A few weeks ago, when I heard Conan O’Brien was in Havana to shoot an episode of Conan, my heart sank. I’ve always liked him but I’m allergic to the tourist gaze. My many trips to Cuba have taught me how damaging it is. The Cuban regime, like all dictatorships, depends heavily on propaganda and learning it would take center stage on a late night show filled me with dread. Conan promised that his goal in Cuba was to make people laugh, that he wouldn’t touch the complicated politics of the situation. Ay Conan, if it were only that easy.
You can’t go to Cuba and be apolitical. Traveling there is a political act alone. The brands he joked about at the grocery store were all companies that were appropriated by the Cuban government. That cigar factory he visited was taken from a Cuban family of cigar makers. Cubans cannot afford to eat at paladares because the average Cuban only makes $20 a month, creating an unofficial tourist apartheid where foreigners enjoy Cuba while Cubans endure the regime. The “ruins” that took Conan’s breath away are dilapidated buildings that thousands of people have to live in because they are not free to move out of them without government permission.
He was there to connect with the people. But he was only connecting with the people that work in tourism — which any Cuban will tell you are a small and distinct sector of the population. Even acknowledging that would have been nice, but instead Conan lamented that in a few years there will probably be American stores in colonial Havana. That’s when he lost me.
Why shouldn’t there be a Foot Locker or a Gap in Havana? If Paris can handle multiple Nike stores — I’m pretty sure Havana can too. The idea that commerce would ruin the “ruins” disregards the desperate need for things to change in Cuba. Why shouldn’t Cubans benefit from capitalism the same way Conan does without losing what makes them special? After all, every show clip I clicked on came with an embedded commercial. If Conan really loved the Cuban people as much as he seemed to, why wouldn’t he want the same opportunities for them that have given him such a wonderful platform?
Every good totalitarian knows you can’t have socialism without slaves. They’re necessary to properly service the nomenklatura and their useful idiots like Conan, Michael Moore, and a bazillion other disgraceful, willfully-ignorant schlubs, maintaining the privilege and profligacy of their masters while being carefully hidden from view as much as possible. That’s the reality of it, whether Hollywood-Left dilettantes choose to admit it or not.