freedom, what use is education when it turns into a weapon of mass indoctrination??

That lesson is lost on Milloy, it seems. ?The United States has much to teach. But from what I saw in Cuba, we also have much to learn,? he concluded.

Clearly, certain columnists have much to learn about the evils of communism, past and present.
Apparently, it?ll take more than a single, closely supervised, trip to impart that lesson.
Maybe Milloy could also sit down with a few of the Cubans who have risked their lives to escape their island home.